Assignment: Improve Sales
Even in thriving economies schools have limited financial support, so difficult financial times like today's force education administrators to be creative. Instead of abandoning promotional products, schools are placing ads on decals, seat cushions and parking permits so they can still have these necessary products without paying for them. It's a tactic professional sports teams have been using for years, so it's a natural progression to university athletics and other school programs. Selling to these solution-seekers is why distributors exist. Educators are interested in new ideas to solve their monetary woes, and only you, distributors, have the solution-selling skills to extend their funds and exposure.
Sponsoring School Spirit
It may seem roundabout, but one of the best ways to sell into the education market is to target the businesses in the area instead of the actual school. "Some schools will contact local businesses to advertise on the item and the business will donate the item to the school," said Jeanna Abercrombie, sales manager for Wharton, Texas-based Pepco Promotional Products. These local sponsorships are lucrative for the businesses and also for distributors. "These 'sponsorships' or ad space present a tremendous sales opportunity for distributors," said Mike Stoeck, director of sales and marketing for Stouse Inc., New Century, Kan. "If the distributor sells the ad space, often times the ad dollars will exceed the typical retail value of the items and the distributor can provide the product to the school for free," he explained. "It's a 100 percent profit for the school and the business gets great advertising," added Abercrombie.
Stoeck offered an example of sponsorship selling to show the benefit to a distributor. "250 Honor Roll bumper stickers with coupons on the liner may sell for around $200 net," he said. "Placing ads on the liner sold to four businesses at $250 each results in $1000 in revenue and $800 in profit. That is an 80 percent margin and the school didn't spend a dime on them," Stoeck concluded. The secret here is that the distributor is demonstrating his or her solution-selling to schools without the school having to pay for it. "[Schools] see the distributor as a hero providing free product while the competitors of the distributor tried to sell them the product," elaborated Stoeck.
Recruiting The Best
The education market covers elementary schools to universities. These schools offer vastly different budgets. "Universities buy more, and understandably there is greater competition to win those orders," said Stoeck. He mentioned that most sales go to the alumni, recruitment and fundraising programs.
Abercrombie added athletics to the list of money-making collegiate programs. "Our promotional poms can be seen during college football season almost any Saturday," she said. Stoeck seconded her claim. "Larger schools trend toward the athletic programs and departments," he said. He offered guidance for distributors entering the education market. "Simply follow the money to the booster clubs," he advised.
Don't limit yourself to the larger budgets of colleges and universities however, because profits exist at primary and secondary schools as well. "There is a large opportunity presented by the high school and middle school market," said Stoeck. "[It] presents less competition for the order, more customers to call on and a greater ability to bring in local businesses to support the school." Less competition is a benefit that cannot be ignored.
Reading, Writing And Repetition
With so many elementary schools, high schools and colleges in the U.S., overlapping colors are unavoidable. According to Abercrombie, some colors are repeated more than others. "The most popular color we do in a lot of our items, especially our poms, is white," she said. "[White] shows up very well on nationally televised events." Abercrombie also listed certain color combinations like blue/white and red/white that are good for school promotions.
With common colors come common products. Though order quantities and regularity change from middle and high schools to colleges and universities, the actual products remain the same. Stoeck noted decals for car windows, car plates and magnets are popular, especially for direct mail campaigns, and Abercrombie listed seat cushions, pennants, promotional poms, cups and foam novelties as popular choices.
Safety (And Customization) First
SaferProducts.gov has forced suppliers to reevaluate their product safety because it offers a place for consumers to complain about defective and/or dangerous items. Suppliers do not want to be listed on the site, and distributors do not want to associate with companies that sell defective products, so safe selling is the only option. "The biggest and only big change to our products has been to be made CPSIA-compliant," affirmed Abercrombie.
Consumers are demanding higher quality in the actual style of products as well as the safety. Stoeck mentioned that custom shapes are taking the lead over stock shapes in Stouse Inc.'s magnets, decals, bumper stickers and parking permits. "Schools are savvy and like good design like the rest of us," he said. "A simple rectangle or square design has transitioned to a multi-colored die-cut shape or special material that enhances the school's logo." Stoeck added that schools are using one product to complement another. "As an example, it is not uncommon to see a decal or discount card used as a hang tag on an article of clothing," he explained.