Trends in Corporate Awards

Copyright © 2004 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in July 2004, Volume 30, No. 1 of The Engravers Journal.
By Jackie Zack

     If you ask industry experts about the status of the corporate awards market, they’ll tell you it’s strong and growing. The corporate market continues to thrive while other less established markets tend to be hit a little harder. Businesses in the corporate sector always need ways to motivate employees, no matter what the economic climate, and the best way to do that is through recognition. For these reasons, the corporate award market is potentially one of the most profitable markets that you service.
    “Our customers tell us that selling corporate awards is very profitable,” says Diana Shih, Topmost Designs, Montclair, CA. “As long as you can find something nice that fits in the corporate award budget, the business will come year by year.”
    Peter E. Ilaria, Tropar Manufacturing Company, Florham Park, NJ, says that the value of corporate recognition cannot be underestimated. “Almost every corporation in America buys recognition awards. Business managers know that pay alone does not ensure satisfied workers. The need for recognition in team building is a well-known strategy to many successful managers,” he says.
    While the corporate award market can be a major money maker, it is also made up of some of the most discriminating customers that will ever walk through your door. Corporate award buyers look for a variety of essential elements when selecting products and the dealers they buy from, including high quality and premium service. “Awards need to reflect the values of the corporation as well as the level of achievement being recognized—an award that is perceived as cheap will send the wrong message to the recipient and to the rest of the organization,” explains Ilaria. “That’s why higher quality goods are demanded by corporate buyers. Furthermore, service is paramount to corporate buyers. If you make their job easy and make them look good, they’ll continue to use you for their award programs.”
    “Service is the key to retaining the sales contracts for corporate awards programs,” Shih agrees. “You need to understand the corporate culture and present the products that will attract the decision makers. The companies that pay attention to employee recognition or motivation buy corporate awards. They are looking for something that will present their corporate image and make recipients feel honored and appreciated. So the awards should look high value and unique.”
    Bob D’Andrade, ATdesigns, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, says that everything from the product to the price to the service needs to come together to successfully sell to corporate clients. “Everyone is buying corporate awards and they’re looking for the same thing all of us look for when considering awards—the highest perceived value of award that they can use to motivate and reward their best customers or employees. It has to be done on budget and on time. That’s it.”
    Many award dealers find it well worth their time and effort to pursue the corporate market. But doing so successfully requires just that: time and effort. A major part of selling corporate awards involves keeping your finger on the pulse of current trends. What’s happening today? What’s in? What’s out? How do you find a good supplier? Following is a look at the state of the corporate awards market today and a peek into what we might expect in the future.

The Airflyte Award series from Tropar Mfg., Inc., Florham Park, NJ is produced from solid American Walnut or Cherry wood and features solid brass engraving especially designed for the corporate award market.

