Spring Awards and Gifts

From your local youth group to collegiate leagues to international tournaments, soccer will be everywhere this spring and options for awards abound. Photo courtesy of Marco Plastics, Inc., Vernon, CT.


Copyright © 2004 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in March 2004, Volume 29, No. 9 of The Engravers Journal.

     At the time this article went to press, award and gift suppliers were feverishly working to put the final touches on their new product lines and catalogs for 2004. We took a sneak peek at what’s new and what’s hot in awards and gifts for the spring, and what we saw was really fantastic. Everyone has introduced something new and/or new versions of old standbys. JDS Industries, Sioux Falls, SD, for example, is coming out with about 400 new products for 2004, a sure sign that the award and gift industries are alive and well. Major award and gift suppliers in the industry also gave us a glimpse at hot new trends as well as some that aren’t so hot.
    From the looks of things, selling gifts and awards in 2004 promises to be an exciting time. There are many new products, innovative advances in technology and market trends that should make this an extremely profitable year for you. Here’s a look at what you can expect in the upcoming months.

Honor a spring retiree or salesman of the year with piano wood clocks or desk sets from JDS Industries, Sioux Falls, SD. One-of-a-kind, high-end optic cystal awards, like these "Fantastic Golfers" are available from specialty manufactures. Photo courtesy of CIP Creation Corp., Garden Grove, CA.

The Top-of-the-Line
    While the corporate awards market tends to show some ups and downs, depending on the current state of the economy, it does continue to remain a strong force in the recognition industry. The recent turnaround of the economy has helped this market, and many major award suppliers have introduced new products to their corporate award line.
    CIP Creation Corp., Garden Grove, CA, specializes in one-of-a-kind, high-end optic crystal awards. What’s really unique is that all of the company’s awards are individually handcrafted in their facility in Korea and feature sculptured images of eagles, stars, globes, flames, etc. The company’s golf series features a variety of interesting and unique awards, including a very modern, “new age” sculpture of a golfer available in either crystal or bronze, and crystal “golf ball” trophies. Both of these products look more like“works of art” as opposed to traditional awards. CIP Creation also has a personal gift line that includes desk accessories such as crystal bookends and crystal paperweights in the shape of a computer mouse and a cube.
    Piano finish award products continue to be strong sellers in the corporate awards market, so manufacturers like JDS Industries have responded by beefing up their lines in this area. “In the corporate section, the hottest thing really is piano finish products,” says JDS’ Scott Sletten. “Mostly plaques and plaque-related items, but piano finish products are probably the hottest new products in the corporate side.”
    Traditional materials combined with new technology make for interesting new award product lines. According to Bob D’Andrade, AT Designs, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, “Pewter is still very popular with us, but now we offer something a little different. We’ve recently introduced a ‘photo etch’ process where the customer can reproduce historic photos, portraits, landscapes. . . in fine photographic detail on most of our products. True-to-life detail is reproduced in fine, lead-free pewter, a definite collector’s item.”
    Diane Clancy says that Gravograph-New Hermes, Duluth, GA, is now carrying a line of “Prism” paperweight awards that have a mirrored base which reflects into the lines and accents of the award body. These awards are popular because they add a touch of elegant green, blue or black color, making for a very unique item, something that Clancy says she sees as a current award-buying trend. “Unique-shaped awards are very popular, like our Octagon and Prism awards,” she says.
    Peter E. Ilaria of Tropar Manufacturing Company, Inc., Florham Park, NJ, feels that piano finished hardwoods are still the hot item for the corporate recognition market. Ilaria revealed, "With the market so saturated with Red Piano wood, and in order to provide something new and different, we decided to take something old and make it new. In October, we introduced half a dozen new styles of corporate awards with a walnut stained piano finish. These products were designed to appeal to the mid-range corporate buyer, like local car dealerships or hotel franchises." Tropar has done very well with this new color and is very happy with its acceptance into the marketplace.
    Diana Shih from Topmost Designs Inc., Montclair, CA, says that they will be focusing on adding to their golf-theme awards during the upcoming year. One example is a half golf ball attached to a crystal block with plenty of engraving area. Like Clancy, Shih feels that unique designs are the key to success. “Traditional awards still have stable needs,” she explains. “But non-traditional awards with specific themes or functions are often preferred. For example, if end users look for golf awards, awards with golf designs would catch more interest than plain traditional trophy cups or awards. But the designs must be unique.” Shih says that it’s important to continually offer new merchandise to keep these types of customers coming back. “End users are tired of traditional trophies or awards. Since the award-giving events may continue year by year, they like unique designs for each year,” she says.

