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Expanding Your Markets with Medallics

Copyright © 2015 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in May 2015, Volume 40, No. 11 of The Engravers Journal
Coins are popular products for commemorative mementoes. Photo courtesy of Julie of California, San Jose, CA.

   Remember the time when you were a youngster and you placed first in a school or sports event and a shiny award medal proudly hung on a blue ribbon from your neck? Or the year you were awarded a lapel pin for outstanding academic achievement that you pinned to your varsity jacket with pride? Perhaps you received a medal or medallion recognizing exemplary talent as a writer or a dancer.
   There is an inherent prestige associated with receiving a medal or pin regardless of its monetary value. The awards are coveted among event competitors, and that mark of excellence is preserved forever in the form of a medal, medallion or other medallic product.
   Although they have been around for ages, medallic products remain a popular award option in the recognition and personalization industry. These versatile products, which include medals, medallions, coins, lapel pins, belt buckles, etc., can be used for a wide variety of award-giving occasions, whether it’s coins for a corporate promotion, medals with neck ribbons for sports competitions or medallions to add to plaques or use as display items.
Medallic Products
   Traditional medallic products include medals, medallions and coins, but the product category can also include other items such as lapel pins and even belt buckles. Here’s an overview of the types of medallic products available.
   Award medals typically range from 1"-3" in diameter and are worn around the neck with a ribbon or a chain. They are popular as awards for exceptional achievement by various entities, including schools, non-profit organizations and other educational and vocational groups.
   Traditional award medals are typically offered in gold, silver and bronze finishes, although there are plenty of variations to choose from. For example, full-color 3D sports medals are now available in addition to “spinner” medals (activity spins inside the diameter of the medal), stained glass medals (translucent colors) and Mylar medals (designed to accept a 2" Mylar insert of which there are hundreds available for many different occasions).

One of the best things about medallic products is the wide variety and many options available. Photo courtesy of ATdesigns, Indio, CA. Custom medals can be created in different shapes, from different materials and with various finishes to meet the needs of customers. Photo courtesy of ATdesigns.

   Medallions are typically large medals (21/2" in diameter and larger) and are usually intended to be displayed on a stand, plaque or in a frame. Medallions are often given as souvenirs and are treasured for years as memorabilia. They are less often given out as awards like medals (unless they are included as part of another award such as a plaque), but instead are often distributed by organizations as keepsakes to mark a special occasion and/or to raise funds. For example, some non-profit associations and private groups of individuals have issued medallions for sale marking their 50th anniversary, proceeds of which may go towards causes they support.
   Coins are generally small, typically 1"-2" in diameter, and are often used as a memento or souvenir or are put on display. Medallic coins are usually considered memorabilia and are often designed to commemorate specific events or people. Collectors covet them, as do government departments and members of the military.
   Lapel pins are also considered medallic items. These pins are small and contain a logo, message or design on the front and a pin or clutch on the back to attach it to clothing.
   Although medals, medallions, coins and pins are probably the most well-known medallic items, there are a variety of other products that are being used in the same manner as awards, commemorative pieces, promotional products, etc. These medallic items include belt buckles, keys to the city, key chains, ornaments, golf products—even bottle openers.
   “We offer custom medals, coins, lapel pins, keys to the city (and other commemorative keys), key chains and belt buckles,” says Vince Frank, president of Catania Medallic Specialty, Avon Lake, OH.
   Casey Schechter, president of Simba, Oxnard, CA, says that his company has recently introduced championship belts to its line of medallic products which are proving to be a hot seller. The leather championship belts are available in six different styles and can be embellished with metal plating, epoxy, gemstones, etc., to make a very unique award item.
   All of these medallic products are available in either stock or custom designs. Stock designs are manufactured in mass quantities and are available for off-the-shelf purchase. Typically, stock products have a standard message and/or design, such as “First Place” or the figure of a basketball player, and sometimes a blank area for personalization.
   There are literally hundreds of stock medal designs available and the options are continuing to grow. According to Cathy Garcia, marketing manager for Marco Awards Group, South Windsor, CT, “Today, there is a wide variety of medals for major and even second and third tier sports. Five years ago, for example, you would find two or three baseball medals. Today, there are 30 baseball and softball designs. We also added a scholastic line of medals because of customer demand.”

  Bottle openers and lapel pins are popular medallic products for a variety of occasions. Photo courtesy of Catania Medallic Specialty, Avon Lake, OH.  

