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Gearing Up for the Spring Awards Season

Copyright © 2011 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in 2011 Awards Advisory of The Engravers Journal
 
Sports trophies from Marco Awards Group, South Windsor, CT.   Place rosettes from Tower Ribbons & Awards, Topeka, IN.

   Spring is in the air—or at least it soon will be—and for retailers in the recognition and identification industry, that means big business. Many retailers report that the spring awards season is a major profit-making time of year, often accounting for more than 30 percent of total award sales. “The spring awards season has traditionally been our strongest quarter,” says Ed Duprey, owner of Great Lakes Trophies & Engraving, Inc., Garden City, MI.
   Just as you gear up for the holidays, get the most out of the spring awards season by gearing up for that as well. There are a number of events that commonly take place during the spring months. Here is a look at some of those great opportunities for R&I retailers plus some marketing tips for getting your spring awards business in gear.
Springtime Events
   Sports. Perhaps the biggest springtime award opportunities center around high school and college sporting events with recognition programs. Just a few examples of springtime sports award occasions include track, baseball, softball, soccer and basketball. There will be some golf tournaments starting during this time of year, but early on, the business focus is end-of-school sports banquets. The primary award purchasers include program directors, teachers and class officers. Make sure you know the individuals who are in charge of athletics, choir and band. Be sure to keep in touch regarding their recognition needs.
   End-of-year school events. A lot of academic awards are given out as schools close the school year, as well as for graduation and social festivities. The arts, such as drama club, band and choir, also represent major award selling opportunities. “It’s not too early to start thinking about end-of-the-year awards. Proms and class academic achievements are major events during this time of year,” says Craig Miller, president of Tower Ribbons & Awards, Topeka, IN.
   Beyond sports & academics: community and corporate. Many successful retailers step outside the realm of school activities to capitalize on numerous other spring award occasions. If you take a look around in your community, you will find car clubs, golf tournaments and adult sports leagues. “The Cub Scout Pinewood Derby is always a strong market for us,” adds Duprey. Several award businesses also report seeing an increase in 5K runs and 1/2 marathon award business during this time of year.
   The corporate awards market is also in full swing during the spring as this is the peak time for many businesses to recognize annual or seasonal sales accomplishments. “Many companies have instituted years-of-service programs, so we find that we get a lot of orders for pins and other corporate awards during the spring,” says Jen Burger, Sales & Marketing Manager for Catania Medallic Specialty, Inc., Avon Lake, OH.
   Rex Tubbs, owner of Engraving Connection, Plymouth, MI, caters heavily to the corporate awards market and says that springtime is a great selling opportunity for his business. “The first two quarters of the year are big for corporate awards. These clients are coming up on the end of their year and they often plan elaborate meetings or banquets to present recognition items. Sales awards, service awards and safety awards are common orders,” says Tubbs.

   
  Custom years-of-service pins from Catania Medallic Specialty, Inc., Avon Lake, OH.  

   Don’t forget about spring gifts. Springtime is also filled with a plethora of gift-giving occasions, a time when personalized gift items are extremely popular. Remember that Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Passover and Easter take place during the spring, in addition to graduations and weddings.
   “When the weather breaks in the spring, traffic increases in my store. The wedding business picks up right after the first of the year in my business. I’m doing bridal shows almost every Sunday,” says Engraving Connection’s Tubbs. “Gifts such as etched wine bottles for weddings and anniversaries do well. Mother’s Day is huge for engraved gifts, followed by Father’s Day and graduation. These are all a major part of my business during the springtime. I call this my second Christmas season for sales.”
The Awards
   Once you know to whom you are selling, the next step is to determine what to sell them. Here is a look at some of the current trends in springtime award merchandise.
   Traditional awards. Traditional awards—such as medals, ribbons, lamp of knowledge types of awards, plaques, resins and trophies—still have their place in the industry. Many customers actively seek out these types of awards for budget reasons or for the sake of tradition itself. The academic and sports markets are excellent places to sell traditional awards. Track, for example, is a major sporting event for award medals says Catania Medallic’s Jen Burger.
   Traditional awards continue to be good sellers in the corporate market as well. “Most of the time, traditional awards are purchased by companies and nonprofits on a tighter budget. As far as other types of products, I keep doing more and more acrylic awards. Many of my corporate customers have switched from traditional plaques to acrylics. For high-end clients, crystal awards are getting stronger,” says Tubbs.
   Thinking outside the box. “Traditional” does not have to mean “the same.” Many suppliers realize this and are adding new products and twists to their traditional award lines. “The trend this year seems to be for something aesthetically appealing,” says Tower Ribbons’ Miller. “Every year suppliers come out with great new products. Most of these products are new variations of the popular, traditional awards; however, there are always some unique requests every year, such as an award for the popular lawn toss game, cornhole

