In a Nutshell
*Costco has partnered with Harland Clarke (asi/219943) to offer promotional products through a mobile-friendly website.
*Harland Clarke also runs Walmart Promo Shop.
Another big-name retailer is venturing into the promotional products industry through a partnership with an industry distributor. Costco, which operates a global chain of membership-only warehouse clubs, has enlisted the help of Texas-based Harland Clarke (asi/219943) to sell promotional products directly to the public through a mobile-friendly website that allows a range of items to be customized and purchased online. Harland Clarke is the same distributor powering Walmart Promo Shop, which launched last year.
“Costco’s commitment to members is quality and value, which is why Costco selected Harland Clarke as its exclusive provider for custom merchandise,” reads the Costco custom merch website. “We know quality matters most when you’re choosing items that represent your business.”
The website offers apparel, drinkware, pens, bags, health and wellness items, and technology products that can be customized with art and graphics online. Offerings from some well-known suppliers are featured on the site, including Top 40 companies like Vantage Apparel (asi/93390), alphabroder (asi/34063) and BIC Graphic (asi/40480). Recognizable brands like KOOZIE, Devon & Jones and High Sierra, to name a few, are for sale.
“Harland Clarke gives Costco members access to hundreds of high-quality customizable products – from stainless-steel tumblers to grocery totes to BIC® Clic Stic® Stylus Pens – at exclusive prices,” reads a statement on the website. “Members save on all product orders and Executive Members receive an additional discount on standard setup fees.”
With Costco’s positioning in promo, some of the biggest names in retail now have a presence in the promotional products industry. In addition to Walmart Promo Shop, merchandise that can be customized on the web using online design tools is widely available from Amazon. “We could see more and more of this – big retailers wanting to get a piece of the pie,” Harry Ein, owner of Perfection Promo, an affiliate of Top 40 distributor iPROMOTEu (asi/232119), told Counselor. “I think it represents more of a threat to distributors that specialize in web-based selling, as opposed to traditional distributors who act as creative marketing partners.”
HALO Sales pro Nina Shatz doesn’t feel the Costco/Harland Clarke partnership represents a big threat.
Nina Shatz, brand development director with Top 40 distributor HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000), expressed similar sentiments, saying she doesn’t view the entry of big names like Costco and Walmart as a major competitive threat to her business – or the business of other savvy distributor sales pros who build strong relationships with their clients through providing creative solutions and devoted customer service. Quality clients will continue to work with distributors who provide such benefits, Shatz believes. “I think the industry is big enough for everyone,” Shatz told Counselor. Added Ein: “Costco getting involved in our industry with an e-commerce offering confirms what we already know: Online is going to keep getting bigger. The traditional salespeople who thrive will be the ones who differentiate themselves through service and creativity.”