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Blog Custom Swag Trade Shows

ASI Chicago 2021 Trends and Takeaways

This past week, the Sock Club team was thrilled to be able to participate in ASI Chicago 2021, which was our first big trade show after quarantine. Sure, we all missed traveling, and Chicago is one of our favorite places, but the most exciting part was getting to connect with new clients, and reconnect with our current clients. 

Since we didn’t see every single one of our clients at the booth (but please, bring it on!), we wanted to send a short recap of the trends that we saw at the show.


Events are Back!

When we got our first “ship to hotel for an event” order in 2021, the whole team gasped with excitement. Are events coming back?

The feedback that we received from our clients is YES! People are ready to travel again and ready to spend time connecting in person again. 

A trend that we have noticed with events coming back, and something that we have experienced first-hand, is that people are also hesitant to spend on promo items for the trade show until they are 100% sure that the event is going to happen. 

In those situations, we are thrilled that we are able to help because of our short lead time. Whether your client is looking for a more cost-effective item like our Hand Sanitizer (turn time: 2 days), or a real traffic-driver like our Custom Socks (turn time: 5 days), we are able to help in those moments where it seems like it will be impossible to make something cool happen for your client. And remember, we offer rush orders with no fees!

ASI Chicago Is Back


Kitting and Fulfillment

While in-person events are becoming more prevalent, some companies and organizations are still planning virtual events.

Most offices are still operating remotely or on some sort of hybrid work schedule. And, as the post-Covid resignation boom heats up, employers are looking for a way to keep their employees engaged and happy, even from afar. Google Trends even indicates that “employee appreciation” searches are at an all-time high in 2021.

The combination of all of these factors means that kitting and fulfillment is here to stay (at least through the end of Q4), with Employee Appreciation Kits being the most popular item.

A lot of our clients have also been burned by complicated kitting projects over the past year, or have been impacted by the cardboard shortage in creating custom gift/mailer boxes.

Since we started as a sock subscription service, kitting and fulfillment is something that we have always done. We’ve had 9 years to iron out the kinks at this point, and there are some lessons that you can only learn the hard way, unfortunately!

Coffee - Single-serve coffee container


Simplifying Sourcing

Supply chain disruption has, unfortunately, been a theme of the past year. And, with the landscape of the promo industry changing so rapidly, a lot of our distributor partners are looking to simplify their sourcing process to make it possible for the Sales team to spend their time selling instead of looking for products.

For most people that we talked to, this looks like finding a reliable vendor who delivers on time and is able to meet the broad needs of their teams.

It also means finding that supplier that can be your go-to expert, one that works as hard for your clients as you do.

We at Sock Club would love to be your partner for all things socks (and other items – see below!). We have the quick turns covered with our Made in USA products, and the lower price points covered with our overseas options. We also HATE saying no, and with no hidden fees, we really do our best to help you pull off the impossible, no matter what the circumstances.


Trying New Things

2019 was a very good year for the promo industry. Businesses were buzzing and consistently growing, and the promo industry was right along with it.

Over the past year, distributors and suppliers alike have had to get really creative about providing clients with creative solutions for their needs. While there were certainly some late nights and some “learning opportunities” (to use a euphemism), this flex of our collective creative muscles reminded us how fun it can be to stretch further than you thought you could, and how much opportunity there still is on the table.

To this end, Sock Club has added a lot of non-sock items to our line. From Branded Coffee Bags to Slippies, we are rounding out our product line to make it super easy to have a one-stop shop for high quality, quick turn, low minimum products at a variety of price points.

New Items for 2021


Marketing Your Business

Lately, we have noticed a lot of our distributor partners coming to us with needs for client-friendly marketing material to help them promote our products on social media and through their email marketing programs.

This has been a really exciting one for us as a team, because it feels like we are building growth together. Learning more about what needs our distributor partners are not getting met has opened our eyes to the types of creative and collateral that we need to be focused on creating.

In the upcoming months, to this end, you will see a change to our email marketing program. With each marketing email update, we will be sending a client-friendly flyer that you can personalize with your own logo and contact information. Don’t see what you need? Reach out to your Account Manager to get what you need!