Glove Leather Plaque Plate from LaserBits, Phoenix, AZ can be engraved with detailed photos. Acrylic awards make an impressive statement. Photo courtesy of Acrylic Idea Factory, Atlanta, GA. Achievement in the arts can be recognized with creative awards, like this one from Classic Medallics, Inc., Mount Vernon, NY.
   
   Miller says that the most popular awards at this time in 2010 were the Burst Thru resin awards, and they continue to remain popular this year. These awards can be displayed on a desk or wall. They feature figures such as a cheerleader, coach or car “bursting” through the award. According to Miller, the Burst Thru awards received great reviews not only from customers but they won Product of the Year at the 2010 ARA Las Vegas show. In addition to introducing new Burst Thru designs this year, Tower Ribbons will be promoting the new Spotlight series, a second generation to the Burst Thru line in baseball, basketball, softball, soccer and racing themes.
   Great Lakes’ Duprey says that trophies and resins remain strong product choices among his target customers. “Repeat customers, which are our strong suit, always want new trophy column choices. I also promote resins and plaques mainly due to their higher margins. Last year, the Burst Thru resins were extremely popular among our customers. Those products sold as well as we had hoped,” he says.
   Burger says that adding new twists to traditional awards keeps customers interested. “Hot products include anything that makes an award stand out from other awards, such as color filling, adding thickness to an award and custom options. Everyone wants to stand out and have their award be better than the next person’s,” she says. New awards in Catania Medallic Specialty’s catalog include a new line of display holders for medals and coins and color-filled award medals embellished with glitter. The company will also be promoting a line of heat transfer ribbons for medals that can be personalized for the customer’s event.
   While traditional awards are still excellent sellers, don’t rule out the possibility of offering custom award products which can be both unique and affordable. For example, Catania’s specialty is custom cast medals with laser engravable finishes that the company can produce quickly and affordably. “Award medals have always been popular. You can laser engrave the backs of the medals, and the cost is normally lower than a plaque or trophy. It helps stretch the budget,” says Burger.
   A current trend that Burger has recognized is customer requests for medals in the shape of a school’s mascot. For example, if the mascot is a tiger, the company will design the medal in the shape of a paw. “We have seen our custom medal business increase by 10 percent per year over the past several years,” states Burger.
   At press time, award suppliers were finalizing their new product lines and catalogs for 2011. For a sneak peek at what’s new and what’s hot in awards for the spring from the major award suppliers, be sure to browse through the product offerings in this Awards Advisory.

Acrylic Idea Factory offers distinctive acrylic shapes for recognition.

Solid marble sports award ball from N&R International, Marietta, GA.

Classic Medallics, Inc. offers sports achievement awards.

Marketing Ideas That Work
   In order to get the most from the spring season, you must have a good product line and then follow that up with a thorough and effective marketing campaign. Here are some tips to get you started.
   Improve your product line. It’s important to look at what’s current because offering new products will keep previous customers interested and might garner some new clients. As noted, this is the time of year that award suppliers are adding to their product lines, so it is an excellent opportunity to do the same in your retail shop. You can start with this Awards Advisory to see the latest and greatest that suppliers will be offering in 2011. In addition, the upcoming ARA International Awards Market in Las Vegas, NV is a prime opportunity to explore new products introduced to the industry.
   Update displays. If you have a retail showroom, be sure to give your display area a good “spring cleaning” and update those displays with new merchandise and a fresh theme in anticipation of the upcoming spring awards season. Even a few subtle touches can go a long way. “We always put fresh products for the new year in a prominent position and change the column color on our traditional trophy display. That seems to generate interest,” says Duprey.
   Take advantage of upselling. Upselling is an age-old marketing technique in which the salesperson encourages a customer to purchase more expensive items, upgrades or other add-ons in an attempt to make a more profitable sale. This technique can be more profitable for you, and it can result in a more satisfied customer. “Try to add more to your customer’s order by offering custom ribbons to go along with their medals or other items that will enhance what they are already buying,” suggests Burger.
   Engraving Connection’s Tubbs regularly uses this approach in his sales presentations. “Acrylic awards will be the lead awards for my promotions during the upcoming spring awards season, but I will also push crystal awards as an upsell opportunity,” he explains.



