YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – There’s little question that the digital revolution has changed how companies operate in the promotional products industry. Some embrace the new technology and equipment while others continue to use traditional methods.
The Business Journal reached out to three local promotional products companies – Sherman Creative in Boardman, DayStar Marketing in New Castle, Pa., and Color 3 Embroidery Inc. in Warren – to take a deeper look into the industry.
Traci Miller, president of Color 3 Embroidery, says the shift to a more digital world has expanded capabilities.”If anything, it has given us an opportunity to do more for our clients,” she says.
Others, like Katie DeToro from DayStar Marketing, believe that old-fashioned methods, such screen printing, are still viable.
“The quality of screen printing still outlasts any of those new kinds of trends,” she says. “We try to stay with the tried and true methods that are providing our customers with a quality product that is going to be around for the long haul.”
In any case, the advanced technology in the industry is driving it forward.
According to IBIS World’s market data, the U.S. promotional product industry has seen an average growth of 1.1% annually between 2017 and 2020. Last year the industry generated revenues of $20.6 Billion.
DeToro said DayStar Marketing will soon be celebrating 30 years in business. The business started as a primary provider for Pizza Joe’s, which its parent company, Classi-Co Foods, also owns.
“Over the years it has grown into much more than that,” she says. “We service schools, businesses, multiple counties in the area, as well as just individual clients.”
It now offers screen printing, embroidery and various types decals. It currently employs five people – four full-time and one part-time.
It is still all done by hand and not with an automatic press.
Jeff Matthews says that the garments are DayStar Marketing’s most popular product, accounting for about 90% of their business.
Matthews explains that recently, the company purchased a new Mimaki curing UV printer.
“It’s about 64-inches wide and we can print on multiple different types of substrate,” he says. “One that we have been printing on for some of our locations for Pizza Joe’s is perforated window material. This perforated window material allows us to print any graphics you like on it. We can then apply it in any window so that from inside the shop, you can see the outside. But from the outside you can see whatever type of advertisement you want to put up.”
Matthews claims that customers can also order banners, die-cutted decals and other products in whatever size they want.
“It has made it easier for doing banners. Before this printer, and the previous printer we had, if we had to produce a banner, we had to cut everything out of colored vinyl and place each color individually down onto the banners,” Matthews says. “It took a lot of time and you had to be very precise on what you were doing.”
Matthews claims that the new technology allows them to simply print banners, and then add grommets.
“It saves a lot of time,” he says.
Miller of Color 3 states that her company provides services such as embroidery, screenprinting, laser-etched and heated-applied decoration for the promotional products sector. The company has customers across the country.
Miller serves 200 clients, according to her.
“We have a higher concentration of embroidery than the other services. But the other services are gaining traction in the last couple years to start to equal out to our embroidery,” she says.
Color 3 was originally an embroidery business.
It has now about 45 employees. The company sells promotional products to distributors, who then sell them on to end users.
“We are servicing them to help them provide those products to corporations and businesses that wear them,” Miller says.
Miller’s company has been around for 28 years. Over those years – like most businesses – operating technology has changed, Miller says.
“The equipment technology has moderately changed through the years. But the biggest shift of technology by far is the way that we interact with clients and the way that we operate our business,” she says.
Miller says that this includes enterprise resource management systems, billing systems and revenue management systems as well as content marketing online.
“We are working closely with clients on integrating directly to their operating systems. We are building an API [application programming interface] systems to be able to share data and live statuses of jobs so that they don’t necessarily have to reach out to us,” she says.
The opposite is true: While online shopping makes it easier for some businesses to compete, others find that the competition becomes more intense.
Miller claims that Color 3 is a good example.
“If anything, it has given us an opportunity to do more for our clients,” she says. “A large portion of our clients create online stores specific to the corporations they’re serving. So they are creating websites that sell all of their branded items for their clients and then we’re fulfilling the back end of the apparel purchases they’re making.”
As far as printing technology, Miller says there have been some new items coming into “the world of decoration,” such as technology for directive film, heat transfers, laser etched patches and direct-to-garment printing.
Miller claims to have seen other trends besides decorating.
“The biggest trend that I see is that we’re leaning more towards fulfillment and servicing those websites in a way that used to be a one-off piece,” she says.
“Now we are doing a lot more bulk and then a package fulfillment on the back end. It is trying to compete with Amazon’s delivery. It seems to be where the biggest trends are shifting again for us.”
Stephanie Shapiro, managing partner of Sherman Creative, says her company provides promotional products that can be customized to any customer’s needs – whether it’s a name, logo, or other design.
Shapiro says that stainless steel tumblers are among the most popular items, along with pens and clothing. Many of Sherman’s customers consist of local government entities, health care companies, banks, schools and corporate accounts.
Sherman currently employs four.
Shapiro claims that technology has simplified the ordering process. Her company uses a system of order management that allows customers create pop-up stores and company stores.
“If you’re doing a fundraiser or you’re trying to get out 800 gifts to every employee in your company, we can facilitate that with our order management system,” Shapiro says. “That technology has definitely helped us create some really cool projects.”
Some of the more recent trends for the company have been eco-friendly products and “merch boxes.”
“These [merch boxes] became really popular during COVID but they’re still extremely popular,” she says. “Companies are doing those for their employees [and] For their clients. They put together a bunch of different branded merchandise and they put it in a custom mailer and they can ship it anywhere.”
Shapiro said that these boxes were very well received.
She also says that the demand for eco friendly tri-blend clothes is on the rise.
The polyester used in eco-friendly t-shirts is made from recycled bottles.
“That’s trending right now, just comfort,” she says. “Instead of doing just 100% cotton, a lot of our customers are asking for upgraded materials. And that also includes some recycled material.”
Top: Traci Miller, owner of Color 3 Embroidery, stands in front of the sewing machines while holding a hat which was embroidered.