Anyone that owns, operates or works for a small business has probably noticed that over the last year or two small business performance is way ahead of economic news that makes it to the evening news or online. The business cycle seems to have really changed and by the time we see reports of economic conditions we have already dealt with them as small business participants.
There is almost no doubt that later July into the middle of August was significantly slower than earlier periods of the year. The numbers from July however show strong retail sales which may only prove the point that people were spending money on themselves and not necessarily their businesses. By the time mid August rolled around and people returned to work from summer vacations business sales began to pickup and that has continued into the later stages of the month. However the economic news that made the major outlets during that time lagged significantly failing to flag the slowdown until it was already over and failing to note the return to more normal patterns after it happened. Is the problem poor data or is it that the economy now cycles much faster than it did years ago? I think it really is fast cycling and buyer psychology. With some much financial news now available consumers adjust their expectations and behavior on the fly. Just take a look at the stock market and you will see some incredibly fast movements in behavior that have no real rationale explanations.
Taking a look back through our more recent articles, the Ice and Wine Gift Segment was one of the more popular articles written to date. The Grigio has already garnered enormous interest and there is no doubt that will continue. The most popular article still has been the discussion of why laundry caps are still tough to read. Apparently we struck a nerve with consumers tired of paying too much. Last but not least the discussion of checkpoint friendly computer bags has been forwarded more than any other article. As business travel picks up we expect to see business sales for checkpoint friendly bags soar.
When it comes to holiday gifts or in the politically correct world custom or employee appreciation gifts one of the most popular choices continues to be those associated with wine. One of the reasons custom wine openers tend to be one of the preferred choices in the later months of the year is the fact that many of the new products are included in the late season catalogs released by the larger manufacturers.
Leed's has announced the release of over one hundred new products. Many are geared towards the corporate gift giving including the Grigio 4 Piece Wine Bottle Set which is an innovative and creative approach to the problem of packaging the required wine tools. Almost everyone that is serious about the fairer wines and that has a serious collection will have a rack, cooler or other similar storage spot. This custom wine set will fit the contour of any of those storage mediums which immediately makes it accessible instead of digging through drawers. It also includes all of the needed pieces to get you through your next dinner party. The molded rubberized exterior is a new touch and it will be interesting to see how customers feel about what has traditionally been used only in tool sets.
For those of you that are completely and utterly tired of receiving bottle openers with a logo on them Leeds has come up with an idea for you this season. The Wine Chiller & Ice Bucket Duo is an exceptional custom wine chiller that can either be used as a regular ice bucket or as a bottle cooler. The plastic pieces assemble and the liquid fused between the pieces of acrylic freezes to quickly and easily chill your bottle from top to bottom. I have actually never seen this type of piece in the promotional products marketplace and it will be interesting to see how well it will sell. A nice feature is that anyone can use this whether it be the kids to keep their juices cold or teens to keep track of change. It has many uses and again it will surely catch the eye of your favorite client or employee as it is not something that has been making the rounds the last several years.
With the economic news the way it is everyone can use a good gift and hopefully these are some ideas you will be able to put to use this season. As a follow up to our laundry detergent cap story the other day apparently the reason they use the less than visible caps is that customer marketing data has found we buy based on cap color. That does not explain why they cannot use a contrasting imprint on the inside of the cup to make measuring easier and we are still waiting to hear back from the various manufacturers on plans in that area.
One of the immediate results of the dramatic rise in oil prices during 2008 was an equal rise in shipping and transportation costs. We all saw increases at the pumps and as well we all noticed the gradually but steady increase in prices for almost all goods and services. But did you all also notice that many of your favorite products particularly the heavier ones were downsized during the same period? After running a two week test over 20 loads of laundry it is pretty clear there is one big winner in the laundry downsizing game.
