Differentiating Quality Still a Challenge for the Promotional Products Industry
Of all the costs that go into making a promotional product, quality costs are often the hardest to appreciate. If we do our job well, the product simply looks good and works. But if we don't, if a product breaks, parts don't fit together well, ink dries out, seams tear, imprints are crooked—the defect stands out like a black eye and does double damage. The flawed product disappoints and it reflects poorly on the company who gave it away—exactly the opposite of what promotional products are supposed to do. And now, with ever increasing product safety regulations upsetting norms, threatening the industry, raising calls for indemnification and changing the way we source products, quality has been catapulted front and center as a critical and urgent topic for promotional products professionals. Yet amidst all of the attention, it remains a significant challenge for our industry to differentiate the highest quality products from the similar looking but lessor products, particularly when they often appear even to experienced buyers to be the same.
For personal purchases, brand names and expectation levels often inform the quality aspect of our buying decisions. We don't have the same expectations for an item we buy from a dollar store as one we buy from Ralph Lauren. In the grocery store we expect more from Del Monte and Heinz than we do from generic store brands. And we are willing to pay more for the additional quality we get from branded items.
But most promotional products are not branded. Similar looking products are available from dozens of sources with nearly identical descriptions. Search engines like ESP or SAGE can also make similar products appear to be the same.
But they aren't necessarily the same.
A month ago I received a call from a trusted industry source who said he knew of a well-respected bag factory that had some unexpected downtime and might be able to improve our price on a very popular item from our line. From the description and photos on our website his factory quoted a very attractive price. But after we sent actual samples of our bag the price went up considerably. The fabric was a higher grade than the factory had assumed and our reinforced construction required more labor. Our bag was of a higher quality but the differences were not obvious from the picture and web description, even to a 30-year industry veteran.