Feature Article - March/April 2016

IMRA at a Glance

Communicating Value, Education Key Focus

By Deborah L. Vence

The Incentive Manufacturers and Representatives Alliance (IMRA)—a strategic industry group of the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA)—continues its goal this year to advance the representative/manufacturer working relationship and bring value to its members.

And, as we move on in 2016, one of the key focuses of IMRA is "consistent messaging about the value that representatives and suppliers of IMRA bring to the market," noted Ted Moravec, president of IMRA and vice president of Elite Creations, a national distributor of name-brand products for the premium and incentive market.

Another main focus of the organization this year is "re-evaluating our education platforms in order to think and act differently when building relationships with promotional products distributors," Moravec said. "We have to ensure that our platforms speak the same language as the distributor and their customers.

"A simple case in point," he said, "is our common use of the terms, "incentives" and "incentive programs," when it actually may make more sense to refer to these as corporate or company gifts as in, 'Do you have customers who use merchandise as gifts to recognize employee performance or to thank customers for their loyalty?' You may get a very different answer than asking, 'Do you have customers with incentive programs?'"

IMRA—membership for which includes representatives, manufacturers, national marketing companies, technology/resource providers, industry trade press and other key industry stakeholders—also is looking at how it can "promote gifts and incentives to end users so they will not use retail to pick their gifts and will use a reseller they are already working with for other logoed/imprinted products," said Tasha Sharp, a director with IMRA, and president of Sharp Incentives.

What's more, technology services firm Paramax and RepLink, an industry product database, have "partnered to create a new technology platform, which will aid IMRA members and non-IMRA members alike in servicing the large number of small businesses that are looking to use name-brand merchandise in their reward programs, as discovered in the 2015 Small Business Merchandise Market Study," explained Lore Rincon, secretary of IMRA, and sales manager with Continental Premium Corp., and Micah Vander Tuig, a director with IMRA and special markets manager at O'Rourke Sales Co.

Results from the small-business study were released by IMRA, together with the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), at IMRA's 2015 conference in September. The survey looked at the small-business market—which is defined as companies with between $1 million and $50 million in annual sales. Some of the key findings were published in Premium Incentive Products' September/October 2015 issue.

To recap, survey results showed that small-business respondents have hope toward the current economic situation. For instance, 60 percent indicated that they have grown moderately or significantly in the past year, while only 4 percent saw a decline. In addition, incentives commonly are employed among small businesses, with more than nine out of 10 reporting that they use incentives.

Other key findings from the survey include:

  • More than 90 percent of small businesses ($1 million to $50 million) use non-cash incentives
  • More than 50 percent of these small businesses use merchandise as incentives, spending more than $16 billion. (When apparel is included, more than 85 percent of small businesses use merchandise as incentives.)
  • Roughly half of these small businesses use a points-based program; and almost half (49 percent) of these companies have budgets greater than $10,000, while some 13 percent have budgets that are more than $50,000.
  • More than 70 percent of respondents indicated that they prefer to give the award or gift in person at the company or at a function.
  • More than 75 percent purchase their incentive items online; 60 percent purchase at retail—showing that small businesses are missing out on the myriad benefits of working with incentive suppliers to support their programs
  • More than 80 percent of companies believe that merchandise incentives work, influence morale and are effective motivators.