In Conclusion

Overall, our biggest takeaway from this experience is that we are lucky to be in an industry of creative people who love what they do, and are excited by the challenge that the next few months will bring.

2020 was a tough year, but we are all looking forward to coming back stronger than ever.

Categories
Custom Swag

How will COVID-19 affect product sourcing in Q4 2020?

The COVID-19 global pandemic has affected every aspect of our daily lives. We are physically removed from our friends and family, unemployment rates are surging worldwide, and we are having to reconsider our safety in every activity for disease control and prevention. 

Most of our reconsideration involves minimizing risk – what is the safest way to get groceries, to go outside, to see our families? That focus does not stop at our personal lives, however. We are also focusing on minimizing risk within our businesses and global supply chain.

Any order in the promotional products industry requires at least two things to happen successfully: product sourcing/manufacturing, and delivery. Q1 2020 saw significant disruptions in both of those areas. How can we avoid those supply chain disruptions in the third and fourth quarter? Should we be looking out for the same obstacles?

 

Product Sourcing and Manufacturing

The first indicator that the promotional products industry was going to experience some rapid change was when the Chinese New Year shutdown extended far past its expected end date. We saw an influx of orders looking for quick-turn domestically-produced products to meet clients’ deadlines that were non-negotiable.

One thing that we at Sock Club are trying to learn from this experience is what could be indicators of future obstacles. Based on our current knowledge of of the situation, we have identified three main indicators to watch out for:

Another outbreak in the Fall.

The pandemic has definitely had more success in being controlled in the rest of the world than in the United States, but this is due to closures rather than a cure.

If reopenings in the United States are showing us anything, it is that more activity can make new case numbers skyrocket.

Without a vaccine or a control mechanism that is not based on physical distance, we could easily see a situation in Q3/Q4 that is very similar to the rise in cases worldwide in Q1/Q2.

 

Policy changes and pressures due to the upcoming 2020 US election.

No matter where your political leanings lie, we can all agree that this upcoming election is going to be a contentious one.

Biden and the Democratic candidates for Congressional elections will likely try to differentiate themselves by proposing corporate tax hikes. This could have an impact on the amount of budget that companies have to spend on promotional products, marketing campaigns, and expanding teams.

 

An escalation of the US/China trade war.

Last Fall, we saw a steep increase in tariffs on Chinese products that affected almost every promotional product possible. While those tariff increases were eventually repealed, the impact on Q4 orders was significant.

Even if cases do not rise again in China, if there is a restriction on items being imported into the United States, we could see those same issues arise again. Price fluctuations are the fastest way to lose a client’s trust and confidence and can be a budget-buster.

 

Shipping and Delivery

One of the ramifications of the pandemic that is ever-present in the promotional products industry and also felt acutely by people personally is delays in shipping. When even distribution giant Amazon stops guaranteeing the 2-day delivery that is their main differentiator, it is safe to assume that this is a problem with no easy solution.

Deadlines, however, still exist. There are certain dates that need to be met for marketing and sales initiatives, and it is our responsibility to make sure that happens. What kind of disruptions should you plan for in your delivery timeline?

Hub delays due to high volume.

With many areas of the country still under shelter-at-home orders, most people are ordering more online than they ever have. This high volume could be expected at holiday peak times, but, with more restrictions on shipping companies to provide safe working environments for their employees, things are simply moving more slowly.

One Oakland UPS hub saw delays of up to two weeks between a package arriving at their facility and being put on a truck for delivery. Potential delays can be identified by calling a destination and getting a timeline, but that does not solve the problem that the delay exists.

 

United States Postal Service funding issues.

Even with the influx of parcels in 2020, the USPS is facing some severe financial problems. The organization requested a $75 billion bailout in the Fall of 2019, and operational costs have increased in 2020 due to the increased measures for workplace safety.

This situation is still very much unfolding, but this could lead to even more complications in the Fall of 2020 as we get closer to the US election.

 

Unexpected office/facility closures.

