September has arrived. While days are getting cooler, in the world of promotional goods business is just starting to heat up.
We asked a few SanMar experts what they’re seeing in the markets they serve and what they’re advising can be done when demand is high and supply is tight. These were a few of the common themes we found.
Choose Your Projects
As Steve Jobs said, “Focus means saying no to a hundred other good ideas” while you work on your priorities. Saying yes to every project is not always the right answer.
Strategic Account Manager Monty Mims points out that this can be a hard switch to make. “Contract decorators are often more process-minded folks that put their heads down and get to work on something,” Monty says. “Given the demand-vs-supply imbalance right now, they are focusing in on what business will be best for their time.”
When incoming requests for projects start to seem overwhelming, this focus is what helps cut through the noise. Mark Bailey, SanMar’s Senior Director of the Decorator and Digital Solutions team says that customers “should always take what works best for them at prices that are profitable.”
Keep Your Options Open
Leonard Snart’s four rules of planning feel especially relevant this year, and even the best plans need a backup.
This means presenting more than one option when approaching a customer and being aware of what’s available. “Our customers are trying to help their customers by selecting other categories of products, changing out colors or just settling for what they can get their hands on,” says Alisha Wheeler, a SanMar Territory Manager in Arizona.
Indiana Territory Manager Brianna Soley suggests a broader approach to both style and pricing. “Be vague on products that you offer — mention a ‘navy t-shirt’ instead of listing a specific style number or brand,” she says, adding that this applies to cost quotes too. “Give yourself a little more margin in quoting in case you need to substitute for a higher-priced item to fill an order.”
Be Honest About Expectations
When it comes to setting expectations as prices rise and ship times get longer, the toughest conversations are the ones most worth having.
South Carolina Territory Manager Kristin Kenny stresses the importance of giving customers fair warning, adding the most are likely to understand. “Typically the end user is already experiencing these changes in their own industries, so most conversations go well,” she adds.
Drew Greer, a Territory Manager in the Gulf Coast region, agrees with Kristin. He sees his customers “trying to educate end users on the global situation related to manufacturing and logistics,” issues that continue to affect business across the country. “Those end users that deal with these things themselves understand it,” Drew adds.
Texas Territory Manager Jason Ziemann points out that setting those expectations can also drive decisions. “Customers are getting their customers to commit earlier than ever before because they are having the correct conversations.”
Don’t Put It Off
“Now is not the time to procrastinate,” says Alisha Wheeler, explaining that inventory challenges and extended shipping times make putting things off a risky business. “Those that do are going to find that they won’t get product in their customers’ hands until well after the New Year,” she adds.
Brianna Soley agrees. “Pitch products earlier than normal,” she advises. “Decisions need to be made sooner rather than later – I personally have been discussing the need to pitch Christmas early since July!”
Jason Ziemann sums it up succinctly: “See it? Buy it!” If what you want is in stock today, it might not be tomorrow.
Work With Your Network
The promotional apparel industry is a tight-knit community. In the midst of everything, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone.
With equipment and labor becoming scarce commodities, “we are seeing an interconnected network develop,” says Monty Mims. “Contract decorators are contacting each other to help take on larger jobs, and direct decorators are starting to increase their amount of outreach to contractors.”
SanMar’s Sales and Support teams are hard at work to help as well. “We are standing by to find them a product that is in stock and make product suggestions to help them with their projects,” says Alisha Wheeler.
Finally, while knowing you’re not alone helps, it’s also important to remember that these are challenges we’re all sharing.
“Collaboration with your suppliers and decorators is the only way to find solutions to your end user needs,” Mark Bailey observes. “Keep an open mind. It may not be ideal, but there is something out that that will work as an alternative solution if we work as one team.”
As Rick Roth at Ink Kitchen points out, when the struggle is all too real it’s important to remember the simplest lesson of all. “Take a deep breath, we are all in this together and even if you are frustrated, be kind.”