Across the country, federal, state and local governments are weighing how to reopen the economy against the risks posed by COVID-19. As businesses move toward opening their doors, promotional products professionals are connecting with clients to determine their needs and working with customers to get back up and running.

“I am still hearing a lot of uncertainty,” says Joe Walkup, president of distributor Innovative Business Products in Nashville, Tennessee. “Some are ready to be set free to go out to eat and others just don’t know what to think about everything.”

Teresa Moisant, MAS, president of distributor Moisant Promotional Products in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, says, “In Oklahoma City, it is primarily the personal care businesses such as hair and nail salons, barber shops, gyms and the smaller restaurants that opened on May 1. These are businesses who buy some promo products, but with their financial situation, now is not the time to buy. For those businesses, it is survival.”

Many areas have gone through early stages of reopening, affecting certain subsets of businesses. But with the potential spread of COVID-19 still a major concern, managing the spread is a significant factor in any purchasing decisions that businesses do make.

”For our clients going back to work, without a doubt, the conversations are about masks, sanitizer and possibly other PPE items, such as gloves and thermometers,” says Jim Owen, president of Atlanta, Georgia, distributor Swag Promo.

Moisant highlighted how the pandemic is influencing clients’ use of certain products. She says, “Our banks and credit unions have purchased very inexpensive pens for their drive-thru operations and are tossing them after the customer’s use. I think this will continue for a while.”

Walkup reports a similar shift in what clients are asking for. “I am heavy into PPE, signage, hand sanitizer and talking about ‘disposable’ print, such as menus that can’t be reused and items that are only supposed to be touched by one person instead of many,” he says.

Conversations with clients are also giving distributors a general of sense of the environment their business is in.

“Our city was quick to institute the shelter-in-place mandate and it has been effective. Because of this, we are managing results. If our numbers spike, our mayor has made it very clear, we will go back to the stay-at-home directive,” says Moisant. “I think business is going to be tough throughout the majority of the year. I am thankful for our long-term relationships when they need it and if I can generate interest in unique items, they will buy. Our business is located in ‘oil country’ so as soon as we conquer the COVID-19 virus, we will then have to deal with the oil situation. My word of caution, it is great to get the sale, but it isn’t worth it if it doesn’t get paid for.”

Walkup adds, “I think a lot of companies are excited to get the doors open. They have felt shut out. I anticipate visits to clients will continue to be less than they were. Some larger companies are being very careful to not throw their doors open to bring their staff back to the corporate campus just yet. Many of those are feeling alone.”

Owen concurs with the sentiment. “The general feeling is that they’re anxious about going back to work,” he says. “They want to start back but some are perhaps uneasy about the social context. Workforces have changed too, so departments are different, and some responsibilities have changed.”

Find more reports on the industry’s COVID-19 response, PPE resources, provisions of the CARES Act, links to related webinars and further information on PPAI’s coronavirus information page here.