With shelter-at-home orders being implemented so quickly in the US in March, many companies did not have time to think about the shipments that were still being directed to their offices.

That led to a lot of shipments being missed or sent back due to delivery drivers not being able to drop a package off to a closed location.

One thing that we at Sock Club implemented to avoid this is to double-confirm the shipping address 2 days before the order is scheduled to ship.

 

Increased shipping prices on imports due to lockdowns.

This obstacle goes hand-in-hand with a potential second wave of the virus. While tariff rates normalized in Q1 of 2020 from the spike in 2019, shipping rates skyrocketed due to the limited amount of space on cargo flights as the US and China shut down.

This is another area of unexpected cost increase that could bust your budget or lose the trust of your customers.

 

Potential Solutions or Work-Arounds

It is important to be aware of the potential obstacles that lie in front of us, but it is even more important to be armed with the knowledge to meet those obstacles head-on and eliminate them. Here are some tips on avoiding the issues stated above:

Order early.

This may be easier said than done, but if your team or client is presented with the potential pitfalls of waiting to make a decision, they might be more incentivized to approve and order more quickly. 

Not only does this budget time for seemingly inevitable shipping delays, but it also is a great way to avoid potential price increases due to supply chain threats in the Fall.



Pro tip:
Want to place an order early but don’t have a place to store it? Order from a promotional products supplier that will store your order for you! Sock Club provides that service for a small fee – just ask your Account Manager for details.


Buy USA-made products.

The biggest reason that people purchase promotional products overseas is price. Branded items made in China do cost significantly less if shipping costs and tariffs are at a normal level. 

However, a sudden policy or public health change could easily change that. Buying a USA-made product ensures that those costs will be predictable and stable, and allow for more confidence in buying.



Pro tip:
Justify your increased cost to your client or team by pointing out the security that your order offers, as well as contributing to the stabilization of the economy by keeping American workers employed!


Think outside the box.

If there is a hub delay, can you hire a courier to pick up an order for you? If you are placing a large enough order from a supplier that does not offer storage, can you rent a storage unit to make sure that your order is accessible on its delivery deadline? 

If you can’t get a project approved without hitting a certain price point, can you suggest a different item that you can source domestically to fit the budget? Can big Q4 orders that might be event-based turn into individual shipments for virtual events? 

Creativity and being solution-focused are the keys to not only surviving during this time, but thriving.

 


 

In short, we have seen all of these issues before, just not at this scale. We are all equipped to navigate them, it just takes a little more planning and foresight. At Sock Club, we are your partners, and it is paramount that we get through this together!

Categories
Virtual Events

Kitting, Dropshipping, and Fulfillment: A Step-By-Step Guide

This blog was supposed to be about why dropshipping and individual fulfillment for custom swag items can work for your business. However, when looking for resources to support my theories, I came across something interesting. 

There are close to no resources on the best practices for dropshipping or individual fulfillment – not on ASI, not on PPAI, not on PromoMarketing, not even on the third page of Google results. 

The “why” of offering these services is fairly simple, especially during a shutdown – people are working from home, and need a way to receive custom swag items individually rather than in large groups. Easy solution for a big problem. The “how” can be more complicated, so why aren’t there more resources for it?

I think the answer lies in the fact that it can be complicated. If you are trying to do all of this yourself or working with a partner who is inexperienced, the learning curve can be fairly steep. If you are working with a partner who knows what they are doing with fulfillment service, it is really very simple.

Sock Club started as a sock subscription service, so we do individual fulfillment on a large scale each month with a process that we have built to be fairly automated. Personalized letters, shipments of different sock sizes, international shipments, socks wrapped in kraft paper with a wax seal – all of this happens within a matter of days. 

However, we created this relatively seamless process by learning the hard way. We put this step-by-step guide together so that you can benefit from our experience. We walked so that you can run!


Step 1: Know your budget per piece.

Several variables can affect the final per piece price of your package. We have encountered the most surprise with shipping costs and kitting costs. 

Does one of your items require manual work like a bow being tied or other complicated assembly? What is the weight of the final piece? What is the size? 

