Today, more than ever, I’m bullish on the promo industry and bullish on America.
Businesses are reopening, with live events restarting in some parts of the country, fans returning to sports stadiums and airports busy again. Plus, nearly 95 million people in the U.S. alone are fully vaccinated and the government’s economic recovery plan is starting to reboot our economy.
To be clear, the COVID crisis is far from over and our industry has a long way to go to return to 2019’s record-breaking sales. As our just-released report on Q1 distributor sales shows, year-over-year sales were down nearly 15%, with larger distributors faring better than smaller.
But let’s put it into perspective: Last year, the industry enjoyed a very strong January, February and beginning of March, when the pandemic started – so we anticipated that, in comparison, this quarter’s results would be sluggish.
The good news is the needle is moving in the right direction.
The most robust promo markets in Q1 continue to be healthcare, construction and education, with numerous distributors reporting better-than-expected sales. At the same time, others said that customers are still reluctant to spend.
I remain optimistic and fully expect a sharp reversal reflected in Q2 sales, as long as vaccinations continue and new outbreaks wane.
Right now, distributors need to be in full-throttle mode, planning for a return to live events across all markets, which is critical to an industry like ours that provides so many products for trade shows, sports, concerts and the like. Corporate purse strings will loosen, and everyone should be ready to pounce on the Next Big Thing, like they did with PPE over a year ago.
Yes, challenges remain, such as product shortages (especially apparel), rising prices and supply chain disruption. But as the latest report on ASI’s ESP search results shows, the return to promo “normalcy” is in full swing, with eight of the top 10 searched-for products in March being traditional promo items like pens, mugs and water bottles. Distributors are also prepping for an active spring and summer, and ordering more traditional seasonal products.
In other great news: ASI is heading back to the live, in-person show business. In June, we’re holding hosted-buyer events in Austin, Texas and Denver, Colorado, and July 13-15, we’re once again hosting ASI Chicago at the McCormick Place Convention Center. Highlights include:
We expect hundreds of exhibitors, but space and badges will be limited to ensure social distancing so register NOW. All info, along with a hotel portal, are on ASIshow.com, including a page outlining all safety requirements and precautions.
It has been far too long since the promo industry has enjoyed a significant, in-person trade show, but ASI is leading the way with ASI Chicago – as long as state and local regulations allow. It’s time to come together and plan for success in the second half of 2021 and into 2022, when I fully expect our industry to come roaring back.
A closing reminder: Our industry summer internship program is now open to ASI member distributors and suppliers. Hire an intern at your company, join our online program, and we’ll provide virtual training and education, access to ESP® and a chance at a $1,000 scholarship.
I can’t wait to see all my industry friends again – in person!
Until then, stay safe.
President & Chief Executive Officer
Advertising Specialty Institute | Every Step of the Way™