Counselor

Get Your Growth On

With the economy expanding, the time is now for distributors to capitalize on new business opportunities. By Andy Cohen

Throughout the American economy, and in the ad specialty industry specifically, the sense of optimism is palpable. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) reported in January that small-business confidence reached an eight-year high. In fact, the NFIB said its much-followed Small Business Optimism Index increased 2.3 points to 100.4, the highest reading since October 2006. The index, which is back at its pre-recession average, was bolstered by a surge in sales expectations as well as hiring, capital outlays and business expansion plans.

Further, a separate survey later in January showed similar sentiments. The report from Endurance International Group showed that 66% of owners of companies that employ 10 people or fewer believe 2015 will be a better year economically than 2014. The result was an increase of eight percentage points over last year, when 54% of small business owners were planning for a jump in business in 2014. Buoyed by such confidence this year, more than a quarter (27%) of owners said they intend to hire new employees, while 54% stated that they plan to make financial investments, such as developing new products, in their businesses.

The feelings are similar to those seen in the promotional products industry, too. The Counselor Confidence Index tied an all-time high in the fourth quarter, as distributors said their outlooks for 2015 are extremely bright. Even at the first two industry trade shows of the year – ASI Orlando and PPAI Expo – speaking with both suppliers and distributors, you got the sense that most companies in the ad specialty market are planning for a big year.

The Counselor Confidence Index tied an all-time high in the fourth quarter, as distributors said their outlooks for 2015 are extremely bright.

"It seems like clients are prepared to spend on bigger promotions and campaigns than they have been in previous years," the CEO of one Top 40 distributor company told me during the PPAI Expo in Las Vegas in January. "It's a different feeling right now. They're not just doing one-off buys. They're planning out campaigns. That's a better environment for all of us to operate in."

Indeed, 2015 may be able to be named The Year of Growth. Are you prepared to capitalize? You can't just go to market with the exact same plan as in previous years and expect to win these kinds of big deals that are available. You might need more salespeople to take advantage of the additional opportunities. You might need new capabilities – like e-commerce and mobile marketing – to connect with a new wave of buyers that aren't used to the traditional modes of purchasing. You might need new offerings – such as website design and on-site decoration services – that expanding corporate customers could call on you for.

The business climate is ripe for growth right now. Are you? Is your company set up to capitalize on expanding and new opportunities that clients are sure to present this year? The time is now to really begin focusing on growth and uncovering new business. It's there to be had. The most prepared companies – with the most diversity of service offerings – are the ones that will be able to capitalize.

Of course, those are also the companies that will be able to sustain growth over the long term. Many companies, as we learned from speaking to business experts and consultants for this month's cover story (see Growth Impact, beginning on page 60), can get overwhelmed by growth if it comes too fast and they're not prepared for it. The problems often lie in cash flow problems – as revenue increases, so can expenses as well as the cash on hand needed to float the bigger deals coming your way – as well as infrastructure and customer service issues.

Growing companies – of which there will certainly be many this year in the promotional products sector – need to ensure that they're set up to handle that growth. Capitalize on the big opportunities in front of you now, and carve out time to make sure you have the capital, staffing and technological resources to handle the big influx of business. Enjoy the issue!