You Spin Me Right Round

Fidget spinners are a hot commodity now, but how long will the trend maintain momentum?

When the U.S. Toy Industry Association stood up at the 114th North American International Toy Fair in February to announce the year’s top trends, a handheld spinner wasn’t on the list. The unassuming toy, meant to occupy idle hands and active minds, emerged from obscurity late last year, having only popped up in an internet search as late as the end of 2015.

Fidget toys—small items that help individuals mentally focus on a task by physically occupying them—have taken many forms. Rubik’s Cube, Newton’s cradle, bottle caps, slap bracelets—all these and more have had their day in the sun. But  the plastic whirlygig has become a hot commodity in a very short time, entering the promotional products realm almost as quickly as the retail world; distributors are scrambling to outfit their customers, and many retail and wholesale suppliers are quickly exhausting their overseas inventories in a matter of days.

Krista Ward, director of marketing for supplier Hit Promotional Products, says fidget spinners entered the company’s radar in early April as a result of ongoing product development research. “Custom emails began several weeks after we placed our first purchase order,” she says.

Ward says the sudden jump in demand in China for ball bearings—a major component of the spinners—produced supply issues and tripled costs. “We were able to do some creative sourcing to meet our opening demand, and while we did have to raise our initial pricing, we remain one of the lowest-priced in the industry due to our relationships with factories—and our commitment from the top down to provide the industry with the best pricing,” she says.

Ward says distributors and their clients view safety as a top priority, which is crucial given the spinners’ target audience. She recommends distributors source spinners from reputable suppliers who have had their products tested for CPSIA compliance. Hit is including instructions, age grading and small parts warning information on the spinner packaging.

“The age grading confirmed by our third-party testing lab was ages 5 and up,” adds Ward.

The question now is not whether the fad will fade, but when. Trend watchers say social media has contributed to overexposure and the resulting saturation of the marketplace, and this trend will fall back to make room for a new product fad in a matter of months.

Ward says she expects the appeal of spinners to last longer with promotional clients.

“Given the initial demand for these, I believe these will have staying power for some time,” she says. “It’s affordable for any budget and has widespread appeal, broadened by retail presence and demand. We’ll continue to see more versions emerge on the market, lengthening the product life cycle.”

Best Foot Forward

Five Minutes With Brandon Mackay, CEO of SnugZ USA

Call it kismet or fate, but a networking event brought Brandon Mackay an unexpected opportunity to bring something “non-mainstream” to the promotional products industry, and his new addition to SnugZ USA’s offerings is kicking things up a notch. Mackay spoke with PPB about SoulKix, the supplier’s new line of custom shoes, which were introduced to the industry in January.

PPB How did you learn about SoulKix?

Mackay We met the [previous] owner at a networking event, sitting together at a table, told him what we do for a living, and what the market is like, and he was interested. We struck up a conversation about how he could streamline his work and art process, and he was inclined to move into the promotional arena. We even brought him out to our offices. But he called out of the blue three days later, and he said, ‘I could never beat you or be you, would you be interested in acquiring me?’

PPB Why did you choose a line of custom shoes to expand your offerings to the industry? 

Mackay The No. 1 question from any distributor is ‘What’s new?’. Hearing about custom-decorated, branded shoes kind of takes you aback. It becomes top of mind. I don’t think many companies map out their exact road map.

We’ve been successful in other areas and shoes were something that we were not looking for. Sometimes you have to be lucky versus good, and we feel this opportunity is a great one for SnugZ and the industry. When we started selling what we sell now, nobody else was. We try to find those obscure areas that are not being serviced and go all in.

PPB What immediate and long-term opportunities does your team envision

for SoulKix?

Mackay The opportunities are endless right now. Every single time we pitch the concept, our distributor partners not only love the idea, but they immediately give us opportunities to help them build a story board to push the shoes to their top clients.

