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Meetings-Merchandise Mayhem

Supply-chain bottlenecks are causing shortages and delays for promotional products and attendee gifts. A supplier in this niche offers four ideas for making sure your giveaways show up on time.

While it used to be one of the less time-consuming elements of meeting planners’ jobs, choosing and getting delivery of promotional products and gifts has become yet another hassle in the Covid era.

The virus has caused labor disruptions in China and other nations that are home to manufacturing facilities producing many of the gifts and promotional products for business events in North America. Further, the shortage of cargo-port employees as well as truck drivers in the U.S. is slowing delivery times.

PromoProductsMartyBear0921.jpgAs the events industry reopens and more live meetings and events are taking place, that is putting a huge strain on production facilities being able to deliver goods on time,” says Marty Bear (pictured here), president of Professional Marketing Services, a firm that procures gifts and promotional products for meetings, incentive programs, and trade shows. “It is a huge mess right now, and it’s getting worse as holiday orders collide with the lack of continuous inventory flow.”

He notes that the items most affected right now are tote bags, backpacks, neck wallets, journals, and drinkware. Drinkware in particular has been among the most popular business gifts since the start of the pandemic because they are a good fit for virtual meeting attendees.

Even for planners who try to buy only products made in the U.S., problems persist. “Suppliers are trying to satisfy current orders with smaller staffs,” Bear notes. “It’s causing production backups like I have never seen before.”

Among event planners, the largest issue Bear sees is that “many are waiting until they get a good idea of their attendance numbers before contacting their suppliers. That strategy will not work at this moment in time.”

Instead, “planners must communicate early—perhaps twice as far out as they are used to doing—and get their artwork and items chosen. It is imperative to get that order into the production schedule with the proofs approved. Adjusting the final quantities can be done once all that is taken care of.”

In fact, “you should err on the side of ordering more quantity than less—you can always reduce the number once the supplier has committed to the larger number. If you order on the low side but then need to increase quantity, factory inventory might already have been allocated elsewhere.”

Another suggestion: Come up with a wider choice of product possibilities for a given event than you’ve had in the past. “Even if you order early, you might have to choose alternate items to ensure they will arrive on time from reliable factories,” Bear says.

Lastly, obtain order confirmations and delivery-tracking numbers as soon as possible. “Many times, this request confirms the reality that your shipment is running late and that you need to make alternative plans,” rather than being caught empty-handed the day before the event begins.

Bear estimates that “the promotional merchandise industry will probably get back to normal midway through 2022 when labor and inventory catch up and, hopefully, Covid is under control.”

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