Counselor’s 2019 State of the Industry: Soaring Sales Confront Global Headwinds

Counselor reports promo industry continues to set record sales despite tariff struggles

TREVOSE, PA – August 14, 2019 – Counselor® magazine’s comprehensive State of the Industry report found 2018 sales of promotional products continued record growth, with distributors targeting markets like construction, hospitality and technology while continuing to diversify services. Overall, the total number and value of orders increased.

Distributor sales hit a record-setting $24.7 billion, with nearly 50% of distributors reporting improved sales compared to 2017. Among distributors that generated more than $1 million in 2018 sales, 70% of them reported growth – the highest percentage of any revenue class.

“The 2019 State of the Industry demonstrates that despite challenges like tariffs on Chinese imports – the biggest story of the year – the promo industry remains strong,” said Michele Bell (@ASI_MBell), who manages ASI’s editorial department. “As suppliers and distributors confront uncertain global headwinds ahead, Counselor’s State of the Industry report provides exclusive data detailing trends, new products, emerging markets and prime opportunities throughout the industry.”

Counselor magazine, published by the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI), is celebrating its 65th anniversary in 2019. Its signature issue, the State of the Industry (SOI) report, was first published in 1977 and is now available in print and online each summer. ASI’s comprehensive, in-depth research is considered the most important and influential in the promo industry.

Using data from the annual SOI survey, Counselor provides coverage and analysis of what matters most to the market, from tech threats to consolidation and compliance. New sections include a five-page pullout spotlighting the most impactful charts in promo, exclusive data on search trends and a unique look at company perks and policies, along with forecasts for the next two decades.

Highlights from Counselor’s 2019 survey include:

  • Spreading the Wealth. The median annual salary of a sales rep rose to $65,000, up from $60,000 in 2017. At the same time, distributor owners enhanced benefits like health insurance and flexible scheduling.
  • Frequent Searches. Wireless chargers surged in searches between 2016 and 2018, increasing by 3,010%. Meanwhile, last year’s product of the year, the fidget spinner, dropped from its number-four ranking in ESP to number 222 in 2018.
  • Tariff Worries. President Donald Trump placed 25% tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports in 2019, forcing many suppliers to consider price increases of 10-20%.
  • 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 drinkware category accounted for 9% of distributor revenues, up from 7.6% in 2017, powered by an increased emphasis on drinkware as a fashion accessory and by eco-conscious millennials avoiding single-use plastic bottles.
  • Dominant Markets. Driven in part by increasing competition among schools, 12.6% of distributor revenues came from the number-one education market. On the rise is construction, moving up from the tenth largest market in 2017 to the fifth largest market in 2018 and making up 6.5% of distributor revenues.

The SOI report also included a recap of the industry’s key moments in 2018.

Along with data, the issue is packed with numerous tips, like “Five Tips for Selling Incentives” and interesting facts. For instance, referrals were the main way that distributors won new customers in 2018, representing 85% in the “Sources of New Business” poll. Social networking took second with 31%.

In addition, the 128-page issue offers profiles with the 2019 Counselor Award winners – including HALO Branded Solutions Marc Simon as Person of the Year, Headwind Group Chairman and General Manager Tom and Michael Hung as International Persons of the Year, as well as the exclusive revenue ranking of the top 40 distributor and supplier companies.

ASI’s latest research data also proves the value of promo products, with the average household in the U.S. now owning an average of 30 promotional items and 85% of worldwide consumers remembering the advertiser on logoed and imprint promo items. Further, end-users are nearly 2.5 times more likely to have a positive opinion of promo products compared to online advertising.

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.

For more information on ASI research and the SOI issue, 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 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 $24.7 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: