Looking Back and Ahead: The Promo Products Industry in 2020

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As 2019 comes to a close, our attention naturally turns to the coming new year. It’s an ideal time to savor the progress made in 2019, contemplate the lessons learned, think through the shifts in the industry and in end customer needs, form our vision for 2020 and establish plans to make that vision a reality.

The AIA leadership team has invested time in looking back at 2019 and looking forward to 2020. With this in mind, we identified the following priorities and industry dynamics:

  1. Growing Sales
    We consider any type of sales growth — be it existing Owners selling more to their customers and/or adding new Owners to the AIA Community — to be a good thing. AIA grew sales at twice the industry average in 2019 and added more than $10 million in sales from new AIA Owners. These were two very good things! To maintain this momentum in 2020 we need to continue to refine our new Owner recruiting team and methods, improve our services by reducing the amount of time and labor needed to deliver them, and become the industry’s undisputed leader in technology.
  2. Build Strong Teams
    Over the past few years, our primary objective has been to create a solid foundation that enables our entire Community to thrive. This includes A) carefully assembling a leadership team that makes thoughtful and informed decisions to benefit our Owners, their customers, the Supplier community and our community as a whole; and B) continually recruiting motivated Owners and Suppliers who share in AIA’s lofty goals — entrepreneurs who aren’t satisfied with good enough, never want to rest on their laurels, continually strive for improvement and seek ways to add value to everything they do. Putting the right people with the right skills in the right seats, in every area of our company and Community, will continue to be a high priority going forward.
  3. Continuously Improving AIA’s Technology
    We’re working to not just upgrade, but truly transform the technology that helps AIA Owners run their businesses more efficiently. Our digital platform, Experience AIA, offers a variety of tools to simplify, streamline and automate processes that support everything from order entry and order management to customer engagement. Essentially, it’s designed to improve distributor operations which, ultimately, saves our Owners time and money. And we’re not stopping here: look for new tools and services that provide new and upgraded data warehouses, business intelligence, financial systems, and the next generation of order entry, company stores, and order management.

    What’s more, we’re closely watching the marketplace to assess end customers’ buying habits (now and in the future), and aligning our systems accordingly. The evolution of buyers—and the rise of millennials and Generation Z as customers with real purchasing power—will directly mirror the evolution of our technology.

Trends Shaping The Promo Products Industry in 2020

Our 2019 performance certainly informs the business goals we’ve identified for 2020, but it’s not the only input in our goal-setting equation. Just as important are the events and trends that AIA believes will have the greatest impact on our industry and business in 2020. These are:

  1. Booming Industries And Timely Events
    Over the past year we’ve seen promotional product purchases by health care and financial services companies grow at twice the industry average and we anticipate this to continue into 2020. The new year will also feature the 2020 election cycle and the summer Olympics in Tokyo. Both will create a surge in demand in the promotional products industry and opportunities for AIA Owners.
  2. Tight Labor Market
    It’s important to note that in all industries businesses are working harder to keep their people. The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 3.6% earlier this year, the lowest since 1969. With more job openings than job seekers, the labor market is tight, and companies have become aggressive when it comes to attracting, onboarding and retaining talent. This means that human resources and marketing departments are in need of branded merchandise for an increasing number of programs, events and planned gifting that make prospects and team members feel valued and increase retention.
  3. Growth Of Consultative Selling
    We’ve found that making the shift from taking any and all orders to building meaningful partnerships with multiple stakeholders across larger organizations makes a significant difference in growth rate and profitability.

    The primary way to develop deeper relationships is to take a consultative approach. In a crowded marketplace, we must differentiate ourselves through skilled, purposeful counseling. This can be achieved by:
    1. Getting to know all phases of your customer’s business — the industry, the company’s goals, the challenges they face, their customers, and your buyer’s personal and professional goals. This is critical when uncovering and ultimately fulfilling each customer’s unique needs.
    2. Interacting with buyers in a way that’s comfortable to them (and not intrusive). For example, Generation Z has essentially come of age in the digital era. They’re hyper-connected, hyper-responsive and expect quick and brief exchanges. Scheduling video calls as opposed to more traditional conference calls or exchanging text messages rather than emails may be more effective.
    3. Employing creativity every step of the way. With dozens of internet providers each pricing more aggressively than the next, thoughtful, highly customized solutions that solve unmet needs are the only antidote. And the best way to uncover an unmet need is to take a consultative rather than prescriptive approach with your customers and prospects. Let’s find out what they’re really buying before we start selling.

We’re energized by what we see ahead in 2020. There’s so much new! New Owners, new customers, new technology, and new opportunities abound. It’s not having enough that’s a problem, it’s having to choose wisely from the abundance that lies before us that will be the greatest challenge. Our choices will be evaluated through the lens of generating growth, strengthening our teams, and improving our technology so that the AIA Community is always in the best position to move forward and thrive.