Hot Properties

Promotional marketing firms have plenty of entrance points to this niche. Here’s how to feel at home with its various segments.

The tide is turning for the real estate market: A recent Forbes magazine article estimated that new home construction must rise by about 33% to accommodate the many people under age 30 who are looking to move from their parents’ homes or away from roommates and into their own places. This shift will drive demand for new single-family and multiple-unit housing; in fact, demand for rental units in Texas, Florida and southern California is presently surging, while places such as Atlanta, New York and Chicago are seeing very strong home-sales markets that show no sign of slowing down soon.

For promotional marketing firms, this shifting landscape represents opportunity in a number of ways. Not only do residential real-estate agents need to differentiate themselves in the home-sales market, but there are also companies that manage apartment complexes and other multi-family rental properties, which now have a chance to thrive. More good news – their need for merchandise and apparel that can lure new tenants, satisfy existing tenants and keep their workforces happy and productive is stronger than ever.

And don’t overlook the commercial real-estate niche. The improving economy in the past year has meant that manufacturing and office space is seeing more demand, and building owners and commercial-leasing and -management companies want to make their names known among the brokers who match businesses with working spaces.

Popular Products

Valerie Hayman Sklar, president of The Apartment Boutique powered by Corporate Specialties (asi/169040) in Detroit, MI, grew up in the property-management business but now sells products and programs to those firms. She feels that, for many promotional firms, too much of the wider real-estate business flies under their radar.

“A lot of people see it strictly as the home-sales agencies, where there’s demand for four-color cards and calendars and pens but not much else in terms of big potential,” she says. “But there’s actually more possibility here; I know firsthand that there are many needs in the other segments of this industry too.”

Rob Nelms, VP of marketing for Pinnacle Promotions (asi/295986) in Norcross, GA, says that while his firm’s real-estate agency clients are interested in traditional inexpensive giveaways (bottle openers, pens, sewing kits, name badges, balloons and announcement cards), autumn brings about a surge in business as agents purchase branded calendars that they personalize.

Jamie Loud, CEO of Clayman Promotional Group (asi/162850) in Kansas City, KS, also works with many real-estate agents and broker owners. “Of course they like a lot of four-color stuff, but even though they are very price-sensitive they also like a lot of tech-related items,” she notes. At the most recent Century 21 international convention, Loud sold hundreds of small battery chargers for phones and computers as well as mobile-phone holder/wallet combinations. “Anything for the phones or tablets sells like crazy because these people are very mobile and use technology a lot during the day.”

Although a traditional item, keychains move even better if they have an interesting design. Loud’s agent clients use house-shaped versions to present keys to a new homeowner and “they’re popular because agents can order 50-piece minimums at a little more than $2 each,” she says.

What’s more, with so many women in the agency business, “they like almost any item with bling on it,” she says. Loud has moved lots of tumblers with sparkly decoration – even T-shirts adorned with crystals. “They are wearing them to the gym and the market. With the firm’s logo on the sleeve, people will know who they work for,” she notes. And because Century 21 is a Super Bowl sponsor, she has also procured football jerseys in company colors with the logo on the front and the number 21 on the back. Lastly, she finds that broker owners are buying gifts for their agents, like leather padfolios, and they also want a variety of gifts that can be presented after an agent closes on a house.

Scott Megur, president of EI Global (asi/6968461) in Boca Raton, FL, also gets business related to the process of home closings. “We’re being asked to put together nice baskets for the homeowner,” he says. Such gifts might include bottles of champagne; meat, cheese and chocolate snacks; cutting boards; and multipurpose tools.

Builders and Architects

Among firms that design and build both single-family and multi-unit housing, demand for promo products and programs has been brisk lately. Thomas Kelley, VP of sales administration for St. Andrews Products (asi/316340) in Michigan City, IN, has a top-three national homebuilding company as a client. “They do everything from residential to commercial construction, and even government work,” he says. “Their business with us has increased about 25% year-over-year for two consecutive years.”

As a result, St. Andrews developed a merchandise website for the client that “they use at the grassroots level for their local offices where people are beating the streets and they need leave-behind items,” he says. These reinforce the firm’s name with landowners and developers.

The client also targets architects who are helping to write and design specs on major construction jobs, and are in a position to recommend a construction company. The products that resonate in these situations include high-quality windshirts and leather padfolios. “When those folks are working with multi-unit or commercial developers, our client will go with higher-end items like a good watch or a set of crystal glasses,” Kelley says.