Take a look at your favorite laundry brand. Three years ago the shelves were lined with large containers that got anywhere from 32 to 64 loads of laundry done depending on the container. There were a few bottles marked for high efficiency washers and a few that were labeled as two times strength and as a result were thin bottles. It wasn't until oil prices hit record highs that all manufacturers switched to the double strength bottles which strangely cost the same for the same number of loads but certainly cost a lot less to transport. One unfortunate aspect of the new bottles is that the accompanying caps were also about half the size. Trying to read the line on the measuring cup was difficult with the larger caps and is now impossible with the smaller cups. The tone on tone coloring makes it no easier. The fact that our largest detergent companies are unable to produce a cap with a contrasting measuring line is troubling as it has two effects that are both bad for consumers. First a majority almost certainly end up putting in way too much solution. In almost every case the cap only needs to be about one quarter filled. The top two lines which you are actually able to see are for double or triple loads. Second we are dumping all sorts of nutrients into either septic tanks or the sewer system which ends up getting dumped into local waters. Clearly there is no benefit to consumers but you can almost bet for sure detergent sales are up proportionally to what they were a few years ago as we all use more of the double strength solution than we need and as a result are probably going through the average 32 or 64 use bottle 25 or 40 percent faster than we were previously. After digging up and old bottle of normal size and running a two week test it was pretty clear that pouring and measuring in the new cup was prone to over indulging on the amount of detergent. This was not a scientific test but common sense and the human eye clearly demonstrate it is nearly impossible to read the measuring caps in modern detergents. At the very least manufacturers should be using contrasting lines - if they are using a dark blue cap make the measuring lines white and the letters large in white. Better yet make the caps transparent so that light gets through and make the lines and printing in bold colors.
If this bothers you take a moment to write a letter to the big producers. They should be aware that their practice of either accidentally or deliberately making it difficult to read the caps should be changed. It is better for consumers and better for the environment. Tide can be reached by email or phone at the Tide Contact Us Page. You can contact Dwight & Church via their comment page. They make a lot of the off brands you see in CVS and other stores in addition to the Arm & Hammer line. To round out the list of larger selling brands we have the page to contact All Detergent. In the past many of these manufacturers have been responsive to change. If enough people contact them there is a very good chance we will see a positive change which will help our bank accounts and in turn will help the environment.
By the time the calendar rolled over to the new century the promotional products market was saturated with various types of drink-ware. By the time the calendar turned to 2010 it had reached a point where every single manufacturer in the industry produced the same goods over and over again. A few suppliers like MB Works broke outside the normal mold but none of the major players provided significantly distinct custom drink-ware.
That is until the fall catalog which is about to be released by Leed's which will knock the ball out of the proverbial park. They had already introduced a few new ones this year but the Mega Double Wall Ceramic Tumbler with Wrap adds not only a great looking piece to the line but also one with a giant capacity. They went ahead and included a vinyl wrap and a gift box which makes it very easy to provide this as a handout at a trade-show or corporate event. The price point is set a bit above that of competitors but what you get from this manufacturer is absolutely terrific service.
At about the same time Pendolare Double Wall Ceramic Tumbler brings a first of the kind wrap. Up until now almost all being offered were vinyl which provide some insulation and a gripping surface. The Pendolare Ceramic Tumbler uses neoprene which has very good insulating properties, looks and feels great on the hand. It also tends not to slip which was a drawback on some wraps from lesser brands. Like the earlier model it includes a gift box and large capacity. Standing at about 6.5" tall without the lid this custom tumbler matches the lid to the wrap. With both of these products the wrap will always match the silicone lid. With the neoprene most will go ahead and imprint in white while with the vinyl wrap the deboss will look best.
Drinkware continues to sell despite the recent slowdown. This is likely because it is actually useful and can be justified as a purchase that will do more than sit on a desk. The end user recipient will almost always keep the tumbler in use for a significant amount of time. One thing to make sure you mention to end users is whether or not the drinkware is dishwasher safe. Ceramic is dishwasher safe in almost all cases but please keep in mind the logo is not dishwasher safe and over time it will wear off. In reality you will probably get years out of the imprint before it washes off.
As we mentioned in an earlier post American Apparel is apparently stumbling in a major way this evening. It is widely rumored that a larger competitor may swoop in to buy them out much like what happened with Bic and Norwood.
The news was already bleak for ASI supplier heavyweight American Apparel early this year when it was revealed the company was close to triggering stipulations in loan agreements. The potential problem was averted when the debt was restructured in favor of a higher interest rate note. All that apparently did was buy some time for the inevitable debt crush.
The stock was hammered today as the company warned that it is facing a serious liquidity crisis. As the NY Times indicated in an article today on American Apparel which indicated they are all but out of options. Despite a reasonable uptick in sales industry wide this year they have reported sharp sales decreases. Without speculating much on the reason it could well be that the hypersensitive distributor model they have had for the last few years has failed and catering to skinny teens will not buy you strong sales among older executives. They also report that they will not file a timely report and therefore will likely be delisted.
