Catering to the Corporate Market

Copyright © 2014 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in November 2014, Volume 40, No. 5 of The Engravers Journal

Corporate awards are available in different sizes to recognize different levels of achievement. These full-color acrylic awards are available from Marco Awards Group, South Windsor, CT.


   Debbie is the newly-appointed director of human resources at a large company. As part of her job, she will be responsible for implementing and revamping several programs to reward and recognize employees for various accomplishments. Some of the award programs are annual, such as recognizing employees with perfect attendance. Others will be ongoing, such as recognizing workers who reach milestone anniversaries. Debbie knows she wants the awards she gives out to these deserving employees to denote prestige, class and achievement. She just isn’t sure what the awards should be. Plaques? Trophies? Desk sets? And where should she go to purchase the awards?
   The answer to all of Debbie’s questions can be found with you, her local award business. After all, you probably carry most of the products that Debbie needs and can personalize them, too. But before you rush in to try and make the sale, the question arises: Is the corporate market that Debbie represents worth tackling? Images of bureaucratic red tape spring to many people’s minds when they picture selling to large companies. Anecdotal stories of corporate indecision and wasted time and effort on the R&I business’s part abound. Is Debbie and all she represents a viable market for you? The answer is a resounding yes!
Whet Your Appetite
   The most compelling reason to target the corporate market is the very fact that you will be dealing with a company, not a school, church, club or individual. It sounds obvious, but the distinction is worth thinking about. Corporations have budgets, often with a significant amount of money set aside for rewarding employees. Schools, churches or walk-in customers often have the best intentions, but limited means. So, the principal of the local high school that is starting a program to reduce absenteeism may purchase imprinted pencils to reward students with a perfect record. The HR director, with a much larger budget, might buy solid walnut and brass plaques for a program having the same objective. The difference for you? A much greater profit margin.
   Another bonus of handling corporate customers is that they can generate steady, ongoing sales for you. If Debbie’s company begins a program to reward employees with high sales, they will likely continue the program indefinitely. Whether the awards are distributed weekly, monthly or yearly, they will need to be purchased on a regular basis. These types of sales are almost “no brainers” for you—if your initial product meets the buyer’s expectations, the company will keep coming back, with almost no additional marketing effort on your part. You can’t get much better than that!
   Of course, if you truly want to maximize your corporate sales, you won’t rest on your laurels and wait for the company’s repeat business. You’ll try to “add on” as much as you can—which is the third advantage of entering the corporate market. Companies, especially large ones, often have multiple recognition needs. Departments often work completely independently of one another. So, if you have been dealing solely with the human resources department, there is a good chance that at least one other department has its own programs with recognition needs that you can fill. With a few questions on your part, you can essentially add several more “customers” within the same building!


Today’s corporate award products include unique laser engraved pieces like this crystal cube. Photo courtesy of GCC America, Walnut, CA. Incentives are commonly used in corporate award programs to recognize different levels of progress. This sublimatable notepad holder is available from Johnson Plastics, Minneapolis, MN.

   Another aspect of adding on sales within a company is to cover all of its recognition and identification requirements. Do the employees wear badges that need to be replaced and updated? Is there interior signage that needs replacing? Is the company promoting its yearly picnic with posters? Couldn’t your custom pens and mouse pads accomplish this more effectively? Take a look around you; there is a gold mine of add-on opportunities in the corporate world. You just need to seize them!
High-End Menu
   Once you have realized the benefits of selling to the corporate market—large profits, perpetual sales and the very real possibility of add-on sales—there is still the question of what to actually sell. There are two main avenues to pursue: high-end awards and promotional products.
   Business buyers usually choose high-end awards for several reasons. One is the positive connotations they bring to mind. Even in the awards it gives to its employees, a company is trying to promote itself. Therefore, businesses prefer to give awards that reflect their generosity—and what does that better, a paper certificate or a marble desk set? Maintaining a prestigious image is often a consideration factored into the budget your contact is working with, so don’t be afraid to pitch your high-end products to them.
   But an even more important reason why corporate buyers choose high-end products is explained by the fact that most corporate programs are designed to motivate people (employees, dealers, representatives, etc.) and influence their behavior. To do that, an award must be of high value and must be coveted by the potential recipient.
   What constitutes a high-end award? Most people associate a combination of quality workmanship and materials to “high-end” awards. Materials to consider are those with higher perceived values like crystal, marble, piano finish wood, solid brass or bronze or items with gold and silver (which are achievement colors) as primary colors. The quality workmanship centers around both attention to detail and the excellence in the personalization you provide.
   There is a large range of products that are popular corporate awards. Here are a few perennial favorites to get your creative juices flowing:
   Desk sets—Given that many corporate awards are given to white-collar workers who spend much of their days at a desk, it is no surprise that desk sets are traditional and popular corporate awards. As they are available in marble, stone, wood, crystal and the more modern stainless steel and glass combinations, they can fit the individual recipient’s style while denoting prestige. Many suppliers in the industry offer a selection of pen stands, nameplates, paperweights, card holders and letter openers in a range of materials. Depending on the material, desk sets can be personalized by either engraving directly onto the surface or by attaching a nameplate.