Property Management

There are encouraging signs among some of the prospective real-estate clients that tend to fly under the radar of many promotional firms. Kelley has a few higher-end condo developments throughout downtown Chicago as clients. Less than three years ago, “these management firms were spending $2 to $3 per household on decent pens and sticky pads to get their name out among potential buyers and as seasonal gifts for residents,” he says. “Now they are each spending tens of thousands of dollars with us.”

A recent example: A condo-management firm wanted tenant gifts that would capitalize on the springtime optimism that comes after a long Midwestern winter. Kelley suggested that the early April program for more than 300 households include a basket filled with a beach towel, sunscreen, moisturizer and a folding umbrella for use on “noncompliant” days. The cost: $45 per household, with half of that apportioned to the heavy cloth beach towel.

At another building Kelley works with, management wanted a holiday gift that would fit in with the spirit of the season, getting use and staying in front of tenants as long as possible. The choice: a set of four etched wine glasses for each of the 275 units.

“In two years, that building went from spending $3 per household to $50 per household,” Kelley says. “Residents love that stuff, because it’s unusual for a management company to show appreciation and give back to tenants. It breeds solid loyalty among people who have many choices as far as places to live.”

However, this type of program doesn’t have to be limited to affluent properties. Megur helps his apartment-management clients in south Florida build tenant loyalty in middle-income developments. Products used have included a useful and unusual giveaway: folding tray tables.

Student Housing and Employees

Hayman Sklar also taps into a different segment of residential-property management: off-campus student housing in college towns. She recently fulfilled a program for several Memphis-area properties that had a presence at on-campus fairs. Items included T-shirts, sunglasses and decorated hand towels that can double as rally towels at the school’s athletic events.

“Student housing is a pretty competitive niche,” she notes. “Some properties have programs where they match up unacquainted roommates in multi-bedroom units,” so product offerings can be aligned to that situation. For example, logoed cleaning buckets containing brushes and other cleaning supplies would work well.

Hayman Sklar also suggests that clients use “A” gifts and “B” gifts at student housing affairs. “We’ll give out an inexpensive branded item that has value – a pen, sunglasses, sunscreen or a food item they enjoy and will remember,” she says. “They also get a flyer saying that if they come to the property and take a tour, they’ll get an iPad case or a power charger. We use something with just enough substance to entice them to come out.”

These property-management companies have a variety of employee-related needs as well. Julie Breazeale, VP of Precision Graphics (asi/298070) in Tempe, AZ, says that her apartment-management clients have been ordering more uniforms and other garments lately so employees have a consistent professional appearance.

Polo shirts between $15 and $25 are most often preferred, but some firms will add a cardigan to the mix, given that the offices in the southwest require constant air conditioning. For property-maintenance workers, moisture-wicking shirts, stain-resistant pants and puncture-resistant gloves seal the deal. By branding these items, the company gains more exposure whenever its employees take part in volunteer cleanup or refurbishment events in the community.

Commercial Property

For one commercial-sales team, Megur procured a few dozen power banks for charging cell phones and other electronics simultaneously. The client also uses mid-level electronics for recognition and incentive programs. These clients need help to better plan out their promotions for the year. “Too many of these companies don’t plan out their programs, even on a quarterly basis,” he says. “They call us and need it in two to three weeks. It limits our creativity because we can’t look overseas to fulfill it.”

Hayman Sklar often uses a three-tier “lumpy mail” campaign to entice commercial-property brokers to see available properties. “The first mailing will have a logoed photo frame with a picture of the property they can switch out, and the second mailing might be a pair of brass collar stays because brokers wear shirts that need those,” she says.

They can get a third gift, and a chance to win $500, if they come to the open house. Sometimes that third gift is a sturdy travel mug the brokers can use for the premium coffee served at the open house. “We need them to remember these properties when they have prospects looking for office space or medical space,” she says.

Megur notes business with the commercial real-estate niche has picked up in the past 18 months. One client who conducts half-day bus tours to show brokers various properties recently purchased reusable bags containing bottles of water, snacks, lanyards and printed materials.

The firm also wanted headrest covers for the seats on the bus. “They used some of them to display their own logo, and sold the space on the rest of them to other companies who wanted the brokers to know about them,” he says. He’s moved several hundred of those headrest covers at $3 apiece.