It is not as easy as it looks!

Today, we worked on our second video. You know, as a child I always wanted to be an actress, but this is not as easy as it looks. My first video on Presentation Packaging took about 2 hours of shooting. Mostly, because it was a new camera and we had never created a video for business in the past, mostly home movies of the kids getting their first hair cut, birthday parties or trips to Disney. For the business video I even wrote out lines to say. However, for some reason, once you are in front of the camera it all comes out wrong. The raw takes of the Presentation video were great entertainment for my family and I to watch when we brought it home to edit it. We showed all the raw cuts on the big screen T.V. and my boys thought mom was very funny. I didn’t.

Today, the video we put together was a bit different. We invited our representative from Windbrella to come and do the video with us. Charlie can explain the product much better than I could any day, and his product is great for golfers and people looking for a high-end umbrella with low minimums. It’s funny, but Charlie says the same spiel every day when he walks in to a promotional products distributor’s office and talks about Windbrella, but today, he had as many problems as I did in getting the wording just right. Toward the end of filming we did get some emotion out of him and he started to loosen up. I now know why actors command the big bucks. Remembering the lines is not that easy, and trying to act natural while talking to a camera is a bit intimidating.

Neither video episode has made me change my mind about doing more videos. We have plenty of products, so the videos will keep coming. Happy viewing!

P.S. – As soon as we edit the Windbrella video, I will post the link

Rising Product Costs

Recently, I read a report from the National Association of Realtors that said we have finally hit the bottom of the housing slump and home sales may rise in the second half of 2008. As Americans are feeling more pinched at the gas pumps and their grocer this sounds like it could be good news. Hopefully, the economy will begin to move out of its holding pattern too.

Unfortunately, as the state of affairs for the housing market is looking up, I received no less than three different reports this past week, from our industry suppliers, that prices of promotional items, mainly sourcing from Asia (which is where nearly all promotional products originate) are going to increase significantly over the next year. We are already seeing our suppliers reprinting catalogs with pricing inserts, so they can easily be changed out for new ones without the cost of creating a new catalog every time there is an increase. We also have a great many suppliers that are coming out with “Mid-Year” catalogs to combat having to absorb the price increases.

The increase in costs is stemming from the decreasing value of the U.S. dollar against the RMB – (China’s currency). Our dollar has fallen by about 15% over the past three years. Then there is the cost of metals, oil, petroleum (from which plastic is made) and other raw materials where the price is consistently rising due to higher demand and waning availability in China. Now add in social compliance (remember my article last month), where as of January 1, 2008 China has implemented a new labor law requiring employers to offer employee benefits such as an annual leave, medical coverage, insurance, and overtime pay. Chinese employees now realize that they can go elsewhere and get paid better. When this happens, just like here in America, it costs more to find and train new employees which can affect production.

As American’s expect, as they well should, that the items (whether promotional items, costume jewelry, clothing or toys) purchased from overseas are compliant, meaning the materials these products are made from are not dangerous, the factories where the products are made have sanitary conditions, and employees are well treated, the prices of these goods will continue rise.

The good news is that you have choices too. When working with an experienced promotional products distributor your budget and the quality of the products selected should be foremost in their minds. By planning your events and promotions as far as 120 days or more in advance you can effectively beat price increases. Look over your marketing plans for the next 6 months to a year and determine the products you will need to fit those promotions.

Call Creative Expressions for help in determining which products will best fit your plan. By ordering at least four months out or longer you can take advantage of having your product imprinted, debossed or embroidered overseas at the factory, saving you money and help offset the rising costs of products coming in from overseas. Shipping these products to you will not cost more, as they will be FOB: USA Factory.  If you purchase the amount of items you think will last you for the next six months to a year, you will save money by protecting yourself from price increases that may be incurred by ordering smaller amounts, having them decorated in our normal 10 business day or less production time and then having to reorder at a higher price in the coming months.

If you can plan ahead, ask your Creative Expressions Representative to quote you pricing and times for overseas production or help you to find similar products to replace products that may not fit your budget because of increased costs. We are here to partner with you.

Expo –To Charge or Not

This week I attended our regional association board of directors meeting. We were discussing if we should charge members to attend our yearly Expo. Most of the board was against charging members and some of us who had been on and off the board and now on again and knew the history of why we charge members to attend still wanted to continue this practice.

So, the question I wonder is “do we really get what we pay for”? Is there value added when we pay for an event rather than have the ability to attend for free? If you don’t pay and still sign up, do you feel an obligation to attend or do you feel that if something better comes along, you don’t need to attend because you don’t have anything invested?

Personally, I feel the latter. If I don’t pay for something and I choose not to attend later, even though I have RSVP’d, what difference does it make? We did not charge for the Expo before 2005. We had 1200 people sign up each year. Many didn’t sign themselves up, but rather a secretary or the owner of the company would sign up all their sales people to attend “just in case”. Then on the days of the event we would actually have a 45% drop off rate!

In 2005, our committee instituted a $10 per person member fee to attend the Expo. Non members and same day registrants would pay more. We billed it as pay $10 and you received a free parking pass at the convention center, a free awards breakfast, free drinks and hors’doeuvres at the cocktail party and a coupon book from suppliers with thousands of dollars in savings, plus of course free education with CEU credits and the tradeshow. Because registrants actually had to pay to attend we now had qualified sales people sign up and pay and our drop off rate was less than 15%, allowing us to more accurately budget for the event.

