Let’s Get Digital

PPB While the debate over print vs. online catalogs has continued to crop up among promotional products companies, Gemline took the leap to doing away with catalogs. What prompted this decision?

Jonathan Isaacson headshot webIsaacson We were hearing from a rapidly increasing number of customers that they no longer wanted us to send them a reference catalog. The main reason given to us was that they preferred to search for product solutions online. As a result, we began to re-evaluate our go-to-market strategy in terms of product marketing, which helped to frame some questions: What would be the reason to keep producing a reference catalog in 2016 and beyond? Are there any other successful industries outside of promotional products that are still using a reference catalog? In the end, we could not come up with another industry that still uses reference catalogs, and the reasons to move online were compelling.

We looked around us and saw that virtually every industry has adapted to the digital world. The benefit of being more focused online is clear; our new website provides a better, faster and much easier way for our customers and their end users to do business. We still send our customers our printed style guides every other month, which feature both new and existing products. This gives our customers a powerful tool to proactively drive their own sales and makes Gemline more relevant and timely.

PPB What concerns or doubts about the transition did members of the Gemline team express, and how were they addressed during the decision making process?

Isaacson Change is almost always challenging, so when we presented the new go-to-market strategy, we expected a varied response. However, the team embraced the new direction the company was embarking on as they evaluated their own work environments and how they interacted with customers.

Of course, there were a number of tactical issues that came up during and after the transition. This was to be expected. We have made quick adjustments and, as a part of the process, will continue working to provide customers with the best possible experience.

PPB How did you communicate the change to your customers, and what has been their response?

Isaacson We communicated with our customers in a variety of ways and explained our new marketing approach. For the customers that were already firmly ensconced in the digital world, this has been a welcomed change. They have better tools at their fingertips and this fits neatly into their world. For some customers who like to use paper on occasion, they can continue to use the myriad of marketing tools we deploy, including our style guides. For others, this may take some getting used to or need more explanation.

PPB You’ve mentioned the need to approach other industry practices in light of advancing technologies, globalization and changes in demographics. When did Gemline start discussing the evolution of its business strategy in the context of these changes, and what other advancements or changes has your team recently put into practice?

Isaacson The reality is that our end-user customers have been changing for some time now. It stands to reason that the industry will continue to evolve as our world does around us. We are not going to be immune. We are simply trying to stay relevant in the world of Google, Amazon and Uber.

With this in mind, we have completely rebuilt our website and will continue to roll out improvements in the future. With our new site, using better, more intuitive search tools we can provide our customers with an easier way to find the solution that fits their needs.

PPB What business practices do you feel suppliers should begin phasing out?

Isaacson We are not smart enough to be able to tell somebody else how to run their business. We try to do what we believe is best for our customers and others will have to decide what they think is best.

PPB What are some of the less obvious benefits to staying ahead of the curve as a promotional products business?

Isaacson I have been running Gemline since 1994 and have seen most of our competitors from that time disappear. For the remaining competitors, they have survived through a form of natural selection. They are well-run companies with significant resources. When the world is changing, especially as fundamentally as it is today, sometimes you have to take a chance or try to do something different in order to be successful in the future.

To read more about digital vs. printed supplier catalogs, see PPB‘s May 2016 article, “Is It Time Turn The Page On Catalogs?”