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Businesses use branded promotional products to stay visible during pandemic

Andrew Janosick, a partner at Proforma Executive Business

Andrew Janosick, a partner at Proforma Executive Business Services, at the company's offices in Centereach. Credit: Kenneth Janosick

For many firms, business came to a halt when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued a shutdown in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While many local businesses have reopened, it’s still not business as usual and face-to-face gatherings remain limited.

So to stay visible, many businesses are using branded promotional products and gifts to connect with customers and recognize employees, which is helping lessen the coronavirus' blow to the promotional products industry.

"I think it will be a stronger fourth quarter compared to third quarter," says Timothy Andrews, president/CEO of Trevose, Pennsylvania-based Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI), which serves the $25.8-billion promotional products industry.

Fourth-quarter 2020 sales will still be down about 20% to 30% from the fourth quarter of 2019, which was an exceptionally good quarter, he says.

But it could be worse considering the industry came to a standstill in March when events, sports, entertainment and trade shows were canceled due to COVID-19, says Andrews. The promo industry got some relief in early spring into summer as businesses demand for personal protective equipment like masks and sanitizer spiked. With that initial demand met, since August demand has resurfaced for more traditional promotional products, says Andrews.

Evan Bloom, co-owner of the Westbury, Hauppauge and Melville franchises of Sir Speedy, a print, signage and marketing company, has seen that, noting promotional product sales for the firm are up 62% from Aug. 1 through early October.

Sales for his overall business, which includes print, are down about 20% from last year due to the coronavirus, but the promotional sector’s been a bright spot with businesses initially focusing on employees from a morale perspective, he says.

Also, employee clothing went more casual since COVID-19 so embroidered, collared pullovers and polo shirts have been popular, says Bloom.

Tara McDermott, director of customer experience and stakeholder relations at Island Park-based EmPower Solar, placed an order with Sir Speedy for branded shirts for about a dozen sales staff now that in-person sales calls have become virtual due to the pandemic.

Sales employees previously showed up with branded vehicles to customer homes, but with appointments now virtual, having visibly branded shirts is important, she says.

EmPower also had other branded items like jackets and sweatshirts made for about 25 new hires and 75 existing field and office employees to keep up culture and morale and had 500 branded masks made as gifts for clients after installation of a solar energy system.

"We sold millions of dollars of masks and sanitizer," at the height of the pandemic, says Jeff Pinsky, executive vice president of St. Cloud, Minnesota-based ePromos Promotional Products, which has a large sales office in Westbury.

In recent months, it has seen a return to more traditional products and gifts.

"We’ve seen a huge uptick in food gifts," he says.

He has also seen interest among businesses in home kits for employees with items like a notebook, pen, sanitizer, mug and some healthy snacks, which runs around $20 to $25.

He has also seen a large influx of pen orders since COVID-19 as businesses opt to have customers keep pens, but they have also been selling some antimicrobial pens that could run 59 cents per branded pen.

"They want to let employees and customers know how appreciative they are in these turbulent times," says Pinsky.

Frank Abbatiello, an executive at USI Insurance Services in Uniondale, an insurance brokerage and consulting firm, says the firm’s corporate offices in Valhalla in Westchester County ordered branded face masks from ePromos for all employees including 300 on Long Island. Each employee received four masks.

Employees for the most part have been working remotely since COVID-19, but should return to the office early next year depending upon conditions then, says Abbatiello.

Andrew Janosick, a partner at Proforma Executive Business Services, a Centereach-based printing and promotional products firm, says a customer ordered a Halloween-themed box for employees with Halloween-themed cookie cutters, icing, cookie mix, and a company-branded apron and spatulas for about $30 to $35 per person.

Another customer ordered employees a branded pizza cutter (about $4 per item) and paired it with $20 DoorDash gift cards that were mailed in a custom miniature printed pizza box.

Janosick said promotional product sales dipped 40 to 50% at the pandemic’s height, but have risen and are now trending upward near 80% of where they were last year at this time.

Pinsky also says firmwide promotional product sales are about 80% of pre-COVID levels, but that’s an increase compared to a 40 to 50% drop off early in the pandemic.

"We anticipate holiday sales being way up," says Pinsky.

Fast Fact:

While demand for promotional products has risen since COVID-19’s height, ASI predicts promo product distributor sales overall nationally will be down 30% to 40% for 2020 due to the virus. That probably would have been 70% if the demand for personal protective equipment products didn’t help fuel sales during the second and third quarters of 2020.

Source: Advertising Specialty Institute

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