A Better Mousetrap That Comes Without Regulation

Last updated: 02-11-2019

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A Better Mousetrap That Comes Without Regulation

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A Better Mousetrap That Comes Without Regulation
With direct sales from Amazon and Alibaba, and links from Facebook and Google, traditional product safeguards can be side-stepped. Jeff Jacobs, The Brand Protector
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The problem with the direct-to-consumer sales of this latest fad is the same as with the exploding hoverboards that came before it – the traditional safeguards for product safety in the U.S. are given an end run.
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We can argue whether or not the biggest fad of 2017, the Fidget Spinner, should be considered a better consumer product mousetrap, but there is little argument about its popularity – or availability. A recent search on Amazon for “Fidget Spinner” revealed 50,010 different spinners for sale, with some 35,564 results returned from a search for “Fidget Cube.” While you may loathe the thought of sourcing this for your clients at the shallow end of the product pool, it’s impossible not to marvel at how this product got to where it is – rising to this “must have” level before a brand, a retailer, or advertising campaign was employed to give it a boost.
You know that in the promotional products industry, many of today’s standards for product safety had their beginning in 2008 with the retail-oriented Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). The law gave the CPSC significant new regulatory and enforcement tools, and presumed a traditional supplier-to-distributor-to-store shelves distribution system. To protect your clients, you have been using that model and keeping an eye on the ever-changing regulatory requirements ever since.
The problem with the direct-to-consumer sales of this latest fad is the same as with the exploding hoverboards that came before it – the traditional safeguards for product safety in the U.S. are given an end run. Popular products shipped directly from China to consumers can mean that regulators learn about product failure at the same time we do, by reading about it in the news. Many of the burns and other injuries caused by faulty batteries in hoverboards were from products where it was impossible to trace what factory was the manufacturer.
Neal Cohen was instrumental in helping promote safety in the promotional product industry, speaking frequently at industry events like the Product Responsibility Summit in his role as ombudsman for small businesses at the CPSC. How does a regulator who is supposed to protect consumers deal with sellers who do direct shipping from overseas? Cohen, now in private practice, told BuzzFeed News , “It’s not like it’s coming on a freight truck... [Regulators] cannot successfully get a FedEx box. That’s a needle in a haystack. Innovation comes really quickly now with the speed to the market. You can have a factory one day making hoverboards, and then they find out about fidget spinners. Now suddenly they’re making fidget spinners. They don't know anything about what they’re doing. They’re just reverse engineering pictures they’re finding.”
Disruptors – the popular term these days for the players threatening suppliers and distributors sticking with only a traditional sales model – are coming at you from all angles in the online world. But, something you may not have thought of, they are disrupting your clients’ safety when they aren’t buying from you. We live in a time when a product can reach literally millions of people directly, and before we know much about the product itself. Like whether or not it will blow up while charging, or break a small part off while spinning. Maybe something to keep in mind as you contemplate the information you share in your corporate blog, email marketing, or other customer communication channels. Informed customers are, we hope, safe customers.
Jeff Jacobs has been an expert in building brands and brand stewardship for 40 years, working in commercial television, Hollywood film and home video, publishing, and promotional brand merchandise. He’s a staunch advocate of consumer product safety and has a deep passion and belief regarding the issues surrounding compliance and corporate social responsibility. He retired as executive director of Quality Certification Alliance , the only non-profit dedicated to helping suppliers provide safe and compliant promotional products. Before that, he was director of brand merchandise for Michelin. You can find him still advising Global 500 Brands on promo product initiatives, working as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem, traveling the world with his lovely wife, or enjoying a cigar at his favorite local cigar shop. Follow Jeff on Twitter , or reach out to him at jacobs.jeffreyp@gmail.com .
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When you provide an experience that is uniquely yours, there is no competition.
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Complaining about who is “allowed” to enter the promotional products industry is nothing new. For years it has been one of the biggest points of contention between distributors and both PPAI and ASI. Whether people feel like new entrants lower the bar or further saturate the market, the consensus among distributors is that when there are more people in the industry, profits are lowered.
Frankly, I’ve had enough.
It shouldn’t matter who is a member of PPAI, acquires an ASI number so they can operate a business out of their garage, or partners with SAGE. None of this prevents a distributor from selling more merchandise or growing his or her business. The fact is that a business will flourish or fail based on the quality of work and the value provided to the client – period. When distributors place an inordinate amount of focus on what the “other guys” are doing, they end up losing sight of their own business objectives.
Let me use a sports analogy to illustrate my point: the Dallas Cowboys don’t get better by worrying about the free agent defensive back the Philadelphia Eagles signed in the off-season. The Cowboys only get better by focusing internally on having a more robust offensive plan, coaching their receivers to run more precise routes, or by simply practicing more.
None of us can control who joins our industry. This means that there is no positive payoff that comes from using precious time to focus on it. That time is far better spent trying to reduce friction from the buying process so that clients see you and your distributorship as their preferred source for promotional merchandise. When you provide an experience that is uniquely yours, there is no competition.
As an industry, we need to decide whether to have a small or big tent. On one hand, we can have a small tent to keep people and organizations out because they represent a threat. On the other hand, we can have a big tent to allow people to join because they might raise the bar and make all of us better. I, for one, am all for the big tent for a few reasons:
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1) New thinking forces everyone to innovate or risk becoming irrelevant. I am smart enough to know that I don’t know it all – and never will. When people join the promotional products industry, they bring new ideas that cause me to think differently about my areas of expertise.
2) Those who fear new entrants into the industry for fear that they only serve to increase competition generally sell only on the value of price. The problem with using price as a differentiator is that there is always someone willing to go lower and win that race to the bottom.
3) Far too many in our industry have a “secret society” mentality and want to keep it that way by protecting industry pricing codes, keeping the supply chain a mystery, etc. We live in an age where information is cheap and, in most cases, free. Simply type “promotional products industry pricing codes” and you’ll be astonished at the results. This means that the end-user is far more educated than ever and there is very little magic or mystery to promotional products unless there is a value-add like packaging, individual customization, proven ROI, etc.