It was just four years ago that 60 minutes hailed American Apparel as a made in USA success story but very clearly it was all smoke and mirrors. The company was always highly leveraged and was unable to adjust like other heavyweights like Broder Bros. was able to do in 2009. It is an unfortunate case of too much too fast as the company opened expensive stores in premium locations instead of hoarding cash in a recession. The unfortunate aspect of all of this is that more jobs are likely to be lost in the US.
I think yesterday was the day that I came to the conclusion that people are in general crazy. A flight attendant loses complete control and goes so far as to pull the emergency chute on a plane and people barely blink as this type of silly behavior is almost normal. All of it points to the accumulation of stress as the supposed economic recovery is a total disaster and people are simply beginning to lose any hope of a more positive future. With confidence in the economy plummeting among consumers and small businesses there is very little chance the economy will avert a second slide.
With stress aversion a major factor in my life I have begun to look for ways to make my travel time easier. About three years ago I saw a well dressed business traveler fly through security with a laptop bag that zipped open for easy access. Meanwhile I had to take my expensive laptop out of the bag and leave it in the hands of a fumble handed TSA inspector. Leeds has recently released the Verve Checkpoint Friendly Compu-Messenger which doubles as both a simple everyday promotional messenger bag and a computer case. Beyond the basic features of a full zip laptop compartment it has other features that make your day easier such as the earbud port for your iPod. With a slightly larger capacity for the typical wide screen the Summit Checkpoint-Friendly Compu-Case has a bungee storage area on the front of the case for odd shaped items like water bottles or umbrellas. I particularly like this simple and inexpensive feature as I stick everything from bottles, hats, towels and even the neck pillows I utilize while flying. Consider putting a bundle together by asking your distributor to provide other imprinted items that may fit into the bungee area such as a throw towel. Quite often you will be able to obtain these items for a discount and the impact with your customer will be dramatic.
There is very little hope for the domestic economy. Wall Street made a lot of money in the first half with the market rising as much as it did but the rest of America is suffering. The stimulus high is rapidly wearing off and all signs point to drooping confidence in any sustained recovery with most small business owners now believing we will drop back into a shrinking economy later this year. The perfect storm of factors continues with consumers saving more each month, using less credit and in general being uncertain about the future. This will only lead to lower sales down the road in the all important retail sector which in turn will only make the situation worse as we head into the later half of 2010. Without a strong retail outlook the holiday jobs will not come again this year and without those jobs there goes a lot of holiday spending. There is now very little that can be done and much like Japan in the 1990's we appear to be entering a lost decade where we have very little real growth and very little opportunity to change what is happening. Companies like 4imprint which are actually foreign companies selling in the US continue to grow at strong rates while the rest of the small American businesses suffer.
While the rest of the promotional products industry struggles terribly with inventory issues brought on by difficulty in securing shipping containers Gemline has taken steps to circumvent the problem. Although how they have been able to maintain sufficient inventory is still a mystery the fact is they have stock that is of sufficient depth to keep thousands of promotional items distributors happy.
There have been widespread complaints that many of the top 5 PPAI suppliers are basically without inventory in many key categories. Gemline on the other hand, based out of Massachusetts, has been able to maintain consistent levels of stock. Unlike others when they launched new products this summer like the Atlas Computer Backpack they made certain they had enough of each item to fill major orders. The product initially arrived with almost a 1000 pieces available in each color and a month into rapid deliveries they still have almost 400 pieces. Contrast that with another major brand who to this date has never had stock for items they put on sale in January. The Gemline Impulse Backpack will surely be a strong player in the segment as it is available in three colors. Again Gemline took the needed steps to make sure they have thousands of pieces in stock with thousands more due next month. Take a look at the other major players and you will see they have actually removed the inventory function from the public side of their sites as the delays are so substantial.
Gemline has always been a top rated supplier but you have to wonder why they have been able to keep items in stock while Leed's and Bullet have not. Prime has had significant inventory to sell and yet Norwood is often out of stock. Bic is in the middle of moving factories and still has no problems while basic products are gone from others in the big five. Sure freight costs have increased dramatically but something else is clearly at work whether it is terrible planning by promotional products buyers on the supplier side, or the unwillingness to pay the increased freight costs. Either way it's a sorry day in the industry when the few sales that are out there are being lost to no stock.