Getting The Most From Your Award Suppliers

Copyright © 2003 by Davis Multimedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in September 2003, Volume 29, No. 3, of The Engravers Journal
By Jill N. Hamilton
EJ Staff Writer

     Suppliers are something that everyone in the award business has and many dealers take for granted. Good suppliers are a dealer’s lifeline, especially today when you need to receive your order yesterday, ideally without a hitch.
    A lot of retailers don’t really think much about their relationship with suppliers and, consequently, they may not be making the most of what that relationship has to offer. Good supplier relationships often mean getting the best goods quickly and with minimal problems, not to mention favorable pricing and customer support “above and beyond the strict call of duty.”
    In this article we will take a fresh look at suppliers, how they operate, what they offer and how to develop a good supplier/dealer relationship.
A Closer Look
    To simplify things, we are going to classify award suppliers into four different categories (but please keep in mind that some companies can fall into more than one category). These categories are: Manufacturers — Direct Sellers, Manufacturers — through Distributors, Distributors/Resellers and Specialty/Niche Businesses. The following is a brief definition of each:
Manufacturers — Direct Sellers
    “Manufacturers — Direct Sellers” loosely means that the company manufacturers their own products and sells that product to retail dealers.
Manufacturers — through Distributors
    “Manufacturers — through Distributors” means that the company manufactures various products to supply to wholesale distributors for resale to retail dealers. This type of company often does little or no selling direct to dealers.
    “Distributors/Resellers” are the companies that purchase their products from the manufacturers and, in turn, sell wholesale to retail dealers.
Specialty/Niche Suppliers
    The “Specialty/Niche” category is for companies that specialize in selling one type of award or recognition product. For example, this type of company may specialize in medals, ground breaking shovels, gavels or frames. Keep in mind that these Specialty/Niche companies can fall into any of the above categories, but we decided to give them their own section for this article.
    These definitions are given to help clarify the different suppliers mentioned in this article. As each new supplier is introduced, the category that they fall into will also be stated.
The Information You Want to Know
    We talked to quite a few award and trophy suppliers and gave them bragging rights to answer the question, “What brings customers to you and keeps them coming back?” Here are some of their answers.
Upscale/Design Merchandise
    Upscale/design merchandise refers to the higher end, usually more expensive, awards. R.S. Owens & Company (Manufacturer — Direct Seller), Chicago, IL, is well known for their upscale awards. They are best known for some of the famous awards they make such as the Oscar and the Emmy, and awards for other high profile events such as U.S. Open and The Academy of Country Music Awards. Larry Maloney of R.S. Owens says, “The R.S. Owens Co. has long been known as a supplier of upscale, top-of-the-line products. We offer everything from Art As Awards, to combination crystal/cast pieces, combining crystal with satin nickel.”
    Tropar Mfg. Co. Inc. (Manufacturers – Direct Sellers), Florham Park, NJ, is best known for their quality corporate and organizational awards with a flair for innovative high-fashion designs. According to Tropar’s Peter E. Ilaria, “Tropar has worked very hard to provide our customers with the kind of designer products where they can walk into a competitive situation in the corporate market and come out with the order. The dealers who introduce their clients to our ‘Airflyte’ branded merchandise usually find the customers returning again and requesting our products by name.”
    Steve Pollan of The Gavel Company (Specialty/Niche), Lincolnwood, IL, says, “The Gavel Company prides itself on its ability to respond to most any price point, including our exclusive gold, silver, brass and even copper gavels! Each of these is finely turned and polished to perfection. Additionally, The Gavel Company’s woodworking capabilities allow it to fashion custom wood cases, stands and bases for virtually any promotion. The Gavel Company’s upscale products also include its patented wooden coffee tumbler that has been successfully used as a promotional tool by upscale car makers and coffee houses.”

Tropar Mfg.Co. Inc., NJ, is best known for their quality corporate and organizational awards with a flair for innovative high-fashion designs. AT Designs Toronto, ON, Canada, is a manufacturer of custom cast metal products such as lapel pins, rings, medals, coins, key rings, gift items and more. R.S. Owens offers a whole new look to plaques with its new Fusion line. This new line of plaques features lustrous ebony piano finish boards with aluminum accents.

