Fashion, Fun & Function
Inspiration? "We look everywhere," said Andrew Spellman, CAS, vice president of corporate market sales for St. Louis-based TRG Group. It's a great answer and luckily for distributors this represents the sentiments of many suppliers. Whether it is the latest backpack equipped with headphone ports and speakers, or the simple yet stylish tote, the marketplace for bags offers distributors products that walk hand-in-hand with retail trends and fashions.
Spellman's answer means there are always new styles, which in turn means distributors can't get lackadaisical when suggesting new products to end-buyers. Taking a little time to think about what's fashionable, what's functional and what's fun can make all the difference in closing the sale. The right bag at the right price is out there, and a good distributor will find it. To give a helping hand, Promo Marketing turned to three industry experts to see which way the promotional bag and tote wind is blowing these days.
"I felt there was always a shortage of women's products for the incentive and loyalty side of the business, and truly believed we would be a perfect fit to help to fill that void," said Alan Traiger, vice president of sales and marketing for ACRO, summing up why the East Brunswick, N.J. company brought on higher-end fashion hand bag lines like Chinese Laundry and Chocolate N.Y.
"Women love handbags, and the way we have developed and positioned our line, you can't find most [of our] styles at retail; this allows distributors to maintain a good margin with maintaining a high perceived value," he explained. ACRO's bags match retail trends while being exclusive to the promotional industry, the intention being to increase demand. Traiger continued, "We certainly could make retail styles available but think it's better for the distributors if they have products that are not at retail ... the styles just need to be 'right.'"
Speaking of the company's Chinese Laundry line, Traiger highlighted some promotions that were finding success. "We see the line being used in loyalty programs, sales incentive contests, service awards and recognition programs to name a few," he said. "We are in some of the largest casino and credit-card loyalty programs that exist."
In terms of customization for higher-end, higher-fashion items, the branding options go beyond embroidery and screen printing—end-buyers can actually create exclusive products. "We can make an exclusive style and color for a customer for as little as 200 pieces," Traiger said.
"The trend in backpacks is to have one you want to carry, something that looks fashionable and put-together," said Margit Fawbush, marketing manager for Indianapolis-based Norwood Promotional Products. "Features and functions are also important—in this iPod era, everyone needs easy-access pockets for cell phones, headphones, digital cameras, laptops [and] netbooks."
Speaking about the company's new ful (pronounced fuel) line, Fawbush noted that the designers find inspiration in anything that brings them joy, be it bass guitar or Monty Python. "ful bags are created with quality materials and a fashion edge. ful bags were born in Memphis, Tennessee—home to the blues, Elvis and barbecue." For distributors, such an approach to design helps to keep the product fresh and takes the promotion far past the simple black compu-tote.
To keep the line fun, Fawbush explained, "The bags are named for musicians, songs, famous Memphis hot spots and guitars."
While fun is important, substance is critical. A promotion based solely on a flashy looking bag with a high wow-factor but low usability is ultimately a failed promotion—the too-small purse or uncomfortable backpack that ends up hung on the back of a door isn't promoting anything to anyone. Said Fawbush, "ful bags are designed to offer function, convenience, organization, simplicity and comfort. They come in classic shapes with modern lines. The look and function should complement each other."
Fawbush echoed Traiger's sentiment on being able to provide a custom bag, saying it is important to "offer comparative quality, function and design to many of the well-known retail brands. Norwood has selected a palette of colors that are suitable to corporate customers, mixed with retail trend colors to give our customers options." By mixing the palette of colors, distributors can blend current trends with traditional corporate images.
"The trends in totes are still in function and fashion, but certainly due to the economics of today's world everyone is looking for less-expensive options," said Spellman, noting that distributors usually come to the same bottom-line. "It really all comes down to value. They want the best-looking tote at the least-expensive price."
As with by both Norwood Promotional Products and ACRO, TRG Group offers product lines that walk hand-in-hand with the products that are popular on the retail market. "As primarily a retail company, we are able to coincide our [promotional]?offerings right alongside our retail offerings," Spellman said, adding that while similar in fashion to retail, the designers keep decorating options in mind when creating or updating products.
For totes, the types of decorating options are fairly traditional. Spellman said his company generally sees distributors requesting embroidery or silk-screening, but he noted TRG Group is now offering a heat transfer process which allows for multiple color imprints and more options for the distributor to offer end-buyers.
Spellman offered a suggestion to distributors trying to think outside the box (or bag). "One of the main things I try to educate distributors on is that a tote bag is a great item unto itself, and many times that is the only product the end-user needs, but totes are also a great way to package other items that are being given away."
Finally, he added a word of caution for those who may think that a higher price means a higher quality bag. "What [distributors] need to realize is that quality isn't a price—it's at every price."