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Be There For The Buyer


Wearables Sales Forecast 2013
By Christopher Ruvo

What do buyers want? To answer that question, Wearables took a common sense but not always utilized approach: We asked them.

"We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." That famous quote from the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus suggests a salient point that all sales professionals should take to heart: The more you listen to your clients and prospects – the more you come to truly understand their needs – the better you'll be able to serve them. In so doing, you sow the seeds of your own success, making yourself a valuable resource customers will turn to time and again.

With the idea of being good listeners in mind, Wearables asked buyers and industry insiders in five key markets about how they use apparel and what they want from distributors. So take a cue from Epictetus, and tune in to what buyers have to say.

Health Care

HEALTH CARE

THE INDUSTRY AT A GLANCE: Health care is a hot market for distributors. In 2011, the health care market accounted for nearly 12% of total distributor revenues – a staggering tally of about $2.18 billion. This year, 27.1% of distributors said health care is a top market for selling apparel, according to this year's Wearables Sales Forecast. Given growth projections in the field, business could be good for years to come. Consider that between 2010 and 2020, the health care and social assistance sector is projected to add 5.6 million jobs, more than any other sector, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

Sharon FieldsINDUSTRY INSIDER: Sharon Fields
POSITION: Vice President of Marketing, Halpern Eye Care, Dover, DE.

HOW THEY USE APPAREL: Halpern buys logoed performance polo shirts for the company's 145 employees to wear as uniform pieces. Fields, who is in charge of purchasing apparel and other promotional products, says the moisture-wicking shirts help staff maintain a professional look and keep employees happy because they are comfortable and easy to maintain. "They're basically wash-and-wear, and the material lasts longer," Fields says.

Buying shirts that run between $28 and $30, Halpern makes available different performance styles, including short sleeves, long sleeves and quarter sleeves. To adhere to the corporate color scheme in the Halpern logo, the shirts typically come in white, a light blue and a darker blue. Employees are provided with three shirts, but can order more.

Embroidered with Halpern's logo on the left chest, the employee shirts serve as a marketing tool. "It's great PR for us," Fields says. "When we're out and about and the employees are wearing their shirts, someone always stops and asks about Halpern because of the logo."

In addition to staff shirts, Halpern buys apparel for employees to wear to various events and outreach efforts in which it is involved. The eye care company also purchases apparel for special internal functions, such as company parties. Says Fields: "We recently had a summer picnic and got team T-shirts for everyone."

WHAT HEALTH-CARE PROVIDERS WANT FROM YOU: Reps should provide services that make their clients' lives easier, says Fields. A distributor she currently works with – Jim Rafte of Proforma Preferred Solutions – comes through on that account. For one thing, he provides a website through which employees can order apparel. "It's an easy tool for us to administer," says Fields. Additionally, Rafte takes a consultative approach, understanding Halpern's apparel needs and then delivering quality product that meets them. "I'll tell him I'm looking for a certain material in certain colors and he always finds something," says Fields.

Government

GOVERNMENT

THE INDUSTRY AT A GLANCE: As far as selling wearables goes, distributors are lukewarm on the government. Only 8.6% believe the sector is a top market for apparel sales. Perhaps tightening budgets and frustrating bidding processes dampen the appeal of courting government clients. Nonetheless, the government sector still spent nearly $500 million on ad specialties, including apparel, in 2011. And with many potential clients – from municipal governing bodies through federal agencies and the military – there remains opportunity to exploit.

Mark AllenINDUSTRY INSIDER: Mark Allen
POSITION: Military and defense business consultant, Moore Exposure (asi/276255); retired U.S. Army Master Sergeant.

HOW THEY USE APPAREL: Allen has seen the advertising specialty industry from both sides of the table. After 22 years in the Army, he recently retired and began working for the Fayetteville, NC-based distributorship Moore Exposure, selling wearables and other products to military and defense clientele. While enlisted, the Master Sergeant worked as a career counselor whose job it was to promote and achieve soldier retention. Allen often used apparel and accessories as part of those efforts. "It was important to give the soldier a nice gift to say, ‘Hey, thanks for staying Army,'" says Allen.

