Profile - How We Sell Sustainability

Finding The Right Customer Is Key

Profile - How We Sell SustainabilityHow has Fairware Promotional Products (asi/191452) become one of the fastest-growing distributors in the industry? By selling on principle, not on price. “We identified a gap in the market,” says Denise Taschereau, Fairware’s CEO and co-founder. “Eight years ago, there were some distributors focusing on the green products arena, but very few that were also identifying social compliance as an issue.”

So, Taschereau and Fairware’s other founder, Sarah White, decided to focus their pitch on sustainable products and ethical sourcing. They targeted companies that made commitments to purchasing with the environment in mind, and it worked. Fairware has since won business from companies like Johnson & Johnson, Aveda and Patagonia. Between 2009 and 2011, Fairware more than doubled its sales, joining the multi-million dollar revenue club.

Q: How do you find companies to call on?
A: Our narrow focus on our niche makes it easier to prospect. We look for brands and organizations that have a strong commitment to social and environmental responsibility – we get them and they get us. Being so specialized enables us to sell into markets all across the U.S. and Canada. It also helps us say “no” when there isn’t a good fit.

Q: What approach do you take with suppliers?
A: We ask our suppliers to review and sign off on a four-page survey that includes our supplier code of conduct. The survey provides us with information on our suppliers’ commitment to worker rights and environmental management. Where possible, we prioritize sourcing sustainable products such as certified organic cotton and recycled items.

Q: How do you respond to client objections about eco-friendly products?
A: The classic objections relate to price (green products are too much) and selection (not enough variety or color options). The former can be hard to respond to – but because we don’t compete on price, we are usually able to steer the conversation back to the value add of aligning merchandise with brand promises. When you’re sourcing merchandise for an organic food company, for example, they get that certified organic costs more because they live that challenge in their own supply chain every day. To tackle the issue of selection, we work with retail suppliers for specific projects, or design and manufacture our own products.

Q: What’s an example of a campaign you’ve run recently?
A: A favorite that comes to mind is a campaign with an environmental NGO and Patagonia Toronto. We provided them with biodegradable seeded paper hang tags to use in urban ravines as part of a community engagement program.

Q: What markets respond well to eco-friendly offerings?
A: The natural food and products sector is a good fit, as are outdoor retail brands. We work with many consumer product companies because we can help them leverage promotional merchandise to connect their story and commitment to the end-consumer.

Q: What eco-friendly trends do you see developing in the near future?
A: There has been a lot of innovation in technical textiles over the past few years and some emerging systems for minimizing impact. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition and its HIGG Index is probably the most interesting development. The initiative boasts a coalition of major footwear and apparel brands. The aim is to quantify the impacts of apparel and create a common way to measure that across brands, meaning you could compare a Nike shoe to an adidas shoe using the same indicators.