Feature Article - January/February 2018

The Right Fit

Fitting Events Continue to Grow in Popularity

By Deborah L. Vence

From the time when sunglasses manufacturer Maui Jim first came up with the idea for a "fitting event" years ago, many companies have echoed that same idea—wanting to offer attendees at corporate events an opportunity to try out different products and get "fitted" into the item of their choosing.

"A successful gift is one that leaves memories and an item that guests want to take with them, as opposed to leaving it in their hotel room when they check out. We've all been there. You get the item that is local, but has no use to you, or an item that is too big or awkward to travel home with. A fitting experience is something that is memorable, tailored to the guest, and provides the instant gratification of walking away with a gift," said Brett Hatch, senior director, Global Corporate Gifts, Maui Jim Sunglasses & Zeal Optics, based in Peoria, Ill.

Rising Popularity

For sure, the instant gratification you get at fitting events has contributed to their popularity—giving event attendees that feeling of immediacy as well as a genuine experience.

"How would you like to walk into a store, pick out your favorite piece and just walk out with it? It would be great, right?" Hatch said. "That's what a Maui Jim fitting experience is—instant gift of choice."

He noted a study that was conducted by Cornell School of Hotel Administration that states that "The primary purchase and the gift equally affect the overall evaluation of the entire product bundle, and a low-quality gift diminishes the perceived value of high-quality primary purchases."

So, deciding which gift to include as part of a promotional strategy is not a trivial managerial decision. It's important.

"I'm sure you've heard the saying, 'You're only as strong as your weakest link'; that also applies to gifting. The lasting memory you are giving your guests is lower-cost tchotchke items that get left in a hotel room, not a quality gift that they will use throughout the entire year, like a pair of Maui Jim sunglasses," he said.

Bret Williams, director of global event services at Links Unlimited, a Cincinnati-based company that offers a full range of services, from product fulfillment to complete end-to-end solutions for incentive programs, added that "Continued growth and popularity of fitting events is contributed to the availability of more and more premium brands in the space" and "more companies marketing gifting services.

"With that growth comes access to additional premium brands, such as Ray-Ban, Oakley, Beats, Michael Kors and Fossil," he said.

The Latest Trends

When it comes to the most recent trends at fitting events, authenticity continues to be a strong one among discerning consumers today.

Similarly, Hatch said that "People love choice, personalization and quality."

"Guests," he said, "want to pick their gift and tailor it to their needs. Maui Jim sunglasses are a gift that covers a variety of needs, whether it's fashion, function or protection. They don't want to just get an item that is picked out for the mass."

The instant gratification you get at fitting events has contributed to their popularity—giving event attendees that feeling of immediacy as well as a genuine experience.

He also suggested considering what your guests will be using in their day-to-day life, and year after year, that will solidify the positive memory of the event.

According to the Incentive Research Foundation's (IRF) 2018 Outlook Study, there is an "increase of buyers working directly with the manufacturer as opposed to third-party suppliers. Thirty-nine percent of corporate buyers are frequently working directly with suppliers.

"There are a lot of perks with working directly with the manufacturer, like Maui Jim," Hatch said. "You're working directly with the source. When you work with Maui Jim, you get quick turnaround, the newest styles, ample inventory and the best pricing. These are all factors that determine whether you will have a successful experience from start to finish."

Williams added that "Sunglass events continue to be our most popular option as everyone can use another pair of Ray-Bans or Oakleys."

Mike Landry, vice president, special markets, Tumi Inc., a high-end manufacturer of suitcases and bags for travel based in South Plainfield, N.J., noted that one of the trends he sees "has to do with many of the brands that are active in our channel, getting into the on-site event business, and realizing how 'manpower intensive' it is.

"A few brands went into the marketplace and, after doing one or two fitting events, decided they were overwhelmed by the inventory and sheer manpower requirements," Landry said.

"If you think of the average processing time per participant, and multiply that by the number of participants, the mathematics drives a lot of 'boots on the ground' support," he said. "You may need several people for several days to service these opportunities. This, in turn, has spawned a whole new segment of the sales channel ... third-party resellers that have expertise in the format and strictly focus on the execution of on-site events."

Landry also reiterated how Maui Jim wrote the playbook for fitting events.

"We've all learned a thing or two from that category; [they've done] such a great job, really like nobody else," he said.

"The soul of this entire experience is shopping and making a personal choice. That's the fun of it," he said. "You are in a ballroom, and there's music playing. The bar is open. People are having a ball. It's great fun."