Material & Marking Trends
    Years ago, the major substrate used to manufacture high-end awards was wood. Walnut plaques and desk accessories personalized with mechanically engraved plates could be found on the walls and desks of every major corporate award recipient. Today, that trend towards high quality wood products continues, but we are seeing more options as well as other materials being used in the manufacture of premium awards. This expanding repertoire of substrates opens up the market for new styles and more choices that will please a wide variety of customers.
    “Piano Wood® is still very popular,” says Edward Gusfield, Time Products International (TPI), Wheeling, IL. Gusfield says that TPI was the originator of Piano Wood, and options in this line have grown to include other species such as rosewood and black walnut. “They laser and color fill beautifully,” he says.
    Glass and acrylic continue to grow enormously in the awards arena and have become a major choice for creating ultra-high quality corporate products. “The glass and acrylic areas of the industry have gotten quite big,” says Gusfield.
    Luis Urtaza, Acrylic Idea Factory, Norcross, GA, concurs with this industry insight. “The biggest trend we have seen in the industry is that more and more award dealers are looking to acrylic as their best option for corporate awards,” he says. “We have seen a steady and considerable rise in the demand for acrylic awards. The versatility and ease of use of acrylic allows dealers to be more innovative in the creation of their corporate awards.”
    In addition to plain glass and acrylic, high quality optical crystal has made a major impact in this market and has become very popular among corporate customers. Topmost’s Diana Shih says, “Optical crystal is popular to make corporate awards because of its clear perfection and sparkling reflection. Recently, blue and black optical crystal has been introduced to the market for combination with clear optical crystal to create stunning pieces.”
    Some traditional materials are still in style for corporate awards. Bob D’Andrade explains: “Pewter is still a very dependable and recognized level of quality that is popular with anyone looking to add something truly impressive to their award program.”
    Many industry-proven marking methods are still being used to personalize corporate awards; the method of choice largely depends on the product being personalized and the look desired. “The methods of personalization depend on the material used for awards,” says Diana Shih. “For example, sandblasting is excellent for crystal awards to create deep etching and an attractive artistic look for a company logo and the recipient’s name. Laser engraving can accommodate several different materials, like lead-free optical crystal, aluminum, acrylic, wood and plastic. Many engravers use a combination of sandblasting and laser engraving to create unique corporate awards.”
    Tropar’s Peter E. Ilaria agrees that methods such as sublimation, mechanical engraving, laser engraving and sandblasting are all alive and well when it comes to personalizing corporate awards. “The laser engraver has now permeated the awards market, so most dealers are looking for laser-friendly materials,” he says. “Sublimation is gaining a lot of momentum due to the sharp, four-color reproduction now available. And with the rise in demand for glass, more dealers are adding sandblasting to their list of personalization services.”
    Luis Urtaza says that a combination approach to personalizing awards is a major trend right now. “We believe a combination of various methods is being used to personalize corporate awards,” he says. “Most of our dealers use laser technology as their main choice for personalization, although acrylic can also be personalized by using rotary engraving, sublimation, screen printing, sandblasting and vinyl.”
    ATdesigns has taken a unique approach when it comes to materials and marking methods by combining the use of pewter with various in-house technologies, such as 3D sculpturing, multi-level accents and photo etching to create a personalized piece without the dealer ever having to lift an engraving cutter. “Our custom capabilities allow us the benefit of offering personalization right from the beginning,” explains Bob D’Andrade. “In other words, we create the piece to reflect specific dates, event names and corporate logos, and the resulting award requires very little, if any, further personalization before it reaches the final recipient. This is all provided with the further benefit of very low minimum quantities, sometimes 25 to 50 pieces and most without any setup charge.”

An elegant clock in a Piano Wood panel and base with picture frame from Time Products International, Wheeling, IL, makes a functional and attractive award. Crystal is always popular for corporate awards. This Prism Optical Crystal column clock comes from Marco Awards Group, Vernon, CT.

