Industry Reacts as Trump Takes Office

Donald Trump was sworn in as the United States’ 45th president Friday, generating both excitement and anxiety in the promotional products industry, while sparking fresh opportunity for sales of politically themed branded merchandise.

Generally, advertising specialty executives expressed optimism about the prospects Trump’s administration presents for the industry and the economy as a whole, saying his pro-business agenda could help stimulate marketplace activity. Promo leaders gave a range of reasons for their sunny outlook, including the president’s promises to lower taxes on businesses, drastically scale back regulations, make healthcare more affordable for companies and consumers, and pursue a more aggressive domestic energy production policy. Some distributors report that early first quarter sales are soaring – something they attribute, in part, to the business community’s overall upbeat view on the direction Trump will steer the economy. “Trump is a student of business,” said Bill Korowitz, CEO of The Magnet Group (asi/68507). “He should be more business friendly. That means a favorable impact to the promo industry.”

Despite such positive sentiments, other executives and owners in the industry are apprehensive. They worry that product pricing could increase if the president exacts a tariff on imported goods. They also express concern that tariffs could trigger retaliatory trade actions from other countries – measures that could hurt the American economy and, thereby, the promo industry. Some executives were less than thrilled to see the Trans Pacific-Partnership officially scrapped on Monday, and others have worried about the impact Trump’s possible immigration policies could have on industries into which they sell, including hospitality and landscaping. Certain promo pros also accuse Trump of using rhetoric to play on societal divisions, which they say creates a climate that is not conducive to business. “For me, nothing he might do for business outweighs…the damage he is doing to our country with his rhetoric,” says Harry Ein, owner of Perfection Promo, an affiliate of iPROMOTEu (asi/232119).

Politics aside, Trump’s campaign appears to have been good for the promotional products industry. Through the end of August, he spent more than $11.5 million on campaign merchandise, and his “Make America Great Again” hats have been a continual testament to the influential power of cleverly branded promotional products.

The emphasis on ad specialties didn’t end when Trump took office either. At the official Trump website, inauguration-related swag included pint glasses, pins, coffee mugs, totes, T-shirts, can coolers, baseball caps, golf tool sets, beanies, a fleece blanket and a commemorative coin. Meanwhile, attendees of Friday’s inaugural balls received a swag bag. Items came in an upscale tote, the front of which was imprinted with a capitol emblem and “Presidential Inauguration Donald Trump-Mike Pence.” In the tote, recipients found items that included a “Make America Great Again” hat featuring Trump’s signature in embroidery, a fake “2016” money bill with Trump’s face on it, a White House keychain, a Trump “I Was There” inauguration pin, and a smaller gold inauguration pin.

Retailers were, of course, capitalizing on the demand for merchandise, too. At White House Gifts, a store just across from the actual White House, items for sale included an array of Trump T-shirts, hats and so much more, including bobbleheads, inaugural cuffs and pen sets. Ironically, at White House Gifts, Trump’s victory also sparked a run on promotional items that celebrated Hillary Clinton as the 45th president. The gear seemed to carry a novelty appeal. “A lot of people see it as more collectible than the Trump merchandise,” store owner Jim Warlick told ABC News. In a similar vein, Trump’s ascent to the nation’s top office has sparked an outpouring of anti-Trump merchandise, including T-Shirts with slogans like “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Hillary” and “Love Trumps Hate.”