I do understand the fear of letting just “anyone” enter the promotional products industry, but the fact is that it will continue to happen. In my mind, everyone has a choice: either continue to complain about it or focus inward to improve their offerings to the point where the consumer thinks only of them as the resource for promotional merchandise. As for me, I choose the latter.
Bring on the big tent – it only makes the ones who truly differentiate better and stronger.
Bill is president of PromoCorner, the leading digital marketing service provider to the promotional products industry, and has over 17 years working in executive leadership positions at leading promotional products distributorships. In 2014, he launched brandivate – the first executive outsourcing company solely focused on helping small and medium sized-promotional products enterprises responsibly grow their business. A featured speaker at numerous industry events, a serial creator of content marketing, president of the Promotional Products Association of the Mid-South (PPAMS), and PromoKitchen chef, Bill has extensive experience coaching sales teams, creating successful marketing campaigns, developing operational policies and procedures, creating and developing winning RFP responses, and presenting winning promotional products solutions to Fortune 500 clients. He can be reached at bill@PromoCorner.com .
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New exercise bands from WOWLine stretch and help with various exercises, including many yoga poses, and feature locking handles for easy storage. Available in blue and red, your company name or logo can be imprinted on the handles. These exercise bands are the perfect giveaway for gyms, yoga studios, trade shows and fundraisers!
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Ready for a Rich Niche?
Rosalie Marcus, Promo Biz Coach
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Niche marketing allows you to stand out in a competitive field and not be just another promotional products company.
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I don’t have to tell you how competitive the promotional products business is these days; that’s why concentrating your selling efforts on a niche market or markets is a key strategy for being successful in our ever-evolving industry.
I believe that, as the saying goes, “You can’t be all things to all people,” BUT you can be a star in your niche market. Niche marketing allows you to stand out in a competitive field and not be just another promotional products company.
I’m a huge believer in niche marketing, that’s why as a business coach I only work with people in the promotional products industry, I teach them strategies to sell smarter and make more money with less time and effort. Part of that is helping them identify ideal and profitable niche markets (that speak to their strengths, skills and passions) – then show them how to become the go-to person in those markets.
Why should you develop niche market expertise?
Whether you’re new or established in the promotional products industry, you may have noticed that things are shifting dramatically in our industry. Many of the traditional ways of selling promotional products are no longer working. In fact, many have become obsolete. To prosper in promotional products sales today, you need to work differently. You need to position yourself as an expert, target your marketing and be invaluable. You need to position your company as the market leader in your niche and position yourself as the go-to person in that niche.
You may fear having a niche market will limit your business. Actually, quite the opposite is true. When you establish niche market expertise, you’ll get more referrals, your reputation will grow and clients will seek you out. As an added benefit, you’ll enjoy your work more!
There are many ways to establish a niche. You can create a niche by the industries you serve (healthcare, education, finance) the products you most enjoy selling (apparel, writing instruments) or the services you provide (company stores etc.) – and these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to niche marketing!
One thing to keep in mind: having a niche or niche markets does not mean you can’t sell outside of that market. It just means this is where you will concentrate the majority of your marketing efforts.
In my own promotional products business, the year I decided to concentrate my efforts on a lucrative niche market – healthcare – my sales doubled and continued to grow rapidly. Shortly thereafter, my company made the “100 Fastest Growing Companies” list in the Philadelphia Business Journal and I had clients seeking me out for my expertise.
The same niche marketing strategy I used to grow my own promotional products business, I have been able to share with many of my coaching clients who achieved equally great results.
Remember: the more expertise you have in your niche, the more opportunities will become available to you and that translates into
more business and better business for your company.
I’ll be presenting a free webinar, “How to Cash in on a Profitable Niche Market,” later this month. If you would like to get on my mailing list for a complimentary invitation to attend, or if you have questions about niche marketing, please contact me at Rosalie@promobizcoach.com .
Here’s to your niche marketing success!
Rosalie Marcus, The Promo Biz Coach, is a promotional products business expert, coach and speaker. Combining her skills and years of experience in promotional sales, she helps her clients sell more at higher profit margins and dramatically increase their incomes. Download a FREE Special Report 10 Proven Ways to Thrive in Promotional Products Sales… In Any Economy at www.PromoBizCoach.com – Reach her at Rosalie@promobizcoach.com.
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3 Tips For When Company Culture Goes Awry
Brad Deutser, From the Business World
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Frequent fliers may look back on 2017 as the year those supposedly “friendly skies” turned into chaotic clouds. The list of airlines in trouble seemed to grow by the day, whether it was cancelled flights that led to near riots, prize rabbits dying in the cargo hold or roughed up passengers who declined to be bumped from their seats. Something definitely has been amiss in the airline industry – and it’s something we all can learn from.
Beyond getting past the negative media coverage, if an airline – or any company for that matter – wants to right the foundering ship, someone should do a deep dive into the company culture. Any business leader needs to understand that their ultimate success starts with what happens on the inside of the organization. If the people inside the company aren’t aligned and in synch with the company’s values and goals, then the result is going to be confusion and turmoil that eventually will affect the brand’s overall performance.
A few airlines are experiencing that right now, but plenty of other businesses do as well. A lot goes into setting things right when they go awry, but among the steps that should be taken are as follows.
• Strive for organizational clarity.
The most critical ingredient to achieving business success is clarity, and that includes clarity of the organization’s purpose and vision, as well as clarity in the roles of those involved in carrying out that purpose and vision. If leaders are fuzzy on the goals they have for a business or organization, then those charged with accomplishing those goals are less likely to succeed.
• Keep things positive.
Keeping an upbeat atmosphere is essential to a company’s culture. You want your employees to be happy. If you can find a way to encourage a positive outlook and attitude, employees will be more motivated and will perform their jobs better.
