Promotional Merchandise Vendors

March 23, 2009

The Question

An ANA member requested the perspective of the ANA's Sponsorship & Event Marketing Committee on best practices for procuring promotional merchandise. Of particular interest were guidelines for selecting a merchandise vendor when price and product are similar for all vendors.


Sixteen members offered information on how they select vendors.

Highlights of members' criteria for vendor selections are:

  • Reliability (especially for meeting deadlines)
  • Responsiveness to needs / Support / Service
  • Ease of Use
  • Creativity
  • Relationship (offering discounts, promotions, going the extra mile)
  • Word of mouth and references
The Responses

Members offered these responses to the benchmark study of promotional merchandise procurement practices:

Member Response #1

We look for:

  1. Relationship:  if we have a good relationship with a vendor they sometimes can pull off miracles if we run into timing issues
  2. Quality:  a lanyard may seem similar among all vendors but quality can vary greatly.
  3. Creativity:  do they have new items, can they source items we are thinking about, can they come up with things on their own
  4. Execution:  very important to us.  We ship to multiple locations under circumstances that are difficult like quick turn times.  The vendor getting the right quantities, addresses, etc. is very important to us.

Member Response #2

If apples are being compared to apples, I would say we lean towards one or the other based on:

  1. Relationship:  Will they throw in something for free?  (set-up, delivery, etc.) Are they supporters of our organization through preferred/discounted pricing or otherwise.  If it's a company who has your logos already, they may not charge set up fees.
  2. Service and reliability (delivers on time, is accountable for getting items to your door timely
  3. Experience: history of product quality from the vendor
  4. Ease of ordering process (provides samples, responds to quotes promptly, bills appropriately, etc.)
  5. Willingness to take responsibility when things do not go as planned.  Passing along additional shipping expenses, etc. for a mistake the vendor made is not acceptable though many smaller vendors will try to do this.
  6. Those that have in-house production capability for screen printing or other customization, when appropriate also have an advantage in turnaround time and the elimination of a third party for price consideration.

Member Response #3

It's true that there are thousands of ASI vendors who rep the same items, basically all at the same price. The way I evaluate these vendors are as follows:

  1. Service
    a. Do they provide a high-level of professional service?
    b. Are they available when I need them?
    c. Are they responsive?
    d. Do they have the best interest in my business in mind?
    e. Do they communicate with me appropriately (not too much, not too little)...are they always selling?
  2. Support
    a. Do they have the internal infrastructure (staffing and systems) to meet my business requirements
    b. Do they have a customer service center, desk or person who can help with problems, questions, issues as needed
    c. Is it a small or large operation (many of these vendors are 1-2 person shops that are independent reps of a buying group? The benefit is they have lower overhead and therefore potentially lower prices, the potential negative is relying on only a couple of people to support your needs.)
  3. Idea Generation / Innovation
    a. Have they taken the time to understand my business objectives, brand, product or services so they can recommend and provide the right merchandise at the right price for my requirements?
    b. Anyone can slap a logo on a piece of merchandise, the successful suppliers will dig-deep to understand your requirements and provide products and solutions specifically for you.
  4. Business Acumen
    a. Are they easy to do business with?
    b. Will they respect my Procurement and Financial processes (providing cost estimates, receiving PO's, invoicing accurately and on-time)

Member Response #4

I am not impressed with suppliers in this industry who provide me a generic ASI catalog with sticky notes highlighting pages with generic merchandise for me to pick-out. I respect the vendor who comes to me with well thought-out recommendations based on my specific business objectives, business or brand fit, and within my budget parameters. I expect them to be the expert on solutions for my business.

I can highly recommend the following company:

TSMGI, Inc. (The Specialized Marketing Group)

Contact: Jordan S. Bressler, President

 847-282-1312 (Direct Office)

Member Response #5

The absolute key to building a productive relationship with these sorts of vendors is to find vendors that consistently hit production deadlines and consistently deliver quality items.   All too often the quality of an item that was promised turns out to be far less when it's delivered in market.  Vendors with the ability to source samples that accurately reflect the end product are rare.  So are vendors that can regularly deliver on consistent pricing.  They are far rarer that one would think.

So, the vendor has to be able to provide several iron-clad references from clients with experience with their services.