Product Trends
    What about the products being purchased by businesses to recognize employees and customers? What types and styles of products are the current rage?
    “The corporate sector will always be in need of corporate designs and the current and future market demand will be driven by the creation and availability of unique and elegant designs that give the award dealer the best bang for their buck,” Luis Urtaza answers. “Our customers are constantly telling us what their end users are looking for in a corporate award and we take this into account during the development process of all of our new products.”
    It’s In The Stars—“Right now, stars are big,” says Edward Gusfield, TPI, referring to the star designs we are seeing in such corporate creations as acrylic awards. TPI, for example, has introduced a 4" gold and silver star design with a clock embedded in it. Gusfield says that the company is also introducing a brand new star clock that features a stand so it can be propped up on a desk or shelf.
    Diana Shih from Topmost Designs agrees that stars are a product trend right now, along with globe motifs. “Crystal awards with star or globe themes are popular now,” she says. “Awards with a star theme are ideal to recognize top performance and are most appreciated by recipients. Awards with globe themes are ideal choices for the global corporation.”
    “At the 2004 ARA Awards Gala in Las Vegas, Acrylic Idea Factory’s StarDomeJ awards series won the 2004 Best New Product designation,” says Luis Urtaza, giving more credence to the trendy star style. “This new design has been a very popular corporate award. It involves new and unique manufacturing techniques that provide its domed appearance with a three-dimensional look and a spacious engraving space.”
    It’s A Tradition—Perhaps more so than other award markets, corporate buyers are traditionalists at heart. “On average, corporate buyers stick with tradition,” explains Tropar’s Peter E. Ilaria. “They prefer plaques and clocks as well as glass and acrylic awards.”
    “Clocks are an excellent award item that continues to be popular,” says TPI’s Edward Gusfield. “For corporate applications, primarily upscale clocks that sell anywhere from $15-$30 or more are big sellers.” One of TPI’s most popular corporate awards is a round quartz clock featuring Roman numerals set in a polished brass star on rectangular marble base. “Personalized with a metal plate, this product makes an excellent corporate award,” says Gusfield.
What’s New
    To meet the changing needs and desires in corporate recognition, award manufacturers continue to look to current market trends and introduce new designs to meet those trends. Topmost Designs, for example, has launched more than 10 new corporate award designs with star and globe themes and TPI has introduced a new line of wood boxes, including an elegant desk box shaped like a book, boxes with plush linings that fit naturally on a desk to hold golf balls, cigars, candy, etc., and a new shadowbox that takes a 5" x7" insert, such as a brass plate.
    Bob D’Andrade says that ATdesgins prides itself in being able to create custom recognition with a variety of different products, including a new twist on traditional plaques. “Taking this ability to deliver a unique and substantial product to the next level, we are finding tremendous interest in our oversized plaque programs,” he states. “Now you have the capability of providing 12" or larger plaques in various price points and finishes. As offered in our medal programs, plaques can utilize any of our in-house technologies, including photoetching, 3D sculpturing, multi-level accents and full-color designs. Plus, the plaques are now available in vertical standing designs with no further mounting or assembly required.”
    “At Tropar, we introduced walnut-stained, piano-finished plaques,” says Peter Ilaria. “Corporate buyers tend to be very conservative. They stick with traditional colors, shapes and themes. While many corporate buyers were attracted to rosewood stained piano-finished plaques, some were hesitant and stayed with traditional American walnut. Our response was to offer the walnut-stained version as an upgraded product. Thus far, the response has been very good.”
    Besides traditional award plaques, functional items are still popular among corporate award buyers. TPI, for example, offers a wood photo album with a mahogany satin finish and velvet binding that can be easily laser engraved. Another new wood picture album has a recessed area for a marble or brass plate or a sublimated tile.
    Even though the overall market continues to prosper, there are many corporate customers who still need to recognize employees but are faced with a more limited budget. Award manufacturers offer plenty of options in award products for these types of customers. “We have a low-priced recessed plaque line that will accept an insert of 5" x 7", 6" x 8" or 7" x 9",” says TPI’s Edward Gusfield.
    Uniqueness is another factor that businesses look for when recognizing employees and customers. TPI, for instance, offers thin (1/4" or less) marble inserts in six different sizes as an alternative to traditional metal plaque plates. These marble “plates” fit into the company’s extensive line of corporate awards (plaques, clocks, desk accessories, etc.) and they can also be used on top of standard plaques and other products. According to Gusfield, these marble inserts laser and color fill with beautiful results.
    Acrylic Idea Factory’s Urtaza explains that there are many new corporate awards to choose from this year. “There is a wide variety of new corporate awards this year ranging from acrylic awards to screen printed acrylic plaques and new designs that incorporate two substrates in one design by using products such as acrylic, wood, brass, steel, glass and resin.”
The Tower Awards from Acrylic Idea Factory, Norcross, GA, are examples of acrylic awards that are experiencing enormous growth in today's market. High quality optical crystal has made a major impact and is very popular among corporate customers. These examples of clear, blue and the new pink are from Block House, a division of M. Block and Sons, Bedford Park, IL.

Custom Products
    There are tons of great products available in the industry that make excellent corporate awards. But sometimes, a customer has a more specific idea in mind of what the award should look like before the search even begins; in other instances, customers are looking for something different and unique. In these cases, a custom award might be the answer.
    Are custom awards, or awards with some unique characteristics, a current trend in the corporate market? “Absolutely,” says Luis Urtaza, Acrylic Idea Factory. “Award dealers are constantly requesting more creative and original designs as well as counting on the manufacturer’s ability to produce inexpensive custom corporate awards. This past year we have manufactured hundreds of custom corporate awards for our dealers in a wide range of thicknesses, colors, shapes and screen-printing designs. As a manufacturer, we have the opportunity to see first-hand the amazing creativity of so many award dealers in the industry.”
    ATdesigns specializes in custom awards and, says Bob D’Andrade, feels “custom” is a vital part of the corporate market. “Our business is built on the desire to create something creative and original,” he says. “Gone are the days of off-the-shelf designs if you have an astute customer. There are still those that may ‘settle’ for stock awards in a pinch, but those dealers looking to build long-term relationships with their customers are looking for that ‘creative’ aspect to capture the imagination and loyalty of those clients.”
    There are numerous reasons why custom awards are an important part of the corporate award market, says D’Andrade. “As technology progresses in the way we all manufacture our products, there are numerous ways the creative supplier can deliver truly unique items in a fraction of the time previously needed to do so. Further, as foreign competition increases its penetration into our markets, it is imperative that North American manufacturers employ any means to increase their custom capabilities. Otherwise, those countries specializing in ‘knock-off’ products will erode their customer base substantially.”
    Many awards can be customized in different ways, such as by adding photographs and other personal touches. Customizing awards has become increasingly easier and affordable due to new technologies. “We offer many custom treatments in pewter, including 3D sculpturing, multi-level accents, full-color realism and a totally new and unique concept of photoetching that allows reproduction of photographic quality in fine pewter awards,” explains D’Andrade. “In the photoetch process, the customer can accurately reproduce historic photos, portraits, landscapes and sports action 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 and a popular addition to any award program.”
    Diana Shih, Topmost Designs, says that “creative” and “unique” awards can be created in different ways. “Corporate buyers look for taller or bigger awards that seem to have higher perceived value,” she states. “The combination of different colors or materials is a current trend for creative or custom awards. For example, crystal and aluminum or marble can create a unique combination, refreshing the look of traditional pure crystal awards.”