• Go in search of what’s right in the company.
When businesses want to improve, they typically focus on what’s wrong or what’s broken. It just seems to make sense to address head-on whatever difficulty has arisen. But Deutser says that approach should be flipped on its head and the question should not be: What are we doing wrong? It should be: What are we doing right? What are the great nuggets inside that organization that can take us to a different place, to a different height? If you understand where the company culture is getting it right, you can duplicate those practices in the areas where the problems lie.
"Just about any company will hit a bumpy stretch somewhere along the way," Deutser says. "When that happens, it may be time to explore its culture, re-evaluate how it operates and re-imagine what its future can be."
Brad Deutser is president of Deutser LLC ( www.deutser.com ), a consulting firm that advises leaders and organizations about achieving clarity, especially in times of transition, growth or crisis. He is an expert at leveraging culture to drive business performance, and his firm has counseled organizations ranging from the Fortune 100 to nonprofits. Deutser launched his firm in 2002.
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T-shirt Trends: Fashion and Fun!
Lisa Schofield, Product Feature
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T-shirts are probably the most versatile piece of clothing one can own. They can be dressed up or down, and worn for work or play. This year, retailed-inspired T-shirts, heavier knits, poly knit blends, moisture management/performance wear, and athleisure styles are still growing in popularity. Consumers want fashion — and comfort — as well as the ability to go from the gym to the store! Promotional product suppliers continue to respond to this demand with an array of retro, raglan, higher collar, and dolman styles.
Summer Barry of BELLA+CANVAS believes the promotional products in this industry will always be driven by impression. “When a product can leave a lasting impression on the end consumer, they will never forget your brand,” she emphasizes.
According to Michael Cohen at S&S Activewear, customers are looking to updated retail styles and fabrics. “The demand has originated from surf and skate, music merchandising, and boutique retail niches but are emerging into everyday business,” he says. “Traditional customers now request these products. Much of music and liquor merchandising has moved away from 18 singles, 100 percent cotton T-shirts into these better fabrics and updated styles. From Beyoncé and Metallica, to Hanger One and Cuervo, and to wineries and breweries — these are the products we see selling successfully.”
Cohen continues that blends have also made a resurgence — along with lighter weight fabrics and more modern silhouettes. Additionally, in the performance/athletic category, the major shift has been to 100 percent polyester/moisture management fabrics, he reports.
Next Level Apparel’s Mark Seymour also sees athleisure styles as a significant trend. “We have launched two new styles in a mock twist fabric and both are hot sellers,” he notes. “Customers want garments that are soft, stretchy, comfortable, and can multitask. Decorators love them because they are easy to print. Customers love the great value.”
Demand has also been strong for women’s dolman styles, Seymour continues. “Our heathery tri-blend dolman has been a consistent top seller so we added two new styles in solid colors,” he reports. “Both have the flowy comfortable feel and large print area that define the dolman style. They can be worn off shoulder or loosely fitted for that generous ‘boxy chick look.’”
Heavier fabrics in knits and fleece are huge at TSC Apparel, in addition to poly-rich blends and tri-blends for heathers and softness, Marcia Cumberledge says. Muscle Ts and soft colors such as mauve, peach, and olive are also popular.
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Dov Charney at Los Angeles Apparel also acknowledges that thicker knits are on the rise, as well as higher collars on T-shirts. “Demand on the higher end side of the T-shirt industry is strong,” he comments.
Promotional product suppliers have rolled out Ts in an array of new styles and colors that are guaranteed to generate excitement in 2017. S&S Activewear’s new offerings focus on new fabrics and silhouettes, including 50/50, 60/40, 65/35, and Tri-Blends, Cohen says, and are selling as much as 100 percent cotton styles. “In the performance area, with the popularity of Under Armor, Nike, Adidas, and Champion all expanding at retail, as much of the basic athletic business tries to shift to the 100 percent polyester fabric,” he adds.
At Next Level Apparel, customers have been requesting a long bottom cotton crew in the company’s 100 percent combed ring spun cotton so it added style 3602 to the line in three colors. “Demand is so high we are expanding to more colors,” Seymour enthuses. “The extra length and longer sleeve along with a slightly curved bottom has been a huge success with the millennial market.” Also doing well is Style 2021, a mock twist raglan hoody which Seymour calls a perfect co-ed garment. “The fabric is super soft with a snowy look and tri-blend feel. The companion piece is style 2050, a raglan short sleeve crew. Both are perfect from workout to street.”
Barry at BELLA+CANVAS says the company’s most recent releases include a cut neck tank for women and a unisex poly-viscose T that is great for sublimation.
Retail-inspired offerings from TSC Apparel have been best-selling this year, including Tultex 241 poly-rich blend T; Ei-Lo 3600, 100 percent combed ringspun cotton T; Los Angeles Apparel BB401, poly/cotton T; Bella 8803, Flowy Muscle Tank; LAT 6937, Football T; and Anvil 6750 Tri-blend T. Los Angeles Apparel’s Charney adds that Style 1801 of the company’s new garment dye T-shirts is showing momentum.
Suppliers agree that samples are a must when it comes to selling these products to clients. Barry at BELLA+CANVAS believes T-shirts speak for themselves when samples are provided. TSC Apparel’s Cumberledge also sees the importance of having depth in inventory to service customers and a broad selection of styles to appeal to many different customers.
In agreement is S&S Activewear’s Cohen. “You should be offering these products to all of your customers,” he affirms. “When they shop at retail stores, this is what they buy for themselves. If a traditional customer uses a better product to promote themselves, they will get a higher ROI, because the apparel is more likely to be worn. Explaining this to them, will help you sell this fashion oriented apparel to their clients.”
Charney of Los Angeles Apparel also weighs in, adding, “Introducing new products to your client by providing them examples of the product and even giving it to them for free is important. You have to make them feel comfortable outside their comfort zone.”