Member Response #6

I have overarching constraints on vendor selection. In the sponsorship space, leagues dictate which vendors are considered officially licensed companies to reproduce their marks. We're bound to use these vendors based on existing agreements. The second constraint is the list of approved vendors my company publishes which we are required to use as well.

Member Response #7

[Member company] has a relationship with one or two promotional vendors that we use for everything.  We contract with them as our sole provider so that we get premium pricing and superior customer service.  Our current vendor helped us set up a [Company Name] store so employees could purchase their own branded merchandise and get the power of the pre-negotiated price.  Up until now, each event planner had their own personal contact that they were comfortable working with and happy with their pricing, quality and ability to turn things around quickly

Member Response #8

We have a preferred supplier, BD & A.  This has been a fairly long- term relationship with [our company]. Every five years we do an RFQ with several suppliers to check rates, quality, innovation, etc.  These suppliers are review via a list of criteria which we assign weighed priorities by percentage (e.g., 5%, 10%, 25%, depending on importance).  Finally, we have a group of individuals (key stakeholders) that will fill out a score card and assign a point rating, (e.g., 0 - 4, ranging from "does not meet" to "exceeds" request.  

Member Response #9

We conduct a very detailed RFP and select a single vendor for a three-year contract.  We negotiate prices, stock, online catalogues, rebates, etc, and then anything that anyone purchases with a company logo, must be purchased from this vendor or the PO won't go through or the expense won't be reimbursed.  It's seen as a way to protect the brand.  Given the RFP we're able to assess market prices and use that as the base for our negotiation.  The supplier then has our business for three years which enables them to commit staff and resources to servicing our needs. 

Member Response #10

I work almost exclusively with one vendor as I describe the event at which I'd like to gift and she comes back with interesting ideas. I'm usually not looking for a typical gift so my decision-making process may be different.

Member Response #11

I often request proposals from multiple vendors for promotional items. If all vendors come back with similar pricing, I usually consider set-up and shipping costs, production time, and quality certifications in making a decision. All promotional items have to go through testing to make sure that the product and the inks are safe for consumers. If a particular product does not pass, it is not produced.

Member Response #12

It is hard to choose a vendor because there are so many of them...I get several calls each week from vendors looking to do business with us. 

My recommendation is to stick with a few vendors that you can trust.  Unfortunately this takes time to build a relationship, but once you do, it is wroth it.  I have stuck to about three vendors and it has worked very well for us.  Some vendors have more of a specialty area (I have one vendor I use for almost every shirt/hat/jacket order because they have the most up to date embroidery equipment and do the best job when I need an article of clothing embroidered). 

A big thing for me is service...all vendors are at about the same price point, so I choose to stick with the vendor that I know will give me the best service (quick turnaround on items, gets items to me on time every time, etc.)

I also always work with a vendor that is close by...that way they can stop by my office to show proofs, if something comes in wrong they can quickly stop in to take a look at the item, etc.  If they are not by you have to do all this by mail/UPS, and that takes too much all my vendors are well established local companies.

Member Response #13

We either purchase Official Merchandise like MLB baseball caps hand picked. Or, our graphics purchasing department will source more common items and we rely on their expertise as in-house subject matter experts. 

Member Response #14

The key to this process is to have a rigorous category management approach which establishes cross function team to ensure the needs and wants of the whole organization are taken into consideration. That said, the next steps you will go through [depends on] the correct strategy for your business, followed with supplier selection based on pre-agreed weightings (e.g., ASCQIR (Assurance of Supply; Cost, Quality, Innovation (technology) and Regulatory).

Member Response #15

At [our company] we are required to work with approved vendors.  And the procurement team drives that effort looking at pricing and capabilities.  For [our company] choosing vendors has a lot to do with their capabilities to sell online, carry an inventory of logoed merchandise etc.  We also have smaller vendor (located in markets where we have a large employee base) that tend to be more creative in coming up with promotional give-aways that are more unique.

Member Response #16

We are fortunate to have a Gift Shop onsite... As the old saying goes, word of mouth is one of the best advertisements.  I am a member of TSEA (Trade Show Exhibitors Association) so I meet many vendors and network with many members of TSEA.  My first requirement is timely delivery and quality.  If time permits, I often request a sample.  I also conduct online research for the items and read customer reviews/ratings on the vendor.


"Promotional Merchandise Vendors." ANA Sponsorship & Events Committee, March 2009.