The In-Plant Printing and Mailing Association (IPMA) has partnered with Swagforce, a promotional products e-commerce agency. As of March 1, the agency offers its website offerings, at a cost, to in-plant printers through an agreed upon partnership.

The move is expected to assist in-plant printers in selling promotional products to their customers without necessarily joining a promo organization or officially being deemed a promo distributor. Swagforce is not a PPAI member company.

In-Plants And Promotional Products

An “in-plant” is an in-house reproduction department operated within an organization.

  • It could exist within entities such as large or small companies, government offices or universities.
  • The majority of an in-plant’s work must be serving the needs of that organization.

There are plenty materials and services for in-plant printers to provide, but included in those possibilities for many of them is promotional products. The two industries are separate but related fields. Many promo suppliers, for example, use equipment that IPMA members exhibit at their trade shows, signifying a degree of crossover between the two industries.

Some in-plants have found it difficult to become officially recognized as industry distributors by organizations like SAGE or PPAI because they are technically serving just one organization, although they may have many purchase orders from many different entities within that organization.

A university in-plant, for example, may provide brochures and classroom equipment and many other things and would like to be able to provide promo as well. From the in-plants perspective, they would like to provide as many services as possible.

SwagForce Partnership

SwagForce offers sales support and e-commerce website functions. The partnership with IPMA is the agency’s way of reaching out to in-plants looking to sell promotional products.

  • Significantly, SwagForce will help in-plants sell promo without becoming official promotional product distributors.

“Many in-plant printers are missing out on a significant stream of revenue with apparel and promotional product sales,” says Swagforce CEO Dan Steinborn. “Swagforce allows them to add this new service for their customers without a huge investment in technology, staffing or industry knowledge.”

IPMA executive director Mike Loyd told In-Plant Impressions that the association’s “members have been asking us for years to come up with a solution for them to help increase promotional product sales.”

  • The partnership between Swagforce and IPMA officially began March 1.

What Does This Mean For Promo’s Supply Chain

The promotional products industry has a fairly straightforward and established supply chain for its members to adhere, involving distributors and suppliers. Some might debate whether IPMA’s partnership with an agency like SwagForce represents an extension of that supply chain or an alternative to it.

Regardless, the partnership between SwagForce and IPMA highlights a development in the marketplace.

  • According to research by In-Plant Impressions, 21% of in-plant printers currently sell promo.
  • That number is more likely to go up than down.

If there are promo distributors who have qualms or concerns about this development, a complex question is whether there is an alternative that helps these companies sell promo that is more in-line with the traditional supply chain.

“There’s a clear trend occurring where printers in all segments are successfully selling promotional products or interested in working with distributors,” says Dave Leskusky, president of PRINTING United Alliance. “On the flip side, promo suppliers and distributors that decorate are looking for technology to produce quality branded merchandise in the most efficient and sustainable manner. While our members may overlap, each association has unique benefits that solve these different challenges, so they complement each other well.”

Industry Reaction

Anytime the status quo of an industry as large as promotional products -- $25.5 billion last year – is challenged, the opinions of those potentially affected is worth considering.

Longtime promo pros will be used to a shifting landscape by now, having experienced the rise of ecommerce-based distributorships and survived that seemingly monumental change.

“I think situations like this have been happening for some time,” says Kirby Hasseman of Ohio-based Hasseman Marketing & Communications (PPAI 314957, D5). “It can be scary. But I think that distributors that are offering more than just ‘sourcing a product’ will not be affected as much.”

Hasseman suggests that the knowledge of experienced distributors is one of their greatest advantages, and an organization trying to place orders without a distributor may be at a liability.

Josh King, CEO of You Name It Specialties (PPAI 12673, D5) in San Antonio, points out that a situation like the Swagforce-IPMA partnership could lead to challenges for both distributors and suppliers down the road. “Producing a custom printed order is not like ordering office supplies on Amazon, though those outside of the industry are many times unaware,” King says. “Knowing the nuances of decoration methods, developing supplier partnerships, and understanding the products we provide is what makes an industry distributor valuable. It is unlikely that in-plant organizations will invest the resources in training their staff, which will increase costs and order processing time for suppliers.

“And as the in-plant organizations are exposed to industry pricing, they then expect industry distributor professionals to provide services for little to no margin when their internal processes fail.”