Editor’s Note: In a survey of distributors and suppliers in the fall, PPAI Research sought their perspectives on the present and future of the promotional products industry. PPAI Research used this data to produce a SWOT – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – analysis of the industry to get a better idea of where it’s heading in the next three to five years.

Savvy leaders in the promotional products industry will quickly identify that many of promo’s weaknesses represent the greatest opportunities for their firms. Industry pros cite five key areas that represent opportunities for the industry to grow, improve or simply seize upon a horizon of new possibilities.

While most of these are already being focused on by numerous promo companies, the industry at large has plenty of room to advance by making these topics part of the larger conversation that begins with the term “promotional products.” And any company not yet taking the plunge may be falling behind.

Here are the opportunities outlined most often by responding distributors and suppliers:

39% | Sustainable & Eco-Friendly Products

The sustainability revolution has already begun in promo, but one supplier suggested the immediate future is going be key to that movement, saying “one of the greatest opportunities in the next five years is likely to be the increased focus on sustainability and eco-friendly products.”

The survey results show that suppliers and distributors want the days of promotional products being referred to as “brandfill” to become a distant memory. It is becoming urgent for our industry and urgent for our planet.

“Sustainability can be intimidating, but it’s important to look at this area as an opportunity for growth,” Wimbush says. “How each company approaches its sustainability goals and what success looks like for them has flexibility, based on where their greatest impact potential lies. These differentiators help set them up for new business and give a competitive edge.”

Sustainability means accomplishing more than just eco-friendly goals. It also means better products or “more than one-use items,” as one supplier says.

“My hope is that environmentally friendly products will continue to make inroads and become more competitive with more traditional (cheaper) products,” says one distributor.

28% | Advancements In Technology

Technology is perpetually a vital frontier, and according to responding promo professionals, the wake of cutting-edge technologies like AI and digital platforms can streamline operations and offer personalized client experiences.

One supplier stressed the “ability to reach more consumers via technology. Younger generations like the ability to personalize products or align with a brand.”

Existing and evolving technology can also make work more efficient and easier for individual companies and the industry as a whole, or as one distributor foresaw, “new technologies to make production quicker, cheaper and easier with excellent quality.”

This year, PPAI hired CW Karstens as director of digital transformation, and Karstens has come into the position with innovation as his guiding compass.

“Embracing and fostering innovation is not merely an option – it is a necessity for individuals, organizations and societies to thrive in the ever-evolving global landscape,” says Karstens. “Innovation is vital to the promotional products marketplace.”

17% | E-Commerce & Online Marketing

“E-commerce advancements” is a common chorus among industry suppliers and distributors in terms of opportunities facing the industry.

Gone is the time when an online presence was a proposition reserved for those with big budgets. Now, it can be something of an equalizer. One distributor says an opportunity exists in “providing our own online offerings to keep up with the big box distributors online.”

This area represents increased sales opportunities, as well as new marketing possibilities. “Explore more possibilities for experiential and virtual promotions,” one distributor says.

Developing robust online platforms to showcase products is crucial, but one possible avenue for facilitating easy ordering and capturing a larger market share could be Promo Data eXchange (aka PDX), an open standards formula behind PPAI’s mission to eliminate unnecessary phone calls and emails while unlocking a digital landscape that benefits the entire industry.

13% | Retail Brands

Another common response when it comes to growth opportunities in the industry is one with a strong track record: partnering with recognized retail brands.

Distributors in particular are hoping to see, as one put it, “more suppliers that can offer retail brand name items. Customers want those brands.”

Such a partnership can elevate the product offerings (assuming the brand is a reputable one) and attract a clientele seeking premium items, perhaps waking them up to the success of promotional products.

Many companies with large workforces are looking for such a product with a recognizable name to offer their workers. “That seems to be the trend with the current employee generation,” one distributor says.

3% | Global Market Expansion

The possibilities of promo are not constrained by borders. Broadening into global markets is the next step, according to many suppliers and distributors. One supplier says that “scaling to accommodate more global opportunities” became a realistic goal when they met promo professionals from Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom at The PPAI Expo 2023 in Las Vegas.

Expanding into new geographic markets diversifies clientele and taps into emerging economies. One distributor also pointed out that this could go hand in hand with more sustainable offerings: “Sustainable gifting is becoming huge in the industry, especially in Europe.”