From pink and purple popsicle-shaped flasks to multicolored, wooden toy robots inspired by Japanese Shinto Kumi-ki puzzles and luxury Visconti Rembrandt Ballpoint pens handmade in Florence, Italy, there’s no shortage of creativity buzzing through Pacoima, California-based supplier International Merchandise Concepts. If their clients can think it—they’re determined to make it happen.

At the 2019 PPAI® Expo, attendees gravitated to the whimsical products displayed at IMC’s impressive booth, eager to touch—and play—with the specialized selection. To widen the range of possibilities, IMC introduced retail brands into the promotional space, having presented 70 brands—like Fred & Friends, Playable Art and HydAway—to the industry. This year, IMC debuted four new brands, including German pen brand Lamy, housewares from Reeko and Philippi and weighted table and couch coasters by Hit Products.

It’s no wonder that IMC has an eye for the unusual, as the founders themselves have decades of experience; the Fishman family in retail and the Kao family in manufacturing. (Jeffrey Kao continued the journey after Stan Fishman retired in 2007). Entering the promo space, they decided the products needed an upgrade—and IMC worked  to provide distinct, sundry and sought-after items for its growing client base. PPB spoke with Editor Donn James, responsible for IMC’s social media and publicity, to learn more about the company.

What was the original vision for International Merchandise Concepts and how has the company grown over the years?

To provide highly regarded and valued merchandise that is design-sensitive at a great price, while maintaining great service is the vision. It’s easier said than done. Since 1984, IMC has worked to elevate the promotional giveaway to a cherished gift. Design, quality and value drive the search for innovative products. Initially, all products were designed in-house. As the marketplace evolved, it became clear that retail brands with unique products were underrepresented in the promotional industry. Introducing retail brands to the industry has been a driver of growth over the past 16 years.

How has previous retail experience provided IMC with the expertise to find standout products?

By understanding the challenges retailers faced and the appeal of brands to the consumer it was easy to  transition from designing all of IMC’s products in-house to offering unique, branded merchandise. Working closely with brand partners allows IMC to have insight into what is selling in retail and products soon-to-be released to market, and to have an opportunity to develop B2B-targeted products for the brand partner.

Being that your company’s products are hyper unique, what do you do to circumvent mediocrity?

IMC sets the standard high. While all brand partner products are available to the promotional industry through IMC, only a limited number are selected by committees to be offered on the website and in the catalog. Quality B2B gifts with an appropriate decoration area and an attractive price drive the selection process.

It seems like the sky’s the limit for IMC. Tell us about the company’s custom option, and a custom product that was created as part of a spellbinding campaign.

Our three-decade relationships with factories allows IMC to produce almost anything a distributor’s client can dream. We have made custom items, like keychains and pens, for a distributor’s clients, such as Apple and Coca-Cola. We developed and manufactured a bottle icon key holder for Coca-Cola, and another distributor’s client had a very successful campaign for a hospital after we designed a pen shaped like a syringe. For St. Jude, IMC designed and produced an actual size pacemaker model to assist doctors with explaining to patients the size and function of the pacemaker.

We custom made a liquid sand timer for a distributor’s pharmaceutical company client, and a magnifying glass with Kikkerland for a distributor’s spa industry client. IMC also designed a ratchet pen for tool company, Snap-on, which turned into an award-winning campaign. The company CEO often could not tell the ratchet pen we designed from his own company’s tool. If a distributor or their client can dream it, IMC’s relationships with factories enable the manufacture of anything, from a canvas bag, fluffy keychain, themed picture frame or pen to a high-quality, leather handbag.

What are some of your most sought-after products?

The MoMA Cube Calendar that IMC developed for the museum is one of our top sellers, because it combines a nice price point with a retail brand and many marketing opportunities. Since the calendar can be preset before shipping, they are used to note product launches, grand openings or other worthy dates. The cubes can also be customized and expanded to convey a memorable marketing message. Also, a huge seller for us is the Areaware Cubebots for their color choices, versatility and whimsical nature. At a higher price point, our Blunt umbrellas are a bestseller due to their high-perceived value, quality, reputation and packaging.

How do you use social media, specifically your blog, to engage people in the IMC brand? What is some of the feedback you have received?

While we are always learning as social media platforms evolve, we try to stay current using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest to keep our distributer clients informed. We use periodic emails to highlight new products, interesting campaigns and case histories to help our clients with marketing ideas. IMC also has a YouTube channel where we upload selling ideas for specific products as well as marketing videos from our retail brand partners. The feedback is largely positive, and we do listen when customers suggest alternative imprint areas, color options or decoration methods. The IMC blog is a view outside of the promotional products world and is meant to be entertaining with a quirky and often irrelevant view of humanity.

What can we expect to see from IMC in 2019?

Our focus continues to be to find more creative ways to make our promotional products the gifts that will be used and seen every day, creating the impressions other forms of advertising can only dream of. In addition to the four retail brands introduced at the Expo, IMC will continue to select new products from our established brands, like Kikkerland, Blunt, Fred & Friends, Areaware and others to bring new and unusual products to the industry. We continue to design new products for the MoMA Design Store and our own collections of pens, crystal, housewares and bags. And IMC is more than capable of creating that custom item to “wow” even the most difficult-to-impress end user.


Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.