Reputation for Quality
    This question received a lot of answers from all the suppliers. Obviously all of them work very hard at maintaining their reputation for quality products. Maloney of R.S. Owens states, “We pride ourselves in always striving to be better. Better quality products, better quality customer service, along with a good catalog. Quality improvement is a never ending, ongoing project for us. We recognize that we must be the best we can be, so our customers can be the best they can be.”
    D’Andrade of AT Designs states, “We work on the premise that our customer’s reputation should be treated as if it’s our own. Because we work exclusively through a distributor/wholesaler network, we know our customers will be judged by the product we deliver to them. We ensure that we maintain our reputation because we know their reputation depends on it! Quality is not just in the product either, that is a term that should be applied throughout an entire organization. Quality in the finished item is not much good if customer service, customer relations, product design, communication efforts, delivery and follow-up are not set to the same high standard.”
Depth of Inventory
    Many companies pride themselves on their depth of inventory and their ability to offer their customers just the right product for their needs. JDS Industries (Distributor/Reseller), Sioux Falls, SD, is no exception. Mike May states, “JDS currently has eight fully-stocked warehouses throughout the United States. We stock all products found in our catalog in every warehouse. When stock outages do occur at the customer’s closest warehouse, JDS will gladly ship from another warehouse and pay the difference in freight. We can also do custom products in some product lines.”
    Joe Capetta of Discount Trophy & Co. Inc., (Distributor/Reseller), South Windsor, CT replied, “Discount Trophy is a wholesale trophy component distributor with nine domestic distribution centers as well as locations in both Canada and Puerto Rico. We carry a complete line of products to meet all of our customer’s award and recognition needs: figures, medals, marble, columns, plaques, giftware, hardware and more.”
Availability of Custom Products
    The availability of custom products is another service that some companies provide. Plastic Dress-Up Company (Manufacturer – through Distributors), South El Monte, CA, is a leading manufacturer of award components. Lori Aluzzi of Plastic Dress-Up says, “PDU offers a custom program in all product categories we sell which includes resins, columns, mylars and acrylics. Just provide your artwork to PDU and we’ll turn it into a custom product.”
    Plastic-Plus Awards (Distributor/Reseller), Charlotte, NC, also offers custom services. Michael Hicks explains, “Custom resins are available from Plastic-Plus Awards in any design you can imagine. Once your sample is approved, you can have an order of custom resins in 90 days. Custom medals are also available with minimal set-up and three week lead time. Custom mylars are also available for larger orders.”
    The Gavel Company’s Pollan agrees, “We welcome custom work. More than any other aspect of The Gavel Company’s business, its custom work is the most impressive. As a division of a larger custom wood supplier, we can respond to most any need for custom wood products. Unique shapes and components, from wooden eggs to mortars and pestles, no wood product exceeds The Gavel Company’s capabilities. We regularly provide display parts, pyramids and custom office products to customer specifications. The Gavel Company will provide custom products in any design, any wood species and in any quantity.”

JDS Industries, Sioux Falls, SD, a leading award supplier, currently has eight fully stocked warehouses through the United States. Tower Ribbons, Topeka, IN, is probably best known as a manufacturer of quality award and rosette ribbons but Tower also carries a vast amount of other awards and components.