To encourage and reward re-upping, Allen gave out a variety of wearables, the most popular items being caps, T-shirts and polo shirts. Typically unstructured with a low profile and Velcro back, the caps often featured an embroidered unit crest or mascot. T-shirts tended to be of the sport-blend fabric variety and contain moisture-wicking capabilities. Embellishment may have consisted of a unit crest on the front and a unit mascot on the back printed no larger than 13" by 13", says Allen. Two-inch left chest embroidery adorned the polos. Per military rules and because of Allen's soldier retention mission, all the apparel, which included pullover windshirts too, had to contain the messaging "Stay Army."

WHAT MILITARY BUYERS WANT FROM YOU: "User-friendliness," says Allen. "You have to be flexible and work within their budget." Before joining Moore Exposure, Allen was a client. He credits the distributorship for having always taken the time to understand exactly what he was looking for and then delivering the right product on time within his Army-dictated spend cap. His biggest turnoff as a buyer? Pushy reps and spammers. "You got some who e-mailed and called all the time, trying to sell you anything and everything," says Allen. "I wasn't going to deal with that person."

Nonprofits

NONPROFITS

THE INDUSTRY AT A GLANCE: The number of registered nonprofits increased 19% between 1999 and 2009, and there are currently about 1.56 million such organizations in the country, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics. In 2010, public charities, which comprise more than 1 million of all nonprofits, had revenues of $1.51 trillion and expenses of $1.45 trillion. Accounting for 6.5% of total distributor revenues last year, nonprofits spent $1.2 billion on advertising specialties, including apparel.

Heather MorganINDUSTRY INSIDER: Heather Morgan
POSITION: Communications Manager, Children's Home Society of Florida, Winter Park, FL.

HOW THEY USE APPAREL: The Children's Home Society of Florida is on a noble mission: protect and heal abused children, build and strengthen families and rescue and embrace teens struggling to survive on their own. To be successful, the nonprofit must raise awareness with the public and keep more than 1,800 employees energized and motivated. Decorated apparel helps on both fronts.

As part of an annual employee appreciation week, CHSFL gives T-shirts to employees. Typically printed with the organization's logo on the front, the T-shirts are a well-received reward that helps keep morale high. "Getting the shirts is a nice gift for everyone," says Morgan, noting CHSFL last year designed a shirt for its 109th anniversary that employees bought in droves. "Everyone is proud of the work we do. They often wear the shirts out, so that gives us great exposure in the community. The shirts are a great way to help us educate people about what we do."

CHSFL also uses apparel as an incentive in its "Champions for Children" program, which seeks to enlist people who'll raise funds and educate the public about abused and neglected children. If, for example, a participant raises $1,000, they get a "Champions" T-shirt. Should they raise $5,000, then a classy Clique golf shirt from Cutter & Buck (asi/47965) featuring fine embroidery is the reward. Not only do the apparel awards incentivize participants, but they also propel the cycle of awareness. "People are proud to wear the shirts and that leads to more exposure," says Morgan.

WHAT NONPROFITS WANT FROM YOU: Since obtaining quality apparel at a cost-effective price is essential, CHFSL may solicit bids from several vendors when it comes time to make a purchase. "Because we're a nonprofit," says Morgan, "it's important that we make every dollar count." Nonetheless, service matters, too, she says. Andrew Seferlis, a senior promotions specialist at LogoGram (asi/255247), does an excellent job by finding apparel that meets CHSFL's tastes and price points – and by going the extra mile with service and advice. Says Morgan: "He'll come before and after business hours. He shows us different types of shirts so we can see and feel the material. He'll make recommendations on screen printing or embroidery. If we send him a logo and he doesn't think it will embroider well, he'll give us professional feedback on what will work."

Education

EDUCATION

THE INDUSTRY AT A GLANCE: When it comes to wearables, schools are big business for the ad specialty industry. More than half – 55% – of distributors say education is a top market for selling apparel, according to the Wearables Sales Forecast. In 2011, schools and universities accounted for 11.1% – $2.05 billion – of total distributor revenue, which includes apparel and other products.

Rebecca GeorgeINDUSTRY INSIDER: Rebecca George
POSITION: Athletic Director, Palisades School District, Kintnersville, PA.

