Industry Spotlight: The Promotional Products Industry before, during, and—eventually after—the Coronavirus.

The last few months have been quite different. We’ve all been inside, trying to maintain normalcy and routine, while we continue to push our businesses forward. These times have proved to be tough, but many suppliers and distributors are finding success and opportunity in this new market that is evolving. 

To give some perspective to this, we talked with a few industry leaders about how the promotional product industry has evolved over the years, how they are adapting to the current COVID-19 situation, and where they see business and the industry going in the future. Each of these businesses has experienced their own unique challenges and triumphs and now it’s time for you to hear their thoughts. 

Before we get into the good stuff, allow us to introduce some of our friends from the industry. 


Raining Rose – Lindsey Davis, Head of Promotional Sales

Raining Rose is an industry-leading manufacturer of personal care products, specializing in producing lip balms, sunscreens, and lotions. Their core values are based on the acronym ASPIRE: Attitude, Safety, Passion, Integrity, Relationship, Evolve. When you partner with Raining Rose, businesses can be confident that from start to finish, their products are in the care of people they can trust. 

S&S Activewear – Ashley Nielsen, Senior Director of Marketing & Merchandising

Founded in 1988, S&S Activewear is a national wholesaler to the promotional apparel market. With over 60 brands, ranging from basic garments to fashion-forward styles, they help put brands on the map through apparel. Whether it’s screen printing or embroidery, they keep corporations, teams, schools, and promoters laced up with branded threads. 

Hirsch Gift – Paul Hirsch, Vice President

HG is a premier supplier of promotional products & premium incentives. With a focus on elite service, they offer highly-sought after products that help build brand affinity and recognition. 


American Solutions for BusinessTaylor Borst, Communications & Public Relations

American Solutions for Business was founded in 1981 and has evolved into a leading distributor of print, promotional products, office supplies, eCommerce, and marketing solutions. As a customer-driven company, their mission is to provide solutions that streamline business processes, enhance productivity, and increase creativity, while reducing client costs.

Shumsky – Melissa Marks, Senior Marketing Manager & Juli Clark, COO 

Shumsky has a deep history in promotional product distribution starting in the 1950s. For over 65 years, they have discovered, developed, and delivered creative solutions that differentiate brands from their competitors.

Now let’s get into it… 

How has the promotional product industry changed in the last 5 years (outside of the Coronavirus)? 

American Solutions for Business: The adoption of social media has elevated how we network. We’re an industry of “people’s people” and connecting with one another is extremely valuable. I might meet someone at an event once, follow them on social media, and begin to feel like I truly know them because I get to see other aspects of their life like family, pets, and hobbies. The next time I see them, we greet each other as friends. Without social media, you might forget you ever even met. Also, sometimes I get too impatient for email and just message people directly on Instagram. 5 years ago, that might’ve felt like a violation of privacy, but now that’s just how we do business.

How has your marketing evolved over the last 5 years?

S&S Activewear: Marketing is shifting to digital. Our industry is a bit slower to adopt new ways of doing things, so the digital landscape that we notice as consumers lags a bit within our channel. Those who didn’t want to adapt are slowly starting to come to terms with the reality of going digital. 

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give a new supplier working to establish a business right now? 

Hirsch Gift: Start off on a localized basis & establish relationships before spreading too thin on a national basis. Build a following & fan base by being a reliable & trusted supplier partner.

On COVID-19:

What has been the biggest challenge in the last 60 days?

American Solutions for Business: We’re living in a new world with new rules, and wrapping our arms around sudden changes in the supply chain has been a challenge. Our industry isn’t built for pre-payment, but due to the practice overseas, we’re seeing the same move down the distribution chain. 

Where have you seen the most change in your business?

Raining Rose: In our collaboration across teams. Now that everyone is available via video call, I’ve seen even more interaction “face-to-face” than ever before.

Have any products seen an increase in demand?

American Solutions for Business: Without being too obvious…masks, face shields, hand sanitizer, gowns, gloves, thermometers. Beyond the typical PPE products, our print sales have been going well—specifically direct mail and COVID-related decals. Our promo sales are slowly starting to bounce back as well 

Are there any positives that have come out of the forced WFH environment? New processes? Sales training? Embrace new technologies?

Shumsky: Yes! It has been fun to stay engaged with coworkers. We use an online Boost Engagement program that we call “Hy 5” (named after our founder Hy Shumsky). There have been weekly challenges to post pictures of pets, wedding photos, and “guess that employee”. It works as a social news feed so it’s fun to take a break and scroll through to see what others are sharing. We also had a new employee start the Monday after we all went remote and onboarding has actually been fantastic. We did virtual introductions and the online training is going smoothly.

What have you done to evolve your marketing and sales during this time?

Raining Rose: We’ve focused on only what is relevant, useful, timely, and affordable. We’ve shared more selling ideas than ever before and offered discounts to help our customers increase margin on some staple items. We’ve tried to focus more on “how do we support?” vs. “how do we sell?”

What should promotional product companies be doing right now to prepare for when we emerge out of our homes? 

Hirsch Gift: I think we should all be communicating with our customers & discussing with them what can be done to get their business back and come up with creative programs to support that. Now is the time to prove the claim that our industry is the most effective form of marketing with measurable ROI.

Looking Forward: 

What’s an untapped area/industry for promotional products?

American Solutions for Business: I know it’s obvious, but the print and the promotional market is going to expand over the next two years with opportunities to sell more and diversify product offerings to customers. The way I see it, most applications will break down into two categories: communication and events. In other words, the products provided will likely serve a very specific purpose to communicate a necessary message…encouraging social distancing, notifying customers of openings, etc. Or, people are going to be so anxious to host events and promotions that they’re going to go all out. 

Where do you see opportunity in the future for ____? Where are you investing time, money, and resources? 

S&S Activewear: Digital resources will become increasingly necessary but that was something that we knew ahead of COVID. In that vein, I think many distributors are going to request for segmented pieces that make catalogs more simple, instead of making them sift through a 900-page catalog. 

Any parting words of advice for suppliers and distributors during this time, or looking forward?

American Solutions for Business: This will pass. If you’re busy now, embrace it. If you have more time on your hands, invest in yourself. Our industry is full of incredible (free) resources to learn and grow 

S&S Activewear: Now is the time to make a change. People have the time to dive in and get comfortable with new tools so they know how to use them when they start. 

Raining Rose: Continue to trust, support, and be patient with your supplier and distributors partners. We have a ways to go until we find our new normal and while that is scary, we can only get there together.

Hirsch Gift: Keep the faith in our industry, we have gone through recessions and many weather-related issues and survived. I think we have a very good chance of a comeback based on the interpersonal relationships of our industry and working together as a team to get through this.