Promotional Product in the United Kingdom

What is fascinating in Europe is that each country has its own market for promotional products.
Some products will sell very well in Germany and not at all in Spain or Italy.
It’s nearly true that the European taste for premiums and promotional products is divides between the north and the south.
But one particular market has strong specificities: The UK.

It’s an Island, this explains already a lot, its also one of the last countries to resist to the Euro currency.

Let’s see what Gordon Glenister, Director General of the BPMA (British Promotional Merchandise Association) can tell us about this market:

Henk: dear Gordon, please give some short feedback about yourself and your company BPMA:

I am Director General of the British Promotional Merchandise Association, an organization founded in 1956 and made up of over 650 member companies.
These companies are split between distributors and manufacturers with a small percentage of companies that offer ancillary services.
We are a not for profit organisation so we are driven exclusively to provide support to our members in developing their businesses as well as raising awareness of the use of merchandise with the end user community.
We have a very strong communications strategy and work with other marketing associations in an effort to further our message.
We are also represented on EPPA, The European Promotional Products Association with our spokesperson Margot Parker.
We regularly run education programmes in London based around Selling on the Phone, Import and Export workshops.
We are launching the BPMA Academy shortly which will be the very first recognized training qualification within the industry.
We have a strong secretariat team here giving our members support on all sorts of issues.
We have launched this year the most comprehensive member benefits programme ever with over 50 leading service provider discounts.

There is still loads more to do, but its exciting seeing the change happen. I live outside Cambridge, married with 3 boys. I used to run my own incentives company for 7 years before I sold it early this year, so I have a clear understanding of the industry.

Henk: My feeling is that especially the market structure is different, UK based distributors do not buy easily from Mainland and smaller UK based producers do not sell easily to the Mainland distributors.
What is your feeling on this subject?

I agree, and I am keen to change this. I think with a mixture of language and currency issues, there have been historic concerns about how to do this easily. Its one of the reasons we are running import/export courses, send our monthly educational checklists and talk about this as part of new member training. We are going to be a part of the PSI and PRO8 shows in 2008. Equally, we would like to extend invitations to European suppliers to visit the UK. Many UK corporates are always looking for innovation and we cant be limited by what we see over here. I think you will see a major shift pattern in this area within the next two years.

Henk: What is your opinion on suppliers or importers selling directly to the company/organization instead of using and respecting the distributor network? How do you think the UK market will deal with this change? Internet makes it easy to find the “source” for a company nowadays.
I try and discourage this. Ideally we would like to represent all UK promotional merchandise companies, and in that way we could encourage a two tier pricing policy so at least distributors are competing on a level playing field. Unfortunately the internet has changed the way markets work. We have an active distributor base in the UK and I am very keen to support it.

Henk: A positive point is that the UK market has strong trade associations; do you think that these trade organizations can help to keep the UK market structure efficient? Compared to France for example where no real trade association exists the market has become a real jungle were importers sell direct and distributors try to source from Asia.
We are a very active community in the UK and a leading voice in Europe too. Like most organizations, if its well led and managed, the market can be efficient. If you do not have a strong trade body, fragmentation, poor quality, lack of knowledge rules. Corporates and end users need to be educated about how to work with promotional merchandise companies – its one of our my roles is to speak at seminars and conferences to raise awareness of the category but also to emphasis the need to use “vetted” membership organsations – the internet gives know such reassurance.

Henk: Thanks a lot for your time Gordon

The BPMA website :