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Eco Expansion
Exclusive Webinar moderated by Andy Cohen
July 2010

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An exclusive Counselor online education session shows distributors how they can profit from selling eco-friendly items. Here’s an excerpt from the webinar.

Want to know how to expand your sales with one of the fastest-growing product categories today? So did many other distributors, who attended a live Counselor webinar in late May.

The session, titled "Improve Revenues and Margins With Green Products," brought together a panel of experts to discuss the best ways for distributors to market and sell eco-friendly products. Moderated by Counselor Editor Andy Cohen, the panel consisted of: Anthony Corsano, president of Anvil Knitwear (asi/36350), which also sponsored the online educational event; Mike Beckman, head of Proforma BPM (asi/300094); and Kris Robinson, executive vice president and chief sustainability officer for PromoShop (asi/300446).

Here is an excerpt from the event. To watch the entire webinar, go to and check out our online archive of education sessions.

Counselor: Why has eco-friendly apparel become so popular?

Anthony Corsano: We have seen the tipping point. I often hear people say to me that they tried to sell this category two or three years ago and there wasn’t a market. Now, the world is ready. Everywhere you go you see new products being brought to market, whether it be car companies or even General Electric. The environment is an incredibly important topic, and it’s significantly more so today than it was two or three years ago.
Kris Robinson: I think it’s because there’s so much more education on the category now than there ever had been before – both for distributors and their clients. When something reaches a level of heightened awareness, and people begin to realize the impact they can have on the environment and the world with the choices they make, then it becomes important for companies. That’s where we are right now.
Mike Beckman: It’s becoming a necessity now. We’re starting to take a broader look at the world, and it’s our responsibility. You’ve got to be more responsible, and consumers are starting to look to that and make sure that they are responsible. That responsibility is starting to trickle down to the promotional decisions that companies are making.

Counselor: What are some of the end-user markets that are particularly ripe right now for distributors to sell green products to?

Beckman: The three we’re seeing are energy, manufacturing and construction. A lot of manufacturing companies are looking to turn themselves into green operations, so they want to promote themselves that way, as well. Also, builders are trying to promote themselves and their new sites as eco-friendly, so any marketing they’re doing can incorporate green items.
Robinson: Some markets we’re pushing this to are entertainment and travel. Resorts are really looking to promote themselves as green, so you’ll see all kinds of eco-friendly items that they use as giveaways and also for sale in their gift shops. But, really, every market is a potential target. It’s so hot right now that you could talk to just about every client about it.
Corsano: The market that’s most intriguing to us and that we think could have huge potential is renewable energy resources and recycling. This is obviously an emerging market, so we don’t know how big it’s going to be. But, it is the perfect target for any eco-friendly products.

Counselor: What advice do you have for distributors who are looking to break into selling eco-friendly products?

Corsano: I think that they can do some very quick research on the customers they sell to. They will either find that they are bringing to market what would be considered environmentally friendly product or they have a policy, practice or procedure that would be considered environmentally friendly and they are shouting it to the world. Putting together a presentation that says, "Here’s a product that will support your statement," or, "Here’s a product that can support the product that you’re promoting," can be a powerful message for distributors. A promotional product that can support the product that a customer is bringing to market differentiates you as a distributor. It makes you smarter. It makes you more intellectual. It elevates you above your competition. Also, you should prove to clients what your company is doing to be more eco-friendly. You have to walk the walk.
Robinson: You have to do research and get an education on eco-friendly products. Go on the Internet and find out the definition of recycled products and what the recycled symbol means. You have to know what bamboo is, and understand the terminology in this category. You need to know what you are selling. You can’t go out and sell something unless you know what it is. The client will eat you up.
Beckman: The first and easiest thing to do is, next time you’re asked to provide some product ideas, provide one idea that is eco-friendly. But, don’t just push eco to push eco. Make sure that the product ties into their message or what they’re looking to do. I would just make it part of the regular options that you’re showing to people. That may be the best first step.

Counselor: How do you overcome the common price objection that clients tend to bring up when discussing eco-friendly products?

Beckman: Luckily, prices on eco-friendly products have been coming down quite a bit recently, to where they’re almost at the level of the standard ones. But if there is a price discrepancy, then you have to discuss the fact that green items provide them an extra level to promote their company. It’s not just about exactly what they’re promoting, but it’s also about marketing their company as a responsible organization. That’s what we do. We even offer to include a card with the product that shows the client’s mission statement toward the environment.
Corsano: I agree with Mike. The prices are coming down. But the whole point of using an eco-friendly item would be to brand your client’s organization. If the message that the ultimate customer is trying to bring to the market is one that’s eco-friendly, how can they possibly not at least consider using an eco-friendly promotional product to do that?
Robinson: I love this question, because I’ll always talk to clients about cost. Not just the cost of the product, but the cost of items we use in marketing campaigns to the environment overall. How do they define cost? Do they define cost as the out-of-pocket expense of the product? Or, do they look at it as the cost of what it does to our environment? It’s a worthwhile conversation to have with clients, and then they view the value and cost of the items differently.

Counselor: How can distributors effectively market and promote green items?

Beckman: I think you have to prove you’re green, as well, in your operations. You can’t just offer eco-friendly items for the sake of it. You have to show them that you not only sell the products, but that you use them every day, too.
Robinson: The best marketing strategy is to do enough research so that you can educate clients on this. If you can become enough of an expert on green products – and the green lifestyle – then you’ll be able to guide the decision-making process of your clients.
Corsano: If everything else is equal, why not do business with somebody who is trying to make a difference? That’s the pitch distributors should make. I think that’s as important as the product, and that is the means in which a distributor can differentiate themselves from the other 10 distributors walking in with the same product.

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