Departments - January/February 2019

The Last Word With…
…Spencer Toomey, CPIM

By Deborah L. Vence


Spencer Toomey became involved with the incentive industry by accident. He was working in retail and wanted to work in outside sales.

"I answered a three-line newspaper ad that said, 'premium account executive, Rand McNally, company car.' I had no idea what premium sales was, but the company car was appealing, so I applied. I got the job, and since the guy who hired me was Irish, he decided that my start date would be March 17, 1980, and that was how it started," said Toomey, CPIM, senior vice president, Revo Sunglasses, president emeritus and member of the executive board of the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA), and 2018 inductee into the IMA Hall of Fame.

Back then, sales was very different—with no cellphones, Internet, e-mail or laptops. "You did a lot of cold calling, and your source of information came from the library," Toomey said, noting the Standard Directory of Advertisers, newspaper want ads and walking into companies cold in hopes of getting a meeting.

"Once the Internet hit, so many things changed. All the information you needed was available on your laptop, as well as lead generating and sales presentations," he said.

Associations played a big part in Toomey's success, too, starting with the Premium Marketing Club of New York, the Incentive Manufacturers and Representative Alliance (IMRA) and then the IMA. What's more, networking and the long-term friendships he developed as a member of these associations have been priceless.

"I worked for several major retail brands, and whenever top management would travel with me, they were amazed at the relationships and help that we received from our competitors. I don't know of another industry where competitors will help each other like this industry," he said. "We are like a family, which makes the many hours of travel and trade shows fun. Because, at the end of the day, we would all get together and have some fun to unwind after a long day."

When asked where the industry is heading, Toomey said it has changed dramatically from when he started because of the Internet, which has made so many things easier, but also has made things more challenging.

"Social media is a must, and you have to change almost daily to keep up. So much buying is done online that maintaining relationships with your good customers is a challenge. The successful companies will find a way to do both," he said.

"There has been a lot of consolidation of brands and national marketing companies recently," he added, and " it may come to a point where national marketing companies and reps will have to carry competing brands to maintain a presence in the industry."

Artificial intelligence also will continue to play a larger role in programs. "It is advancing how we connect, work, play, fit, save and how we spend our reward currency. It will track client data, adjust programs to fit their needs, and it will help target and refine how and when we interact with everyone, often without us even knowing about it," he said.

As far as challenges facing the industry, Toomey said there are many, with one challenge in "finding the next great opportunity."

"There were many over the years—wellness, years of service, engagement, performance, casino programs and lately, events. The newest challenge is [in] understanding the new recipient," he said.

"For years, the baby boomers were the largest part of the target audience. Today, the boomers are starting to retire, and the next generation of gen X, millennials, gen Y and others are quickly becoming the largest part of the target audience, and they are very different from the boomers in what motivates them," he said. "Some of the millennials and boomers no longer want to own anything. They rent their homes (furnished), cars, boats, etc., and want to stay flexible and uncommitted. This presents a challenge as to what to offer them."

Before the Internet, if a company wanted to put your items in a program, they had to "come to you for the information on the brand and get the images of your products." Then, you could ask about the program length, the demographics of the customer, how many items they thought that they would use, etc.

"Today, they just go online and choose products without our knowledge and sometimes choose items that are not available for our marketplace, put them in a program and then the problems start," Toomey said. "This is especially challenging with companies asking for hundreds of items in their programs to give their employees more items to choose from."

The Amazon model has changed the industry in many ways. "They offer almost everything with fast turnaround and many times free shipping. The award choices went from a single item to several items to unlimited items. For the suppliers, this is a nightmare when it comes to forecasting. When there were only a few items, you could guesstimate what items would be chosen and how many would be redeemed. Today, you are up against hundreds of items, and your brand might only redeem a few items," he explained. "Retailers have changed their way of doing business to compete and prevent the end-user companies from going directly to the retailers."

Inventory is a big issue today, too. "In the past, companies would hold large inventories and would have a special inventory just for the incentive part of the business. Companies today run lean with small inventories, making it challenging to cover programs and the unexpected large opportunities," he said.

"One of the biggest challenges for some companies is how [to] take part in global rewards," he said. "The online giants sell globally, and large customers expect our companies to service them globally."

When he has free time, Toomey, who has three children (two of whom are married) and one grandson, is "blessed that we still take vacations together and spend a lot of time together."

Also an avid boater, Toomey takes "many boat trips during the summer to places like Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod, Block Island, Sag Harbor, Rhode Island and Liberty Island. "We also do day trips every weekend when we are not taking a long boat trip. It is not uncommon to have a boatload of family on board," he said, adding that he also plays tennis, softball and golf.

"During the winter I spend a lot of time in Florida where I join a couple of tennis teams, a softball league, play some golf and do some boating," he said. "We do some traveling as well. Last year, we took the whole family to Italy and next year we are going to Paris. As you can tell, we don't do a lot of sitting around."