Convenient One-Stop Shopping
    For most business people, time is of the essence and convenience is important. Depth of inventory and convenient one-stop shopping really go hand-in-hand, so it is no surprise that companies strive to be a one-stop shopping source for their customers. Plastic-Plus offers over 6,500 different products to service the sports and corporate award markets. A vast selection of products for trophies, plaques, medals, acrylics, badges, full color personalization and gifts are in stock.
Frequent New Product Introductions
    “Continuously,” answered Maloney of R.S. Owens when asked how often new products are introduced. “We pride ourselves on an aggressive and creative new product development program. Our dealers are always looking for something new and different to present to their customers. Our new product development process is ongoing, and over the past two years we have introduced hundreds of new awards and gifts with each new catalog release.”
    Generally, The Gavel Company introduces new products at the beginning of each year. However, it is not unusual for the company to add a product to its line in midyear to get customer feedback and tweak it as needed before it is added to The Gavel Company’s catalog.
    Ilaria states, “Our emphasis on highly-styled products has caused us to do multiple product launches every year. Tropar has three major product unveilings per year. Our new line begins with plaques that are marketed to dealers in the fall and winter. The second product cycle is generally clocks, acrylics and gifts in the late winter and early spring. These two product offerings will cover all new products added to the catalog. We try to place them in the dealers’ showrooms prior to the “busy season” (Easter through Memorial Day). The last new product offering is generally a few new clock and gift items in the summer, ahead of the year-end corporate gift buying season.”
    Many companies introduce new products at major trade shows or in conjunction with a new catalog release. “We leave them outside the plant doors hoping that someone might pick them up!” jokes D’Andrade of AT Designs. “Actually, we normally feature the newest items at each of the more than 100 trade shows we do annually. In addition, they are displayed in our magazine ads, on our website and are frequently introduced in our telemarketer campaigns.”
    Mike May of JDS states, “The majority of new products are introduced during the first quarter of each year to coincide with the International Awards Market in Las Vegas and the introduction of the components catalog for the year. Some products are also introduced in the fall of the year. JDS introduced 500 new products in 2003 alone.”

Several award components from Plastic Dress-Up Company, S. El Monte, CA can be combined to create an award such as this one. JDS Industries has introduced 500 new products in 2003 alone. Many are introduced at the International Awards in Las Vegas.

Fast Turnaround
    Fast turnaround, or the time it takes to receive your shipment after you place an order, is one of the most important services a company can offer. Because it is so important, nearly all companies provide quick shipping for their customers. May says, “JDS strives to ship any order placed by 3 p.m. the same day during much of the year. Orders placed as late as 5 p.m. can be shipped the same day. With our computer system, orders are printed in the warehouse as soon as the customer is done speaking with the JDS customer service rep.”
    Gerald Singer, Classic Medallics, Inc. (Manufacturer – through Distributors), Long Island City, NY, says, “All component parts are shipped within 24 hours with most orders going out the same day. Assembled merchandise is shipped within 24 to 48 hours. Any product can be personalized within 48 to 72 hours.”
Reasonable Minimum Orders
    Sometimes you are in a crunch for time and are missing just a few components to finish a particular order. Many companies realize this may be the case and try to accommodate their customers as best as they can.
    Plastic-Plus Awards has never had a minimum order requirement. JDS Industries has a $15.00 minimum order policy; however, they are flexible with that policy because they understand that unusual circumstances do happen.
    However, keep in mind that many companies’ policies will vary on this service so be sure to ask before you order.
Knowledgeable & Helpful Sales/Customer Service
    Answers to this question were also very abundant. Obviously, customer service is important and the companies we interviewed definitely want to let customers know that when you’ll call, you will be treated well by their knowledgeable staff. Here are some of their replies:
    “Basically, what we feel brings customers back to us is the Golden Rule” say Nic Engle of Tower Ribbons & Awards (Distributor/Reseller), Topeka, IN. “We work very hard at making the buying experience as pain free and simple as possible. The customer should be treated with respect, honesty and courtesy, the way we would expect to be treated. We have received uncountable acknowledgements of praise for our friendly customer service staff. They are helpful, reliable and can work our new customers through the ribbon buying process.”




Discount Trophy & Co., Inc., South Windsor, CT, carries a complete line of products to meet all of their customer’s awards and recognition needs including the new Prism Optical Crystal awards shown here.  

