Feature Article - March/April 2012

IMRA Roundtable

IMRA Leaders Weigh in on Merchandise & Rewards

By Deborah L. Vence

Incentive rewards and recognition programs are the driving force behind an organization's intent to compensate employees for their commitment and loyalty to the job. And, in turn, those same organizations often rely on the Incentive Manufacturers and Representatives Alliance (IMRA) to help choose the most fitting rewards for their incentive programs.

To find out more on the benefits of IMRA and the latest in merchandise incentives, Premium Incentive Products magazine interviewed incentive industry experts and IMRA members Karen Renk, CAE, executive director of the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) in Naperville, Ill.; Pete Mitchell, director of B-to-B sales for Samsonite LLC in Mansfield, Mass., and president of the IMRA board of directors; Tasha Sharp, president of Phoenix-based Sharp Incentives in Phoenix, Ariz., and IMRA treasurer; Kevin Dougherty, director of special markets for Seiko Corp., USA, and IMRA vice president; and Bill Martocci, principal at Carlisle Sales and Marketing in Oakdale, N.Y., and secretary of the IMRA board of directors.

Q: What are the latest trends in merchandise incentives?

Karen Renk: In an economy where most people have limited discretionary income, lifestyle incentives continue to be in demand. Incentives with a high perceived retail value such as tablets, cameras, brand-name appliances and accessories for the home, and personal items such as sport equipment, luggage, watches, etc., are long-lasting reminders that the organization values the employee's contribution and the customer's loyalty.

Pete Mitchell: The biggest trend is the increased use of data feeds to populate award Web sites. This presents the participant with a tremendous number of choices, but can also overwhelm the participant to the extent that it's difficult to make a decision. Smart program developers are focusing their assortments to appeal to the target audience—"more is not necessarily more."

Tasha Sharp: Customers want quality brand-name products that they know will last. We also see more "home" items being selected, kitchen appliances, barbecue grills, patio heaters and games, etc.

Kevin Dougherty: Can't get away from it. The latest electronic gizmo has the biggest redemptions. I've always said if I could plug my vases and bowls in, I'd sell a million units!

Bill Martocci: Merchandise incentives typically go the same way retail products are heading. What's cool and new is what people want, and successful merchandise incentives are those items. Currently, there is not a run-away choice of item as in years past, such as iPods, for example. What is changing is the way the programs are being run, with a "Gamification of America." This new style of administering points can get more people involved, give greater opportunity to reinforce the message, and have participants engaged on multiple levels. There is no doubt we will see more of these programs implemented.