Expanding on Charney’s sentiments is Seymour at Next Level Apparel. “It is important to get samples in your customers’ hands so they can feel the unique fabrics and understand and appreciate the detailed styling,” he explains. “All of these options represent another opportunity to reach trending markets at a value that will work when decorated. Showing new fabrics and styles with decoration will help the customer break out of their current routine and visualize new opportunities.
“It’s exciting to witness the basic T-shirt body, that we all know and love, morph into fashion forward, retail-inspired garments that can be worn in almost any setting,” Cohen continues. “Shake up the market with fabric, fashion and value and your customers will love you for it.”
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Bill Petrie, Petrie's Perspective
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Anyone can do the big things right; it’s the little things that separate one business from another.
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If you’ve ever been to the United Kingdom and ridden the subway (locally known as “the Tube”) in London you’ve heard the term “mind the gap.” It’s essentially a warning issued to rail passengers to be careful when crossing the spatial chasm between the train door and the station platform. To my way of thinking, the “gap” also refers to the space between the desired client experience and the reality of the service that is provided.
I do a fair amount of traveling by air and it usually goes like this: I board the plane in an orderly fashion, I stow my luggage, I take my seat, and I arrive alive. Many would argue that the transaction is near perfect, which is to say I got exactly what I paid for. However, the real issue is that as a customer it’s not the experience I desire. When I fly, I generally feel as if I am little more than a trespasser occupying a seat. There are precious few smiles, little eye contact, and rarely a feeling of gratitude for my business. My airline of choice is sufficient, but does not mind the gap between my desired experience and the one that is given.
When you deliver promotional merchandise, decorated correctly, delivered on time, and sold at a fair price, you are merely sufficient and no different from anyone else. To mind the gap means paying attention to the seemingly little things. Anyone can do the big things right; it’s the little things that separate one business from another.
Here are three strategies you can implement immediately to mind the gap in your clients' experience:
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1. Be Attentive – Do you give your clients your complete and undivided attention when communicating with them? Do you listen with the intent to respond rather than the intent to hear? Do you focus only on the words being spoken and not their tone, pacing, and body language? Do you glance at your phone because you received a text? Place a premium on being fully invested in all your client communications.
2. Show Appreciation – How do you express heartfelt gratitude to your clients? Hand write thank you notes, send food gifts (with their branding of course) during their busy season, or thank them in an over the top way for a major order. Leverage your creativity and do more than a courtesy “thank you” email.
3. Create Delight – Put a smile on their face and in their heart. Make a fun video , bring fresh baked snickerdoodles to a meeting, create an amusing out-of-office message, or send their kids balloons on their birthday. People love to serve as ambassadors for their favorite brands so help them to get to know yours by sharing your culture.
Memorable, meaningful, fun, unusual, and unexpected experiences influence the way your clients perceive your business and feel about you. Don’t be tempted to brush aside the little details as a low priority. It’s the little details that create loyalty. It’s the little details that keep people talking about you and recommending you. It’s the little details that allow people to rationalize paying more because they have an emotional connection with your brand.
Mind the gap.
Bill is president of PromoCorner, the leading digital marketing service provider to the promotional products industry, and has over 17 years working in executive leadership positions at leading promotional products distributorships. In 2014, he launched brandivate – the first executive outsourcing company solely focused on helping small and medium sized-promotional products enterprises responsibly grow their business. A featured speaker at numerous industry events, a serial creator of content marketing, president of the Promotional Products Association of the Mid-South (PPAMS), and PromoKitchen chef, Bill has extensive experience coaching sales teams, creating successful marketing campaigns, developing operational policies and procedures, creating and developing winning RFP responses, and presenting winning promotional products solutions to Fortune 500 clients. He can be reached at bill@PromoCorner.com .
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The same can be said about catalogs. Gregg Emmer, Marketing Matters
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When a customer is handed a catalog to review a proposed item for their promotion, the confidence level of dealing with the distributor goes up, as does the perceived value of the merchandise.
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There are many things where perception does not match up with reality. The creation, publication, distribution and use of catalogs is one of those situations. For quite a while now the notion that it is environmentally good for the planet to avoid using paper and people are going digital anyway has prevailed. That’s the perception. The reality is something else.
Catalogs did see a decline before and during the recession from purely economic pressure. Lands End cut back on catalogs and saw a $100 million decline in sales. IKEA however increased its catalog use and saw a 30 percent increase in business. There are many similar instances that demonstrate the worth of catalogs. A major brick-and-mortar high-end department store reported that it has a “significant” spike in business in their stores whenever they mail out a new catalog.
Harvard Business Review found that multi-channel marketing including catalogs brings four times as much business as single focused campaigns. Nordstrom found that 20 percent of new customers placed online orders after getting a printed catalog.
But what about the environmental claims? Everyone wants to save the trees! But nobody wants to save the trees more than the lumber and paper industries. They have the best forest management in the history of the world. In Europe 33 percent more new trees are added to the forests than are harvested. In the U.S. there is 30 percent more forest today than in 1950. In fact, if the forest clearing that took place in the 1880s is eliminated, the U.S. forest has covered between 700 and 800 million acres ever since. That even with all the construction and use of printed materials for 140 years forest coverage has remained constant.
One reason is that new paper is only one third new trees! The other two thirds come from recycled paper and wood scrap from other industries. Paper makes up one half of all recycling in the U.S. by weight. About 65 percent of paper is recycled according to the U.S. EPA. That saves more than 90 million cubic yards of landfill space. Paper is a renewable and recyclable crop that does not adversely impact the environment.
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So why are many suppliers in the promotional advertising/specialty marketing industry eliminating their catalogs? Some might be buying into the perception that everyone is going digital, but it appears that the prevailing interest is in the monetary savings. Not the perceived environmental benefit. They may have convinced themselves that everyone is going digital to support their decision as well. But the facts in the general marketplace show that catalogs have significant and growing influence.