Pewter is very dependable and popular for high level award programs. Photo courtesy of ATdesigns, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It's in the Stars! These starry awards are perfect for the corporate star. Photo courtesy of TimeCraft, Westlake, OH.

Promotional Products Tie-In
    TPI’s Gusfield makes the point that in addition to actual awards, the corporate market is very interested in promotional products and that’s an area that continues to grow. “We are noticing that 40, 50 or 60 percent of our customers are now also involved in promotional products,” he says. For example, TPI offers glass and wood clocks in an attractive presentation box that sell for only $6-$7 and make excellent promotional products. “They are actually one of the best-selling items in our line,” he says. TPI has numerous other promotional products that are popular sellers, and the company plans to introduce a 16-page supplement that will feature over 40 new items in August.
What’s Out
    Although there really aren’t any products that are definitely “out” when it comes to awards for businesses and companies, there are some obstacles and some items that may not be the “rage” they once were.
    Some products have not declined in popularity but their sales appeal has reached a certain plateau. “Clocks have plateaued but not shrunk,” says Tropar’s Ilaria. “There is a huge supply of clocks on the market and it’s our contention that corporate buyers are looking for other alternative products.”
    Bob D’Andrade talks about an obstacle he is seeing in the marketplace. “From our standpoint as custom manufacturers of metal products, pewter is still in the greatest demand for its high quality of finishing and perceived value in the marketplace. However, given the turmoil in today’s worldwide metal prices, all of us will be experiencing some significant pressures in the upcoming year as the Asian market puts significant demand pressures on all metal across the board.”
    Diana Shih, Topmost Designs, says, “Metal or wood traditional plaques may be declining. Corporate people seem to have more interests in creative and contemporary designs that are associated with their company culture or image in this highly competitive market.”
    Luis Urtaza, Acrylic Idea Factory, adds, “For the most part you will always find that certain substrates that have been used for many years in the industry begin to lose their appeal to more dynamic and versatile substrates. Acrylic plaques, for example, are replacing wood plaques, which can be screen printed with a wide variety of designs that many award dealers are looking for. You will always encounter designs in any substrate that have run their course and lose popularity when compared to brand-new, updated and revamped designs.”
Globe themes are also a current trend. Photo courtesy of Topmost Designs, Inc., Montclair, CA.   These marble paperweights add a unique spin to the customary corporate award. Photo courtesy of Plastic-Plus Awards, Charlotte, NC.

