Feature Article - January/February 2019

Event Horizons

The Impact of Fitting Events & Gifting Experiences

By Rick Dandes

Offering valued employees a choice of high-end, sought-after branded merchandise during incentive travel events or sales meetings is increasingly viewed by incentive program planners and human resource experts as an effective way to reward loyalty, show appreciation, recognize talent or celebrate the reaching or exceeding of a corporate milestone.

According to an Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) 2018 report, the gifting experience has become paramount. "For rewards to matter in a world where all things are varied, abundant and accessible," the IRF report said, "the reward must, more than ever, have a personal meaning and a personalized delivery associated with it."

Hence the use of "gifting experiences" on site at meetings has become part of the incentive reward travel package.

It wasn't always that way, said Brett Hatch, senior director, Maui Jim, a leading sunglass manufacturer based in Peoria, Ill. "The days of one-gift-fits-all is long over," he said.

Hatch recognized the value of personalizing gifting 18 years ago, and is generally recognized within the incentives and rewards industry as a pioneer in developing what Maui Jim calls "fitting events."

"In the old days," Hatch said, "event attendees might receive 'pillow gifts' in their rooms upon arrival. It would typically be the same thing for everyone. The recipient might not be able to use it, and subsequently might hand it off to someone else, such as a family member."

Hatch recalled how it all started: "I was attending a motivation trade show," he said, "when a woman approached me and said that she loved Maui Jim, loved our brand, and would I like to give this out as a pillow gift at one of their meetings? I remember saying, 'OK, you are a meeting planner. Where are you going?' She said the Ritz-Carlton in Cancun, Mexico. She wanted to put one pair of glasses in each guest room. I told her she couldn't really do that."

Instead, Hatch suggested that he come out and offer 10 to 12 styles and give attendees a choice, "because one size won't fit all. People obviously have different size heads," he said, laughing. The idea Hatch had was to give everybody a choice and a better experience all around.

"That was the moment of truth right there," Hatch said. "I was really just meeting the needs of the marketplace. And now I had to pull it off. I had to get product there, show up, get people."

Maui Jim, and Brett Hatch, wrote the book on how to stage fitting events, but other organizations have picked up on the benefits of personalizing gift-giving at events, and how this little "extra amenity" can engage and motivate attendees without distracting from the overall focus of the reward package.

"It's key to plan ahead," said Brian Rivolta, senior vice president, business development, Incentive Concepts, St. Louis. Gifts should be chosen in a meaningful way. Planning business, promotional and protocol gifts requires much more than the selection of gifts, sorting them and complementing them—it also plays a part in a company's systematic strategy.

For rewards to matter in a world where all things are varied, abundant and accessible,the reward must, more than ever, have a personal meaning and a personalized delivery associated with it.

Usually the gifting experience is part of a larger event, whether a sales meeting or incentive trip, Rivolta said. "The gifting part of it is a small part of their overall experience," he added. "We try to talk to our customers ahead of time to see what the demographics are of their group. Many times they are already interested in a specific brand, so then, through the use of demographics, we can narrow down the number of product choices. Sometimes a planner will say, 'I have a group but don't really have an idea in mind, what brand would you recommend?'"

Early on in the planning stage, added Bret Williams, director of event giving, Links Unlimited, Cincinnati, "we sit down with the company's planner. We want to understand everything about the event: number of people, demographic, male-female ratio, the budget, the location, what they've done in the past, what has worked in the past, what hasn't. Then we go back to our portfolio brands and suggest to the planner multiple options for them to choose from, whether it be sunglasses or watches, handbags or jewelry, or sporting goods. And they can choose from that and we go on from there."

With this model, Williams said, you receive a gift that will be appreciated because you've chosen it, so you can use it yourself. Having the choice of a high-end product also causes word-of-mouth buzz, "and in our opinion can be what helps drive others to reach their goals so that they can go to that event the following year."

One of the trends that Rivolta has been seeing is people wanting more and more choice when doing these events. "But I always try to tell people that it is important to balance between choice and chore," he said. By that he means, "it is great to give people a choice and let them select a gift that works for them, but you also do not want to overload people with too many options, where it becomes more of a chore. It can be a long, exhausting process when you have anywhere from 200 to 1,000 people to get through and you are offering them a choice of 10 or 15 items."

Rivolta said keeping the choice of gifts in the four-to-eight range, if possible, is best. "Sometimes we have more than that. We try to steer people toward one or two brands, three at the most, and usually no more than 8 to 10 items whenever possible."