The promotional products business is undergoing a major transformation as a whole. New opportunities to sell promotional products have open up in new business models that are proving to be highly successful.

Before we talk about the new business models, let’s define the traditional distributor model. To me, the traditional distributors is the independent sales force of suppliers. Under this model, distributors sell every product there is, using a consultative approach. They position themselves as “I can put your logo on anything” and ”will do the legwork for you”.

This has worked well for many years, and it continues to do so for those distributors who have adopted online marketing. But those who don’t are starting to see a decrease in their business.

Meantime, new businesses are coming into the scene, with totally different approaches, and are killing it.

If you are a traditional distributor (according to my definition), who wants to make a change, take a look at these examples. I hope they open up your mind to new possibilities.

Buttonsmith – A $2 Million Custom Button and Lanyard Company.

The remarkable thing about this business is that a 10-year-old came up with the business idea. This modern family business started in 2013 in a storefront location, and they soon started to market through Amazon customization ordering system.

With an innovative approach, they are able to beat the odds in a market dominated by the Chinese.

Read about how they did it here.

Big Frog – The $14 Million Custom T-shirts Franchise Business

This custom t-shirts business began in 2006 with the concept of No Minimums, No Artwork Charges, and No Set-up Fees.

They advertised via direct mail targeting trades, schools, churches, and charities. The business started to take off. One of their customers asked to buy a franchise, and now they have more than 60 throughout the country.

Sobe Promos – Named The Fastest Growing Distributors in 2017 by ASI

This new company founded by millennials was founded in 2013 and has reached $3.7 million in sales. It owes its huge success to the brain behind it, none other than the former owner of Bullet Line. The father of one of the owners, he brought a wealth of industry business experience, product sourcing knowledge,  contacts, software technology partners, and the funding.

Yet the owners claim the key to their success to the fact that they are young, as you can read here… which I’m sure it’s an important factor. Having a staff consisting exclusively of millennials, I have found that they do bring an invaluable fresh and innovative perspective to the table. But the business knowledge part is what has led them to achieve this level of success.  

Write Notepads & Co. – Bringing Back An Old-School Craft

Proving that the old-school pen and paper method is alive and well, this family-owned book bindery business started a notebook business. Turns out that despite the convenience of the digital tools, there is a new appreciation for the physical tools. Focusing on form and design, they have a very specific niche market that expands worldwide, and they use digital means to reach it.

Read more about their business here.  


I noticed that the two things these businesses have in common are that they have reinvented the promotional products business, each in their own specific way, and they all have turned to technology to market their business.

If you are looking to evolve your distributor business, it’s time to think outside the box.

While you could talk yourself into why none of these examples would work for you, the point is to look at things from a different angle.

You have a wealth of knowledge and experience, and you have the supplier contacts. In short, you have access to everything you need to have a successful promotional products business. You need to look for a new perspective.

Start by asking yourself these questions:

– What markets interest you?

– Can you think of one product you could focus on selling and build your business around it?

– Is there one specialty you have become very knowledgeable over the years?

I would love to know your thoughts!