Promo Product Cityscape - Top 5 Cities

Best Cities For Sales Of Promo Products

>>Click here for the entire list
>>Click here for the digital version

CityScapeExclusive Counselor survey ranks – from 1 to 100 – the largest metro areas in the United States in terms of promotional products sales. Plus, we profile the top five.

Looking for ripe markets to target right now? Here is Counselor's exclusive ranking of the best cities for sales of promotional products. We created an index to measure the amount of ad specialty revenue in specific markets against each market's population – this normalized the market's size so we didn't just deem the markets with the most revenue as the absolute best.

The result is our Ad Specialty Vitality Index (ASV Index). This year, we took the 100 largest metro areas in the United States (MSAs) and ranked them 1 to 100 in order of best market for promotional products sales all the way down to the one with the least promise. Take a look at the rankings now, and then turn the page for profiles of each of the top five. Get your pens out – these are the five geographical areas that distributors should be sure to target for the remainder of 2013 and into 2014.

Dallas: Star of the Southwest


Low unemployment, surging population and a thriving array of industries make Dallas a prime city for distributors to target. Here, we profile a Top 40 firm that calls the metroplex home.

Call it pride, self-admiration or swagger – whatever it is, people in Dallas seem to have it. And why not? Big D is one of the nation's elite cities by almost any measure of livability, economic growth, entertainment and culture.

Yet, there's this irony. In a city with such a strong personality, you'll find possibly the quietest powerhouse firm in the entire ad specialty industry: Top 40 distributor Tic Toc (asi/158990). "We like it that way," jokes the company's CEO, Paul Gittemeier.

Founded in 1974 as Case-Dunlap, Tic Toc is the product of a handful of acquisitions, as several companies merged into one about a decade ago. Tic Toc's name is an acronym. It stands for: The Imagination Company, Tomorrow's Original Creations. "Our pedigree is unique," Gittemeier says. "We're owned by Omnicom, the largest marketing company in the world. That's given us a great affiliation with folks."

Many of those affiliations are with major ad agencies, meaning Tic Toc has access to a diverse, coast-to-coast group of high-profile, high-intensity clients. But, unsurprisingly, Tic Toc often looks to its hometown to drive sales, tapping into burgeoning Dallas markets, like energy, insurance, hospitality and retail.

"The types of companies that are here are heavy users of promotional products," Gittemeier says. "There's a broad spectrum of industries and the harvest field is ripe."

No doubt there are plenty of Texas-sized opportunities for Tic Toc in Dallas, but to fully take advantage of them the distributor needs to be much more versatile than the average firm. With its staff of 40 people, Tic Toc will do everything from providing kids' toys for restaurant meals to creating custom gift-with-purchase programs to running sweepstakes for national pet store chains. "We do a lot of high-volume, custom manufactured pieces," Gittemeier says.

But even though Tic Toc staffs and operates more like an agency than a traditional distributorship, it's avoided the burnout culture that many ad companies seem to have. In fact, in 2008, 2009 and 2012, Tic Toc was named to Counselor's Best Places to Work list. "We have a lot of people that have worked here a long time," Gittemeier says. "We have a cool office."

Over the years, the entertainment at Tic Toc has included pub crawls, summer parties and down time playing video games and pool. "We even have a disco ball," Gittemeier says. "We certainly do fun things together."

And no one is having more fun than Gittemeier, who's committed to keeping Tic Toc as the industry leader in the Dallas market. "I have a lot of respect for the distributors here in town," Gittemeier says. "They're strong companies. Competition is good. It keeps you sharp and makes you better."

Greensboro, NC: Furnishing Big Sales


A diverse economy in this sector of North Carolina is fueling ad specialty growth. It's also home to one of the largest trade shows in the world.

The Piedmont Triad – or, just the Triad, to people in the know – is home to the Greensboro/High Point metropolitan statistical area, the second-best market for ad specialties sales, according to our survey. Why is this snippet of north-central North Carolina thriving so well for industry firms?

Well, the large concentration of health care, manufacturing, education and transportation companies is one reason. Another is the area's rapid and impressive transformation into a high-tech hub. And, yet another factor for the boom in this area is its historical moniker as the furniture capital of the world.