   Custom designed medallic products are made to customer specifications and can include a company logo, name or message designed for a specific event. Custom medallics usually cost more than stock medallic products because they are made to order, but don’t dismiss the option because of that—for some customers, custom is the perfect choice.
   “Custom is always popular and probably preferred if the customer has the time and budget. You can get very creative with custom medals. They are available in just about any shape and there are lots of finish options,” says Craig Miller, president of Tower Ribbons, Topeka, IN.
   Bob D’Andrade is the director of marketing and sales for ATdesigns, Indio, CA, a company that specializes in custom medallic products. He says that retailers shouldn’t shy away from offering custom medallics out of fear of a complicated process with too many options to choose from. “We’ve seen more retailers learning and feeling more comfortable with the process of ordering custom medals these days. We’ve made the process pretty painless over the years, so maybe that helps. But it’s also because once they experience the positive feedback associated with a custom medal program, and the unlimited alternatives when compared to many stock programs, they normally stay with it.”
   Most suppliers also comment that fast turnaround is a major priority for both stock and custom medallic products, and retailers should let go of the notion of a four or five week turnaround. For example, Catania has the ability to cast a custom medal within three days for those customers who are in a rush but want something more unique than a stock design. Likewise, Simba offers a line of three-day express items and Tower Ribbons offers multiple lines of stock medals that ship the same day.
Today’s Trends
   So, are there any significant trends happening in the world of medallics products today? Manufacturers say “yes.” There are more options in products available today than ever before. Some popular product trends include photo images on medals, more 3D elements (high relief surfaces with lots of detail) and more color. Several manufacturers also pointed out a big trend toward higher-quality ribbons that are emblazoned with full-color event information, logos, messages, etc.
   Another notable trend is the use of “non-traditional” medallic items for “traditional” purposes. Catania’s Vince Frank says, “We have seen an increase in metal bottle openers that can be used as medals. This has become popular in the 5K market.” Simba’s Schechter adds, “Coins seem to have gained some steam as well as multi-use medallic items such as key tags, medals and coins that are also bottle openers. Anything that is useful as a tool like this can create long-term promotion.”

Medallic products include traditional items like lapel pins and medals, in addition to functional items like purse hangers. Photo courtesy of Tower Ribbons, Topeka, IN.

   D’Andrade from ATdesigns says he has also noticed this trend. “Many competitions are now looking to use our custom belt buckles in place of custom medals as awards for each participant. They have a far greater perceived value to the recipient and they are more functional as well. The belt buckle can be immediately put on a belt and worn for all to see. We call it ‘wearable recognition,’ which is something most awards cannot offer,” he says.
Personalization Techniques
   Most medallic products can be and are personalized for the recipients. With custom-made medallic items, much of the personalization comes from the custom design. Stock medallics, on the other hand, typically need some sort of personalization, in particular engraving. Of course, even custom awards benefit greatly when they are personalized with recipient-specific information, such as the recipient’s name, the event, date and other user information. This is a service you can provide to help make generic medallics more meaningful to the receipients.
   Medallics are manufactured using different processes (see the sidebar accompanying this article for an overview) and can also be personalized in different ways, including diamond drag engraving, rotary engraving, laser engraving, digital inkjet printing and adding stickers. For many medallics, like coins, medals and medallions, the message can be engraved directly onto the piece. Another option is to engrave or print a disk and attach it to the award.
Why Get Into the Medallics Business?
   So are there any compelling reasons to get into the business of selling medallics? Actually, there are several, but the two biggest reasons? The market size and the profit potential.
   The market is huge & the price is right. The medallics products available cover the entire spectrum of potential customers: low-end, middle range and high-end. As a result, your customer market can range from school sports to theater/dance groups to businesses like car dealerships to non-profit organizations to companies with corporate recognition programs—and everything in between!
   A major part of the consumer appeal of medallic products is that when it comes to price, there is something for everyone, whether it’s a low-cost stock award medal for sports participants, a custom medallion as a souvenir for a historical center or a high-end gold commemorative coin for an organization’s special occasion.
   D’Andrade says, “The various levels of buyers for this diversified and fully developed line of products allow all levels of sales to be achieved, ranging from those with limited time and a limited budget who are buying our quick turnaround ‘antique finishes’ with basic ribbon colors to those hosting a special event who are looking for a medallic product with three-dimensional relief, color, a choice of multiple finishes and decorative printed ribbons. The affordability and variety offered by many medal programs—especially a custom program—does offer something for all customers and plays an important part in holding their loyalty and business year after year,” says D’Andrade.

Displays are available for your showroom to showcase the types of medallic products you can offer. This display is from Marco Awards Group.