Crystal awards like this one from Topmost World, Inc., Montclair, CA, are timeless in the corporate market. There’s plenty of room in the corporate awards market to get creative. Photo courtesy of R.S. Owens & Co., Chicago, IL.

   Clocks—From the classic gold watch handed out at retirements to desk or wall models used for a variety of occasions, clocks are always popular corporate award items. The functionality of clocks allows them to be easily displayed and used in either the office or home environment. Like desk sets, they come in a range of materials, although piano finish woods and marbles are particularly fashionable.
   Boxes—Gift boxes are an item that may be initially overlooked as a potential corporate award. Most people automatically associate personalized boxes with more “personal” gift-giving events, like weddings, anniversaries or birthdays. But gift boxes can make excellent corporate awards, too. The trouble is, people often equate gift boxes with jewelry boxes. While jewelry boxes can make nice corporate awards, there are also a range of boxes designed for non-jewelry items. General, all-purpose boxes that can be used for storing any type of small trinket are an excellent choice, as are boxes designed with a particular theme, for example boxes to hold a deck of cards, golf tees or personal grooming items. Add a lasered inscription or an engraved nameplate with a simple message relating to the company’s award program (“You’ve Scored a Hole-in-One with Your Sales Record This Year!”) and you have a lasting, useful corporate award!
   Trophies—Of course, nothing conveys accomplishment like a beautiful crystal obelisk or a jade-green marble pyramid appropriately inscribed with a congratulatory message. While this type of corporate award may not have the functionality of desk sets, clocks or boxes (i.e., they can’t be used for anything else) there is a certain prestige to receiving an award whose sole purpose is to, well, reward you. Remember how companies often choose awards that are coveted and will reflect the organization’s generosity? These types of free-standing awards are where that mentality will shine, so don’t be afraid to show “the best of the best” when trying to make a sale in this area. And like the other high-end awards discussed, these free-standing trophies are available in materials with a high perceived value, like crystal, marble, stone and wood, and can usually be personalized with a laser, rotary engraving or sublimation.
   Plaques—For many award dealers, plaques are the bread and butter of the company. In fact, they are so standard that pitching them to the corporate market may never cross your mind. Well, don’t forget this perennial best seller! For many companies, plaques are the epitome of a well-run awards program. Many businesses use “Employee of the Month” programs to honor deserving associates by placing their names on a perpetual-type plaque that is displayed for all to see. This, of course, generates monthly sales for you, when you engrave a plate for the new employee every month. Companies also may opt to distribute individual plaques for other honors, like best safety record for each quarter. Just remember when creating these plaques that achievement colors like gold, silver and bronze add luster to these awards, even if they are simple, sublimated plaques. Winning these plaques should be an honor, and the look of the plaque goes a long way to creating that feeling.

Combining different materials can turn an award into a piece of art. Photo courtesy of Johnson Plastics.
 

