The talk about the changing marketplace in the promo distributor business is everything but new. Even though the industry as a whole is as strong as ever, there is a fear amongst the small distributor’s community about the uncertain times ahead. They share their frustration in forums and groups about how they are being price shopped more and more frequently. They face a lose-lose dilemma of whether to chop their margins to make the sale, or say “no” and lose the client. They are struggling to grow and sometimes even keep their sales numbers. The general consensus among them seems to be that the industry is going in the direction of online shopping and there’s nothing they can do about it.

But there is an emerging trend of small distributors, who are in the low to mid 7 figures in sales and growing. They are proving that there is plenty of room in the marketplace to grow a successful business as a small distributor. As I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of these dynamic entrepreneurs, I’ve noticed they have several things in common, that are drivers to their success. That said, they don’t necessarily have the same business models, same specialties, or same markets, because they took the time to think through how they want to go to market. After all, there are many ways to “do” a promotional products business, and be very successful.

Traits modern promo business owners have in common

  • They have ambitious growth goals.
  • They have an entrepreneurial mindset.
  • They spend time in formulating and implementing systems to run their business.
  • They don’t want to do it all themselves, they rather delegate as much as possible.
  • They market their business proactively.
  • As owners, they focus on business development activities.
  • Building their brand is important to them.
  • They know their numbers: they have set a limit as to how much they will lower their margins.
  • They are always learning about their client’s jobs and how they can be of more help to them.
  • They are quick to say “NO” to business that’s not profitable.

These modern distributors don’t necessarily have every single item on that list completely figured out. They are a work in progress (What business isn’t?). But they have a clear sense of direction and those are important drivers. The point is, they have a similar approach to running their business and they are growing. Those are the things they have in common.

If you are having a hard time to get clients and find that sacrificing margins is the only way, I hope this gives you a different perspective. You’ve probably received advice such as “look for better clients”, or “provide more value”, or “start doing social media”, or “be a consultant”. But you are not quite sure how to go about those things. It’s not that easy!

Try a different approach: take a look at the list above, and use it as a checklist to evaluate your business. Then start to work on the changes you need to make. And if you need help, go get it, even if it’s not free. If your livelihood depends on it, it can be very costly to do nothing.

Are you a part of the growing trend?

If not, do you want to be?

It’s up to you!


First published May 1st, 2018, updated May 3, 2018