These traditional Excellence and President's awards are beautiful examples of corporate piano finish and crystal awards given to employees at spring corporate sales meetings and events. Photo courtesy of Tropar Manufacturing Co., Inc., Florham Park, NJ. This elegant Optical Crystal book would make an excellent award for an educational accomplishment. Photo courtesy of Topmost Designs Inc., Montclair, CA.

It’s A Tradition
    Of course, traditional awards still have their place in the industry and many customers actively seek out these types of awards whether it be for budget reasons or the sake of tradition itself. “Traditional,” however, does not have to mean “the same” and, realizing this; many suppliers are adding new products and twists to their traditional award lines.
    “As far as tradition goes, I guess I’d have to say that many sports teams are a little tired of the standard trophy with pedestal,” says AT’s Bob D’Andrade. “They’re always looking for something new, which, for many years now, has driven them towards our custom medals and plaques. The thinking is that they would prefer to hand out something unique, created specifically for their team or organization, right from scratch, not just personalized with a small nameplate.”
    JDS’ Scott Sletten says that resin figures, i.e. one-piece trophies that are pre-formed with a base, remain very popular partially because all you need to do is add an engraved plate. No other assembly is required; resins are also new and unique items. JDS offers resin figures for every type of sport. “That has been very, very popular for the last two to three years,” he says, adding that they keep this product line fresh by introducing new versions, whether it is by adding color (JDS has an orange basketball resin figure) or new themes. “Last year, a big thing that several companies did was bobbleheads. Those were all made out of resin, too. So resins continue to be real hot in the awards section,” he explains.
    Sletten says that JDS is also adding to just about every other award category in their product line for 2004. “We’ve got a lot of new products coming out this year, but they are really spread out. Some are in the acrylic area; some are in the glass area. We’ve got a wide variety of products that we carry,” he says. “One of the biggest things you’re going to see coming from JDS this year is color. We’re doing a lot of products in color. We have some new resins coming out that have more colors worked into them. We have a lot of new plastic parts that are going to be full color, like figures, risers and trim. We’ve also got some new plastic tubing coming out for trophy columns. We’re using a new technology for the first time that allows us to do full-color prints on trophy columns.”
    "Traditionally, in the corporate award market, we found that packaging is very important," says Tropar’s Peter E. Ilaria. "We introduced a piano finish base accented with gold metal accents and an acrylic upright. It comes with a finished gift box. Five new shapes have been added to this line including Zenith, Flame, Diamond, Pyramid and Apex.”
    In terms of sublimatable award products, Condé Systems, Mobile, AL, continues to beef up their product line, in part through their partnership with Universal Woods. “When baseball season came along, I said we really need a baseball home-plate shaped plaque,” explains David Gross. “So they (Universal Woods) cut them and made two sizes for us and those sold like you wouldn’t believe, because it brings a little more value and it’s just noticed. I think the value of sublimation is that we really have unlimited ability to customize our products, whether it be a Unisub plaque or a piece of metal or tile or whatever.”

An abundance of personalized gifts are available in exciting new designs. Give this leash to your puppy and take him on a springtime adventure or present this photo cube to your best friend for noting spring break ideas. Photo courtesy of Condé Systems, Mobile, AL. Spring brings many opportunities for companies to present this beautiful piano finish plaque in recognition of special achievements. Photo courtesy of Victory Trophy, Chicago, IL.