The more manual work is required, the higher the kitting cost will be. Weight and size affect shipping costs in different ways. A package can be quite small and weigh quite a bit, making it expensive to ship. By the same token, a package can be very lightweight but be a larger-than-standard size (like a fully assembled puzzle, for example), and cost more than expected.

This, of course, is only important if budget is important. If the most important factor for the project is the idea or the items inside, and the budget is flexible, these are simply things to be aware of while working through the details.


Step 2: Source your items.

Once you know the most important determining factor in making your decisions moving forward, you can move on to the particulars. All of the items need to be able to withstand heat, be able to be packed together, be properly packaged/sealed to avoid contamination and be able to ship well or be packaged to ship well.

Another thing to consider is the country of origin of these items. If you are shipping some packages internationally, there might be different restrictions on imports depending on the country where each product is made. Hand sanitizer has been a very interesting item to learn how to ship safely and legally to different destinations. 

Your supplier should be able to walk you through any restrictions on shipping their product. If they can’t explain this thoroughly, it might be time to look for another source.


Step 3: Get the mailing addresses.

It may seem like we are mentioning this a bit early in the process. Trust us on this one. This is often the part of the process that is the most particular and takes the longest. Individual addresses need to be collected, have the data normalized, checked for deliverability, edited to be deliverable, and put into a fulfillment program. 

A step that is not mentioned there is that addresses will be added and subtracted several times along the way. Start this process earlier than you think!


Step 4: Choose your shipping service.

Based on the number of shipments, weight/size of the shipments, final destination, and speed with which you want your recipient to get the shipment, different shipping methods will be available for your project.

The easiest and most cost-effective method is generally the national postal service of each destination, but some restrictions may apply. Shipments containing hazardous materials or batteries present their own obstacles that can be avoided if addressed properly. 

Perhaps the most complicated request is ensuring that each shipment arrives to the recipient on the same day, especially if some shipments are international. This requires a combination of shipping services and shipping timelines, but it can be done with enough preparation and properly set expectations.


Step 5: Put the items together.

This is where you need to decide how valuable your time is, and how much space you have. Kitting items can be tedious and time-consuming, and it is important to determine if that is where your time is best spent. Sometimes the answer is that it is best to just do it yourself. However, more often than not, the answer is that your time is best spent generating new opportunities than putting your sourced items in boxes.

There are a few options for kitting your items. There are definitely kitting and fulfillment companies that do not make any items, but simply put them together for you. There are also suppliers that offer kitting, but many suppliers will not kit items together that they did not make. Sock Club has changed its policy in the last year so that we can proudly offer kitting of any item, regardless of source, into a shipment for you.

It is also important to make sure that your items are packed in the way that you want them to be. Sending a photo or a schematic to your kitter is the key to making each package come together as planned.


Step 6: Track your shipments.

Without a fairly robust shipping software or order fulfillment service, this is a close to impossible task. It also is not available with some services (standard postal service options in smaller packages). However, if you are sending higher value items, or if you want a follow up to be triggered upon delivery, choosing a shipping service and shipping software that allows you to have clear shipping and tracking alerts is key. 

We at Sock Club use ShipStation for this purpose. We love their platform and their service, and they have a flexible API that can connect with your systems.


 

The real key to having a successful drop ship program is planning and really paying attention to the details. However, there are experts that can do it for you. Our dedicated Account Managers can walk you through the ins and outs of your order to make sure that each part of the process is seamless and transparent. Just shoot us an email at custom@sockclub.com or call us at 512-981-6437 to talk to a real person.

Categories
Corporate Gift

What are the best ideas for corporate gifting in 2020?

How can you show someone that you care about them and appreciate them from far away? This question is being posed more and more since the COVID-19 pandemic started, and more and more events and in-person situations started going remote.

We posed this question to our management team at Sock Club. We want our products to feel personal, and have a genuine effect, so it is important that we understand how this is happening organically. A lot of our team said that they were having more video calls, and trying to stay more connected through text messages and even sending memes on Instagram.

