Digital transformation will push the promo industry forward. That’s why innovation is part of the criteria that measures the companies that make up the PPAI 100.

PPAI aims to define innovation as something more than just pulling from the resources available to the industry’s largest companies. PPAI 100 measures more than just revenue, after all.

This is partly how Zagwear and Goldner Associates – two distributors that reported under $30 million in 2022 revenue – found themselves on the inaugural PPAI 100 list. Both companies are able to walk a tight rope with precision; they are achieving the kind of success that is hard to sustain without technology but also manage to utilize technology in ways that are not outside of their budgets.

Creating Efficiencies, Avoiding Friction

The reality is that technology isn’t a magic elixir or a single button that opens up new revenue possibilities. To the extent that those kinds of technology exist, they can cost more than many mid-size companies make in a year. Truly leveraging technology means keeping up all the small ways your company’s processes can be improved. Enough of those small improvements add up, and over time they multiply on themselves.

According to Toby Zacks, CEO of No. 50 distributor Zagwear, the New York-based company applies its technology to five key goals:

  • Enhanced efficiency
  • Improved customer experience
  • Data-driven decision making
  • Agility and innovation
  • Cost savings

“We look to create solutions quickly that are effective, meaningful and scalable,” Zacks says.

Goldner checks in one spot higher on the inaugural list. It focuses on similar goals, but along with integrating an advanced ERP system, the Nashville-based distributor has leaned heavily into mastering accessible online inventory feeds. An industry that operated just fine for generations before the advent of the Internet, promo has produced a lot of distributors willing to clog up the phone lines and inboxes of their supplier partners.

“By accessing inventory online, we minimize backorders which leads to an overall better customer experience by ensuring that customers can purchase items without facing delays or disappointment due to out-of-stock items,” says Nathan Potter, director of IT and operations at Goldner. “Additionally, relying on online inventory feeds reduces the need for communication with customers regarding inventory issues, saving time and resources.”

  • Both companies are working around what can be tremendous costs to invest in technology.

Potter explains that while technology is meant to create efficiencies, a measured knowledge in your approach to technology allows companies to be efficient in what technologies they invest in.

“To overcome limited resources, we take a strategic and efficient approach,” Potter says. “We prioritize efficiency to ensure optimal resource allocation. Our long-term partnerships with outsource developers deliver cost-effective solutions while maintaining quality. We also prioritize gaining knowledge and experience to identify impactful areas for resource investment.”

Reacting to the marketplace is a much simpler proposition when you can allocate large investments that you are confident will pay off. Zacks says that Zagwear stays ahead with the ambition of any company in the industry.

“Zagwear is a speedboat,” Zacks says. “We react quickly and develop custom technology solutions that support everything from our client’s basic needs to the most complex global enterprise requirements.”

Technology Starts At The Top

It’s no coincidence that Zagwear and Goldner’s success is tied to technology. Their leaders are hands on in their prioritization of innovative approaches to become top distributors in the industry.

“I have always been passionate and remain curious about technology,” says Zacks, who spearheaded early tech innovations as CEO of Zagwear years ago.

Zacks was monitoring the onset of online company stores back in the ’90s as an opportunity for the company to grow in areas more established companies were largely disregarding.

“I feel this passion for technology has been a driving factor for our growth,” Zacks says. “Finding strategic ways to utilize technology solutions has pushed the company forward providing building blocks for us to do more and scale.”

Likewise, Potter says that in his position at Goldner, he receives hands-on support from the highest levels of the company.

“At Goldner, executive-level support for IT operations is robust and integral to the company’s operations,” Potter says. “The ownership and executive leaders have always been actively involved in technology decisions and providing the necessary resources to accomplish our objectives.”

  • As technology became a larger and larger part of success in the promo industry, Goldner reacted by elevating Potter’s IT position into an executive level role.

“This shift has resulted in even more open communication channels between me and other members of the leadership team, particularly the CEO,” Potter says.