HOW THEY USE APPAREL: In her position, George is in charge of purchasing uniforms for the district's various school teams. She has no shortage of responsibility in that department. Palisades students participate in everything from football and field hockey, to basketball, baseball, track and cross country. The uniforms are purchased on a five-year rotating cycle, so one year it's football's turn, the next it may be softball's. What do her students and coaches want? "They're looking for what's in, the latest uniform styles," says George, noting recently-purchased baseball uniforms featured sharp fitted caps and pants that stretch well below the knee, as is common among the pros.

With an interest in durable, quality-designed, light-weight items that allow for movement and breathability, Palisades routinely purchases name brand gear like Russell and Nike. Performance features, such as moisture wicking, are a must. "It's about getting quality at the best possible price," says George.

In addition to team uniforms, Palisades' booster club buys T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts, caps and more. Typically embellished with the school's Pirate logo, the apparel and accessories may reflect collegiate casual wear styles, which appeals to student and parent end-users. Fashion trends have also influenced the type of apparel the booster club buys. Yoga and pajama pants, for example, have proved popular. George says pre-ordering is essential. "We don't want to have to carry inventory."

WHAT SCHOOLS WANT FROM YOU: "I want them to be organized," says George. "To communicate well. To get the uniforms here on time. And, especially in this economic climate, I want the best deal. I'm always looking to stretch the dollar." George typically solicits bids from several vendors in an effort to secure the lowest price for uniforms.

While cost is clearly important, George also desires expert advice. For starters, reps should be able to offer insights about the latest trends in team wear. "I'll ask them what other schools are buying," George says. Additionally, she wants feedback on how to make the uniforms look as good as possible. Some vendors, for example, have impressed George by suggesting ways to present school colors in uniforms with the most eye-catching pop. "We've received good advice about color schemes," she says. "That's helpful."

Hospitality

HOSPITALITY

THE INDUSTRY AT A GLANCE: Earlier this year, Moody's Analytics predicted 2012 hotel income would grow at a 4.4% pace by year's end, something not seen since 2006. Plus, by the end of 2014, the hospitality sector is predicted to complete a 17% increase in wage and salary employment, according to the U.S. Labor Department. While the percentage of distributors who say the hospitality sector is a top market for selling apparel varies significantly by region, you may want to focus your attention on travel, lodging and restaurant clients regardless of where you live, given that the industry is on the rise.

Patti KiesendahlINDUSTRY INSIDER: Patti Kiesendahl
POSITION: Decorator at Woodloch Pines Resort, Hawley, PA

HOW THEY USE APPAREL: Logoed apparel is an essential component of Woodloch's business. From its gift shops, the nationally-recognized lakeside resort sells an array of branded clothing for everyone from babies to senior citizens. During the height of the summer tourist season, Woodloch may sell $10,000 to $15,000 worth of apparel in a week, says Kiesendahl, who spearheads apparel purchasing. Even during slower periods, $5,000 in clothing flies off the shelves weekly.

T-shirts, polo shirts, caps, sweatshirts, sweatpants, backpacks, beachcomber bags and winter beanies are some of the items Woodloch retails to guests. Kiesendahl notes that polo shirts with embroidered left-chest logos are attractive to more senior guests, while the younger crowd looks for funkier on-trend designs, such as vertical imprints on the legs of sweatpants. "We try to put our personality into our designs and make that appeal to all our guests," she says.

Beyond procuring clothing to sell to customers, Woodloch also buys staff apparel. This includes left-chest embroidered Nike polo shirts worn by wait staff and gift shop employees. "They wear well and they last," Kiesendahl says of the shirts.

It's about more than generating a profit through retail sales and projecting a positive image through staff clad in name brand gear. It's also about attracting new visitors. "We feel very strongly that quality apparel that represents us well is great for marketing," says Kiesendahl. "If someone who stayed here is back home and walking down the street wearing one of our shirts, someone is going to ask them, ‘What's Woodloch?' That spreads the word."

WHAT RESORTS WANT FROM YOU: Follow-up and come-through. Kiesendahl routinely works with two vendors who are on the ball. They're efficient and responsive from the initial order discussions through artwork approval to final fulfillment. Critically, the orders arrive on time. "From start to finish it takes a month on average," Kiesendahl says. Contrast that with another vendor with which Kiesendahl has struggled. That company has lost orders and failed to follow up, sometimes compelling Woodloch to call to find out what's going on with its apparel. "You reach a point where you're ready to weed them out," Kiesendahl says.

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