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Promotional products distributors holding their own in downturn

John Seelmeyer

Here’s the kind of winter it’s been:

Bottles of hand sanitizer rival pens as the most popular promotional items given away by companies that look to keep their names in front of potential buyers.

Whether buyers are looking for pens, hand sanitizers, coffee mugs or another of the bazillion items sold by distributors of advertising specialties, the business has held up fairly well in northern Nevada despite the recession.

Klaus Grimm, who owns Blue Moon Advertising and Promotional Products in Reno, says his company has parlayed aggressive marketing through the downturn into gains in market share.

“We practice what we preach consistent marketing,” Grimm says. “We haven’t changed the way we do our business.”

His customers, however, have returned to basics buying more pens, mugs and desktop items and fewer high-end promotional items.

“It’s more about cost, more grassroots,” Grimm says.

Among the best selling promotional items last year were hand sanitizers carrying company logos, says Barbara Williamson of B&W Wholesale, a Reno distributor of casino supplies and advertising specialties.

The hot sales of sanitizers in northern Nevada was part of a nationwide trend.

The Advertising Specialty Institute, a trade organization, says searches on its Web site for sanitizers jumped more than four-fold between October 2008 and October 2009. In fact, the group says that only searches for pens the best-selling promotional item for many years topped the number of inquiries for sanitizers.

Stephanie Lerude, whose Executive Giftsource in Reno recently added promotional products to its lineup, says buyers are focused on return on investment.

Some digital promotional products, for instance, require a user sign-on a good indication that the advertisers’ message is front of a potential customer.

“The industry is becoming more sophisticated,” Lerude says.

The sophistication is necessary, she says, as many of the small businesses in northern Nevada that were potential buyers of promotional items have gone out of business, and surviving businesses watch their costs closely.

“Sales are down,” she says. “People are ordering less, but they are still ordering.”

Williamson says sales at B&W were up a bit in 2009 compared with the previous year, but owners of the family-run business are working hard to keep B&W in front of buyers.

“We spend a lot of time networking,” she says.

Participation in groups such as the Sparks Chamber of Commerce and WE of the World as well as events such the Entrepreneur Expo in Reno in late March provide an opportunity for company executives to tell their story to potential buyers.

And B&W Wholesale is a big user of promotional items stamped with the company’s logo.

“We’re walking the talk,” Williamson says.

Who is buying?

A study by Louisiana State University and Glenrich Business Studies says these sectors are the biggest buyers of advertising specialty items:

1. Education (schools, seminars)

2. Financial (banks, brokers)

3. Not-for-profit (charities, churches)

4. Health care (hospitals, pharmacies)

5. Construction trades, suppliers

Source: Promotional Products

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