The Best Gifts For 2004
    There appears to be an even greater boom in the personalized gift market in terms of new products and trends. This is an ever-expanding market area that is really only limited by how far you want to take it.
    “For the gift market, we’ve seen a continual increase in personalization,” says Gravograph-New Hermes’ Diane Clancy. “A gift is a very personal thing, but when it is engraved with the recipient’s name or a special sentiment, that personalization makes it timeless. Not only does the recipient feel that special time and care were given in selecting and personalizing their gift, but the giver has an added feeling of pride for taking that extra step.”
    Scott Sletten says that he is seeing new materials make their way into personalized gift products. “We do desk accessories in acrylic and glass, some in marble, some in walnut,” he says. “One of the things we are seeing more of is glass gifts and awards. People are sandblasting and even lasering them, which makes it easy for people to customize.” Sletten says that some materials that were mostly used for awards are now being used to create exciting new gifts. “A lot of people are using piano finish in new ways; for example, as a base to put glass on, so it’s not just for plaques anymore. You’re starting to see what we call mixed media, which means you’re combining two different technologies, like piano finish and glass, piano finish and acrylic, things like that, so piano finish gifts are very, very popular,” Sletten states. “We have nine or ten different piano finish clocks that we market. Those are very nice looking products. Sharp.”
    An area of the personalized gift industry that has literally exploded, and shows no signs of slowing down, is sublimatable products. “Overall, the gift market just continues to grow very quickly. It’s exciting,” says David Gross, adding that the key to success here is to continually offer new products that really get noticed.
    For example, Condé is nearly ready to introduce a major new sublimatable product that has never been offered before, and could prove to be the next best thing in the sublimation market: a sublimatable paper cube. In the past, technology prohibited a sublimatable version of this product – you cannot sublimate paper. After working on it for a few years, however, Condé was finally able to break that barrier and will be the first to introduce it. “We used a special, high-tech paper that is man-made, it doesn’t come from trees, and it’s sublimatable,” explains Gross. “And it’s just a fantastic product.” Before formally bringing the product to market, Gross says, they are waiting on the development of a heat press attachment that meets their quality standards.

Golfers are putting the “fair” way to local and national tournaments. These crystal awards are perfect for challengers at any level. Photo courtesy of SCT Crystal, South El Monte, CA. Finding the perfect personalized themed gift is easy with all of these golfing options. Photo courtesy of Gravograph-New Hermes, Duluth, GA.

