Guest Column - January/February 2017

Give Me Something New!

Staying Ahead With Event Merchandise

By Ted Moravec

We've all heard it. Heard from our customers. Heard from our sales teams. Heard from end-users. "What's new? Show me something I haven't seen before."

Using merchandise for recognition and reward meetings is arguably the most exciting opportunity for incentive merchandise suppliers in the current market environment. For those who select rewards, merchandise used in conjunction with an award trip is a force multiplier in the goal of recognizing and rewarding top performers with a memorable experience. As we learned from the Incentive Marketing Association's "Participant's Study," it's all about the experience.

Creating Lasting Impressions

On a flight that has just pushed back from the gate, the passenger in 5A turns to the one in 5B and says, "Excuse me, I noticed you have the new Bose headphones, can I ask how you like them?" 5B replies, "Love them. I just got them last month as a gift at our annual sales conference." A conversation ensues, perhaps an opportunity is created. That's the power of merchandise at an event.

The event merchandise market continues to evolve. Pioneers like Maui Jim challenged the school of thought that corporate logo gifts were the best way to reinforce for guests where and from whom the gift was received. They showed that given the right gift and the personalized approach to receiving it, the exceptional experience itself is more than enough to reinforce the corporate brand and the event.

Few things are more contagious than a good idea, and the concept of a custom fitting event, which originated with sunglasses, has expanded to watches, electronics, bicycles and more. The single item option has grown into the opportunity for an event attendee to select from a number of available products within a brand, and from multiple products into providing experiences for the attendee.

It's all about the ability to select a gift to match personal tastes and style. Premium brands coupled with a premium experience create the lasting impression for the gift recipient.

Trends Fuel Merchandise Opportunities

As the experience concept matures, that inevitable question rings out again. "What's new?" "Show me something I haven't seen before." Fortunately, a number of drivers are leading event planners and merchandise suppliers to get ahead of the "been there, done that feeling," which can erode the event experience.

One driver is product fatigue. A significant number of participants at any recognition or leadership event are likely repeat attendees. After all, that's why they are the top performers. Seeing the same type of product already received in prior years increases the chance that the gift will simply get passed on to someone else.

Another driver is changing workforce demographics. This has created a desire for more options, more choice and more experiences.

Since many events include both the person being recognized and a guest, the attendees are roughly equal male and female. Unisex products like electronics or products such as watches and sunglasses with men's and women's styles initially solved this problem. However, as product offers expand, it becomes more complicated. This has led to pairing gifts that appeal to both men and women such as combining a men's travel accessory with a handbag. More choice means more complexity in planning the event.

To help answer "What's new?" Tom Romine, president at Cultivate Premium Corporate Gifts, a Boulder, Colo.-based boutique agency specializing in on-site gift experiences, provided insights into key trends that will shape the next few years.

Romine sees three significant trends:

  • First is continued expansion of categories of products that are used in events. "So far we have seen sunglasses, sandals, watches, handbags and electronics. The next big one is apparel." However, it won't be the same jacket, same color. It will be the ability to select from a variety of styles and colors.
  • Second is to feature multiple brands. This includes both mixing across product lines such as offering multiple brands of sunglasses or two different brands of handbags, in addition to a variety of styles. It also means the pairing of complementary brands such as Kate Spade New York with Tumi to create an attractive women's and men's option.
  • Third is better integration of the gift into the event. "We are seeing planners integrate the gift experience right into the social component like a welcome reception. Here guests can interact with one another as they try on or evaluate their gift options, adding fun and excitement to the evening," Romine said.

Merchandise Experts Help Meet Increasing Demands

What does it take to have a successful merchandise event? People, process and product. We'll leave the people and process part to those who specialize in event experiences. For those of us who are merchandise suppliers or who select merchandise for events, we are on the cusp of amazing opportunities.

As today's event planners are challenged to deliver that new and exciting experience and meet the demanding tastes of recipients, don't overlook the decades of experience of your merchandise suppliers. We've learned to be successful at creating what's new with the latest and greatest merchandise.

Merchandise products have continually adapted to changing needs and will continue to do so, particularly as we look at addressing limits to size and weight. Event attendees want to be able to take their gifts home with them. They will also continue to ask, "What's new?" And they'll continue to say, "Show me something I haven't seen before."

For a jump-start on how to access product information, look no further than the incentive manufacturer's sales representatives who are members of the Incentive Manufacturers and Representative Alliance (IMRA). IMRA is a Strategic Industry Group of The Incentive Marketing Association (IMA), an umbrella organization for the incentive industry. The representatives along with the merchandise suppliers they represent have a wealth of product knowledge and experience. For more information visit

Ted Moravec is Executive Vice President of Elite Creations, a multi-brand supplier of products to the incentive market. He is also the current President of the Incentive Manufacturers and Representative Alliance (IMRA), a Strategic Industry Group of the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA), and Treasurer of the IMA.