In our industry we have around 3,700 suppliers. Most distributors will have core group of suppliers they deal with very regularly and a large number that might produce only a few orders each year. From my point of perspective (managing supplier relationships for a top 25 distributor) I do not see a single supplier without a printed catalog in our top 50 supplier list!
From a practical standpoint a physical, printed catalog will get reviewed by a distributor, even if only thumbed through, but the scope of the line will be seen and usually remembered. The catalog then serves as a convenient resource and more importantly a sales tool that can’t be matched by a tablet or smartphone! When a customer is handed a catalog to review a proposed item for their promotion, the confidence level of dealing with the distributor goes up, as does the perceived value of the merchandise.
Using printed catalogs helps to limit the intrusion of competitors. Sending a customer to review a supplier’s website is a near guarantee that competitive distributor ads will be seen.
John Wanamaker (1838–1922) who operated a major department store chain that later became part of Macy’s said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” I have a feeling that suppliers that eliminate their printed catalogs will find out!
Suppliers please keep in mind something I write about often, distributors are not your customers! We share a common customer. We don’t buy your products, we sell them. You don’t get a PO from us until we have sold your products to someone else. So if you take sales tools away from us and make it tougher to do our part of the transaction, we might simply find a supplier that still supports the sales activities with tools we want.
I do realize that there are many people actively selling in this great business that hate printed catalogs. They may also hate client personal contact, too, but that is for another article. Fortunately every supplier I know of also has a digital catalog as well. That way you cover the entire landscape.
So let’s not bury catalogs just yet. If the day ever comes that they are obsolete, still don’t bury them – recycle!
Gregg Emmer is chief marketing officer and vice president at Kaeser & Blair, Inc. He has more than 40 years experience in marketing and the promotional specialty advertising industry. His outside consultancy provides marketing, public relations and business planning consulting to a wide range of other businesses and has been a useful knowledge base for K&B Dealers. Contact Gregg at gemmer@kaeser-blair.com .
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Will it Go Round in Circles?
Mike Schenker, MAS, Uncommon Threads
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sponsored by Next Level Apparel
You may file this under “Cranky Old Man… subsection ‘Get Off My Lawn.’”
I would like to go on record as saying that I hate the fidget spinner. Maybe not the product itself, but the craze behind it. If you are not familiar with this item, feel free to scroll on to the next column in this publication. You are one of the few people remaining on this planet unaware of this cultural and commercial phenomenon, and are probably managing to live a healthy, normal, and productive life nonetheless. For those reasons, I am envious of you. I’m sure we can come up with others.
This is the part where I’m supposed to write something directed at the uninitiated. Nope. Not gonna happen. You either know about these things, or you’re blissfully unaware and lucky for that.
“Timing” has never been my strong suit. By the time you read this, there will already have been many pieces about this silly toy. It is entirely possible that, once this is published, the fad will have died. In the meantime, suppliers are air-freighting in these bad boys in record numbers, hoping that the demand will last long enough for them to recoup their expenses.
I have never been one for fads. On a business level, they’re quite risky. When “neon” colors were the flavor of the month, I refused to order material for umbrellas. Sure… some of my competitors did, and made a quick buck or two. Then got stuck with yards and yards of material. And the same held true with corporate apparel: I’ve lost track of how many fads came and went during my 17 years as a garmento. It would have been foolish for my companies to bow to pressure for something so temporary.
On a personal level, one need look no further than my own personal wardrobe. Essentially, I have lived in Levi’s 501s for longer than I can recall. I assure you that, at no time, did a pair of “Hammer” pants hang in my closet. Or “Zubas.” I’d still be wearing Stan Smith tennis shoes had adidas not messed with the fit of the arch.
Keeping with my tennis background, as a result of my recent relocation, I did throw away my old Jack Kramer wooden tennis racquet. I loved that racquet, and felt in my heart of hearts that, when Prince introduced their oversized racquets in 1976, it would be looked upon with amusement and disgust by tennis purists like myself. This is as good a time as any to mention that, along with that wooden racquet, I also threw away a perfectly good oversized version. Yeah, I may have been wrong about this one.
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Sidebar, and I can’t make this up: in the Facebook group for which I’m an admin ( Promotional Products Professionals ), there was recently a request for “MC Hammer pants.” Oh please… let’s not relive that!
So why do I hate fidget spinners so much? Good question. The short answer? I don’t know.
Full disclosure (when have I not been open and honest with you, Gentle Readers?): I have, in fact, attempted to use one of these things. A former neighbor child let me use hers. I placed it on my finger tip… I attempted to spin it… it fell to the ground and broke apart.
I should emphasize that this is not why she is a former neighbor.
At any rate… I guess my problem stems from the fact that these things are a fad, and I truly believe they’re temporary. As I’d written earlier, suppliers are flying these things in… I just fear that they’re going to get stuck with an awful lot of inventory.
Do you know the alleged history of these things? There’s one popular story claiming that some woman created them back in 1993 in an effort to promote peace in Israel. Yes… rather than throw rocks at police officers, children were encouraged to take out their frustrations by using a fidget spinner. Color me skeptical (we all know I’ve been called worse).
Another, more likely back-story has some fidgety IT guy creating them in 2014, as something to keep him occupied and amused during conference calls. As someone who abhors conference calls, I can see this scenario happening. Me? I tend to play with large bulldog paperclips. I wonder how to turn that into a fad?
Nevertheless… I’m trying to wrap my brain around the popularity and urgency of these toys. Go take a moment and visit the Promotional Products Professionals group on Facebook. I can promise you that you will not be able to scroll more than two posts in a row before someone has made an inquiry about these bloody things. It’s either going to be an inquiry, or a post about the evils of them.
