In the last 10 years, S&S has grown to become one of the largest blank apparel wholesalers in the promotional products industry. They started with one distribution center and in only a decade have increased to 6 centers across the United States, allowing them to ship to the majority of their customers in one to two days.

Click here to explore S&S’s current catalogs and lookbooks.

Around this time last year, S&S was preparing to print a 900-page catalog. That was until the pandemic forced them to take a good long look at the way they thought about marketing. As Ashley Nielsen, S&S’s Senior Director of Marketing and Merchandising told us, S&S decided to refocus their efforts on creating tools to make their customers’ lives easier.

You can jump to the full interview with Ashley here or check out the highlights below.

Video Highlight: Marketing Beyond the Full-line Catalog

“It just didn’t make the best business sense to continue down the path of producing a large big book catalog,” Ashley said. “But you can’t just say, ‘We don’t have a catalog. Go to our website.'”

You still have to give your customers tools to help them sell, tools like digital catalogs and flyers. S&S even provides instructional videos for distributors who want to customize the materials and make them their own.

When it came to their digital transformation, Ashley explains their biggest challenge was balancing the speed of change with development time. Rushing a new initiative out the door before it’s ready won’t help anyone, but as Ashely points out, there’s also a danger in waiting too long.

“You don’t want to spend too much time in development and miss the boat,” Ashley says.

S&S focuses on tools that give their customers the creative resources they need to engage their end-buyers. Today, simple photos and 360-degree product turnarounds aren’t enough, so the company produces engaging educational and lifestyle videos to show off its products, which are often embedded directly into a ZOOMcatalog. These videos show off features that might not come across in still photography, especially in the case of bags that have a plethora of pockets and technical features.

And, by using external links inside their ZOOMcatalogs, S&S ensures customers have easy access to all of the most recent product information. They also remove the hassle of searching for a product twice. Once you find what you’re looking for, you can go directly from browsing to checking inventory and placing an order with a single click. Plus, digital catalogs and flyers can be updated with ease, unlike print alternatives which are frozen in time once the ink dries.

Video Highlight: Designing Interactive Digital Catalogs

It doesn’t matter how good your digital tools are, however, if you don’t maintain a personal touch. S&S looks for ways to use technology to build relationships. Their favorite technique? Pairing specially designed sample kits with digital follow-ups.

Video Highlight: Creating Powerful Sample Kits

“No two pieces are alike and that’s the excitement of it.”

In order to make their products as easy to find as possible, S&S takes an ecommerce attitude towards website optimization. They focus on empowering their search engine and making it as simple as possible to purchase their apparel. The idiosyncrasies of promotional apparel, however, mean it’s not always possible to translate B2C marketing into a B2B industry.

Video Highlight: Retail Branding in Promo

When it comes to parting advice, Ashley suggests you invite your customers into your digital planning process. It’s easy to assume we know what our customers want and need, but it’s not until we ask them that we know for sure.

Ashley also recommends you keep an open mind. A year ago, we were all playing it safe and kicking the digital transformation can down the road. The more nimble you are, the better position you’ll be in when change is required.

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