I Love the Smell of Steer Manure

My friends to the left are responsible for that great steer manure smell that I love so much! One great thing about Southern California is the weather. It’s sunny most of the time and we don’t get intense storms like many parts of the country do.

I’m kind of a gardening nut, always planting flowers and I like to keep my grass healthy. Each year at the proper time, we put Winter Rye on our lawn. It’s a simple thing to put down the seed with many bags of steer manure. Some find the manure smell disgusting but being a bit odd, I kind of like it. I’m not sure why, but part of it is I know it helps the lawn stay healthy.

In the spring, I put on weed and feed on to kill off the weeds and fertilize the grass, making it stronger in the hot, dry months of summer. I liken my gardening skills to grow a strong, healthy business. Nurturing fruits, vegetables, and flowers is rewarding for me as is having a thriving business.

The landscape of the promotional products industry is changing. To have a fruitful business these days you need to be aware of what’s happening so you can fertilize your business for growth and be proactive about killing the weeds that threaten it.  

What are these weeds that are choking our business growth and how can we fertilize where we need to? Here are a three emerging trends, or “weeds”, that are worth noting along with suggestions as to how you can fertilize them and grow your business. You may not love the smell of steer manure like I do, but I’m pretty sure you love the green as you build a successful business!

The Economy
It’s no secret that things aren’t what they used to be. The experts say the recession is over, but from where I sit in California, things don’t look so rosy. Clients I’ve worked with for years are either out of business or just aren’t buying as much. However, I still think the weather is great for growing a healthy business; we just need to work a bit smarter.

What’s the fertilizer?
Take very good care of the clients you have. Ask them for referrals. Be active and engaged in your community. People like to do business with people they know. Get back to the basics. Take advantage of self-promo items because the best way to tell someone what you do is show them what you do.

Bad PR for Promotional Products
Our industry has gotten a bad wrap lately. In California, the Governor announced a ban on purchasing promotional products, referring to them as “these kind of plastic gewgaws.” What’s interesting is that the Governor himself used promotional products in his successful election campaign, so he must know they work. And of course, branded products played a key role in the recent national elections. Why the badmouthing of our industry?

What’s the fertilizer?
Offer value. Promotional products are a very cost-effective, powerful marketing and branding tool. Become the go-to source for creativity and marketing ideas. If this isn’t your strength, get help from your preferred suppliers. Go to trade shows, take advantage of educational opportunities and learn as much as you can. Knowledge is power.

Product Safety and Liability
Product safety is a complex topic having a profound effect on our industry.  Unfortunately, it isn’t an exciting subject and keeping up with it all is a challenge. Many suppliers and distributors don’t quite realize the drastic implications of the new rules. It’s hard to get fired up about cadmium, phthalates, or understand terms like ppm (parts per million) for lead? We’ve all heard about massive recalls of toys in and out of our industry. One supplier was hit with a 10 million dollar judgment for having too much lead in the ink used to imprint bags. Still, many people just don’t realize it really COULD happen to them.

What’s the fertilizer?
Rick Brenner, a product safety consultant in our industry has by necessity become an expert in this area. Rick notes. "In our industry, concern about product safety is an important thing that is going on and a problem that could easily become your opportunity. Ever since the summer of 2007 and those massive recalls of Chinese toys containing too much lead, the world of product safety and regulatory compliance has been turned on its ear. Complicated and sometimes ambiguous laws have been passed at the state and federal level, testing labs have been swamped with new business and corporate America has been put on notice that cheap products imported from China can be risky.

No shortage of problems here: Complex new product safety regulations sometimes different from state to state, uncertainty, and confusion from buyers, an industry scrambling to learn compliance and even the experts trying to wrap their heads around this juggernaut. Problems, however, can be golden opportunities for enterprising marketers.

Corporate America needs promotional products. And because of the risks, because of these problems, they need a knowledgeable and conscientious distributor to guide them, protect them, to act as a fiduciary for their most valuable asset – their good name – to ensure that it only goes on quality products that are safe and compliant and is never put on a product that might cause risk or embarrassment. In short, they need a trusted advisor. You.”

A Changing Business Environment
The traditional Supplier/Distributor relationship is being challenged. These days your clients can buy anything you sell online and probably for less. Larger companies are buying direct from overseas sources. In the same way, larger distributors are bypassing suppliers and purchasing directly from the factories. Some suppliers also sell direct to end-users and earn higher margins. The distribution lines are being blurred.

What’s the fertilizer?
A changing business environment isn’t the end of the world. Challenging marketplaces create opportunities. As I’ve noted, providing value to clients is critical. Savvy distributors are thriving and others are dying. Just like a dead garden, some businesses will never bear fruit again.

Look at ways to distinguish yourself from competitors. Be engaged in social media, build beneficial online relationships, but don’t be selling. Be helping.

Now is the time to start thinking about the things you can do to keep growing a strong, healthy and fruitful business!

© 2012 Jeff Solomon, MAS 

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