Let’s look at that for a moment… the downside to the urgency. In the rush to bring these to the U.S. shores, how many suppliers are bringing these in without proper product safety testing? There are already reports circulating about children swallowing pieces. I don’t mean to be an alarmist (what who me?), but yeah… I’m concerned.
For the record, my former neighbor picked up the broken pieces of the toy I broke and put it back together. To the best of my knowledge, at no point did she attempt to swallow them.
I have it on good authority that these silly things do serve a purpose within the autism and ADHD communities. Official reports seem mixed about their actual benefits, but they allegedly do assist as a calming device for some individuals. Key word: some.
There’s another item on the market which doesn’t seem to have impacted the promotional industry yet, perhaps due to its limited imprint area. “Fidget cubes” are a thing ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fidget_Cube ) which, as one online outlet described it, is a baby toy for adults. It has a variety of sensory tools on each side of the cube, such as an on/off switch, a clicker, and a rolling ball. I don’t know… for the same satisfaction, I can just keep clicking a retractable pen which I already have on my desk.
For one thing, I can continue to annoy anyone within earshot. For another, it has an imprint space for a logo!
Mike Schenker, MAS, is the executive director of the Gold Coast Promotional Products Association (GCPPA), as well as “all that” at Mike Schenker, Consulting. He is a promotional industry veteran and member of the Specialty Advertising Association of Greater New York (SAAGNY) Hall of Fame. He can be reached at mike@mikeschenker.com .
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Not All Uniforms Are... Alike!
Lisa Schofield, Product Feature
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sponsored by Cedar Crest Mfg.
The headline should make you think, “Isn’t that an oxymoron?” No, it’s just a clever play on words because it’s true – work garments are not all alike, and nor should they be. However, as promotional marketing partners, you really would need to educate your disparate customer base as to what this means – and why and how it suits them.
Let’s say there are two businesses adjacent to one another on Main Street. Both businesses have their staff wear uniforms. And that’s where the similarity ends. One business is a fitness center, while its neighbor is a pizzeria. The former often wears tanks, Ts and lycra fitness pants and shorts, while the latter will typically don a Henley and an apron.
Erin Tricker of Broberry points out that “all businesses rely on uniforms in one way or another from corporate polos / button downs to hi-viz ANSI safety apparel and accessories. General personnel uniforms are primarily purchased by the human resources manager or shift supervisor of each business location. Corporate items are purchased by sales manager, sales administrator, or employee direct. In either case,” she asserts, “a simple phone call to double check will direct you to the correct buyer.”
Over the past few years, Craig Smith of Rugged Outfitters says he has seen many different type of businesses launch a uniform program. From construction, warehousing, maintenance, public works, and increasingly, healthcare, including rehab centers, veterinarians and animal hospitals, and medi-spas. “Some of the brands we supply product for are Poland Spring bottling operations, Firestone, Kenworth, Peterbilt, Scheider, Pacific Dental, and University of Kentucky Medical Center,” he notes.
Hospitality is huge for uniform garments so that guests can identify an employee, and a frequent piece that is worn that helps project an employee’s role is the apron. Scott Thaxton of Aprons, Etc. says that restaurants (and other food service venues) and retailers like to use aprons not only because they provide necessary functionality, but also because they are unisex, which reduces the need for sized items. Consider event venues, food samplings at supermarkets and club stores, food-related promotions, company websites for purchase and awards programs, retail including grocery, supermarket produce employees.
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In addition, aprons are great for those farmers' markets, gourmet, farm-to-table businesses that are cropping up. Eateries or establishments that offer local cooking classes and local microbreweries and wineries that have tastings are perfect for not only staff aprons where you get an apron when a customer spends a certain dollar amount, opens an account, or takes a class.
According to Taraynn Lloyd of Edwards Garment, Edwards’ uniform garments are worn by people in many industries including sports arenas, theme parks, retail chains, healthcare, bus/rail and air transit systems, corporations, hotels, restaurants, convention centers, casinos, microbreweries “and really any industry that builds its brand through stylish uniform programs. We understand that the employee is the face of any brand, and when it comes to uniforms you need to balance fashion with function. Today all organizations have a uniform whether it is an embroidered polo for their company picnic or a specific suit style for the hotel’s front desk. Staff often wears the corporate brand not only to work but out on the town too,” she describes.
Sales Advice
It is not difficult today to increase your uniform program sales, as Lloyd pointed out because more and more businesses want to present that unity and brand extension. Tricker advises to ask your client if he or she currently has a contract with a uniform supplier, and if so, simply find out when that contract may be up for review and ask if you may submit a proposal. “If no – find out exactly what is currently purchased, what the client likes about the current program and what needs to change/improve with the current program,” she says. “Once you have this information you can construct your presentation.”
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Selling a uniform really opens up new markets for promotional products distributors, Lloyd observes. Additionally – it is important to understand that this sector does differ from selling items for a special event. Being successful with uniform programs, she points out, means taking the time to understand the needs of the customer and then finding the right solution for them. This may mean developing story boards, providing a garment fit line, taking body measurements, discussing how to handle decoration and then doing fulfillment and follow-up, she suggests.
“The rewards of selling a uniform program are tremendous, but there is a lot of coordination and communication to make sure it goes smoothly,” Lloyd relates. “I always recommend that a distributor new to selling uniform programs start small. Meaning – take one department at a time. If you are working with a hotel, start with housekeeping or the restaurant. You’ll learn quickly how to handle situations that arise, but it will be on a scale that is controllable.”
Smith suggests finding out what the client holds as priority by asking, “Are you looking for quality, durability, or price?” Then, he says, ask: “How often do you plan on replacing them? How many pairs per employee?” “What type of employee turnover does the company have?” “After the initial purchase, will the employee be purchasing his or her own uniforms, or does the company replace as needed?”
For those companies that need aprons, Thaxton advises asking if the garment is to be used as part of a uniform, or as a promotional apron? This is an important distinction, he emphasizes, because quality, features and fabric decisions are all based on the apron’s use.