The Future for Corporate Awards
    Although there are varying opinions on how much and in what ways the “iffy” economy has affected the corporate awards market, everyone agrees that the market is alive and well and is in no danger of becoming extinct.
    “The economy has a direct effect on the corporate awards market,” says Ilaria. “In 1999 and 2000 corporations were spending with abandon. In 2002 and 2003 there was a noticeable pull back in the size and value of corporate award orders. 2004 is off to a good, but cautious, start.”
    Diana Shih agrees that the economy does affect the spending habits of corporate customers, but the market is still there. “Although corporate award budgets are cut due to an economic recession, companies still maintain their employee recognition or motivation programs. The difference is the awards they are giving seem to be lower end, like thinner glass pieces instead of stunning crystal.”
    Bob D’Andrade feels that the direction of the future market for corporate awards is “very strong.” He says, “It’s one of those markets that cannot afford to diminish. Any corporate entity looking for long-term success has to continually reward its highest performing employees, especially in tough times. When times are good for a corporation, they reward out of generosity. When times are bad, they reward out of necessity. Either way, we win.”
    Luis Urtaza agrees that while budgets may be cut, the spending is still there. “The economy rarely affects the corporate awards market,” he says. “Corporations that have already established awards programs to motivate and reward their employees will not cancel them due to the economy. They usually just spend less and replace high-cost awards with more unique and affordable ones.”
    Urtaza also feels that the future for selling corporate awards is very bright. “The corporate sector will always be in need of corporate designs and the current and future market demand will be driven by the creation and availability of unique and elegant designs that give the award dealer the best bang for their buck.”
Finding the Best Supplier
    Industry experts offer various words of wisdom when it comes to finding the best supplier to meet your and your customers’ corporate award needs. Here’s a look:
    Edward Gusfield, TPI, says it’s important to find a supplier who suits your particular business needs. “If you regularly need generic types of awards, where you attach an engraved or silk screened brass plate, then you need a supplier who has access to a large number of different items like that. If you are looking for specialty types of items, you will need a different type of supplier. A lot of it also depends on volume. If you are looking for 50 or 100 pieces of an item, a general awards or promotional products supplier can serve your needs. If you need something in the 1,000s, you may need a different supplier.”
    High quality products, top quality service and respect top Bob D’Andrade’s list of qualities to look for in a corporate award supplier. “Basically they should look for a supplier who will treat their reputation as if it’s their own; in other words, respect the fact that the buyer’s position in the marketplace is directly dependent on how good the supplier makes them look. Suppliers should deliver the best quality, deliver on time and deliver good value for a fair price. Then, everyone will live happily thereafter.”
    “Talk is cheap,” D’Andarde continues, “So customers should look for hard proof that suppliers can deliver on their promises. For instance, we offer two (soon three) manufacturing plants in North America to ensure delivery and minimize shipping charges. All production is in-house to control quality and delivery schedules. We also have a high investment in equipment technology to ensure the best tools for production and communication with customers, along with significant commitment in our graphic and customer service capabilities to provide the best designs and follow-up available.”

Resin ovals with a dedicated theme can be used as a standalone award or incorporated into the new trend utilizing two substrates. Photo courtesy of Plastic-Dress-Up, South EL Monte, CA. This classic cherry "World Time Clock" makes a perfect corporate award. Photo courtesy of Lee's Wood, Rocky Mount, VA. Multiple substrate, useful corporate awards continue to be popular. This contemporary Desk Award made from high gloss American Walnut, has a clock and etched glass insert. Photo courtesy of Victory Trophy, Chicago, IL.

    Diana Shih, Topmost Designs, states, “Reliability is the most important criteria when they look for a supplier. Find someone who is able to consistently supply high quality awards. Many companies use the same awards year by year as their tradition, so award dealers need a supplier who can supply the same thing with the same quality and same prices. Secondly, the supplier should have the capability of providing new designs continuously to fulfill different needs of different award programs.”
    “In selecting a corporate award supplier, retailers need to identify product lines that will appeal to corporate buyers and emphasize quality, value and service,” says Tropar’s Peter E. Ilaria. “Furthermore, marketing assistance is critical. Corporate buyers need catalogs and web sites to view products, ask questions and place orders. Retailers need to be ready to meet buyers’ demands for these media. A corporate award supplier should have these media options available for retailer’s use. Finally, delivery of product is very important. Does the supplier have adequate stock to ship orders when buyers need them? Often, corporate buyers have very short lead times, so fast turnaround is a rule.”
    “Bottom line, we believe customers should be looking for an award supplier who will meet their needs,” says Luis Urtaza, Acrylic Idea Factory. “They should look for a supplier that is willing to create a growing business partnership with their dealers with fair and competitive pricing and high quality products, and a supplier who can create custom awards at an affordable price. Customers should also look for an award supplier who has all their awards in stock and who can offer quick turnaround on all of their orders. Basically a good support system that will help them grow their business. That is our motto and that is the way we treat our dealers.”
    When it comes down to it, it’s clear that the corporate awards market has much to offer. There are numerous new products available to meet new corporate market trends; companies are still spending money on corporate awards; and this industry is fortunate to have many good, reliable suppliers. The future for the corporate awards market? Full steam ahead!