    This is just one of many new and interesting products being introduced for sublimation; Gross has many, many new items that are all proving to be extremely popular. “A relatively new product line is our glass cutting boards. Those are just fabulous products. They are very high-tech. They are tempered glass with a white sublimatable coating on the back side.”
    This particular product is available in two sizes, and they also offer a cheese board made of cherry or maple that incorporates a sublimatable glass insert. Gross says that these are excellent for all types of gift-giving occasions. For example, he made one for his parents as a Christmas gift that included a sublimated image of his parents’ prized rose garden. “It was knock-your-socks-off. It was just absolutely gorgeous,” he says. Another unique product that is gaining popularity are Condé’s sublimatable night lights. This product is available as a kit and consists of an oval diffuser (similar to a translucent tile), a night light base, a light bulb and a clip to attach the diffuser to the base.
    Gross says that as sublimation continues to grow in popularity, he has seen some products “come back” in terms of selling power. “Recently we introduced a couple of new additions to our wood product line. One of the favorite, best-selling products is the wood keepsake boxes.” Gross says that they design their product line to appeal to a wide spectrum of customers, particularly those in the wholesale sector. “We have a very large family of nice wooden boxes and we added an economy box that has a removable wooden lid as an easy product to sell in a wholesale environment. It’s less expensive because it doesn’t have hinges and it’s not felt-lined. So what we’ve tried to do is just have a very large family of products that, depending on who you are selling to, will have both the very, very nice top-of-the-line stuff and also an economy choice.”
    Another product that fits into this “family of products” theme is Condé’s newly designed mouse pads. “In the digital decoration market, mouse pads have pretty much stayed the same for a long time,” Gross explains. “We’ve tried to add a little flair to it, excitement. We came out with a kidney-shaped mouse pad that has a wrist rest built into it.” Gross says that they try to do this with all of their product lines to keep the selection “fresh.” “We go back each product line and add a couple more products into it to give it some new excitement.”
    In keeping with this theme, Condé has expanded their sublimatable mug line to include new products like morphMugs (black or blue mugs that turn white to reveal the sublimated image when hot liquid is added) and their stainless steel travel mug. “Probably the biggest seller of any product I can think of as far as taking off has been our stainless steel travel mugs,” says Gross. “That has done just amazingly well. . . it was so successful that we really sat here and said ‘how can we make it better?’” As a result of that forward thinking, Condé just introduced a new stainless steel mug design that includes a white panel for a sublimated image. The white background allows for a more colorful and vibrant image than the original gray stainless steel.
    Sublimatable tiles are another big seller in the gift market. Gross says that you can “dress them up” and sell them in a variety of different ways. For instance, put a sublimated tile on a keepsake box, in a frame or attach a simple easel stand. One of Gross’ customers is a photographer who has built a successful business by simply taking photos of lighthouses and sublimating them onto tiles. “Over a relatively short time, he’s built up a great business through his focused approach,” says Gross.
    Sublimatable jewelry is currently a big trend in personalized gifts. Condé has recently expanded their jewelry line to include jewelry pieces with porcelain inserts, such as brooches, bolo ties and ornaments. “It’s (porcelain) a gorgeous gift, it renders color very well and it has a high perceived value,” Gross says.
    During the last year, sublimation saw a surge in “home décor” products and that trend appears to be continuing. Condé Systems, for example, offers two different types of serving trays, one with sublimatable tiles and one with a sublimatable hardboard insert, and a Lazy Susan that accepts sublimated tiles.
    The company also sells sublimatable “tins” in various shapes and sizes which, Gross says, have been their number one best seller. “Those have sold incredibly well. They render the photographs very well, you can put candy, nuts and the like inside.” Gross says that another trend he sees is combining sublimatable products to create “new” products, so to speak. Some of Gross’ customers sublimate puzzles and then sublimate a tin with the same image as the puzzle, combining the two into one great product. “It just makes an attractive gift product for someone’s birthday, or whatever,” he says.

Plaques with unique themed backgrounds are perfect for springtime competitions. Photo courtesy of Visions Awards, Celina, OH.

To Market, To Market
    From this look at just some of the new products to hit the market, you can see that there are all kinds of new possibilities being introduced for 2004. The time to start offering these options to your customers is now. There are lots of award and gift occasions during the spring, so it’s a great time to focus on “out with the old and in with the new.”
    Bob D’Andrade, AT Designs, says that the corporate awards market is in full swing during the spring due to both the anticipation of awards banquets as well as the recognition for the events themselves. This is the peak time to recognize 2003 sales accomplishments with products like precious metal rings and pins, pewter desk accessories and golf sets.
    Bowling winds up in March/April and the end of the season is traditionally celebrated with award banquets. However, JDS Industries’ Scott Sletten points out, this is one market avenue that hasn’t really seen growth in recent years. “Bowling has really diminished in popularity over the last several years, the last 10-20 years even, in popularity. At one time, bowling was the biggest award market. . . but over time there have been fewer people bowling and, number two, a lot of bowling has gone to a cash-back type of award.”
    Other spring sports leagues do, however, remain an excellent opportunity for award sales, such as soccer, baseball (particularly in the southern tier of the U.S.) and golf outings. Corporate golf outings are especially big events this time of year. Bob D’Andrade says that items such as plaques, golfer’s gift sets (bag tag, divot tool and money clip), pewter desk accessories and championship belts are always steady sellers for golf outings. Many businesses also hold corporate baseball tournaments where medals and plaques are popular recognition pieces.
    Diane Clancy agrees that springtime is a great time for products with sports themes. “Sports enthusiasts love their sport symbols displayed on everything! The golfer enjoys golf key rings, money clips that can also serve as divot tools, bag tags in the shape of their golf bag, pen holders in the shape of putting greens and anything else they can get their hands on that remind them of their favorite sport,” she says.
    One of the biggest award opportunities in the springtime are high school and college events, activities and recognition programs. “As schools start to get close to being out, they have a lot of academic awards that they give out,” says Sletten. The academic market is an excellent place to sell traditional awards, such as medals, ribbons, lamp-of-knowledge types of awards, resins and plastic figures. And don’t forget about prom and graduation festivities, says Bob D’Andrade, where products like key tags, pins and pewter collector’s items (figurines, charms, bracelets) are always popular.
    Spring is filled with lots of gift-giving occasions, a time when personalized gift items are extremely popular. For example, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduation, Easter and weddings are all taking place during the spring. Diana Shih, Topmost Designs, says that graduation is a popular springtime gift-giving event. “For graduations, crystal apples or crystal books are very popular items,” she says.
    Diane Clancy says that when it comes to many gift-giving occasions, being able to offer “packages” can put the retailer ahead of the competition. “We have found people are very pressed for time. The shop that offers a full wedding package, such as the bridesmaid’s and groom’s gifts, wedding cake accessories, champagne glasses, photo albums, etc., are very popular,” she explains. “Traditionally in the past, the bride and her mother would handle the wedding arrangements, but times have changed. More and more grooms are getting involved with the bride on the wedding planning decisions, so to be able to select everything from one shop, place their order at once and deal with one company to handle the details is a tremendous time saver. It also helps eliminate errors when one shop is handling the engraving of the items.”

