There are many parts of my job that I enjoy. I love meeting new clients and learning all about their company's sustainability commitments. I also love working with repeat clients and helping them evolve and grow their commitments as they learn and understand more about how to be more environmentally sustainable in all their business practices. But as for the day-to-day aspect of my work, curating high-quality, covetable, sustainable products for my clients is my biggest joy. Clients come back time and again to order their custom marketing merchandise and corporate gifts from my company Coolperx because the products I select help them win the hearts and minds of their teams and customers.
I travel the world to find the most covetable products. It’s not a bad gig, but it does take an open mind, a well-managed calendar and a lot of self-motivation. It would be much easier for me to sell my clients cheap products that are manufactured specifically for the promotional products industry to consume and discard. SWAG is a growing $30 billion a year industry that pumps out a ton (somewhere between $6-14 billion as a LOW estimate) of waste. Yet, I understood years ago that these products were not just environmentally harmful, but also dramatically ineffective as an expression of appreciation for a client’s larger community. Cheap branded gifts often mean buyers have to spend even more money to repair broken client relationships resulting from giving them poorly-chosen, poorly-made promotional gifts over and over again.
During COVID, testing new products and shopping for great new client products has been more challenging than ever. Rather than heading to New York or Paris to check out the latest innovations, I’ve been searching online and reaching out to the trusted partners we already have. But it also caused us to take a second look at what the sustainable side of the promotional products industry is currently offering to the larger marketplace. We get email flyers every day promising sustainable swag solutions, and some of our favorite manufacturers (like MiiR who makes dishwashers safe insulated tumblers) have started producing more sustainable products and better representing their pledges to be more environmentally sustainable.
Here’s a window into how we’re working during this COVID travel pause: One of our clients is rebranding with a new pledge for environmental sustainability and, as always, we are looking to help them find appropriate promotional merchandise that uphold those values for an affordable price.
We ordered about a dozen samples of lightweight jackets, some from within the promotional products industry (Eddie Bauer’s promotional line) and some from our favorite retail partners (Patagonia). When they arrived at our door, we got to enjoy the fun of trying them on, feeling them, moving in them and inspecting every inch of each product. My husband even did a fashion show for us, a family event usually reserved for our daughter after back-to-school shopping.
Unfortunately, what I found is that these particular products, even the ones from well-known retail brands like The North Face and Eddie Bauer, are vastly inferior in quality to the versions they make for retailers like Nordstrom. These promo products had problems like frayed hems, zippers not sealed on “waterproof” jackets, sleeves meant to universally fit every size human, which in one case meant Popeye would have had some room for his arms, but the waist was way too small. We would NEVER offer these low-quality items to our clients, even if they met every known metric for sustainability!
Strangely, these are considered to be the best of the best in the promotional products industry. Again, these are products that I would never sell. To demonstrate my commitment to quality and covetability of product choices, I chose three of the cheap jackets to show my client, so they could compare them with what we currently have on offer. As I knew they would, the client appreciated that I don’t waste their time with products I haven’t tried and don’t stand behind.
A huge mistake that I often stop clients from making is going cheap on something that holds their branding, like a knock-off or promo specific product. I can always provide them with better options within their budgets, but these options are individually more expensive. For example, sometimes a client will request a t-shirt branded with four colors and a cheap branded plastic water bottle. Standing out in a crowded marketplace and holding a clients’ attention requires more than these old cliches.
So I will suggest that they swap both of those for something more unique and useful, like a biometric padlock for their luggage, or truly sustainable polarized sunglasses made from old tires.
What usually happens next is that when the client sees that the price of the lock is $50 and the sunglasses are $80, they want to stick with cheap bulk products like t-shirts and water bottles.
Now, relatively speaking, bulk products can cost them very little up front. But remember: these products are often made unethically or unsustainably. They aren’t satisfying to those who receive them, and are statistically likely to be thrown away quickly, and end up in landfills. This means that in order to keep staying visible, the client would have to make frequent re-orders of these same products, just for a quick moment of appearing on yet another branded t-shirt before it, too, gets thrown away.
Once I explain to my clients that these kinds of products don’t convey appreciation or build brand loyalty, therefore increasing the costs of customer acquisition and employee retention, the lightbulb goes on and they start to make better choices.
The products I show my clients are items that will be worn or used by their teams or customers for a long period of time, adding value to their lives and joy to their hearts. I love getting these kinds of gifts! I also know the feeling of disappointment when I get a gift that seems to have no effort behind the purchase. I don’t want that for my clients. I don’t want that for their gift recipients. At coolperx, we sometimes say we are disruptors of cheapness and bringers of joy. Isn’t that what we’re all looking for in life?