Our distributor partners love new ideas to help them keep their clients on the cutting edge of what is hip and fun. The entire goal of the promotional products industry is to keep eyes on the end user customer and this product does exactly that.

PPB How did you approach marketing and customer support strategy development for SoulKix?

Mackay This was easy. We’ve been providing full-color decoration on various products for years so that portion of development was easy. Where it got a little tricky was dealing with all the sizes. You can guess your way though shirt sizes but you cannot guess your way through shoe sizes, and if you want the end user to fall in love with the product then the size has to be perfect.

PPB What challenges have you run into, if any, with selling shoes alongside lanyards, lip balm and sunscreen?

Mackay We’ve not faced any major challenges here. Hands down the biggest challenge is sizing; outside of sizing it’s inventory. It’s not an extremely economical price point, like a pen. When you compound volume and range of sizes, it grows in cost. I don’t think it’s for everybody. It’s taken us into areas we’re not familiar with. We had to start from scratch with sourcing. We had to raise the bar, so to speak. It’s a challenge in the industry in general, finding factories that are socially and environmentally compliant.

PPB Do you see footwear as a category capable of growth across the industry?

Mackay Yes, this product will grow without a doubt. This industry is awesome at finding new gems and then, before you know it, dozens of other companies are on the band wagon. This category will grow and we’re excited here at SnugZ USA to have this offering in our line and feel very fortunate that we were able to acquire SoulKix late last year.

Fighting The Data Deluge

Digital asset management systems help marketers keep digital files organized

If you’ve amassed a collection of digital files that rivals the National Archives, it’s time to think about ditching those yellow folders on your hard drive for a digital asset management system, or DAM systems. More than storage, DAM systems help you organize, store and search rich media such as artwork and photo images.

DAM systems serve a variety of needs, whether it’s storing little-used items for occasional retrieval (photo archiving) or files that are accessed often, such as artwork for a regular marketing client. DAM software can be incorporated into content management systems as well.

If you’re ready to search for a system that suits your business best, the DAM Foundation recommends using one that can execute some of these essential tasks:

• Receive and manipulate files individually or in large groups

• Secure files through user access

• Store files as binaries and as metadata

• Transform files into other formats or versions, while maintaining the originals

• Add metadata

• Provide workflow tools for file management and approval

• Produce files through a diverse search function (individual and category search)

• Provide the ability to track file usage

Hand In Hand

Link brand strategy with innovation strategy for exceptional outcomes

It’s tempting to constantly want to reinvent yourself—as an individual and as a business. But if your innovation strategy doesn’t support your current brand, it may be time to reevaluate why and how you choose to innovate your products and services.

Steven Cristol, founder and managing partner of Strategic Harmony Partners, shared these tips with online global innovation community Innovation Excellence:

1 Strategies for your brand, products and innovation need to be linked.

Companies want to ensure every cent they spend developing products or services leads to increased value for all parties involved, from stakeholders to end users. Decades of research confirm that strong brands see greater revenue, larger margins, and lower capital and selling costs. Product development needs to be evaluated in terms of its impact on the brand. Does a new product or feature align with the ideal customer experience, and does it offer the right level of competitive impact? Product development and innovation should focus on strengthening weaker areas of your brand.

2 Brand values and the customer voice should influence innovation.

Innovation only produces success when marketing requirements and product requirements are intertwined. The technical and non-technical teams in your organization bring different but equally valuable perspectives to the conversation. Brand managers, product managers and product development managers need to oversee the same set of attributes that are the drivers of brand preference where product line and market segment intersect.

3 Incorporate brand into innovation, not the other way around.

Successful companies manage their product offerings with the brand in mind. This gives brand ownership to everyone involved in the innovation strategy and execution, and helps them steer the project in the same direction.

4 Get innovators to care as much about brand as marketers do.

This can be a big culture shift, especially for companies with a technology-focused or engineering-driven mission. Successful organizations have a CEO who adopts the work of corporate brand manager rather than ferreting it out to marketing executives.