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Additionally, he offers, “Make sure your customer knows that his or her staff represents the whole company. First impressions are crucial. If the staff looks neat, clean and professional, this boosts confidence in the food served. Follow up and be proactive. Months after a sale, check back in with clients to see if uniforms are easy to clean, or fading or living up to expectations. Also, continue to ensure that the product doesn’t go out of stock.”
Key Trends
Fred Haws of Haws, a leading workwear supplier, notes that performance attributes are strongly trending in this sector. “Employees want moisture-wicking, microfiber and anti-odor characteristics, which have been designed initially for athletes. They are now in workwear,” he observes. Cahartt has its Force line, which is performance-driven, on its flame-resistant line geared toward electrical and petroleum industries, and its conventional workwear. Dickies is also bringing these characteristics into its line, Haws reports.
Other trends in industrial workwear Haws says he is seeing is the now necessary cellphone pocket on pants (not cargo style), and fabrications that more easily flow with body movements. For example, a high-end brand, Kuhl, has pants that are ergonomically designed, and Carhartt has its Flex line, also ergonomically designed, and Dickies launched its Comfort Stretch with a waist area that is designed to expand with the wearer when he sits down or bends.
Tricker adds that hi-viz safety apparel with and without reflective striping has been on a huge upswing the last several years.
In aprons, observes Thaxton eye-catching “new” colors like pink, lime green and silver grays are making more appearances. Also, he is seeing more demand for adjustable necks on the apron so that the fit is better for male or female wearers, as well as with at least one pocket for storage.
Lloyd emphasizes, “Fashionable uniforms that make your clients’ employees feel well dressed and comfortable are likely to increase staff confidence and the service they provide. Ultimately, the uniformity of uniforms make it easy to identify staff and reinforces the corporate brand.”
Uniforms can be fun because there is indeed quite a bit of creativity involved in crafting a visual representation of what that client is really all about. It’s more than just the colors in the logo. Take some time to look closely at all the uniforms you encounter daily (and don’t forget tradeshow exhibitors) – what do you love? Take some notes. It could be something as nuanced as a collar, or a waffle weave. Don’t forget accessories, too, like bandanas and other headwear and even scarves and gloves for outdoor workers. Your client will be impressed you thought of an entire ensemble, and makes it harder to say no to anything!
CASE STUDY
Taraynn Lloyd of Edwards Garment: “A promotional product distributor wanted to present a new pant concept to her school system client. She had already sold decorated woven shirts to them, but they wanted their staff to look more uniform from top to bottom. The challenge was client’s staff who would be wearing these pants were all female team members working in a cafeteria and they wanted the pant to be stylish, comfortable, breathable, and easy to home launder. What was proposed and selected by the program purchaser was an easy-fit chino pant modified to capris length. The easy-fit waistband provided the waistband adjustment and the fabric contains performance features that included soil-release and moisture-wicking finishes. The Edwards’ eCustom team was able to modify the pants into capris providing a sample for review prior to the order. Once the order was placed it took about two weeks to complete the pant modifications and ship them directly to the customer. The success of this program is the promotional products distributor created a new market by selling a stylish and comfortable pant solution to their client. They also learned how better to understand the uniform needs of their customer and what they could improve upon when selling uniforms to other customers.”
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Bill Petrie, Petrie's Perspective
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In the world of promotional products, many make the mistake of trying to be like Bud Light, thinking that simply because “everyone” buys branded merchandise, everyone is a potential client.
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People who drink beer have opinions – strong, passionate opinions – about the potent potable. When describing a beloved brew, you’ll hear words and phrases like “piney,” “effervescent,” “toffee-like,” “floral,” and “autumnal.” These words evoke a certain sophistication and understanding of the subtle nuances that different hops, malts, yeast, and fermentation have on the final product.
The most popular beer in America, Bud Light, has quite a different set of phrases beer connoisseurs use when describing the lager: “watery,” “forgettable,” “flavorless,” “zero depth,” and, my personal favorite, “canned horse piss.” Even while Bud Light is the true king of beers in the United States, selling more than twice as much as its nearest competitor in 2016, sales of the bland beverage have been declining sharply in the past few years as interest in craft beer has skyrocketed.
Bud Light’s biggest problem is that by trying to be everything to everyone, they end up being nothing to no one.
In the world of promotional products, many make the mistake of trying to be like Bud Light, thinking that simply because “everyone” buys branded merchandise, everyone is a potential client. Trying to be everything to everyone is a precarious position that undermines your brand as the following happens:
• Cease to show differentiation
• Deliver mediocre work
• Give your target audience a sense of desperation
Instead, it’s far better to narrow your niche by reducing your target audience. To someone who wants to sell more, it may seem counterintuitive to reduce the size of your potential customer base. But you want to narrow your audience for two reasons:
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You can’t please everyone – The sooner you accept that it’s fine that some people may not be interested in buying from you, the better. You want to talk to people who want to listen to what you have to say. Don’t waste your time trying to convert people or change their world views. As master marketer Seth Godin wrote in his book, All Marketers are Liars, “You need to realize that changing a worldview requires you to get your prospects to admit they were wrong. This is awfully hard to do.”
Define what you offer and be true to it – even if it means losing people along the way. Remember, your goal isn’t to sell promotional products to organizations that don’t see the value in them as a messaging vehicle. Your goal is to speak with prospects that have a similar worldview and are already open to the concept of leveraging promotional merchandise to achieve their organizational goals and want work with an expert in the industry.
Humans desire specific solutions – As humans, we love specificity. For example, if you are thirsty and went to the grocery store, would you buy a bottle of beer simply labeled “beer?” Even though it’s in the general category of what you want, it’s far too broad to be a real solution. What about the bottle that’s labeled with phrases like “rich toasted malts,” “dry hopped,” “barrel aged in oak casks,” or “velvety smooth?” Most likely, you would buy this over the first beer. Given a choice, people will almost always go for the one that specifically addresses a problem.