Locals say it's a rather fitting title, as many of the largest furniture manufacturers and sellers are located in the Greensboro and High Point areas. Plus, every April and October, this is home to the High Point Market, the largest home furnishings industry trade show in the world. Held in the International Home Furnishings Center and throughout 180 different buildings and showrooms in the area, the shows draw about 75,000 attendees from 110 countries and more than 2,000 exhibitors covering more than 11.5 million square feet of showroom space. And, let's just say that the local economy is awfully glad to house the shows: Every year, they contribute more than $1 billion to the market's economy.

Of course, promotional products play a large role in the twice-annual event, as many of the exhibitors try to attract the attention of thousands of show-goers. "We've done so many different things in our showroom to keep our products top-of-mind with attendees," says Joseph Klay, vice president of TG Furniture, which has exhibited at the show for the last four years. "We give out USB drives to give people information and specs about our products; we've done mouse pads, T-shirts and pens. We like to give out items that we think people will use and remember us by."

But, Klay says, there's another element to how promotions are conducted: The events. There are many social events organized throughout the city during the show dates, which attract attendees and locals alike. In April, there was a concert put on by The Temptations, at which many of the exhibitors set up shop to expand their promotional opportunities.

And, the show appeals to diverse audiences, as another event during the most recent High Point Market in April attracted a different kind of attendee: foodies. Cookbook author and television star Paul Deen hosted a cooking contest among local culinary students that was sponsored by the High Point Market Authority and Universal Furniture Inc. With promotional products surrounding the event like chef hats, table centerpieces, place mats, oven mitts and more, the event showed off the best that the area regularly offers.

"Paula brings such energy into all that she does," says Jeff Scheffer, president and CEO of Universal Furniture. "Along with the launch of Paula's new River House Collection this spring, we want to showcase her love of cooking and encouraging young chefs with her knowledge and sense of showmanship."

Fairfield County, CT: Northeast Gateway


Bridging the fertile land between New York and Boston, this Connecticut area thrives on big clients. Talk to people who work here and you'll eventually find one thing in common: finance.

Often referred to as the money capital of the U.S., this area has a population of less than a million, but there are plenty of millionaires in the bunch. You see, the Fairfield County MSA (known specifically as Bridgeport/Stamford/Norwalk) has the highest per-capita income of all the geographical markets in the country. With overall U.S. per-capita income averaging $41,560, this area in the Southeastern part of Connecticut boasts per-capita income of nearly double that ($78,504).

Home to investment banks, hedge funds, health-care companies, and yes, World Wrestling Entertainment (Vince and Linda McMahon even call it home), the Fairfield County area offers wealth – and lots of it. "It's definitely a nice area to work in because there's a lot of growth and a lot of large companies," says Nick Mirabile, vice president of Octagon Merchandise (asi/286685), which is based in Norwalk, CT. "It's a very vibrant area for marketing companies and distributors."

The market is so attractive to many companies because it is viewed as a gateway between two Northeast powerhouses – New York and Boston. "The Northeast has been thriving economically, and with this area being so easily accessible to both New York and Boston, it gives companies here openings to many large corporations," Mirabile says.

And, that has helped to make Octagon's business thrive over the past few years. "It has been great for us being here in Connecticut," Mirabile says. "You're certainly not swimming upstream when you have so many large, potential clients you can call on."

Octagon puts together many live marketing events for clients, providing products designed to get participants interacting with large brands and their products. So, whether it's designing and distributing the promotional items used to garner awareness for the most recent U.S. Census survey process or providing hard hats for people to wear at a Home Depot marketing event, the company is able to work with large clients in part because of its location.

Octagon recently devised a campaign for a national insurance company that wanted to introduce its services to and interact with international audiences. The company set up shop at international soccer games for the Mexican national team, and they called on Octagon to create a promotional look-alike wig of Mexican national soccer player Memo Ochoa. Visitors to the tent outside of the stadium could don the wig and pretend to be their idol for a day.

"It was a huge lead generation event because to get the wig you just had to sign up, and then many of those turned into converted leads for our client," Mirabile says. "Being where we are, we can get to large clients and agencies in New York and Boston easily. We're spread out nationally, but it helps that our local market is so vibrant and connected."

Columbia, SC: True College Town


South Carolina's capital city comes alive through its downtown campus. That's nothing, though, compared to what happens on game days.

