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Promotional items used to make lasting impressions

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by Jan K. Allen

SBJ Contributing Writer

There is no end to the number of products companies can purchase to promote their businesses or bestow recognition upon valued employees. Whether a company wants to choose premium items targeted to a select few or buy bulk items to pass out to the public, the promotion industry has something for everyone.

Wayne Wilson, owner of The Promoter Advertising Products, said ballpoint pens, rulers, refrigerator magnets, balloons and buttons are still popular items for mass giveaways. As in the past, many of these kinds of items will be handed out by local businesses and organizations at the Springfield Business & Technology Expo.

Other popular low-end items available are plastic stick-on note holders, rubber jar openers, bag and memo clips and letter openers. The company logo can make a lasting impression when stamped on these items, designed to be used over and over again, according to Bud Letsch, co-owner of Letsch Advertising Inc.

Bud and Dixie Letsch have spent 20 years in the promotion business and have seen a lot of changes. Probably the biggest change, in Bud Letsch's estimation, is automation.

With high-speed equipment, fax machine orders, and express shipping, some products can virtually be delivered overnight.

Several high-end items such as acrylic or crystal art work, marble-base clocks and durable luggage may take longer to deliver, but these items are usually reserved for special occasions, such as awards ceremonies, which are planned far in advance.

Computer software has also made an impact in the way business is done at Letsch Advertising.

Designed to store and sort thousands of items, the software makes it possible for a product to be found and researched in seconds. Each entry is complete with photo, print styles, price breaks and ordering information.

In medium-range products, items such as coffee mugs, key chains and mouse pads are becoming more popular. Computer accessories have especially gained momentum. Some companies may benefit more from the use of 50 $2 items than to spend the same money for 500 cheaper items, Wilson said.

Embroidered wearables are one of the most popular items companies purchase to give as incentives or premiums to their own employees, or to selected valued customers, according to Dave Yates, owner of Dave Yates Promotions, Inc.

T-shirts and hats head the list of wearables, although some companies order jackets, sweaters, shorts and slacks for upper-level employees or customers, Yates stated.

Letsch noted that one of the best items trade show participants can buy is the imprinted poly bag. People always need something to carry the things they pick up, and the bag travels giving increased visibility and exposure as participants go up and down the aisles.

Promotional companies keep up with the industry through trade shows and trade publications.

From the thousands of manufacturers available, local companies have their own personal favorites to deal with for certain types of items.

Promotional products was a $12 billion industry last year, Wilson stated. With more than 300,000 products available, just about anything a business owner can dream up is probably in existence in the market.

Wilson said he believes using promotional products is the best way to get a return on the advertising dollar spent. Less expensive than a one-time shot in the media, items like magnets and rulers keep a company name in front of the consumer on an ongoing basis.

"Promotional products always give a good return," Wilson said.

He said he has seen a recent increase in the demand for medium- to higher-priced items like umbrellas, golf towels, stress balls and backpacks. In honor of the millennium, special clocks with a countdown feature have started to gain appeal with business owners.

"It makes a company look like they are looking ahead," Wilson said.

The local suppliers are willing to put their money where their mouths are. Yates, Wilson and Letsch each maintains an inventory of products imprinted with his own company logo to give to customers and distribute at trade shows.

While the holiday season is a peak time for the industry, Yates said his company has been busy with orders big and small all year.

Much of the business for the three companies comes from repeat and referral customers. However, each company maintains a showroom of sample items for customer convenience and to cater to walk-in trade.

The promoters periodically call on local businesses and mail catalogs to customers to keep them up on the latest items available.

They all have a broad base of clientele outside this area, as well as locally, they said.

Wilson said he is already swamped with orders for the coming holidays and the end of the year, a time when companies usually bestow special recognition on employees.

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