 
 

 

Traditional trophies such as this from Marco Awards Group remain popular.  

   Revamp your approach. Times are changing, and that means that it’s highly likely that some of your marketing strategies need to change, too. The days of letting your fingers do the walking through a printed Yellow Pages directory are clearly limited as more and more people turn to the Internet to do their shopping research and, in many cases, their actual shopping. E-mail blasts and E-newsletters are effective, modern ways to market to your customers, but it is important to also have a web presence whether you choose to develop a full-blown E-commerce website or not. If you already have a website, be sure to keep it updated and fresh, and be on the lookout for new ways to take advantage of this technology.
   For example, several R&I retailers have developed multiple websites or sub sites that are specific to niche markets. This strategy can give you great placement on search engines, and it opens the door to highly-targeted marketing strategies based on specific customer data. Tubbs has had great success with his website www.weddingengraver.com which he developed to target the wedding market specifically. This year one of his marketing approaches is offering environmentally friendly awards which he showcases on a newly created website, www.awardsgoinggreen.com.
   Utilizing all the technology available is an excellent way to reach and interact with your customer base by different methods and shows them that you are creative and versatile, just what they are looking for from their awards shop.
   In addition to his specialized websites, Tubbs also promotes his business by posting marketing-oriented videos on YouTube. He publishes articles at www.ezinearticle.com on various topics including common engraving mistakes, preparing logos for embossing and eco-friendly award products. New approaches like these combined with still-effective traditional marketing strategies, such as direct mail, all work together to generate business.
   Know your market. Don’t use a shotgun approach when it comes to selling awards; it rarely works, particularly in the long run. It is critical that you determine your target market before embarking on any marketing strategy. Especially in light of today’s economy, you must continue to educate yourself about what is happening in that market. This is particularly vital for smaller retailers. Tubbs operates in the Detroit area, and he realized that his automotive supplier customers totally cut off their award programs during the economic crisis. “During this last year, my goal was to find if any awards market still existed in the auto industry. This last year, I did about one-third more business than in the previous year. I foresee even more recovery in the awards business next year but I doubt if it will ever come back completely. I am now going after more nonautomotive clients to expand my business. One trend that grew for me was awards for city
governments,” he explains.



 
 

 

Baseball-themed award ribbons from Tower Ribbons & Awards, Topeka, IN.  

   Quality and customer service are still in. When it comes down to it, nothing beats good old-fashioned quality and great customer service, standards that all successful award businesses adhere to.
   “Customers are asking for quality, and they want confidence that the awards will be done on time and done correctly,” says Tubbs. “It is difficult to get new customers. My job is to give timely service and to keep in touch with my customers so they don’t forget about us. One thing we do is always call the customer when the job is complete. They are always impressed with how fast we complete their orders. My approach is massive action. Follow up as quickly as possible to inquiries, ask questions to better understand what the customer wants and then deliver.”
   Duprey agrees that this marketing tactic is key. “We get tremendous repeat business because of our year-round good customer service,” he says. “Busy or not, we try to maintain the same standards. Forget all about working 9 to 5. We are going on our 16th year and, historically, if we are not working overtime, we are not making money.”
   While most shops have seen customers cutting back on what they spend on awards during the last two years, the demand still exists and is especially evident during the springtime awards season. Use these tips to make the most of what is possibly your busiest time and make the most of it.
 
 

 

   

 

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