    Singer of Classic Medallics replied, “We receive 80% of our orders by phone and 20% by fax or E-mail. We accomplish this with 10 highly trained customer service people who average over 15 years experience in the award and gift industry. Most of all, they enjoy working with our customers to fill their orders and solve their problems.”
    Maloney of R.S. Owens states, “Our sales and customer service people are constantly undergoing continuous training. They are taught about special processes we do in the factory, what process works best on what product and how to handle customers in the most professional manner. We feel we have the best customer service people in the industry. We recently implemented ongoing weekly training with our reps to review policies, imprinting procedures and other information to make sure each rep is well informed to quickly and accurately respond to customer questions. The first line of communication with our customers is our customer service people.”
    “JDS Industries is known for the friendly and knowledgeable customer service staff we have,” explains May. He continues, “Our customer service reps receive continuous training and education so they are well equipped to provide the best service possible to the award dealer. JDS also has a strong team of outside sales reps who visit dealers in their stores. These reps offer decades worth of industry knowledge to JDS customers.”
    Tropar’s Ilaria adds, “We have one of the few direct sales forces left in the industry. We have seven full time field salespeople who cover most states east of the Mississippi. We also have four telemarketing reps that generally cover the western U.S. In addition, each of our warehouses has a customer service department.”
Availability of Special Help
    Special help and beneficial pricing programs can draw a potential customer to one company versus another. Award suppliers realize this and offer varying incentives. JDS Industries offers a very beneficial program for dealers called the Advantage Pricing Program. JDS and other companies offer free freight on orders totaling a preset amount or more. Special pricing on unusually large orders may also be given.
    “Owens has a special projects department to work on large programs,” states Maloney. “This is staffed with highly trained senior and knowledgeable people who can assist our customers with difficult and/or major orders. Our regional sales managers also get involved with large projects and work hand-in-hand with the special projects department and also talk directly with the customer offering whatever assistance is needed. We are very fortunate at R.S. Owens that we are large enough to handle any size order and small enough that our upper echelon can get personally involved whenever necessary.”
    D’Andrade of AT Designs adds, “As a custom manufacturer we work with our larger wholesalers on an ongoing basis to develop and maintain a program that suits their area of expertise or specialization. As a manufacturer servicing so many industries, (awards and recognition, ad specialty, gift and souvenir, golf and jewelry), we bring an incredible amount of varied expertise to the table. With regard to big orders, we have two full production facilities that can churn out the products from two separate facilities, if the need ever arises.”
Dealer Support
    Dealer support can include, but is not limited to, dealer usable catalogs, sample kits, swatches, marketing aides, sample development, a dealer locator on the supplier’s web site, on-line ordering and add-on personalization services.
    JDS is one company that seems to cover all the bases. JDS offers two catalogs for use by the dealer. One catalog focuses on sports awards and the other is for selling to the corporate market. JDS also designed their components catalog with a separate price list so the dealer can show any product to the customer. Sample kits are available from JDS on several products so the dealer can create a display in their showroom at a discounted price. They offer beautiful walnut display cases for each of their four medal lines.
    JDS has also created a very useful web site to help dealers advertise the products they can create for their customers. There are hundreds of completed products on the web site. Dealers can either link their own site to it or they can send their customers directly to it. JDS offers samples of products to dealers on a request basis. The company also sends a sample pack including a selection of their new items to the dealers on the Advantage Pricing Program each year.
AT Designs is also proud of their company’s dealer support. “This is another area of strength for our company,” states D’Andrade. “Benefits include a full-color retail priced catalog to assist the dealer in establishing asking price in their customers’ minds, separate net price sheets for the dealer’s confidential reference, a free personalized website showing our whole line using the dealer’s logo and corporate information only, sample boards for demonstrations and dealer showrooms and free random samples of all products. There’s no better way to demonstrate quality and feel.”
    Ilaria of Tropar agrees on the importance of a quality catalog. “We offer our catalog in ‘generic’ form to dealers. The dealer can then either imprint the catalog or affix a label to the cover containing the dealer’s contact information. All prices within the catalog are list prices, where as the dealer can order Tropar’s entire line at wholesale prices. The dealer gives or mails our catalog to customers and prospects. The true value of selling Tropar’s product is the professional look of our catalog – it appeals to and attracts corporate recognition buyers. We also offer dealers a protected web site that they can link to as an extension of our catalog via the internet. The protected site does not identify Tropar, nor does it have any of the contact functionality that is found on our home page.”
    American Chrome Shovel (Specialty/Niche), Northville, MI, specializes in chrome and gold plated shovels for ground breaking ceremonies. The purpose of their web site is to display an organized list of American Chrome Shovel dealers across the United States. You are able to search through the dealer listings and find the dealer location closest to you. After you find a dealer location, print the order form available on the web site and send it to your dealer’s address. American Chrome Shovel also offers add-on personalization services. A favorite option is to include an engraved plate on each shovel to commemorate the event.
What Dealers Need to Do
    So now we have learned what a number of suppliers offer and what they are willing to do to get you as a customer and to keep you coming back to them, but there are a few things that you, as a customer, need to do to maintain the best dealer/supplier relationship.
    First and foremost is deciding who will be your “key suppliers.” Of course you will have more then one key supplier – you may have one or two suppliers of trophies and components, one for ribbons, one or two for corporate awards, etc. The number of key suppliers that you have will depend on the size of your business and the amount of sales you generate. However, it’s important to deal with a manageable number of regular suppliers, as opposed to buying from everyone and anyone, or only from the low bidder. Suppliers know who their good customers are and they’ll jump through hoops to service good and loyal customers. Other advantages to maintaining a relationship with key suppliers is receiving the best pricing and more help when you need it.
    Other actions to consider include checking and double checking your orders to make sure that they are correct and complete. Sometimes it is a good idea to submit your order in writing either by fax, email or web site. Not only does this prevent botched orders, it helps your supplier to do his or her job more effectively.
    Understand and submit quality artwork on custom orders. By this, we mean that if artwork such as camera ready art or photographs are needed for a custom order, find out the requirements from the company that you are submitting the artwork to. Can it be digital? What format and dpi should the electronic file be saved as, and so on?

