The promotional products industry is estimated by PPAI to be a $21 billion dollar plus industry and growing according to their report from 2016. Many people think of the promotional products industry as a space for trinkets and trash or an occasional single color 50/50 shirt order. The space is so much more and if you have invested in sublimation or have a partnership with a contract sublimator you can be grabbing your piece of that $21 billion dollar pie. Better yet, you will not be fighting for nickels of profit with the overseas suppliers since sublimation can supply a promotional product that has a nice margin as well.
I want to discuss five promotional products that I know can work for you as a sublimator. Further, I will dust off my crystal ball to give you my prediction for some newer sublimated promotional products that should take off in the near future. With tips for best practices when working in the promotional products industry sure to make some success stories.
1) Rally Towels - Towels have been a staple in the promotional products industry for years, with all sorts of decorating methods being offered to fit many needs. Many screen printers I have talked with hate towels due to the difficulty of printing and cumbersome sizes. Sublimation for a long time was unable to compete in the towel world, as most towels people like were cotton or the polyester towels available were more like blankets. Today, you can find some awesome towels ready for sublimation that are polyester on one side and cotton on the other. The great polyester surface to imprint and the soft absorbent cotton makes for a great towel. These are a great fit for the promotional products world for brand awareness. But there is an underutilized sublimation towel in the promotional products world, the rally towel. This towel is typically about 11" x 18" in size and is given away at sporting events for fans to wave to cheer on their teams. If you have sublimation capabilities, you can decorate the entire face of that towel with a beautiful full-color image that will show of the team's colors, as well as allow the sponsor to put their full-color logo for all to see. Take it a step further with a random giveaway by individually numbering towels because the sublimation process is digital and doesn't require set-up for each towel. If you have access to a rotary heat press, you can aggressively go after the large projects like 10,000 piece orders and be very competitive. The biggest challenge to overcome is the full color versus single color competition you might face. Your job will be to really sell the value of full color when it comes to brand awareness and the value your permanently imprinted rally towel brings over the cheap cotton offerings.
2) Can Cooler / Huggers - The neoprene or closed cell foam products are a staple of the promotional products industry. There are companies that do nothing but create these and many of them are turning to sublimation to meet the demand of their customers. You too can get some of this demand with your sublimation printer. Sublimation is a great option to help companies that don't need 20,000 units, but still want full all over color decoration. Like all of these products, the way to promote them is by focusing on what sublimation is good at; full color, short run, personalized items. No set-up fees, no color separations, no digitizing etc. One of my personal pet peeves and a question I get a lot from sublimators is how do you make the can coolers without them being crushed like a pancake? The trick is to press them flat and then have them sewn together. This is a very simple stitch for a standard sewing machine and if sewing is not something you can do, find a local upholstery shop seamstress and I'm sure you can have them sewn extremely cost-effectively. This allows you to deliver a product that is round like a can cooler should be as well as allow for seamless decoration on the bottom of the can cooler.
3) Coffee Mugs - Putting a logo on a coffee mug has long been a very profitable business for promotional products decorators and reseller alike. The drinkware category, according to PPAI is the largest of all the promotional product categories. If you thumb through a typical promotional products price list it reads like a screen printing price, with a grid of "number of colors" on one side and "quantity" on the other. Then below is the fine print that is littered with color change charges, set-up, separations and on and on. The sublimator can step in and save the day by providing a full color, near full coverage coffee mugs to the promotional products distributor. I know I sound like a broken record but sell the fact that the mug can be full color with no set-up and each one can be different. The key to success here is to make sure you have a quality mug to sublimate. Saving a few cents per mug and then having to deal with mugs that are not smooth or flat is no way to be successful.
Plus the best grade sublimation mugs available are typically dishwasher and microwave safe. The other thing to remember is to step out of the standard white coffee mugs and look for specialty mugs with colored handles, metallic finishes or the color changing mug. These all add more value to the product without adding much cost and makes your promotional product offering stand out.
4) Floor and Auto Mats - As a sublimator, you might not think to decorate these products as your first option. First off, you have to have a wide format heat press typically or a relationship with a contract sublimator. If you are involved with these types of products, it is typically in the gift or home decor space. Having a nice entryway mat for all their distributors is a great promotional product. How about offering car mats to industrial type companies as a promotional product or customer gift? One thing to watch for when sublimating a loop style floor or car mat, the ink only dyes the top of the loop, so it could have little areas when the loop folds over especially on solid dark colors. For solid dark colors, I suggest using more of a felt style car or floor mat.
5) Necktie - Last but not least on the list is the humble necktie. This product is one of the top categories for promotional products sales, wearables. Even those people who wear a necktie on a daily basis (thank goodness I no longer have to) will still wear them to show off something or to stand out. This makes for a great promotional product, as we want our brands to stand out and a tie fits that bill. Perfect for trade show staff, wait staff in restaurants or other places where people want to stand out from the crowd. A nice colorful vibrant tie on a plain white dress shirt will really stand out. Even if you don't have wide format equipment you can still decorate a tie. You just need to design it in such a way that has breaks and space between the decoration so it looks like a normal part of the design. A quick tip is to use as little pressure as possible so you keep those press lines from ruining your tie if you are pressing in multiple locations.
Now after going through those five great sublimation promotional products, as promised, I have brought out the crystal ball. Here are my predictions for two sublimated products that I think are going to be hot in the promotional products world this year.
1) Silicone Phone Card Holder - Wallets are becoming a thing of the past as many people have ditched them and instead put their phone in their back pocket. For a while phone cases that had a wallet were hot, but those have become too cumbersome with the larger phones many people have these days. The Silicon Phone Card Holder is a neat little piece can hold a couple of credit cards or driver's license. It attaches very nicely to the back side of a phone. It doesn't add much bulk to it and on top of holding a card, it also doubles as a screen cleaner. Brand would love to have their logos on the back of people phones and this product fits very well into the top five program categories according to PPAI, brand awareness, business gifts, employee relations, trade shows and new customers. These categories account for over half of all the promotional products sold in 2016.
2) Double Walled Tumblers - These drinkware products were made popular by some very strong brands, and the laser engraving business dominated the decoration of these products. We are now finally starting to see some good quality sublimatable products available. These are typically silver so plan accordingly when decorating. Light soft colors will not look as good, but dark colors and blank and white images look fantastic. By using some shrink film, you can even decorate these all around the tumbler and have an awesome looking product. Just be careful about how you market these, as the brands that made these popular are very protective of their trademarks.
So get out there and put your sublimation tools and relationships to use with the above five staples. Help make me a Nostradamus by moving those two up and coming products and grab your share of the $21 billion dollar plus industry.