However, it was Co-Founder Dane Jensen’s answer that really got us thinking. “Think about the ways that people give and receive love,” said Dane. “Gift-giving is one of the 5 Love Languages. Using promotional products to show your clients and employees that you care is a form of gift-giving, which is an intrinsic part of how we communicate with each other.”

Because we started as a sock subscription service, creating an individual gift experience is right in our wheelhouse. We already offered gift boxes, a variety of items, and drop-shipping and fulfillment services, we just needed to figure out what kind of branded kit people need! Based on our research, and the needs that our clients had expressed to us, we identified the following common corporate gift opportunities.That was really an “Aha Moment” for the team. We always want to make what we do meaningful, and this really provided the context that we needed. Custom swag means something when it means something to the recipient. What better way to make that impression than to give them a branded gift?


Work From Home Gifts

When remote employees feel disconnected from their colleagues or isolated, their work suffers. Engaged employees are the most productive and creative employees, and will make the most of remote work.

By putting together a gift for employees who are working from home, you show them not only that you care, but that the company cares, which inspires loyalty and helps repair the connection to their team. Gemnote has some excellent examples on their site of things they have done for different companies.

Sock Club suggested Work From Home Kit:
Work-OUT From Home

Branded Cotton Athletic socks, Engraved Water Bottle, Invitation to a company-wide month-long fitness series on Zoom (coordinate with local fitness professionals for a variety of workouts!), and a Custom Card Deck with a different 30-second exercise on each card.Sock - Clothing


Return To Work Kits

Maybe your business is essential, maybe you are reopening in a limited capacity, and maybe you are preparing for offices to open a global scale. In any case, a big part of that planning is making sure that your employees feel protected when they get back to the office.

58% of employees feel that “the availability of protective protections like masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer” would make them feel safe returning to work. Another thing to consider is that shared office resources, like pens and coffee mugs, might be a potential opportunity for the spread of viruses and germs.

Many of our clients are putting together gifts with branded PPE items and office supplies to let their employees know that they have thoughtfully planned for their return to the office.

Sock Club Suggested Return To Work Kit:

Custom Face Mask (we recommend adjustable straps!), a 5-pack of mask filters, a 2oz. Hand sanitizer for personal use, a pack of quality pens, and an individual coffee mug or cup.Sock - Fashion


Client Appreciation Gifts

Although every business is always appreciative of their clients, each dollar spent on your product or service means a little more now than it did. And, since it costs far less to nurture an existing client than to search for a new one, it makes sense to show all of your customers, but especially your VIP ones, that you appreciate their business.

Gift your clients useful, high-quality sustainable items to show that your relationship with them will be long-lasting as well. Creating those connections is sure to inspire customer loyalty, and make customers feel good.

Sock Club Suggested Client Appreciation Gift:
Pay It Forward

Branded Made in USA dress socks with recyclable packaging, a tote bag made from recyclable materials, a custom leather koozie or desk tray made by an organization with an amazing social purpose, and a donation made in their name to a local organization that aligns with their values (print it on a custom folding card with handwritten note!)

Oowee Products Leather Tray Source

Gift Bags for Virtual Events

The ubiquitous “swag bag.” When the common theme of a “swag bag” is that it doesn’t make it home in your suitcase, it’s time to rethink it entirely. A virtual event gift bag that comes directly to your house creates an entirely different opportunity – especially if the event was supposed to be in person, but is now happening virtually. It’s important to recreate the excitement of the original event plan, have a consistent story with the event, and make it meaningful.

Sock Club Suggested Gift Bag for Virtual Events:
Virtual Travel

Custom Puzzle with a photo of the location where the original event was supposed to happen, travel-sized item representing the local flavor (beignet mix for New Orleans?), branded eye masks or slippers to bring the relaxing feeling of a hotel to their home, and a leather luggage tag with the company’s logo on it.


Swag items don’t have to be afterthoughts – a carefully crafted idea can lead a marketing campaign all on its own. If we treat promotional products items as gifts, and make them meaningful, the impression that they make will prove ROI for years to come.