There's no doubt the heart of Columbia is the University of South Carolina. But the city's soul – that belongs to USC sports. Counselor interviewed Eric Nichols, USC's assistant athletic director for marketing, to get his take on how promo products build the Gamecocks' brand.

Q: What's your role in the athletics department?
A: My role is to generate ticket revenue, drive attendance and promote the brand.

Q: What are the best promotions you feel you've done in the last few years?
A: I think the best promotion involving a promotional item has to be our rally towels. We started by making a game-specific towel for every home football game for the students only. That has evolved into distributing rally towels to everyone for all home SEC games. It makes quite a scene.

Q: Do you tie in promotional products with ticket purchases?
A: I rarely tie a premium item into the purchase of a ticket, but rather into a giveaway at the gates. However, we are exploring some kid-friendly opportunities with basketball tickets for next year.

Q: What are some examples of fun giveaway items you used?
A: One fun item we had last year was the Cocky growth chart. The kids loved it and we've heard many placed it on their wall at home, which was the goal. Also our Valentine's Day T-shirt was a huge hit this year. It was designed similar to the "I Love NY" famous shirts, but had "I Love SC" instead.

Q: What's your favorite promotional or collectible item?
A: One of the items I cherish is a coin we gave away when we opened the new Carolina baseball stadium. It was a special day, and that coin reminds me of the beginning of the run of success our baseball team has experienced, including back-to-back national championships.

Q: What does your department look for in a good vendor?
A: Most every vendor is competitive on price. We look for service and reliability. We want vendors that can deliver what they say, when they say, and do it as conveniently as possible.

Q: Do you bid out most projects or work with select vendors?
A: We have a handful of vendors we use for bids, but are always open to other options.

Q: Are there a lot of licensing requirements that come into play?
A: We have strict licensing requirements that must be adhered to when producing an item for retail or a promotional giveaway.

Q: What are the most popular pieces on campus today?
A: I would say items like T-shirts and hats.

Q: What's the next great promotion you're going to run?
A: You'll just have to come to a game to find out!

Milwaukee: The City of Festivals


From Polish Fest to German Fest, Milwaukeeans love to celebrate their heritage. But there's one annual event that stands above the rest – and brings everyone together.

Ask a local what Milwaukee is famous for and you'll probably hear this trifecta: beer, brats and a bonanza of festivals. Have one day and want to enjoy all three? Then you have to make a stop at Summerfest.

"It's a mega music event," says John Boler, Summerfest's chief marketing officer. "Every year, Summerfest hosts 800 bands and brings in 900,000 people over 11 days. It celebrates the best of the best in music genres."

And when Boler says the best, he really means it. Since Summerfest hit its stride in the mid-1970s, headline acts have included Johnny Cash, Whitney Houston, Dave Matthews, Pearl Jam and Rascal Flatts. Whatever your taste in music, Summerfest serves up quite a spread. But while names like these generate great publicity on their own, Boler still works hard to creatively market the festival. "We start up promotional campaigns 10 months prior to the event, with both a consumer and B-to-B angle," he says.

This year, Summerfest is making a cross-promotional push, looking to build engagement through social media, sponsorships and fun promo products. One popular item is a fest flag, which comes packaged with a free weekday festival admission ticket. The white, eight-inch promotional flags are handed out by street teams and sponsors and are decorated with a logo in the shape of a smile. "We're asking recipients to take pictures with the flags in different settings and then send us the photos and put them on social media sites," says Boler. "We've gotten pictures of people with the flags in London, Ecuador, in the Grand Canyon and at the Golden Gate Bridge."

Each week leading up to the festival, whoever sends in the best photo wins a prize, like premium gifts and trips. "The photos have been flying in," Boler says.

Of course, there are plenty of other promotional product tie-ins at Summerfest. "We work with a vendor and give them a license to create wearables for our four Summerfest merchandise stores," Boler says. "They sell everything from caps and shirts to bags and blankets."

Top sponsors are also finding creative ways to promote awareness. For example, Milwaukee-area McDonald's outlets are marketing Summerfest with promotional tray liners that include admission discounts, and Pepsi and Miller are proudly displaying truck backs announcing their involvement in the event.

"We're really trying to activate relationships in advance of Summerfest," Boler says. "It's been a lot of fun."