The Distributors Behind High-Profile Fast-Food Brands' Merch Dish on Selling to the Restaurant Promotional Market
With a new year almost upon us, prognosticators are relying on whatever means they have at their disposal to predict how 2019 might unfold. Thanks to prodigious creativity that yielded successful merch campaigns for numerous food-centric businesses, we need no crystal ball or any other device to predict that the coming months will find such establishments continuing to connect with distributors on these platforms. Since we gathered ample material from said partnerships between eateries and promotional products personnel, we looked to link up with some of the brains behind the ties, and had the fortune to talk to a pair of Top 50 distributors about how they succeeded in the booming restaurant promotional market.
Come New Year’s Eve, BAMKO, based in Los Angeles, and The Icebox, based in Atlanta, will be able to look back favorably on a stretch of time that saw their companies not only tap into consumers’ calls for brand-specific promotional merchandise campaigns, but also provide a test of their workforce’s willingness to prove its might. Owing to fruitful associations with Taco Bell and IHOP, BAMKO has made the fall a time to rise. And courtesy of its relationship with Cinnabon and Auntie Anne’s, The Icebox has likewise become a hot partner with whom to work as temperatures have grown cooler.
With respect to Taco Bell, it seems that Promo Marketing has earned a spot on the company’s payroll, as we have given the Tex-Mex cuisine constant copious coverage thanks to the novelty behind its various merch campaigns. Credit for that ingenuity belongs to BAMKO, with president Philip Koosed, whose company’s most recent Taco Bell tie-in comes via branded holiday goods, noting that the affiliation stems from the eatery’s urge to appreciate “the intersection of technology and design” by finding an ally who could create “unique custom merchandise tailored to their brand” and develop “a very robust and unique online store that had a number of custom components programmed to their vision for the merch program.”
“We are in the brand enhancement and brand impression business,” Koosed explained. “For us to consider a merchandise program a true success, we want it to be so captivating that we’re generating millions in free advertising through brand impressions. Taco Bell is one example of that. The ROI that has been generated because of the buzz around this program is perhaps the most impactful success story of 2018 across all mediums of advertising.”
While immensely pleased with that outcome, BAMKO will never look to rest on its laurels, with Tuesday’s announcement of a merch-heavy engagement with IHOP marking yet another chance for them to take to heart their president’s advice to brands, namely, to “play to your strengths, rather than attempting to replicate something that someone else has done well.” In being beacons for Taco Bell and IHOP, the California company has gone beyond what Koosed termed “the critical starting point” of understanding one’s target demographic to “understand the brand itself and how that brand relates to their target audience.”
— IHOP (@IHOP) December 11, 2018
“If we can create branded merchandise that consumers are willing to spend their hard-earned money on, we’re doing something right,” he explained. “It’s the highest expression of what our industry is all about. We are challenged to create a branded product so unique and exciting, so congruent with a brand and its values, that consumers are willing to pay our clients for the privilege of advertising their brand. That takes something very special, and we take a lot of pride in doing it right.”
The Icebox shares that emphasis on producing well-received work and, just like BAMKO, makes hiring decisions based on that call to pair end-users’ interests with worthwhile merch campaigns. That enthusiasm for securing topnotch help has enabled The Icebox to become a reliable partner for Focus Brands, the entity behind, among others, Cinnabon and Auntie Anne’s.
— bake magazine (@bakemag) December 6, 2018
“We see ourselves as a uniform space for brands,” Gamson said. “Therefore, it’s our pleasure to have the opportunity to work on curated, highly specific campaigns.”
That specificity dovetails with the CEO’s perception that brands are becoming “edgier,” a characteristic that often leads them to gravitate toward merch campaigns that will have considerable eye appeal, a boon for fashion-conscious distributors who likewise want to work with eateries.
“Food establishments make sense as businesses that would want apparel- or merch-centric assistance because they’re all competing for what we call ‘share of stomach,’” said Gamson. “People crave that which is practical yet also reflective of their identity as consumers, and, therefore, I think we’ll continue to see distributors have ample opportunities to pair up with chains.”
Koosed holds that there is nothing inherently special about working with food chains, per se, but that having that contract, like with having any other business agreement, demands that distributors resolve “to be at the cutting edge of design, innovation and brand engagement.” In that regard, he and Gamson are completely in sync with regard to how their contemporaries should proceed if they are fortunate to land such accounts.
“Simply put, if you’re not innovative, you’re going to be left in the dust,” Gamson said. “There are so many factors that comprise decisions on how you’ll approach your merch campaigns because you definitely want to nail the chance to impress a client, build your reputation and, most importantly, satisfy that brand’s audience.”
To really succeed, distributors need to respect what Koosed dubbed “the ever-increasing sophistication of our industry.”
“Doing this right requires so much more than just picking the right promo product and slapping a logo on it,” he advised. “It’s an elevated engagement that calls on an entirely different skill set and set of resources.”
“Because of the competitiveness of the restaurant business, if you want to work with them, you have to be among the biggest students of trends and consumer cravings, so to speak,” Gamson noted. “2018 has been a heavy year for merch campaigns that have realized that. I don’t foresee that knowledge suddenly going dry.”