Categories
Virtual Events

How To Make A Virtual Event A Success

2020 was on track to being the best year yet for most businesses. Buyer confidence was high, and the proven methods of sales and marketing were working. However, the COVID-19 pandemic brought that to a screeching halt. Buyer confidence plummeted, and most companies are in survival mode.

The important question, really, is what does survival mode mean? Does it mean that your business shuts down all efforts for expansion, or does it mean you fight even harder to grow your business with more creativity?

The “proven method” of hosting events is perhaps the sales and marketing effort that has been hit the hardest. Hosting events, whether it is trade show or a national sales meeting, has become not only difficult but illegal in some cases. For smart and nimble sales and marketing professionals, this is an obstacle that can be overcome.

In a time where most internal meetings are had over video chat (see: the endless stream of Zoom memes), why can’t we turn trade shows and national sales meetings into virtual conferences? What are the keys to making every virtual event successful?

Engineer connections.

One of the most under-planned and underestimated aspects of in-person events is the social component. The person-to-person connections that are made at events often produce more solid relationships than any sales pitch. How can those be replicated virtually?

The real key to this is that it needs to be natural. How are you connecting with the people in your personal life? What methods of communication seem organic? Pre- and post-event communication facilitation is key. 

Start a Slack channel for attendees, or a LinkedIn group, and post and engage often. Share helpful content, but also content that makes your participants feel at ease with the process, like industry-related memes or funny (and SFW!) videos that deal with the common experience of working from home. Make it easy for people to engage and feel included!

 

Make virtual real.

More often than not, your participants fall into one of two categories: they are ordering so many things from Amazon that they are forgetting what is showing up to their house every day, or they are strictly not ordering anything unnecessary at all. 

Either way, receiving a gift, unprompted, from the sales or marketing team that is excited to include them in an upcoming event will be welcomed and appreciated. And, likely, posted on social media (free press!).

Sending all attendees a pre-show package (like this one from Microsoft) allows people to enter into the virtual event feeling confident about the experience. Bonus points for including a branded badge like the one in that package!

 

Choose the right event platform for hosting a virtual event.

It’s important to reach people how they want to be reached, to speak to them the way they want to be spoken to. Is your event going to be mostly older C-Level Executives? Providing a WhatsApp group is probably not the best way to engage with them, and planning networking events during the time when they are trying to have dinner with their families is not going to be successful.

Trying to engage with Millennials and Gen Z? Providing them with a mobile-first experience with a lot of opportunities to navigate independently is probably your best bet for engagement. Send them a cocktail kit for a virtual happy hour to encourage social interaction! Use event technology that provides a platform for smaller group chats to really get the networking started.

If you don’t want to invest too heavily in the technological platform to facilitate your virtual event before actually hosting one, you can pull most of this off with free or low-cost programs. A combination of Zoom, Houseparty, Slack, and LinkedIn can accomplish most of these goals. Bonus points for a Netflix watch party!

Follow up and follow through.

What is the goal or marketing strategy of your event? Is it a virtual trade show designed for lead generation? Is it a company-wide meeting designed to build company culture and disseminate new information? Is it a strategic planning session for your top-level executives? 

No matter what the goal is, follow up is key to pushing that agenda forward.

Often, events are so jam-packed with information that attendees leave feeling energized, but without a specific direction. Provide recordings of sessions and message board highlights so that the information gleaned from the event is easy to find and easy to reference. 

Building a post-virtual event landing page is a great way to keep people engaged and coming back for the valuable information that you provided. Hubspot does a great job of this with their Inbound Event.

If you have made some valuable connections, don’t be afraid to send them a follow-up gift! Swag.com has some great ideas for ready-made gifts for high-value clients that you can use throughout the year. You can also find some ideas here!


The bottom line is that each new obstacle that the pandemic presents to sales and marketing professionals is an opportunity to flex our creative muscles and find opportunities where there were none before. Focusing on the attendee experience for online conferences and virtual events is the best way to get some real time ROI. With the right attitude and focus, this can be a great chance for growth!