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The Right Fit

Fitting Events Continue to Grow in Popularity

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."

Why Are They Important?

Experts summed up the importance of fitting events with the fact that they provide guests with the personalized instant gratification aspect of gifting, as well as offer an authentic experience.

"The guest gets to pick out what they want, not what they are told they are going to get," Hatch said.

He noted a study done by the Wharton School that states, "When recipients receive an experience, regardless of whether they share in that experience with the gift-giver, they feel more connected to the gift-giver as a result of it compared to receiving a material gift."

And, a fitting experience is just that—an experience.

"A true brand experience is something that shows that a company is investing in that guest, just as much as that guest invests in your company or organization," Hatch said. "When you work with Maui Jim, you add that value and standard because our staff is trained to learn about the guest and their wants and needs to determine the most appropriate gift. You are leaving the guest with the memories of a tailored experience."

Williams added that fitting events are important because while finding a gift for a client or employee can be challenging, "Everyone may appreciate the gesture, but the gift they continue to use on a daily basis will be the one they remember and will inspire them to return."

"For the recipients," Landry added, "it's still new, a novelty factor."

It wasn't that long ago that there were room drop gifts. For instance, event attendees might have received a baseball cap one night, flip flops another and a T-shirt another night. Landry noted his experience at travel events in the past. And, one time in the Bahamas, for example, a chip and dip set in a conch shell was given as a gift.

In this case, the issue was in getting the gift back home.

"I would never have gotten it back intact " he said.

However, if you weave a shopping experience into it, and it's done very well, it's easy to offer something that attendees can take back with them and use 52 weeks out of the year.

Fitting Challenges

Sometimes fitting events can pose some challenges, underscoring the need for careful planning and effective solutions for any problems that need to be addressed.

Logistics are important. Are you offering something recipients will be comfortable carrying home, or will the items be shipped?

"Universally, we'll take people's names and addresses and ship it to them after the fact," Landry said. "Bring six or seven or eight bags. But, no one wants the bag there. [You can] drop ship the program. They typically want [it] personalized, monogrammed, laser plated with the people's logo. And when they get it, it's very special."

It's important to balance the number of choices with the processing time per person, too.

"You want to give people a fun, great experience," he said. "But, by the same token, if you are at a major event and seeing 300 people, [you have to consider] the manpower you need to try to balance those two things. I see some of the sunglasses brands, and have seen them over the [years] since they've started, pare down their assortments, [and] give people slightly less choices. [They] found that balance with processing time."

One of the other challenges has to do with instant gratification. People are happy to wait for a piece of Tumi luggage, for example, but still have that desire for immediate gratification. In turn, that can be addressed by giving guests a card holder, or a small leather goods piece, for instance, with the plan to ship the luggage to them later.

For Hatch, "A challenge that we run into are companies that give 'experiential' a bad name.

"We have been doing this for almost 18 years," he explained. "It's a fine science to get down to things like how many styles offered is the right number, how much inventory should be sent to ensure every guest walks away with their first choice, what training to offer our staff to be able to provide a true brand experience, or having those relationships for shipping logistics and duty issues that may come up," he said.

"There are so many variables in a domestic or international fitting event, that a lot of companies run out of inventory, can't provide a true brand experience because they are trying to represent so many different brands, or have hidden costs that aren't accounted for up front," he added.

And, not all companies can pull off a smooth experience with all of the moving pieces.

"When a planner is burned by some of these issues, they may think that fitting events are too much work and too much can go wrong," Hatch said. "As long as the planner is working with a veteran company, like Maui Jim, that has seen it all, they'll see that a fitting experience done right leaves the guests and planners with great memories."

What's more, Williams noted that the "Management of the inventory to support events is a continuous challenge. The more options you provide, the more inventory is necessary to ensure a successful event.

"As we continue to grow and face challenges, we dissect the challenges and determine how we can alleviate them in the future. For instance, international events can be challenging depending on the countries of import," he said.

"Customs, theft and communications are challenges that we continue to strive for improvement to ensure a safe and on-time delivery," he added. "Our Web Redemption Platform was developed while keeping these challenges in mind by creating savings for our customers while avoiding the risks of international shipping."

Tips for Success

So, what does it take to make a fitting event successful?

"To ensure you're going to have a successful event, I would recommend requesting referrals first," Williams suggested.

Fitting events provide guests with the personalized instant gratification aspect of gifting, as well as offer an authentic experience.

"As more and more companies begin to market themselves as an event company, it's important to ensure they have managed successful events in the past," he said.

Landry recommended keeping the assortment of products small.

"That's important. I would say for processing time, get your visual appearance right. We have banner stands," he said. It's important for meeting planners to spend time on what the room looks like, everything from the ballroom decorations.

"Analyze everything to the nth degree, to make a good presentation. There's a little bit of presentation. You really do need to invest in signage, like table drapes, display tables or display fixtures or something," he added.

He also reiterated the importance of making sure that you have the manpower to service the recipients. "You have to understand the flow of the event," he said.

Hatch's tips for success include asking questions:

  • Does the company you're working with provide a true brand experience?
  • Does the gift have a broad and lasting appeal? What sort of gift can be provided that will appeal to a wide range of demographic—age range, gender or lifestyle?
  • What costs are covered by the gifting company, and what costs are put back on the planner? Get a breakdown of every aspect of the experience prior to the event.
  • How is inventory handled?
  • What are the destination considerations, and how do they work with taxes and duties? Do they have distribution centers throughout the world to help with cost savings and/or shipping logistics?
  • What are the minimum and maximum requirements?

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