   They are profitable. The cost of entry for a retailer selling medallic products is minimal as is the labor involved. “What’s nice about products like medals, medallions and pins is that, unless you manufacture them, there is very little labor or handling involved,” says Tower Ribbons’ Miller. “The markup is usually pretty good and you can enhance that by charging for personalization or adding a ribbon.”
   Simba’s Schechter adds, “Depending on the project and the client’s budget, the profit potential is huge. The perceived value of medallic products can far exceed that of other product categories. If done right, medallic items can take on a jewelry-level look and value that can boost the profits through the roof.”
Medallic Customers
   As mentioned, medallic products can be used for all kinds of applications. Here are a few ways that medallics can meet your customers’ needs.
   As awards—One of the largest markets for medallic products is for sports-related awards, and this market continues to grow. “The demand for medals and their companion products seems to be increasing as people in the market are becoming more and more active. Sales of marathon and other sports-based medallics have been steadily increasing,” says Schechter.
   In most cities, there is not only a wide range of school sports (from football to gymnastics to wrestling), but there are also league sports for both children and adults. Art centers, dance schools, theater groups and many other local clubs and organizations are also good potential customers. Academic awards are well-suited for schools, colleges and universities. Most sports-related and academic activities have medals specifically designed for them.
   As promotional products—Businesses can use products like key chains, golf items, bottle openers and coins to promote a sale, grand opening, anniversary or other event. Likewise, local service groups and organizations can use these products to promote a fundraiser or a cause.
   As commemorative mementoes—Non-profit and service organizations, zoos, hospitals, alumni groups and others could have coins, medallions or lapel pins created to commemorate a special ceremony, reunion or anniversary. Golf clubs can give tournament players commemorative golf tools. The local historical society might have a special medallion designed as part of a centennial celebration.
   As souvenirs—Souvenir medallics are big sellers at any place with a gift shop, such as the local zoo, museum or other tourist destination. Functional medallic products such as key chains, bottle openers, belt buckles and golf tools are especially popular for souvenir applications.
   As corporate recognition—Many medallic products are ideal for corporate recognition products and incentives. These can be used to recognize outstanding service or performance, milestone anniversaries, retirement, etc.
   These are only a few of the countless markets with an interest in medallic products. From small orders—like family reunions and club memberships—to larger corporate, school or organization orders, the potential customers for medallic sales are nearly limitless.

  Medals are a very popular award for all types of recognition occasions. Die cast medal (center) and spin cast medals from Catania Medallic Specialty.  

Selling Tips
   So how are you going to attract all of these potential customers? Here are a few tips.
   Develop the right mind-set—“It really boils down to believing in the product as a first-class, first-rate offering for the event at hand and not as a second choice or budget offering,” advises Schechter. “If you stand behind it and sell it as the best choice, you’ll be surprised at how much metal you can move.”
   Develop an in-store display—“The best thing a retailer can do is display the items in a visible spot in the showroom,” says Simba’s Schechter. “All too often, medallics are on the ground behind the counter, in a drawer or in some corner of a showroom and retailers wonder why their medallics sales are minimal. If shown proudly and prominently, they sell themselves.”
   Manufacturers can help you with this one as nearly all of them offer professional-looking displays that you can purchase and use in your showroom or provide assistance in building your own. “Show a wide variety using display boards. If customers can’t see it and feel it, they won’t perceive the value that’s truly there,” says ATdesigns’ D’Andrade.

A big trend today is the use of colorful custom printed ribbons. Photo courtesy of Tower Ribbons.


   “A nice gift box, coin holder or shadow box can truly enhance any medallic item,” adds Schechter.
   Do your research—To be successful in the medallics business, go after the markets you are targeting. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Frank says, “Get out and talk to the schools and churches to see when the events are. I would also suggest searching the Internet for all 5Ks that are being run in your area. Get to know the events, and find out who heads the committee and contact them months in advance. Start planning with the event coordinator early so they work with you when the event time is close.”
   Let them know—As with any product, you have to show it, promote it and talk about it. Use electronic flyers, show the products on your website and in your catalog, utilize direct mail, hang a vinyl banner in front of your shop, drop flyers in customer packages and attach them to emails, etc.
   “Emphasize the long-lasting value and timeless quality of medallic items. They are traditional promotional and recognition items that never go out of style. Again, the perceived value is through the roof when you do it right,” advises Schechter.
   The demand for medallic items is on the increase. Manufacturers report seeing growth not only in the awards and engraving segments of the industry, but also in other areas such as the promotional products market and the personalized products market. Successfully selling these products is not difficult—it just takes a little effort.
   As Bob D’Andrade says, “Just like anything else, develop a good plan and execute it. It’s the determination to stay at it that wins the day.”