   Art Glass—If you want to do business in the corporate awards market, art glass is definitely an award line to consider. One of the newer and more modern types of awards in the industry, art glass is a step up from many traditional awards in terms of artistic craftsmanship and detailing. These pieces are made of mouth-blown glass and/or crystal and often feature clear glass with swirls and accents of colored glass in a sculpture design. These sculptures are often mounted on a crystal or marble base that can be engraved or sandblasted with an award message. What differentiates art glass from other types of awards is that they are considered “works of art” and each is handcrafted so even two of the same design will be different from one another.
   Art glass is available in many different shapes, sizes and patterns, and in a range of prices, allowing you to meet the needs of both high-end customers who have more generous budgets as well as those customers seeking high-end awards on a low-end budget. Because of their high-end nature, art glass awards are an excellent option for corporate award customers wanting to recognize achievement, leadership, safety, service, retirement, top sales, etc. There are many beautiful stock options available in art glass but custom awards are an option as well—and one that could add significantly to your profits.
   Pens—An engraved pen is an elegant, simple way to say thank you, which explains their continued popularity through the years. Pens are particularly well-suited for the corporate market for the same reasons that desk sets are—many of the recipients use pens constantly throughout the day, which makes the award a functional one. High-end pens are available in a variety of woods and metals, and in nearly every color imaginable. Pen stands and pen boxes are available that can add to the high value of the award. Pens, pen boxes and display stands can be personalized with a laser or rotary engraving machine.
   Motivational pictures—Beautiful photographs of landscapes with inspirational messages printed below them have been a staple of offices for many years. Now, these motivational pictures can be given as corporate awards by adding a bit of personalization to them, too. Just add a nameplate with an engraved message beneath the inspirational message and you have created a piece of art and an award that will be cherished for years. This type of award can fit nearly any corporate program with a little creativity, and is always popular with recipients.
   Emblematic jewelry and medallics—Jewelry and medallic items may not be the first thing that springs to mind for the corporate market, but they can be the perfect fit for certain industries. For instance, real estate companies reward high-selling associates with pins and rings to recognize the goal they have reached (“I’m a Member of the $1 Million Club!”). This is a way of both rewarding and promoting the employee through a wearable product. Likewise, medallic items such as lapel pins are often popular with customer service-oriented companies whose employees see and deal with the public on a daily basis. Besides pins, rings and medallics, brooches and watches are also popular awards in this category. Again, high achievement colors like gold and silver tend to be the most popular.
Promotional Menu
   As mentioned earlier, there are two main types of awards that companies usually present: high-end awards and promotional products. Now that we have covered the high-end aspect, let’s take a look at the promotional product end. Keep in mind that the promotional products world is vast, with many of its products geared towards advertising goals. The products we are most interested in are those “incentive” products that can be used to supplement and enhance an awards program.

Laser engravable wood plaques, like this walnut plaque from B.F. Plastics, Inc., North Lawrence, OH, make elegant corporate awards that can be displayed in an office. Combining metal and glass creates a contemporary award. Photo courtesy of R.S. Owens & Co.


   The great thing about promotional products is that they can be added on as another aspect of an awards program. For instance, a company that is instituting a program to improve its safety record may want to encourage people towards this goal at various levels throughout the year, at a pre-award level, by distributing “incentives.” As employees successfully reach different levels in the program, they are recognized with a promotional product. For example, at level one they receive a customized key chain, at level two a tumbler, at level three a cooler, and so on. This add-on sale is something any award dealer could handle and creates sales that would be just as steady as traditional high-end awards. Although promotional products have less perceived value than high-end awards, the sales they generate for you can be as significant as more traditional awards, so they should not be discounted solely for that reason.
   Wondering where to start in the promotional products field? Here are a couple of product ideas that are fairly common in the recognition and identification world:
   Pens—Unlike their high-end counterparts, promotional pens are often formed from plastic and are mass produced with identical messages. There is a huge range of pens available on the market today, from traditional “click” pens to ball point pens to pens that are unusually shaped or sized. Simply find a style(s) that matches your customer’s needs! And whether you personalize the pens yourself or job them out, you can’t go wrong with pens that advertise company goals or celebrate past achievements (“Award Winning Company, Two Years Running!”).
   Mouse pads—Mouse pads are great promotional awards in the office environment. They are useful, can be sublimated with any message or graphic, and are low enough in cost that they can be used to reward lesser accomplishments, like monthly or weekly met goals.
   Tech gadgets—One of the newest categories of promotional products is tech gadgets, and there has literally been an explosion in the types of tech gadgets available that can be imprinted with a logo, message, slogan, etc., and used as an incentive. Just a few examples include device chargers, screen cleaners and cloths, stylus tools, phone/tablet stands, portable USB hubs, USB memory sticks, cord organizers and much, much more. The cool thing about these products is that they are functional and will likely be used on a daily basis.
   Beverage insulators—Beverage insulators have been very popular for years as people quickly discovered how effective these “snap on” foam insulators are at keeping beverages cold. While particularly useful in the summer, which makes them an ideal product to promote summer events like picnics or charity walks, they are functional all year. Like most other promotional products, beverage insulators can be used as a stand-alone item or as a tie-in to an already established award program.
   T-shirts—T-shirts are a classic promotional product. In fact, they have made the crossover from being strictly promotional products to becoming part of mainstream fashion. A Nike shirt, for example, is both fashionable and an advertisement for the company. Recipients will want to wear artistic and tasteful shirts in and out of the office, which gives the company an added “prestige” factor. Again, T-shirts can be stand-alone products or function as tie-ins to existing programs. Just look around at what the company is already offering in its award program, and go from there!
   “Fun” tie-ins—What do Frisbees, yo-yos and teddy bears have in common? They can all be personalized to make “fun” tie-ins! A great way to promote a program is to keep it in front of people in a memorable way—like with a sublimated logo on a small bear’s shirt or a message on a yo-yo. Companies can hand these out at events or use them for minor accomplishments. The tie-ins, in turn, bring a smile to the recipient’s face and remind them to keep aiming for the yearly goal of less construction-site accidents, for example.