The board members who wanted to charge for the Expo, lost. The rational was that we are going to be in a new venue from the previous years, the economy is bad and those who approved the no fee rule felt that the drop off rate wouldn’t be an issue. – The Expo is at the end of August, I will keep you posted on what actually happens.

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Controlling Quality of Products on our Websites

Periodically we receive calls from suppliers asking us to put their items on our websites. We usually tell them that they need to be a member of our industry, and then if they are we will order a sample item from them to see how the item is packaged and the quality of the imprint, or if their company has food related items, we taste the items to make sure they are up to our standards before thinking about adding them to our website.

Recently, we were approached by an industry food company that wanted to add their gift baskets and imprinted cookie tins to our websites.  We looked through their catalog and decided on a holiday sleigh filled with brownies, cookies and Ghirardelli chocolate squares as the sample piece. We called to order the sample and we were told that the boss was the only one who could take an order and the person who answered the phone said she wasn’t sure if her boss would be back in later that day or the next day. This should have been our first warning of what was to come.

The next day, the owner of the company called and I answered the phone and gave her our sample order. I also asked her about the strange conversation from the day before, knowing full well that during the peak holiday season we needed a reliable company that could handle a large volume of business. I also asked her about how her items were packaged, as we are used to working with Maple Ridge Farms and their items are packaged so that a truck can roll over them and they still arrive looking perfect! She assured me that they package as well as Maple Ridge, so I gave her our company UPS number and agreed to 2nd day air shipping.

Two days later a huge, oversized box arrived. It was filled with those horrible foam peanuts, and in the middle was a large bundle of bubble wrap and tape. We had to cut through the tape and the bubble wrap to find the sleigh inside. I believe because I had mentioned my concern for how the items were packaged, the company decided to package it in the oversized box and wrap the sleigh many times with bubble wrap to prevent the cookies from breaking. However, this oversized box filled with stale cookies and homemade brownies wrapped in plastic wrap with no FDA required ingredient labels, cost us $121 for the 2nd day air shipping!! You can imagine my relief that we have the rule to view and taste all products of this nature BEFORE we put them on our websites to sell to our customers!

I did speak with the owner of the company today and expressed my dissatisfaction with the presentation and taste of the items. She said they will be crediting me the price of the basket. I am just glad that our research saved us before we sold an unsuspecting customer 20 or 30 of these cookie and brownie baskets and had them shipped 2nd day air all over the country to the customers’ recipients. Can you imagine the shipping bill, not to mention the ill will my customer would have received when the recipient received such a poor quality gift? Not to mention if someone got sick from eating a product without labeling that states that the products were made in a kitchen where peanuts may also be used in other products.

I think for now we will stay with our tried and true factories, where we know we receive good service, on time ship dates and a great tasting product and presentation.

PowerTools for Women – Sharing

Powertools for Women in Business  10 ways to succeed in life and work - Aliza ShermanRecently, I read a great book by Aliza Sherman called “PowerTools for Women in Business – 10 Ways to Succeed in Life and Work. “  Her book outlines 10 power tools that women should use to become more successful. The first of the tools is to share your stories. We all have stories of how and why we decided to start our own businesses, what motivates us, and what keeps us up at night.

This got me thinking that other business women in my area may feel the need to share their stories like I do. I love to talk about my business and what I am doing that is new. I love to share and help friends with their businesses too. There are a lot of networking groups you can attend, chambers and leads clubs you can join, but where do you find likeminded women who want to talk about their businesses?

Not just the “This is what we do for a living, and this is how our company can help you” type of talking, but the “I started my business 12 years ago and this is why I started it, this is where I have been and this is where I think I am going. However, I am not sure I am doing it right and maybe you have the same thoughts or have done the same things and went about getting where I am going in a different way,” kind of talking and sharing.

Inspired by Aliza Sherman and her book, last night was my first attempt at putting together a group of likeminded women in our local area. I invited 19 local business women with the criteria that they had to be the owner or at least half owner of the company. They had to have an outside office or retail establishment where they paid rent and they had to have at least one employee. I didn’t want to include the women who sell at home parties or run their business as a hobby. Business women who have to worry about paying the rent, how to hire, train and retain good employees are a bit different than women who work from home. In the end, we had a small group of 7 from all types of businesses and walks of life.

The evening was very successful, each woman was able to talk about why they started their business, the excitement of owning the business and what motivates them to get up and do it again every day. I had planned on five questions for the evening, and a kind of rotation so that everyone would at least answer three of the five; however after 2-1/2 hours we only had the chance to answer the first three questions. Each woman’s “sharing” lead to more sharing and by the time it was over, to my surprise, I was asked if we could make this a bi-monthly event.One of the women, the owner of our local newspaper, said she liked this group because we were all successful women who didn’t “need” something from each other. No favors, no leads, no commitment to do anything other than to be truthful about ourselves and our businesses. I loved the evening because I realized that by listening to others, many of whom I did not know and would never have approached for advice, let alone business advice, I could find new ways to work my business, and I made some new friends. I can’t wait until our next meeting!