A Knockout Opportunity

Find Out How To Make A Huge Impression

Knockout What promo product leaves the most positive impression of an advertiser? T-shirts? Bags? Maybe caps? Nope, it's outerwear. Read on to find out how you can take advantage of a big chance to make a huge impression.

Here's some good news about promotional outerwear: 97% of those who receive it can name the advertiser who gave it to them, according to ASI's Global Ad Specialties Impressions Survey. But that's not all. About 73% of outerwear recipients will come to have a more favorable view of the advertiser – the highest figure generated by any ad specialty item. And yet, the category still has tremendous, untapped potential as promotional outerwear is owned by just 5% of American consumers.

Realizing there's room for growth, savvy distributors are figuring out more ways to pitch and sell outerwear to clients and prospects. How can you do the same? Follow these examples of salespeople who are already enjoying success.

Beyond the Workplace
Two separate outerwear orders – one for a nationwide grocery chain, and another for the largest fuel stop and truck stop network in the U.S. – were placed with the same goal in mind from clients. "Brand relevance outside the workplace," says Barbara Buyers, business development executive for Shumsky (asi/326300), which provided retail-looking jackets for both companies.

"The grocery chain was looking for something high-end and retail-looking for the facility engineering department at over 2,000 locations in 30 different states," she says. "They wanted these workers to stand out."

The company's employees had been given fleeces in the past, but the jackets looked as inexpensive as they were and weren't something workers wanted to put on off the clock.

"They'd give out the jackets and employees would take them home and either give them away or throw them out," Buyers says. "They never saw the jackets being worn. So, they wanted something a little more expensive, a retail look that might be worn outside of work. They wanted to use the company branded logo, and they wanted to add some additional text to it."

Buyers persuaded the grocery chain's decision-makers to go with a Columbia soft-shell jacket with fleece lining. "They wanted something that could be worn in cold weather – maybe layered with a couple of other pieces – but they wanted to make sure that someone in Michigan could layer up, while someone in Atlanta could wear this in the winter and not be too hot," she says.

The grocery chain ordered over 2,000 jackets over a time frame of about a year and a half. "We did a beautiful left-chest embroidered logo, and we put some different signage on the right side and on the fleece," Buyers says.

The truck stop network also asked Shumsky for a quality, high-end jacket. "They wanted something a little bit nicer than they had gone with before," Buyers says. "They had a brand-new logo, and they wanted to launch it on these jackets."

Just like the grocery chain, the truck stop network had ordered promotional outerwear before and got the same result – nobody liked the garments. Buyers suggested an upgrade – something employees would want to wear and keep, and that worked.

Of course, there were still challenges. After sending along 10 product samples, Buyers finally convinced the company to test out a sweater-like fleece jacket. "We did a tone-on-tone nape-of-the-neck decoration, and embroidered the logo on the left chest, also," she says. "We've provided a couple thousand that they've sent out into the field to get feedback."

If the response is as positive as the grocery chain's reaction was to the Columbia jackets, Shumsky will be on its way to significant additional business. "It'll probably be a July-August order for the entire chain that they would then take possession of in the fall," Buyers says.

Rebranding & Re-Outfitting
When a large, East Coast-based energy company planned a change to its company logo after a merger, decision-makers saw it as an opportunity to re-outfit the entire staff.

"The reason their apparel program exists is essentially to uniform their employees, and that's everybody from nuclear technicians, internal associates, and customer associates to field technicians," says Bill Petrie, vice president of promotional marketing for Guy Brown (asi/199968). "They also used that opportunity to reinvigorate how their uniform hierarchy works. For example, supervisors wear blue shirts, people on the phones wear white shirts – it's almost militaristic in its appearance."

With locations from Pennsylvania to Florida, and with many of its employees working outdoors, the energy company needed a variety of apparel.

And one of the goals of the apparel rebranding process was to give employees something they'd actually enjoy wearing. "We brought in at least 250 samples, whittled that down to a more manageable number, and then brought in people across the company from every position that was going to be affected by this rebranding. We got their opinions – what they liked and what they didn't like in terms of quality and fit," Petrie says.

