Counselor’s State of the Industry: Record Sales And Unprecedented Disruption

Counselor selects the fidget spinner as its first-ever Product of the Year

TREVOSE, PA – August 8, 2018 – Counselor® magazine’s annual State of the Industry reports that while distributor sales are at an all-time high and profit margins remain healthy, the $23.6 billion promotional products industry is facing unprecedented disruption thanks to threats from Amazon, Walmart and online hackers.

“It’s clear from our 2018 State of the Industry report that the promotional products industry is healthy and growing, and that suppliers and distributors are looking toward the future and plotting a clear course for success,” said Counselor Editor-in-Chief Dave Vagnoni (@VagnoniASI). “At the same time, the industry is undergoing tremendous change, driven largely by online competition. Luckily, companies are diversifying their businesses more than ever before, becoming better able to weather any coming economic downturns or disruptions. To help, our comprehensive SOI report offers specific steps distributors can take to thrive in a changing and complex space.”

The Advertising Specialty Institute® (ASI) publishes the award-winning Counselor magazine, which annually surveys the buyers and sellers of logoed and branded promotional products for its special State of the Industry issue, available in print and online each summer. The in-depth report, considered the most important and influential in the industry, analyzes 2017’s key sales, marketing and operational metrics and offers advice for leveraging them to build businesses of any size.

In the issue, Counselor selected the ubiquitous fidget spinner as its first-ever Product of the Year. Searches for the stress-relieving toy took off in April 2017, when it broke into the top 10 most-searched terms on ASI’s ESP®, the industry’s leading search engine and business management platform. By May, fidget spinner topped the ESP search chart, before dropping off in the fall.

Highlights from Counselor’s 2018 survey include:

  • Super Sales. Distributor sales hit a record-setting $23.6 billion, with more than four in 10 distributors improving their 2017 revenue versus 2016. Sixty-four percent of distributors with annual sales of $250,001-$1 million reported their 2017 profits increased – the highest percentage of any revenue class.  
  • Strong Margins. Despite aggressive competition from online sellers, the average profit margin increased to a surprising 35%.
  • E-Commerce Threat. Distributors of all sizes continue to cite web-based businesses as the largest threat to their business, with 43% using the internet to sell products.
  • Competition. One-third of respondents in the $5 million+ class report other large distributors in their territory are their biggest problem, a fear shared by only 8% of the industry as a whole.
  • Diversification. While distributors still generate an average of 64% of sales from traditional logoed items, that percentage has never been lower, with companies increasingly supplementing their income with graphic design services, company stores and warehousing and fulfillment.
  • Printing Money. Distributors who offer printing services are more likely to post annual revenues of over $1 million, with distributors offering printing services getting nearly 30% of their overall company revenues from that segment.
  • Data Security. While malware attacks are starting to target promo companies, just 33% of companies in $100,000-$250,000 range have formal data security policies.
  • Tweet This. Only about one in three companies have any social media strategy – yet the prevalence of having one increases with the distributor’s size.
  • Friend Me. Just 59% of distributors with annual sales of more than $5 million use referrals to earn new business, a far smaller number than the industry average. Instead, top distributors are adept at leveraging social networking (46%), email campaigns (35%) and trade shows (28%).
  • Top Products. T-shirts still dominate, accounting for 15% of distributor sales – the largest market share for any promo product over the past decade. The books/stationery/giftwrap category accounted for 3.9% of distributor revenues, up from 2.6% in 2016, powered by an increased emphasis on creative packaging.
  • Dominant Markets. Driven in part by increasing competition among schools, 13% of distributor revenues came from the number-one education market. Jumping into the top 10 largest markets, the retail sector now makes up 4.7% of distributor sales, up from 2.4% in 2016.

The SOI report also included a recap of the industry’s biggest headlines of 2017, including retail giant Walmart entering the promo market with Walmart Promo Shop, business-disrupting hurricanes and wildfires, lawsuits, price fixing charges and huge acquisitions.

Along with data, the issue is packed with numerous tips, like “Four Ways to Improve Sales to Nonprofits” and interesting facts. For instance, while their individual rankings have changed, the six largest distributor markets a decade ago are still the six largest today.

In addition, the 128-page issue offers profiles and online video interviews with the 2018 Counselor Award winners – including ETS Express CEO Sharon Eyal as Person of the Year and National Pen President and CEO Peter Kelly as International Person of the Year, as well as the exclusive revenue ranking of the top 40 distributor and supplier companies.

For the State of the Industry, surveys were sent to ASI members, all of whom are the primary contact within their company.

Low-cost, high-return promotional products are usually given away for free by companies, schools, hospitals, sports teams, organizations and more to advertise a brand or event or to thank employees or clients.

To learn more about the SOI issue, contact Dave Vagnoni at [email protected]. For more information on ASI research, contact Nate Kucsma (@Nate_Kucsma_ASI)‏, ASI’s executive director of research and corporate marketing, at [email protected]. To advertise in any of ASI’s three award-winning magazines, contact Matthew Barnes, ASI’s vice president of publishing and media services, at [email protected].
About ASI
The Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI®) serves a network of 23,500 suppliers, distributors and decorators in the $23.6 billion promotional products industry. ASI’s flagship product, the technology platform ESP®, manages the industry’s entire supply and marketing chain. ASI also produces award-winning digital and print content, live events and educational programs that enable companies in 55 countries to be more efficient, productive and profitable. ASI’s Counselor® magazine provides the most authoritative business content in the industry, and the ASI Certification Program features 500+ live and online education courses for over 40,000 professionals. The company, family owned and operated since 1962, is proud to have been consistently ranked among the “Best Places to Work” in Philadelphia and Bucks County, PA. For more info: