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Written By Tessa Reyes Benz | January 4, 2021

7 Tips to Boost Promo Business in Q1 of 2021

For the promo industry, the first quarter of the year normally consists of meetings, travel and events. Since business naturally slows down in December due to the holidays, Q1 normally offers that jumpstart into the new year that nearly every industry needs. While our country awaits the widespread distribution of the promising vaccine, consumers build confidence in their buying plans for this year.


Leaders in the promotional products industry show optimism with some innovative thinking on how to start the new year off right.


“A lot of companies are doing well, and the stock market reflects it,” expressed Leo Friedman, CEO and founder of iPromo. “I see nothing but opportunity for our space right now. I think the industry is going to be permanently changed. The folks that adjust are going to do really well, and the ones that don’t are going to really struggle.”


While Q1 might be difficult to predict, Advertising Specialty Institue (ASI) recommends these seven tips to continue to grow your business in 2021. Let's check it out.


1. Revisit Old-School Selling Tactics

One pitfall of predictability is that it can produce complacency. Dale Limes, senior vice president of sales of HALO Branded Solutions, seems to think salespeople in the promo industry relied heavily on businesses already understanding the need for branded merchandise.


“Our industry on the distributor side has become very reactive over the last many years compared to when I started in business,” recalls Limes. “Back in these days, you were very proactive because businesses didn’t know much about promotional products. You would knock on doors and people would buy. We’re really pounding out to our team that heading into 2021 is not a time to be reactive.”


The old-school mentality encourages promo salespeople to find growing brands and help educate about the latest trends and other helpful marketing ideas to grow their business.


“We need to be solving problems for clients, not selling products,” declared Limes.

2. Don't be afraid to try something new

Like heat transfer supplier Transfer Express. The company who primarily sold equipment at trade shows, pivoted quickly into new markets once the pandemic hit. By building a following on YouTube and TikTok, Transfer Express collaborated with influencers with established branded apparel to upgrade their equipment, and in return, reach a larger audience.


“We’ve gotten a lot of new customers this way,” said Transfer Express’s marketing manager, Sue Wilcosky. “We were forced to change, but it was a good thing because we discovered a market that we’d underutilized.”

3. Lean into technology

The e-commerce boom of 2020 is likely to stick around even once life presumably gets back to normal. Businesses who quickly pivoted online, like the small Ohio-based shop Yellow Springer, showed you can continue to thrive through a shutdown. This father-daughter run promo business started over a dozen online shops through the 2020 pandemic.


“We’re up over 300% where we were last year,” says owner Mark Heise.

4. Extend the gifting season

Show appreciation for your employees while they work remote with branded gifts. Sending care packages to employees is one of the best ways to promote connection within the company.


Budgets that originally allocate for travel and hospitality have been transferred to branded swag and corporate gifts.

5. Plan ahead (but not too far in advance)

“The new normal is you can’t plan a year in advance,” says Kimble Bosworth of TN-based distributor On Promos. “But you can certainly plan for a quarter… All of our conversations around January through March are about outfitting people for the long winter.”


Bosworth also recommends planning for the potential of trade shows and events that might be back on this summer of fall. “Let’s plan the events now as if they’re happening —get the color scheme, design and all the groundwork laid, so that in August when you have the event, you won’t be behind the eight ball,” says Bosworth. “So much of this is about continuing conversations with your customer and not being forgotten.”

6. Master Messaging

For the promo industry, trade shows and sales meetings offer businesses the ability to tell a story, make a connection, and leave a promotional product as a physical reminder to that connection.  With all transactions online now, the promotional product “needs to pull double duty and serve as both the storyteller and the memento,” says Charity Gibson, national account coordinator at NJ-based Peerless Umbrella Co. “If you can get the right message in the hands of the right people at the right time, you’ll win.”

7. Support Local Businesses

Small businesses need all our support to survive this pandemic. Organizations like the Here for Good movement worked with screen printers and distributors to raise money for small businesses during lockdowns.


JP Hunt, partner and co-founder of industry software firm InkSoft, came up with the idea of putting together merch boxes for small businesses. “The twist is this notion of boxed up local,” said Hunt. Everyone loves the idea of novel products and finding a simple way to support local produces a profit.


“We think this is going to be a big theme in Q1 in particular as COVID continues to rage through the community,” claims Hunt. “It will help a lot of our customers understand that there’s an ongoing need to support local.”