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Building Big Sales

How to sell apparel to construction sector clients.

The housing crisis of the late aughts was no picnic for small businesses, but it was especially challenging for construction companies in the hard-hit state of Florida. Still, Bradenton-based Bennett Contracting made it through the rocky recession years. “We were happy to just survive,” says Alisa Bennett, vice president of the excavation and site-work company.

After half a decade of belt-tightening, however, business is finally picking back up and a steady stream of clients seeks out Bennett’s services. “It’s a nice position to be in,” she says.

   Bennett’s experience aligns with figures the U.S. Commerce Department released earlier this month, showing that construction spending in July was at its highest level in more than five and a half years, increasing to an annual rate of $981.3 billion. State and local government projects were up 3.4% in July, private construction was up 1.4% and private residential construction was up 0.7%.

The rise in construction spending has trickled down into the ad specialties world, with builders better able to part with dollars for marketing and logoed apparel. Howard Potter, CEO of Utica, NY-based A&P Master Images (asi/702505), says he’s seen a marked increase of construction companies ordering custom branded apparel for their workers and promotional items to woo prospective customers.

To Bennett, branding is important, even for a business-to-business contractor like hers. “It’s really important to establish yourself as a professional company,” she says. Bennett’s field team wears high-visibility neon green T-shirts with the large B of the Bennett logo emblazoned on the back and a smaller logo on the front pocket. “On the job site, they know where to find the Bennett people,” she adds. The office staff dons embroidered polos.

Safety colors are especially big right now, with many insurance companies offering discounts to contractors who wear neon green uniforms, says Weston Caple, owner of DGI Creative, a custom sign and apparel company in Hanover, PA. Caple, too, has seen steady apparel orders from contractors, though many are still reserved with their spending.

One particular challenge when working with contractors, Caple adds, is convincing them that information like websites, addresses and phone numbers clutter up a promotional T-shirt. “If you’re giving the shirt out to somebody, they really don’t want to be a walking billboard for you,” he says. “In the age of Google when it’s so easy to find people, all you need is your brand identity on apparel.”