As the ultimate customers of promotional merchandise, end-buyers’ experiences with and impressions of the products are a consideration in every campaign’s planning. Through initiatives like PPAI’s Promotional Products Work program and its upcoming PPW Expo, and regional trade shows held across North America, the industry is working to elevate clients’ understanding and perception of promotional products and work with them to better target their needs.

Promo In The City Of Big Shoulders

Several of the promo industry’s regional associations have incorporated end-buyer shows in their schedules for quite some time now. Next month, the Promotional Professionals Association of Chicago is hosting its own end-buyer show at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center.

PPAChicago’s Showcase 2023 on March 16 will feature more than 100 booths and an education session at which PPAI President and CEO Dale Denham, MAS+, will be speaking on the Association’s Promotional Products Work initiative.

Denham's remarks will help buyers unlock the effectiveness of promotional products and he'll offer inspiring, creative, successful uses of promo along with insights on trends that can lead to higher ROI for every dollar spent in promo.

“Both exhibitors and distributors definitely benefit from the event,” says Dawn Janis, MAS, PPAChicago’s immediate past president. “Distributors are able to strengthen their client relationships, as at our Showcase, clients can ‘shop’ for ideas – they may see something that sparks a reminder about an event or project which has never come up in discussions with their distributor. There are so many products in our industry, it is impossible to show a client everything. Our Showcase gives the distributor a way to engage their client and present more ideas.

“Suppliers rave about the PPAChicago Showcase every year. Attendance is great and both clients and distributors are engaged. Suppliers feel confident showing their products to a client and potentially having more impact on decision making.”

The regional’s trade show illustrates many of the best practices in hosting events catering to both distributors and their clients:

  • As it is an end-buyer show, no net pricing is discussed.
  • Name badges for client guests show only a name and who is hosting them.
  • After the show, exhibitors will have the information they need to follow up with the distributor who invited the client.
  • Additionally, SAGE is handling the show’s registration and lead retrieval, so distributors will know where their clients visited on the show floor.

The Showcase has proven popular with PPAChicago members, with 1,000-1,200 distributors and their clients attending each year. This year’s highlights include a New Product area, where suppliers are encouraged to submit their latest goods for display. And the night before the show, PPAChicago is hosting a pre-show part for attendees and exhibitors to mix and network.

End-buyer Shows Throughout The Industry

PPAChicago’s Showcase is one of many industry shows that cater to end buyers. Regional association events like the Michigan Promotional Professionals Association’s Promotions That Roar show and the Specialty Advertising Association of Greater New York’s Summer Showcase give distributors’ clients a first-hand look at all the industry’s suppliers have to offer.

Distributor companies in the industry are also bringing in their clients to give them an up-close look at what suppliers have to offer. Madison Heights, Michigan-based distributor Creative Specialties (PPAI 104311, D5) is collaborating with a group of Midwestern multi-line reps to co-host a show this month for their customers.

“One of our top multi-line reps, whom we’ve known for many years, made us an offer to set up an end-buyer show for just our company, that we thought might be an excellent way to reconnect with our clients that in most cases we haven’t seen since the Covid pandemic,” says Joe Thomas, owner and president of Creative Specialties.

End-buyer shows are also available north of the border. Promotional Product Professionals of Canada has sought to support distributors and their clients through its TOPS+ series of shows. The five-city tour – which ended last week in Winnipeg – brings distributors and their clients together with suppliers to see the latest and greatest promotional products.

“Buyers who attend our events with their distributors always walk away with new ideas,” says Jonathan Strauss, president and CEO of PPPC. “The value in distributors bringing their clients is confirmed by the same distributors returning year after year with clients. And I always hear anecdotes of clients calling their distributor asking for an invite to our event.”

Added Value

For companies who participate in end-buyer shows or who host their own, like Creative Specialties, these events have proven to translate into increased sales.

“Distributors can showcase the valued connection they have with the various suppliers,” says Cliff Quicksell, MAS+, president and CEO of Cliff Quicksell Associates. “I find this to be empowering. End-users can see the scope and vastness of our medium in one place.

“It’s an ‘eye opener’ for end-users to see the magnitude of what is available.”

The account executives at Creative Specialties have experience with several end-buyer shows and understand the advantages they represent.

  • “End-buyer shows help distributors connect with clients on a more personalized basis,” says Darlene Thomas. “We ask our invited clients to bring other team members they felt would benefit from attending an event like this. It’s a great way to delve deeper into a company or organization and meet possible decision-makers from other departments or divisions that you may not have direct access to.”
  • “End-buyer shows are a great way for our clients to get a behind-the-scenes look at a portion of our research process and allows them to collaborate directly with our reps on their specific projects,” says Andy Haffey, MAS. “They become more invested by being a part of this process and leave with the same excitement that we have after leaving a show like The PPAI Expo.”
  • “No matter how many times you try to explain it, clients don’t always grasp what we can really accomplish,” says Michele Chapie, MAS. “Once they start to see the different items, they get a better understanding of what we can do. It opens the door to new thoughts that even the client might not know they had. They start linking items to different projects.”

Buyer shows’ benefits aren’t limited to just distributors and their clients. They serve exhibitors as well.

“To a large extent, it is impossible for a distributor to know every supplier’s product line,” says Quicksell. “The opportunity for the supplier is with their knowledge, they know the right questions to draw out answers and opportunities from the end client. That advantage in-turn helps the supplier give assistance to the distributor to hopefully close the sale.

“The other advantage is suppliers can uncover opportunities quicker than a distributor which flattens, or shortens, the potential sales cycle.”

The PPW Expo

Like the regional associations’ shows, Promotional Products Work and its affiliated PPW Expo – coming March 28 – seek to educate end-buyers on the power of promotional products and the value in working with a distributor. If nothing else, sending an invite to the event can help distributors stay top of mind for their clients without specifically soliciting business.

The virtual PPW Expo helps buyers – hand in hand with the distributors who invited them – explore the vast world of promo products, ignite their creativity and engage them to work more collaboratively with their distributors.

“A well-produced buyer show adds significant value for buyers of promotional products while reinforcing the importance of working with distributor partners,” says Denham. “Our industry needs more quality events that elevate promo to the buyer community.

“Not every buyer will make time to attend an in-person event and not every city has an option for a quality in-person buyer show. That is why PPAI launched the Promotional Products Work Expo to reach buyers with a powerful online event that keeps promo top of mind and elevates promo.”

Those interested in attending PPW Expo must be a qualified promotional products distributor or have received an invitation from a distributor. Buyers of promotional products that would like to attend should reach out to their distributor to ensure they are on the guest list.