As the Pandemic Subsides, What Comes Next for Kitting?
Vaccine distribution has ramped up talk of a “return to normal”—a return that's now happening. We can hug our loved ones again, concerts and trade shows are happening in person, and the daily impacts of COVID-19 are continuing to subside.
But not everything will go back to the way it was before the pandemic, which is a good thing. Over the last year, certain pandemic-inspired trends turned out to be a welcome change. From a promotional products perspective, distributors found that customers love kitting, especially when they’re looking to reach remote workers or host virtual events.
“The pandemic has changed the way business is done across the board,” noted Kelly Yarborough, chief wisdom officer aka “Sockrateez” at Sock101, Lee’s Summit, Mo. “Certainly we’re going to get back to some of our old ways and conventions and things like that, but there’s also the portion that has discovered that they can do business without that, and are going to want to be at home, and the different ways we’ve learned to connect with those people that are in the workforce. Moving forward, I don’t think [kitting] goes away because we get out of the pandemic.”
Yarborough said that receiving a kit in the mail is like “a card or check from Grandma in the mailbox for your birthday.”
“It’s still like, ‘Oh, what’s in that?’” he said. “You have that nice surprise and wow factor, like somebody took the time to do something nice for me, and it’s delivered right to me.”
Kitting served a purpose during the peak of the pandemic, when companies sent their workforces home and events pivoted to a virtual setting. Those companies periodically shipped kits filled with goodies and branded products to remind employees they were part of the team, or had everything they needed to comfortably work from their temporary home offices. Event staff sent things they’d usually hand out in person, like notebooks, pens or branded bags. That way, attendees still had products to remember who hosted the event, and walked away with a positive impression.
“One of the biggest projects we did last year was [for] a hospital group,” said Mary Dobsch, president of The Chest, Washington, Mo. “[They] gave all their employees a gift package that actually had food products, thank-you items, it had a puzzle, it had things in it just to show they were appreciated. And we did hear back from that distributor, who said that they had letters from employees to the hospitals saying how much they appreciated it and how it made a difference for them.”
With the rise of subscription boxes and bundles, it’s no surprise that people want themed kits. That adds a touch of personality, and is more thoughtful than throwing together a random assortment of whatever was on the nearest shelf.
If it’s in the budget, food is another fan favorite. “The sky was the limit as far as what kitted together,” said Molly Neises, national sales executive for Maple Ridge Farms, Mosinee, Wis. “It just goes to show that gourmet treats go with everything, and make gifting an easy idea for every audience. We saw distributors sending us everything from journals, pens and tumblers to pajamas, meal delivery cards and Bluetooth speakers.”
But it’s not just what’s inside that counts. To create a stronger brand connection for your clients, it’s important to make sure the box itself stands out. A plain white box isn’t as memorable as one that’s decorated on the outside.
“I think as you can put a bow on it, so to speak, with the box, it just turns whatever kitting opportunities might be in the box product-wise into a premium gift,” Yarborough said.
Get Ready to Collaborate
If you’re putting together a kit that includes an edible gift, a notebook, a Bluetooth speaker and maybe a T-shirt, chances are you can’t get those all from one source. (It’s possible, of course, as the number of suppliers increasing their product offerings to be that one-stop shop is growing.) That means you’ll likely have to do some magic to guarantee products arrive by deadline.
The pandemic made that particularly difficult, as supply chain pressures caused shipping delays. For Dobsch and The Chest, they were managing sometimes as many as 13 suppliers for kit contributions, and those uncertain shipping dates meant they had to get honest with their customers.
“If you think about every area that was inundated last year, the trickle-down was in so many different markets and venues,” she said. “It’s a talent, but every supplier is trying to get in here as quick and correct as they can. There were so many things out of everyone’s control last year.”
Things are looking up. Last year, Dobsch said, a delay meant months. Right now, it’s three or five days, max.
It’s a Gift For You, Too
An effective kit will resonate with end-users, and those rave reviews to distributors are good indicators they’re doing it right. “The proof is in the pudding,” as Yarborough said.
But it doesn’t stop there. Dobsch said it’s one of the most rewarding things distributors can do, if they have the guts to spin the plates necessary to get it out the door.
“It does take the competition out of it, because when you go ahead and create a package for a customer, there’s no bidding involved,” she said. “The whole situation is, it’s not the $2 mug, it’s not the $1 keychain. What you’re saying is, ‘I can get that package delivered for X amount of dollars.’ That’s hard to put out on bid, because they kind of own that concept.
“So the main thing for distributors is that they need to understand No. 1, what is the budget?” Dobsch advised. “Before you get started, know what your client is willing to spend on this venture. That tells you what you can do. The other thing is, you really need a sample of every product, so you know exactly what is the best-sized package. In today’s world, freight is a huge cost of doing business, so until we have all of the samples in the package, we can’t tell you what the freight estimate is going to be.”
Kitting also gives suppliers an opportunity to pitch themselves to distributors, providing a value-add for their existing kit. Yarborough remembers one opportunity where his company was able to add additional items to a kit for HALO. And, thanks to their central shipping location in the Midwest, they could get everything out in one day.
The bottom line is that kitting allows for a little more creativity than the average promotion. Sure, distributors can do some fun planning with imprint areas or colors on one product, but, again, that’s one product. With a kit, they can collaborate with their client to piece together the perfect set of products to elicit the most happiness.
“It’s a fun experience for our team, for the distributor, the buyer and the recipient,” Neises said. “The process of asking the who-what-where-when, etc., can allow [us] to approach the project with [a] realistic timeline and price-point goals, and help make the process turn-key for the buyer and easy for the distributor.”