French-Kissing The Changing Face Of Our Industry

Article from Michael Crooks from Crooks Advertising Alliance.

I’m sitting here staring in disbelief at an $83 UPS bill for 4 lightweight, plastic calculator samples that look like Lego® blocks. When I ordered the samples, I didn’t know that they were being shipped to me DIRECTLY FROM CHINA! Now I’ve got four, $5 samples that cost me north of $20 each. After a bitchy email back and fourth with my supplier, I find out that I can’t show them to anyone anyway.
Why? Because in addition to my hissy fit over the freight cost, I complained that the numbers on the calculator, that are the same color as the buttons, don’t show up as well as they did in the photo on which I based by decision to order the samples. I was informed that the product is being remanufactured to correct that problem. Great! I now have 4 calculators that do not accurately represent the final product. And I’m not likely to spend another $80+ to get the new ones…

What did I learn for my $83? I learned that I must now verify the shipping point. I learned that even if the email is written in perfect English, it may very well be coming from someone in China … who writes in perfect English. And while I always knew that U.S. phone numbers have 10 digits, including the area code, I now know that China telephone numbers have 11 digits. And unless you really look at it and count the stupid numbers, China phone numbers look just like domestic numbers. And finally, I learned that, I must be ever vigilant, because a single microscopic detail can turn my world … your world … upside down in a heartbeat!

The internet is changing the world of promotional products, drastically. It’s time for suppliers and distributors to embrace the changes and roll with the flow. I’m going to stick my neck out here and address the elephant standing in the middle of the room.

Increasingly, buying imprinted promotional products is just a mouse click away. In fact, the ability to buy direct from overseas manufacturers isn’t all THAT hard and will continue to get easier. So basically, anyone with a pulse and an internet connection can save boatloads of money buying direct from China. I hear the sound of TAPS in the distance, and it’s getting louder, signaling the demise of U.S-based importers/decorators and the promotional products distributor as we now know them. There! I said it.

But what I haven’t brought to light yet, is this: that sea of opportunity awash with the siren song of huge savings can be full of menacing reptile-like pitfalls that will eat you alive. The fact is, you don’t know … what you don’t know. Let’s look at just one aspect – shipping.

Say your $10,000 worth of thingamabobs is on the container ship and the ship sinks? It happened to an associate. He didn’t purchase insurance because he didn’t know he had to. The manufacturer said, “Not our problem. We have no control over what happens once we ship it.” He was out ten grand.

Or, you order silicone bracelets at the last minute for your event. You saved gobs of cash and feel pretty good about yourself until you realize that to get the product from China to your doorstep in time for your event … will cost you more than you saved. And that’s assuming the “customs Gods” smile favorably on your shipment. Because if they don’t, your event will happens “sans promo item”. At which point whomever you answer to, won’t care one iota about how much you saved.

Even worse, you find out too late that your contract with the supplier listed freight as “EXW SHANGHI”. You know what that means? That means, as the buyer, you are responsible for getting the goods loaded onto a truck at the factory and getting them to your doorstep. At which point you’d wish the contact said, “DDP YOUR ADDRESS” which means the seller is responsible for cargo insurance, import customs clearance, payment of customs duties and taxes and delivery of the goods to your doorstep.

EXW and DDP are two of 13 International Commercial Terms (INCOTERMS) that define trade contract responsibilities and liabilities between buyer and seller. These terms were developed and first published in 1936 by the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris. INCOTERMS eliminate the need for buyer and seller to engage in lengthy shipping negotiations for each transaction because the INCOTERM defines the conditions. Learn more at Click on “Export Department” and scroll down to International Commercial Terms. After you wade though 6 pages of that, check out the other 70 export-related topics you can learn.

Is it possible to buy direct from China and not get screwed? Absolutely! Every day, hundreds of U.S.-based promotional products suppliers import everything from mugs and pens to apparel and watches from China and elsewhere without a problem. And everyday they hope they’ll be able to keep their U.S. staff working through orders they get from distributors …. who have received an order from you, because you chose not to cut out the middle man in an effort to save .05¢ per unit.

I sincerely believe, however, that greed will win out and the future will see numerous U.S.-based importers/decorators folding and along with them many, many distributors. The industry is changing. To survive,

• distributors will have to re-invent themselves, Google-proof their business and offer effective, creative concepts and programs — or perish.
• U.S.-based importers/decorators, that also manufacture products, will have to evolve and become more innovative and offer what China can’t — or perish.
• U.S.-based importers/decorators who don’t manufacture, will have to carve a clear niche within the marketplace — or perish.
Doom and gloom? Not at all. In fact, I foresee tremendous opportunity — for those who are willing to French-kiss the changing face of this industry.

Michael Crooks, owns Crooks Advertising Alliance, a creative strike-force specializing in creative problem-solving. Crooks has gained international recognition for his writing and speaking on the subjects of creativity and promotional marketing. To read more of his unique perspective, sign up for his free newsletter, CrooksView Creative Digest, or contact him, visit or