2004 Market Trends
    Industry experts agree that the market direction for the upcoming year is somewhat dependent on technological advances in marking methods and product manufacturing. “As technology changes,” says Sletten, “people are able to customize and personalize more and more products all the time, whether it be through sublimation or some of these other processes. They are able to personalize things more easily than they could five years ago, which creates a larger market for customized or personalized awards. Things they couldn’t customize before, they can now.”
    David Gross points out that those new advances in technology allow them to introduce new and better products for sublimation. “Outdoor sublimation is where I’m focusing a little bit more of my energy,” he says in speaking of the future. “Sublimation now is almost prime time for outdoors.”
    Gross says that seeking out areas where consumers are spending surplus money is a great way to market sublimatable products, but that advice could easily apply to other types of gift products as well. “There are so many markets to go after now,” he says, “For instance, the dog grooming market. A couple of the spring products that we will have out are dog collars and dog leashes. It’s just something that people have requested for a long time, and sublimation does a great job with those.” Gross even has customers involved in sublimating carpet squares to create carpet murals for trade shows, playrooms and in schools, etc.
    According to Gross, it’s important to consider the images you are putting on the products, too. “One-hundred percent customized products is always a great way to go, but I think another trend that people should pick up on is the short-run marketplaces, like going to your local artists and putting their stuff on tiles,” he states.
    In terms of awards vs. gifts, Gross indicates that he sees sublimation as a major player in the gift market. “The award market is of course an excellent market. It’s large. The gift market is, to me, exploding,” he says, adding that, “The most successful people insublimation will be those who see sublimation as an add-onto their existing business. . . After it’s worked in to it, they say, ‘Okay, what are some new markets that my company is not tapping into?’”
    On the other hand, the awards market is no slouch, either. “For us, definitely, awards show the greatest growth,” says AT’s Bob D’Andrade. “My assumption would be that no matter what the state of the world or economy, recognition for sporting or corporate successes are to be celebrated with recognition awards. Gifts, to me, represent a more elective or discretionary purchase. If times are tough, some of those purchases may be put aside or seem inappropriate.”
    When it comes down to it, both markets are alive and well and your particular direction will depend on the focus of your business. The award products are there, the gift products are there, the technology is there; now it is time to put your marketing strategy into action. “The challenge for most people is not the products,” explains Gross. “The challenge is, how do I sell it? What marketing do I do to be successful with the product? I think that’s where they have to focus. The products are there.” And indeed they are. Now go out and have a profitable 2004!