Question: Clue Me In On The Right Questions To Ask

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A Screen Printer Asks: We are quickly becoming a go-to for all printed products and starting to receive a lot of calls for promotional items. Being a novice in this industry, what are some of the basic questions, other than quantity, that I should ask clients or prospective clients when they call requesting a promotional item?

Thirty-plus years in the business and I’m still learning every day. I think as our industry expands and more people know about it, plus the more people are searching every day for everything online, we end up with buyers who seem like they have it all figured out. As your knowledge base grows and your customers learn to lean on you for ideas and solutions, not just as a “find this for me please” service, then you will become more confident. There are great ideas for networking in your regional, and supplier reps who would love to tell you more about how their products are used and past successes to help you. 

Mark Shinn, MAS, MASI
President, Promotional Marketing Association of Northern California (PMANC)
Newcastle, Washington

Get to know some of your local reps. They want you to sell their lines and will help you. When I started over 30 years ago, I read one or two catalogs a day, checking for things I might sell, looking at imprints to see who might have bought that and getting a grasp on details. Today, you can do this on websites—pick some favorite suppliers and explore what else they do. Ask questions of every factory rep you meet. And if there are any factories near you, go on tour, understand how things are done. Ask for help as you did here. 

Judy Sharp
Owner and President
Sharp Ideas, Inc.
Fresno, California
PPAI 108483, D4

Ask them first, what is the quantity? Then, what is the color of the item they are requesting? 

Then, who is providing art files, and can they create [art] exactly as required to fit inside the imprint area?

What are the colors to imprint? Then, confirm whether the supplier’s limits can accommodate the client’s needs. What is the due date the client needs for products, balanced against the supplier’s production schedule?

What is the shipping method and does the client want to use third-party billing? 

Can the client receive the products on skids (which can be a huge savings)?

Once you learn to ask these, and about 100 other fact-finding/detail-driven questions, and you’ll know all that it takes to be a promotional products distributor. And also, in today’s business climate, always ask about inventory levels.

Eddie Brawner
Marketing Solutions Provider
Innovative Business Products LLC
Nashville, Tennessee
PPAI 281290, D5

Too many to list, but one thing to be more aware of are overruns. Lots of suppliers will do five- to 10-percent more (sometimes less) and bill you for them or charge a fee for doing an exact quantity. It’s no fun to be surprised and to have to pay for 50 more pens or 10 more tote bags. Read the fine print in the description and ask every supplier what their over-run policy is for that item. Then let your client know that’s a possibility and ask if they prefer to be a little short, a little over, or neither.

Tiffany Sirles
Owner
Homewood Printing & Promotions
Birmingham, Alabama

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A Distributor Asks: As a new distributor, I spend too much time on everything because everything is new and thus there’s a learning curve. I spend a lot of time trying to come up with the perfect ideas for my clients, but on the other hand, I spend so much time on the actual project that it doesn’t offset the profit. How are other distributors managing their time with the creative process? 

Other people may have more helpful advice, but when I was just getting started it was the same thing. I am thankful for the time I spent looking for products because it helped me get to know what was out there a little better. It will go faster with time. Something I definitely learned the tough way is that overthinking will kill your creativity. 

Unless my client gives me something super exact or specific, I give them a few [product] options in a few categories and price points. I tell them there are lots of product options beyond this presentation and if they want to see more, let me know. If it strikes creative genius with your client, then great! If it becomes exactly what they’re looking for, great! But it helps me not to spend five hours finding products and then they say, “No, I don’t like this. I think we’ll change directions. Can you look for …?”

You’ll find a groove that works for you.

Nicole Diane Baker
Account Executive
American Solutions for Business
Glenwood, Tennessee
PPAI 101656, D12

The time you spend learning the business now is your long-term investment. Also, the money in this business is in the lifetime value of the customer, with their repeat orders for years to come. So, the cost of the time you spend doing research initially is the cost of acquisition of a client.

Gloria Lafont
President
Action Marketing
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

I only provide ideas and suggestions after I know the quantity, budget and due date of the order. I, then, spend my time providing product suggestions based on the potential order size. I also leave the common items in my clipboard in ESP so I can easily find them again. Once you narrow down your supplier list, finding items will be much easier. 

Today, a customer needed drawstring bags by next Friday. I spent about five minutes in ESP finding four to five good options from one of my favorite suppliers and sent her a PDF with pricing and product details. That one was easy, but I knew exactly what she needed and who I could depend on for quick turnaround.

Sally Anderson
Owner
Key Promotions, an authorized Kaeser & Blair dealer
Newnan, Georgia

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A Distributor Asks: I’m wondering how other distributors go about handling similar situations to one I recently encountered with a prospective client. A new customer called to request rush t-shirts, and asked us to provide them with artwork beforehand. We produced the artwork and the client said they’d get back to us the following day with their credit card information. The next morning, we walked into a Dear John letter, which simply said, “Sorry, but we went with another vendor.” Not only did we lose the order, but now they’re using the artwork that we produced. What can I do to prevent this from happening again?

Email your response(s) to Question@ppai.org for the chance to be featured in a future issue of PPB.  

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Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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Comments (1)
Carol Hartwig
November 2, 2021
That happened to me a few years ago. I went to the screen printer and threatened to sue him for using our artwork. We agreed and they ended up donating the 500 shirts and paid us for our artwork. The customer also came back to me knowing that what they did was not legit and that I could have also sued them. They were grateful for the free shirts and I snagged the rest of both their wearable and ad specialty business! Additionally, if they wanted to use the same artwork we generated, we had them pay for the artwork. Considering it was a US Government facility, and being ignorant with ordering from Ad Specialty company, and me being a small business they quickly apologized and we became instant friends
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