If you market yourself as simply another promotional products distributor, you will get lost in the ocean of the other 23,999 who also sell the same merchandise. Instead, seek to provide a specific solution to a specific set of people. Promoting yourself as an “insurance marketing expert” instead of a promotional products distributor not only leverages your unique expertise, but allows you to sail away from the crowd.
If you refuse to narrow your niche, you run the risk of becoming as generic – and memorable – as Bud Light. Remember, the most remarkable brands will not appeal to everyone. In the craft beer world, Stone Brewery makes a standout India Pale Ale (IPA) that has cultivated a fanatical fan base who enjoy the bitter brew. They don’t try to make beer that people who prefer to drink Bud Light will buy. Instead, their audience is the discriminating beer drinker that demands a slightly more complex and bitter beverage. In the 21 years since Stone’s founding in 1996, they have experienced wild success by staying true to their brand, not trying to please the masses, and narrowing their focus.
Don’t be afraid to narrow your focus – find your specific niche and speak to it continuously. When you try to be everything to everyone, you miss opportunities to share your specific message to an audience where it will resonate. More importantly, you end up being nothing to no one with sales flatter than a stale light beer.
Bill is president of PromoCorner, the leading digital marketing service provider to the promotional products industry, and has over 17 years working in executive leadership positions at leading promotional products distributorships. In 2014, he launched brandivate – the first executive outsourcing company solely focused on helping small and medium sized-promotional products enterprises responsibly grow their business. A featured speaker at numerous industry events, a serial creator of content marketing, president of the Promotional Products Association of the Mid-South (PPAMS), and PromoKitchen chef, Bill has extensive experience coaching sales teams, creating successful marketing campaigns, developing operational policies and procedures, creating and developing winning RFP responses, and presenting winning promotional products solutions to Fortune 500 clients. He can be reached at bill@PromoCorner.com .
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Bill Petrie
How NOT to Sell Fidget Spinners
It’s easy — tell your client they affect the Earth’s center of gravity. Jeff Jacobs, The Brand Protector
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Judging from the conversations I’ve heard and the postings on the Promotional Products Professionals Facebook page, there’s not much joy in Promoville as distributors chase down the latest silly fad item for their trend-following clients. We’ve all seen it before – a retail product comes on the scene out of nowhere, and the end-user clients jump on it. Why? Because it’s cheap and popular. No matter how hard you’ve worked to train the client that NOT doing what everybody else is doing is the way to go, you’re reduced to racing to the bottom in the price-and-product game.
But, if you want to really dig your heels in and preach differentiation like you mean it, you’re in luck. I have the perfect reason to NOT sell today’s must-have gadget – the now ubiquitous fidget spinners. They affect the Earth’s center of gravity.
According to published professor and physicist Michael Taylor of Denver, “Gravitational pull is an invisible force that causes massive objects to pull other objects towards them. In the case of fidget spinners, if enough of them are rotating in unison, they have the potential to create enough gravitational pull to affect the orbit of the planet. Many people may not realize this, but earth’s center of gravity is not as stable as you think. A harmonized cascade of these fidget spinners, aligned in the direction of their spin, could be enough to modify the planet’s center of gravity to the point that we deviate from our normal orbit.”
Of course, according to Snopes.com , this is a totally fabricated story from Focus Times. But why let the facts get in the way of a good story?
But, of course, if you want some real facts, there are those from the last couple of weeks, too. There’s the 10-year-old in Texas who choked on a loose part, and the five-year-old in Oregon who required surgery to remove a part that had snapped off. His mom said she had even warned him. “I showed him pictures and said, ‘Never put that in your mouth,’” Joey Morelos, a 23-year-old mom in Albany, Oregon, told BuzzFeed News . “I guess he didn’t listen that well.”
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For those trying to rationalize the need for fidget spinners, they’re positioned as a stress-relieving toy to help people focus. Scott Kollins, clinical psychologist and director of the ADHD program at Duke University, says there is no evidence to support claims of the benefits of fidget spinners. “There has been no research into the efficacy or safety of these toys to help manage the symptoms of ADHD, anxiety, or any other mental health conditions in children (or adolescent, or adults, for that matter),” Kollins told ABC News in a interview. “It’s hard to imagine any sort of reasonable rationale as to why they would offer benefit.”
The CPSC has also weighed in, "We advise parents to keep these away from young children because they can choke on small parts. Warn older children not to put fidget spinners in their mouths."
So, like any other product you are considering for your clients, you need to do a realistic risk analysis with them. Does the benefit of them giving away a popular cheap item outweigh the potential injuries to both their customers, and their brand?
Jeff Jacobs has been an expert in building brands and brand stewardship for more than 35 years, working in commercial television, Hollywood film and home video, publishing, and promotional brand merchandise. He’s a staunch advocate of consumer product safety and has a deep passion and belief regarding the issues surrounding compliance and corporate social responsibility. He recently retired as executive director of Quality Certification Alliance , the only non-profit dedicated to helping suppliers provide safe and compliant promotional products. Before that, he was director of brand merchandise for Michelin. As a recovering end-user client, he can’t help but continue to consult Fortune 500 consumer brands on promo product safety when asked. You can also find him working as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem, traveling the world with his lovely wife, or enjoying a cigar at his favorite local cigar shop. Follow Jeff on Twitter , or reach out to him at jacobs.jeffreyp@gmail.com .
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Jeff Jacobs
Content Marketing Consistency; Low Margin/High Volume Clients
New OPPA Event Format a Success; Coke Eliminates Chief Marketing Officer Position; Making Comparisons on Success; Thoughts on Confederate Monuments and more. Kirby Hasseman, Bill Petrie, UnScripted
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Industry educators Kirby Hasseman of Hasseman Marketing and Bill Petrie of PromoCorner, the leading digital marketing services provider to the promotional products ind


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