A Distributor Asks: I’m new to the business—the majority of my business is ecommerce only—and have been receiving a lot of requests for free product samples. My policy has been to provide samples, at no charge, when the client appears qualified, but this leaves me to cover the shipping cost, and over 70 percent of the sample requests haven’t resulted in a sale. Any advice on how to better manage this?

If it’s a regular client, I tell them that I can provide one or two samples at no charge but may have to charge for more samples. It really depends on the client. If it’s a prospect who has never purchased, then I tell them there is a sample charge, which will be credited back to them when they order. If they don’t order, then at least you got paid for the sample. Also, if you are paying for shipping anyway, you may as well ask the supplier to throw in samples of some of their other items.

Regina Israel Finkelstein
DoctorPromo Promotions
Baldwin, New York
PPAI 279640, D2

If I have the slightest feeling that they’re just looking for a freebie (like requests from non-business emails) and if the sample is no charge to me, I just ask for a UPS or FedEx shipper number or ask them to pay for the shipping in advance. All non-clients get a max of one free sample, whether they pay for shipping or not. After that, they pay with the promise that they will be credited for an order of that item within 30 days.

If the supplier charges for the sample itself, so do I, with the exception of clients who meet a minimum spend amount with me for the past year. They get up to $100 worth of samples for free on a sliding scale depending on the amount of last year’s spend.

Rama Beerfas, MAS
Lev Promotions
San Diego, California
PPAI 218331, D1

My sample policy: Sample request orders totaling less than $5 are free as long as a shipper’s UPS or FedEx account number is provided. If a return number is not provided, we will charge for the items as well as the shipping cost. Promotional Gifts USA reserves the right to refuse free samples to anyone who tries to abuse it, and all paid samples will be discounted if the purchase is made. Active clients or companies that provide company email will get free samples upon request.

Allan Nazario Segarra
Promotional Gifts USA, Corp.
Orlando, Florida
PPAI 206557, D5

If they aren’t already clients, tell them you have to charge for samples over $15 plus freight unless they provide their number. Tell them that if they place an order, it will be rebated. I did that quite a bit when I started. Most “real” clients won’t mind.

Heather Kelly Malone
Account Executive
Houston, Texas
PPAI 755180, D1

Ship on their UPS or FedEx number. If they ask for more than one, charge for samples if the factory does. 

Rich Parritz
Boston, Massachusetts
PPAI 485734, D2


A Supplier Asks: I received a call from an end user looking to purchase some drinkware. He found us on the internet, and I informed him that he had to go through one of our distributors to place an order. I told him I’d find him a distributor nearby to his location, and sent along the contact information to a distributor we’ve done business with. I contacted the distributor, who thanked me for the lead, but received a call a few days later from the end user, who said he was shown three catalogs, not one of which is mine. How should I go about handling this situation? 

WRONG! So very wrong. If you are given a lead from a vendor, you use that vendor—unless the client goes in a completely different direction and that vendor does not have something to fit the new direction. I have had vendors refer me in the past and each time I quoted their item.

Crystal Barger
Account management
Proforma Albrecht & Co.
Cincinnati, Ohio

I think it is worth a call to the distributor to get their side. That said, I have many supplier partners who sometimes forward me leads and the initial conversation with the client is always, “Hi. Jane Smith from XYZ Company gave me your name and I understand that you are interested in their widget. I can help you with that.” After we have discussed that order, I would then ask what else I could help them with and if the referring supplier has those products that is what I would show.

Susan Hysen
Senior Account Manager
Summit Group, LLC
Silver Spring, Maryland

This is unfortunate. When I was on the supplier side, my company literally gave a distributor an order. She then contacted a competing supplier to get a quote. We found out because she accidentally forwarded the other supplier’s quote to us. This is why there is distrust. No good deed goes unpunished.

Candy Cummings
National Account Manager
Universal Promotions USA
Columbus, Ohio

He might not have had your catalog and showed them other catalogs just for ideas. I do that all the time, especially now that I have practically no catalogs left. I gave out what I had because the customer wanted them and that’s all I could do. These are for ideas. Then, after I get an idea of what someone wants, I prepare an online presentation with other options showing the vendor I want to use.

Sarah Burgers
Clever Promotional Products
Lehigh Acres, Florida

I would definitely call and get the distributor’s side of the story. There are always three sides. Who knows? Perhaps this end user was just trying to get some deal going direct. I can’t imagine any distributor not showing any product from the referring supplier. That would be simply stupid as it would appear to be an easy sale. The customer already wants to buy at supplier list pricing. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

Debbie Cino Dennerlein
Ideas to Impress, LLC, an affiliate of Kaeser & Blair Incorporated
Toms River, New Jersey
PPAI 103148, D12

The relationship between suppliers and distributors is a partnership. If they can’t partner with you as the lead source, it’s time to find another partner.

Jessica Ibsen
Executive Director
Cajun Country Promotional Products
Gonzales, Louisiana

Suppliers, get to know your distributors. Those who work with you time and time again. Those who don’t squeeze you for every last cent over and over. Ones who you know will close the deal. Those are the people you want to reward with a referral, and these days, being local is not important, especially since the buyer contacted you via the internet.

Paula Schiff
Grundleger-Gossett, MAS

Senior Promotional Consultant

Fort Pierce, Florida
PPAI 105182, D12


Do You Have An Answer?

A Distributor Asks: During the pandemic, I’ve been taking advantage of the downtime to learn, improve and work to find new ways to make my business a necessary piece of my world. I’m working on my website and I have joined many business groups. Here’s my dilemma: How do you clearly describe your offer? I am not just promo, but I also do design work, consultation and brand strategizing. Does anyone have tips to condense and make that make sense to new prospects?

What’s Your Answer?

Email your response to the question to Question@ppai.org for the chance to be featured in a future issue of PPB. 


Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.