That included input from women, who are rarely satisfied with apparel made for men. "What we selected wasn't a smaller men's version," Petrie says. "It was women's complementary versions – a softer silhouette, maybe a six-button placket instead of a three-button placket, and so on."

Guy Brown is in the process of supplying the company with long-sleeve button-down shirts, polos, sweaters, lightweight jackets, and heavyweight jackets for 7,000 employees at over 500 locations. The order has come to over 25,000 total pieces and includes professional packaging.

"Each associate had an opportunity to order up to five pieces of apparel, so you can imagine with the combination of sizing and styles, almost everybody had a custom order," Petrie says. "A lot of the orders were sent to central administrative sites, but at least 850 are being sent to people's homes. So, from my perspective, it's really an attention-to-detail thing."

Petrie says the key to a happy customer in this case is offering apparel that employees will wear off duty, not just on the job, in order to promote the energy company and its new logo. "Customers want a retail feel," Petrie says. "If you can find, within their budget, something that's not only comfortable and practical, but something that would make them say, ‘I would buy this' if they saw it in the store, that's all the better."

Winter Winners
Just because your company may be located in a warm-weather climate doesn't mean you can't put together some awesome cold-weather orders.

"We're in Dallas. We're not in typical winter country," says Bob Lilly, Jr., CEO of Bob Lilly Professional Promotions (asi/254138). "We don't sell as much outerwear as companies in Wisconsin and places like that, percentage-wise, but we don't do too bad considering the neck of the woods we're in."

Along with projects such as 2,800 Carhartt jackets for one of the world's largest fastener companies, and 1,100 Columbia jackets for a thank-you program for another client, Bob Lilly created a 6,300-piece order for the distributor channel of a multimillion-dollar building supplies company last year. The program was the final leg of a four-part sales rep incentive program, according to Tommy Lewis, vice president of sales.

"The first part was pool and barbecue items for summertime. The second was for tailgating and football. The third was for Halloween and autumn. And the fourth was for Christmas and winter," he says.

The order included 2,700 knit caps, 1,800 long-sleeve T-shirts, 900 sweatshirts and 900 vests. "With most of our accounts, we sell these programs through pure pitch," Lewis says. "Most of these times there's not even a budget. This was a pure creative sale, and we actually worked with the client to create a budget. We sent complete size runs to their offices so that each of the key players would be able to get something that each one of them wanted."

And whether Bob Lilly was based in Dallas, New York City, Los Angeles, or anywhere else in the U.S., distribution would have been a challenge – but Lilly, Jr. says the $45,000 order was well worth it.

"Distribution took place in Q4 of 2012, and it happened two weeks before Christmas," he says, noting that the outerwear was mailed to over 400 locations. "It was the right time of year to be giving out winter wear."

Freedom of Choice
One effective way to ensure that your client's employees embrace logoed outerwear: Let them pick out what they want. Such was the case when Sue Ditton, general manager of SCP Corporate powered by Proforma (asi/300094), offered outerwear options for workers at a local community health center. Ditton pitched items like polo shirts and fleece jackets for a Christmas apparel rewards program. "The employees can pick out items up to a $50 budget, and we document what they want," she says. "It's compiled together and billed out to the hospital as one large order."

Ditton took a similar approach when ConAgra Foods wanted something that would encourage its workers to be safe, but also wanted to give them something they'd be proud to wear on and off the clock. During the decision process, Proforma and ConAgra management came together to ask for input from staff. "They let the employees come and get involved. They asked them what they would pick if they could pick from these items," she says.

The products that Ditton recommended included wearables and non-wearables – a vest, a jacket, a fleece blanket and a picnic cooler. "The majority chose the vests. We sell a ton of fleece vests," she says.

ConAgra Foods ordered 300 logoed microfiber fleece vests – with an updated logo that included a recent name change – for one of their especially cold locations (in Michigan), and gave them to employees who went a full year injury-free. "It's kind of cold in the area they work. It's like a factory," Ditton says.

The vests went over so well that it may lead to another apparel order. "They do come to us often, and last week, I quoted them for 370 hooded sweatshirts," Ditton says.

E-mail: sdale@asicentral.com