Once in a while, it’s good to stop and look outside your territory and check in on the global promotions industry. To catch a glimpse of the industry in the U.K., PPB talked to Gill Thorpe, FCIPS, managing director of Wallington, U.K.-based distributor The Sourcing Team Ltd. (UPIC: SOUR0004). Thorpe is also the current president of the board of directors for the British Promotional Merchandise Association (BPMA). Her tenure in the industry spans 23 years, and she’s built The Sourcing Team into a global sourcing and procurement company. PPB talked to Thorpe about the state of product safety and sustainable practices—two things for which The Sourcing Team is known—in Europe.
PPB In terms of sustainable, eco-friendly and “green” products, what are European customers looking for and asking for now?
Thorpe Corporate clients desire to be sustainable, but this is not translating into the volume of sustainable purchases in the promotional product sector we would like to see. Most certainly it is on all agendas, and the choice of products is there to utilize. But while the client would wish to be seen to be purchasing sustainable products, at the marketing level it is about product choice, branding and price. If that also meets their green or environmental credentials—great.
We believe we play an important role in encouraging sustainability and trying to help change the way we think and do things. Gaining employee engagement and leading from the top is vital. … We are accredited to ISO 14001, but in addition, we took the step more than a year ago to work toward accreditation to the Mayor of London’s Green Procurement Code. We are proud to be one of a handful in the industry at silver level and we’re aiming for gold.
PPB In the states, testing products for safety compliance is a big, yet relatively new, issue. Do you have similar concerns? How are you handling them as a company, and where do you think you are in terms of understanding the rules and putting safety measures into practice?
Thorpe It is much the same in the U.K. in terms of safety and compliance. It is becoming more controlled and traceable. Only last week we were debating the ProdSG, which is the Product Safety Law that replaced the old GPSG (German Equipment and Product Safety Law) in Germany. Already there are tougher requirements on certain products such as electronics and toys, and this will be extended further in the U.K. with revisions to the General Product Safety Directive, which will impose similar requirements across Europe when it comes into force in a few years.
PPB What products are your biggest sellers? What products are trendy in the U.K. now?
Thorne I would love to say that right now in the U.K. we are seeing high growth in some really “wow” and new products, but actually—I am sure much as it is in the U.S. market—top sellers remain fairly consistent, including pens, USBs, bags, clothing and ceramics. Add to this big sales in eco-items, including plastic sports/drink bottles and cotton shoppers. With all the excitement for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics this summer, there is a growing demand for Union Jack products with a real desire to promote and push British-made products and all things that represent Great Britain. How this will affect the market in terms of spend I don’t know, but we are positive it will help us in what has been a very long recession.