Feature Article - September/October 2010

Update Your Incentive Toolbox

A Look Inside Merchandise Trends

By Daniel P. Smith

For Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) Executive Director Karen Renk, the glass is most certainly half full.

With a recovering economy promising to spark job growth and more fruitful financial times, the incentive industry stands to benefit. A more active economy, many believe, will spur greater employee mobility and entice companies to retain and recruit top talent with compelling packages, as well as reenergize a work staff that has likely worked longer and harder during the recession and is clamoring for organizational support.

"Right now there's a business climate wherein incentive programs can be used strategically to address challenges, and that bodes well for the incentive industry as a whole," Renk said.

But Renk is surely not alone in her glass-half-full cheeriness, as optimism continues sprouting across the incentive industry.

"Companies are rebounding and getting used to the new normal. As this stability happens, employee programs that had been cancelled or stagnant will be reinstituted and reenergized," said Barbara Hendrickson, president of Livonia, Mich.-based Design Incentives. "Companies will want to keep their top performers, and incentive programs will be a key avenue to accomplish just that."

The Incentive Research Foundation's (IRF) Spring 2010 Pulse Survey revealed encouraging trends boosted in large part by the encouraging economic momentum, adding data to match the upbeat sentiments shared by both Renk and Hendrickson. While incentive programs might not see an immediate rapid rise, many survey respondents noted upward movement and enthusiasm filtering into the ranks, a sign that incentive programs appear ready to regain their footing in the business world.

The movement afoot is particularly appealing and encouraging for merchandise incentives, which have captured added interest given their perceived value for recipients, price-point accessibility for companies, a general, looming reluctance to reward with cash, and the still-lingering concerns about travel in light of various media revelations.

"I think we have all done the best we can to survive the storm and position ourselves to be better than ever when the economy recovers, [and] merchandise will play a big part in the resurgence," said Brian Rivolta, vice president of sales and marketing for Incentive Concepts, a St. Louis-based incentive merchandise fulfillment company.