Feature Article - March/April 2017

The Ongoing Evolution of Incentives & Rewards

A Roundtable Discussion With IMRA

By Joe Bush

PIP: How do reps help address the increasing use of more categories of merchandise as shown in the Incentive Research Foundation 2017 Trends Study?

Scott Whitehead: We can help people navigate that fine line between offering variety and offering too many items. Just like it's overwhelming for the program manager to narrow choices, you don't want the recipient of the corporate gift or loyalty award to feel overwhelmed with too many choices. It waters down the experience. You can offer multiple categories, but you don't need to offer five brand items in each category.

Chris Harrison: There's always something new, something hot. Reps use their knowledge across brands. We try to understand what you're trying to achieve and can take your choices from thousands of items to the 20 items best suited to what your recipients are looking for.

PIP: How do you see merchandise fitting into the incentive mix today vs. years past?

Scott Whitehead: Previously merchandise categories were more traditional. Today, categories are more lifestyle-based. People realize it's nice to have something usable, not just a trophy. If you receive binoculars, a coffee maker or a small kitchen appliance, it's something you use all of the time. It's part of your daily life.

Ted Moravec: 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 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.

The concept of a custom fitting event, which originated with sunglasses, has expanded to watches, electronics, bicycles and more. 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.

PIP: What are common misunderstandings about working with merchandise reps you'd like to dispel?

Micah Vander Tuig: People don't understand that reps work free of charge to the customer. Businesses are used to being solicited and hiring an outside marketing firm or adviser. The suppliers and the factories pay the reps' commissions.

IMRA representatives don't offer just products. They offer ideas, marketing strategies and sales solutions. And, they can identify which brands offer the best margins, steering a business to increased profits.

Vilia Johnson: IMRA reps don't offer just products. We offer ideas, marketing strategies and sales solutions. And, we can identify which brands offer the best margins, steering a business to increased profits.

Chris Harrison: You don't have to shop online to save time. Real-time delivery is a way of life for everyone these days. There's no fall-off between leading retailers and leading suppliers and manufacturers. We are able to provide real-time metrics, inventory and instantaneous tracking.

Vilia Johnson: Our expertise goes beyond our backyard. We know what works for other distributors, not just in the local territory, but nationwide. We identify suppliers with drop ship capabilities, bundling and customization.

Tasha Sharp: We collaborate for [the customer's] benefit. If someone needs a competing line that I don't carry, I'll refer them to the person who has it. Not only do we want to help you have a successful program, we want you to have a good purchasing experience.

Chris Harrison: Reps are connected to all of the people who can help you. For example, we had a customer that needed 90 large items to ship by the end of the week. They were absolutely frantic and thought their only solution was to pay almost $2,500 in expedited shipping. The rep was able to reach out to the appropriate party and get it shipped for $400.

Tasha Sharp: You don't have to have a large opening order to be able to customize. Many brands offer free customization, minimum one item.

PIP: How can a program manager find an IMRA rep?

Tasha Sharp: Ask your incentive program development partner if they work with IMRA sales professionals and suppliers.

Micah Vander Tuig: Use the IMRA Directory included in this issue or for a searchable database visit the IMRA website at: www.imraonline.org.