A Distributor Asks: I am looking for a supplier’s perspective. What is one thing that would make your job easier and what is one thing distributors could do to help make it easier?

Suppliers: consolidated search engines. It is too expensive for boutique suppliers to be “everywhere.” Large buying groups even ask suppliers to pay for the privilege of giving a discount without making a sales volume commitment. Doesn’t feel like the oft-stated, “We’re all in this together. We are a team.”

Distributors: give suppliers enough information to make valuable recommendations.

  • What is the client trying to do?
  • What does the client want the recipients to feel/do?
  • How many people are they trying to reach?
  • What is the budget?

Train clients to leave enough time for production to avoid rush charges. Most other industries are already done ordering or are currently ordering end-of-the-year gifts. The promo channel doesn’t have to do things the way they’ve always been done.

Sue Kinch, MAS
Pontiac, Michigan
PPAI 651709, S1

After so many years in the business, I am saying the same thing again. A clear, complete purchase order to include PO number, date of PO number, use date (note if critical), bill-to, distributor contact information, email, phone number (and cell phone is helpful), ship-to, quantity, style number, cost, product details, any special instructions (don’t put this information in email only) and ship method, and attach art if needed or advise if it will follow. At least 30 percent of POs today are still not complete.

Richard Hennessy
Vice President
Cape Coral, Florida
PPAI 224757, S6

What we would try to keep in mind, whether you’re a supplier or distributor, is that we are all in this together. Both sectors share the same concerns and at the end of the day, trust and communication are key to a strong partnership. A good indicator for distributors to find vendors that offer great customer service is by their industry rating. We take a lot of pride in being a five-star supplier and it lets clients know about our great track record.

I would recommend to new providers who want to have a vendor consider terms is to strike up a plan that shows they mean business, and I mean long-term business. If you want terms, try submitting the request with two orders ready to go or start slow with the first order pre-paying, then in the next order ask for net 15 until trust is established. Nine times out of 10, suppliers are more than willing to help.

Stephanie Morales
Marketing Manager
Miami, Florida
PPAI 536045, S5


A Distributor Asks: I am new to the industry and I’d love to know—if you could start over, what would be your top suggestions?

Plan your work, work your plan and don’t sell on price. Commodity brokers are a dime a dozen. Provide a value to your customer they can’t get buying online. It comes down to relationship-selling.

Barry Dresser
Sales and Marketing Specialist
Logo 2 Promo
Fargo, North Dakota

Welcome to this wild and service-oriented business! If you love to serve others, you will fit right in. Of course, it won’t hurt to also have lots of patience and be able to organize a ton of information into a system that works best for you. I recommend you find a handful of suppliers and focus on a market that will use similar products. It’s very hard to supply everything to everyone. You will grow faster by saying “no” sometimes. 

Jim Rowland
JDK & Associates LLC
Kissimmee, Florida
PPAI 699345, D1

Don’t waste time with riffraff. Find the accounts that will make you successful and, in return, give them a service they can’t get anywhere else.

Qais Arabo
Classic Print Company
Knoxville, Tennessee

Never fudge. Always tell the truth. Delivering bad news quickly blunts the impact and then can make you look like a hero when your decisions to adjust save the day.

Scott Cappel, MAS
President and Founder
Sorrento Mesa Promo
San Diego, California
PPAI 609965, D1

Do your thing and don’t worry about competitors that sell on price alone. Over the last 20 years, it has been entertaining to see so many come and go because they sold on price and couldn’t make it up on quantity.

Chris Pollan
Owner and President
Pollan Promos
Starkville, Mississippi
PPAI 276409, D2

Understand your products and how they become marketing messages. Not sure what your background is but study more than you think is possible. Become experts and get to know the factory and multi-line reps—they will be your best friends. Narrow your focus. You don’t need five hat companies or pen companies. Find one or two that you really like and be loyal to them. I know that’s not one thing, but I’ll stop. Everything is important. Get clarity on your work, proofing, communication. It’s a great business but it’s far more complicated than many think.

Judy Sharp
Sharp Ideas, Inc.
Fresno, California
PPAI 108483, D4

Work smart and with a plan. I’m two-and-a-half years in and it is still so easy to get distracted by some of the low-hanging fruit (clients) that takes your eye off the prize. Find your favorite suppliers and really build that relationship. They are your lighthouse in the storm.

Nickole Martel Gafford
Branding Specialist
LogoBranders, Inc.
Montgomery, Alabama
PPAI 197204, D7

It’s going to be a lot of work, a lot of learning, but reach out to others more for help. There are tons of people in this industry who love to give and support others. Pick suppliers that have good ratings to work with. Check out commonsku. Ask suppliers for EQP. If you are not good with paperwork, hire as soon as you can afford it and let someone else do your accounting. You will wear all of the hats in the beginning but if you stay in the boat, you will get to where you can give some of those hats away. Be real with your clients and prospects.

Karesa Wells
Cross Country Specialty Advertising
Blanchard, Oklahoma
PPAI 724800, D3

Don’t ever start selecting promotional products until …

  • You know what message your client wants to convey. Purpose before products, always.
  • Who is the real audience? What do they want the prospect to feel, change or do?
  • How do they plan to deliver the products?
  • What results do they expect?

This is what makes you a great counselor: coming up with strategy, not just pushing products. You will find that most people don’t know what they want or really need. If you probe for answers, you can be their invaluable problem-solving partner for life. And don’t cut your price. Your margins cover your creative strategy and research time. Join your regional and national associations, like Rocky Mountain Region Promotional Products Association and PPAI. They have wonderful resources to help you learn with free seminars, many online, and connect with friendly competitors and accommodating suppliers.

Mary Ellen Pahlka-Sokalski
Marketing Coordinator
Hanover, Pennsylvania
PPAI 360359, S6


Do You Have An Answer?

A Distributor Asks: As we are all watching our expenses, is it necessary to have a landline anymore? As a distributor, most of my business calls come in through my mobile device, as my client and suppliers have the number. Do clients and suppliers care that there isn’t a dedicated business landline?

What’s Your Answer?

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


Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.