    Other ways to maintain a good relationship is to pay suppliers on time. Money talks and every supplier we spoke to will go that extra mile to satisfy their loyal and prompt-paying accounts. Likewise, do not abuse supplier services such as a “no minimum order policy” and “800” phone numbers.
    Here are some comments from the suppliers as to what they think are the most important things that you as a customer can do to keep a good dealer/supplier relationship.
Gerald Singer, Classic Medallics
    “Keep us informed of any problems that might arise with our quality and service. It is imperative that the customer and supplier continually communicate with one another concerning quality or service issues that could affect the long term relationship. We pride ourselves on a quick response time in addressing problems.”
Larry Maloney, R.S. Owens
    “What always helps is to get as much information for our orders as soon as possible. The more detailed and complete the information on the order we receive, the easier it is for us to process and expedite that order. Let us know when we are doing something wrong. We love to correct ourselves. And let us know when we are doing something right. We love positive feedback. Let us know what you would like us to supply. New ideas, new concepts, new designs, we want to know what our customers want.”
Bob D’Andrade, AT Designs
    “Be realistic on what can be done for some of the ‘panic’ schedules they operate on. In today’s marketplace the better and faster we receive the order, artwork, approvals, confirmation, the faster the product gets to production and eventually to the customer. This gives everyone more chance to hit tight schedules. Develop product knowledge in areas of focus, no matter what the product.”
Mike May, JDS Industries
    “JDS feels that the key to a successful relationship with the dealer is communication. We believe in keeping the customers well informed about our products and services. In return, we appreciate dealers who practice good communication with us, whether they are requesting that we add an item to our product line, voicing a complaint or offering praise to our staff members. We also appreciate complete information on fax orders and on telephone orders. All of these things help us be the best supplier we can possibly be.”
Peter E. Ilaria, Tropar Mfg. Co.
    “We hope that if our catalog or other dealer amenities generated a sale for the dealer that they would order the product from us and not try to get a cheaper product elsewhere. We incur higher costs to produce a quality catalog and web site. We have a full time sales force that visits and calls stores to promote new products. All of these things that help a dealer get the sale cost money. Therefore, we are not the least expensive company to buy from. However, dealers should ask themselves, ‘Would I have gotten this sale without the highly stylized products and marketing support that Tropar has provided?’”
Nic Engle, Tower Ribbons & Awards
    Engle sums it all up, “As for what makes our customers give us a strong relationship with them, we tend to find that our best customers are the ones that remain honest and trustworthy, pay on time and understand that we try very hard at giving them a quality product at a fair price. Those dealers who have formed a strong relationship with us and work just as hard as we do to maintain it, usually are rewarded with special pricing and other forms of appreciation. They really deserve it.”
The Big Picture
    There are a lot of great award suppliers out there and, of course, we could only talk to a fraction of them. But as we now see, both the dealer and the supplier need to work hard at keeping good relationships and the award industry going strong. Dealers need the suppliers and the suppliers need the dealers. Hopefully, you now feel that you understand award suppliers’ situations a little better and that they understand yours. Please refer to the sidebar accompanying this article for more great award suppliers.