Desk sets make beautiful and functional recognition pieces. Photo courtesy of Marco Awards Group. This Asian optical crystal eye sculpture is a unique recognition piece for visionary awards. Photo courtesy of Badash Crystal, Deer Park, NY.

   Badges—While badges often serve the very basic purpose of identifying employees, they can also be used to advertise and promote ongoing programs or campaigns. Who hasn’t gone into a restaurant and seen their server’s badge, which read “Ask Me About Our Steak Fajitas!”? This area definitely falls within the realm of the corporate market and, since these campaigns change fairly frequently, can generate a steady stream of income to award dealers who produce the badges. Badges can be personalized by engraving, sublimation or digital printers. Using an easy-to-use button badge maker, you can easily print full-color graphic inserts using your laser or ink jet printer to create custom button badges. As with other corporate products, professionally produced badges containing logos, graphics and lots of color, not to mention custom shapes, are the big sellers.
Selling the Sizzle
   Now that you have decided to tackle the corporate market, there are a few things to keep in mind when actually personalizing the awards. First off, remember that your corporate client is paying a great deal of money not just for the actual award, but for the message that will be included on it. If they are having a difficult time thinking of an appropriate message, help them out. A few minutes of your time in choosing the “perfect” inscription will be amply repaid in their loyalty and appreciation.
   Remember that inspirational messages are always popular. They not only remind the recipient of past accomplishments, but help motivate them to strive towards future goals. An award with “Reach for the Stars” inscribed on it achieves both missions nicely.
   Also popular are messages that say “thank you” to the recipient. While this may seem obvious, it is often forgotten when trying to cram as much information as possible onto a limited award space. A simple “Congratulations and Thank You” is often the best way to say just that—congratulations and thank you!
   Finally, remember that companies love to have awards imprinted with their logos and graphics. While this is understandable, as they are also doing a little self-promotion, try to remind them that “less is more” in this area. Too many graphics can overwhelm the basic message of the award, so keep it tastefully simple.
All Types of “Tips”
   Are you still a little nervous about approaching Debbie the director of human resources and all she represents? Even when knowing what type of awards and messages companies want, the whole “corporate” concept can still be a little intimidating. So, here are a few sales tips to help you get over that fear and down the path to your first corporate sale:
   • Don’t wait for the company to come to you—go to them. If you sit in your shop all day waiting for the corporate market to come knocking on your door, you may be waiting for a while! Larger businesses are often accustomed to vendors contacting them, coming into their building and making a presentation or sales pitch there. Don’t know who to contact to even make your presentation to? Just call and ask. Selling to the corporate market takes some initiative, but is well worth it in the end.
   • Be creative! Most companies have seen much of the “run of the mill” award products available, so don’t even bother with this unless it is exactly what the customer needs. Why waste their time, and yours, pushing the same, tired old products? Show that beautiful art glass trophy with the engraved plate or that full-color sublimated mouse pad that just turned out great. Show the best of what you can offer!
   • Think of yourself as an “awards consultant.” When you are making your presentation, ask questions. Find out exactly what type of program the company has and what the overall goals and objectives are. Take the answers into consideration and tailor the type of awards you are trying to sell towards the company’s needs and objectives. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your sales will take off when you start acting as a “consultant” and not as a “salesperson.”
Just Desserts
   Well, Debbie the director of human resources has made up her mind. She has started the award program that her company needed and chosen the perfect corporate award line and promotional tie-ins. She’s happy, her company’s happy and so are you—because you’ve just entered the corporate market! Congratulations!


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