YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – There’s little question that the digital revolution has changed how companies operate in the promotional products industry. While some fully embrace new equipment and technological wizardry, others still see value in using the traditional methods that have served the industry for decades.
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.
Yet others, such as Katie DeToro of DayStar Marketing, say there is still room for the use of old-fashioned processes, such as screen printing.
“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.”
Regardless, advanced technology is moving the industry forward.
According to IBIS World, the market size of the U.S. promotional products industry has grown 1.1% per year on average between 2017 and 2022. Last year, the industry generated $20.6 billion in revenue.
DeToro says DayStar Marketing is coming up on 30 years of operation. 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.”
The business now provides custom screen printing, embroidery, various types of signage, decals and promotional products. It currently employs five people – four full-time and one part-time.
The garments are still done all by hand, as opposed to an automatic press.
In fact, Jeff Matthews, lead artist for DayStar Marketing, says the most popular products are their garments, making up about 90% of what DayStar Marketing does.
Recently, the company invested in a new Mimaki UV curing printer, Matthews says.
“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. We can print any graphic that you want on this perforated material, apply it to any window and from the inside of the shop you can see outside. But from the outside you can see whatever type of advertisement you want to put up.”
The machine can also print banners and die-cut printed decals to whatever size customers want, according to Matthews.
“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 says the new technology now simply enables them to print banners and add the grommets.
“It saves a lot of time,” he says.
Miller of Color 3 says her company provides embroidery, screen prints, and laser-etched and heat-applied decoration services for the promotional products industry. It has customers nationwide.
Miller estimates she now serves about 200 customers.
“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 started as an embroidery business.
The business now has about 45 employees. It serves promotional product distributors who then sell to an end user.
“We are servicing them to help them provide those products to corporations and businesses that wear them,” Miller says.
The company has been in business 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 this includes enterprise resource planning systems, billing and revenue management systems and content marketing online.
“We are working closely with clients on integrating directly to their operating systems. We are building 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.
While easier access to products online is making competition stiffer for some businesses, the opposite
has been the case for Color 3, Miller says.
“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 says she has seen some other trends outside of decorations.
“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. Honestly, it is really trying to compete on an Amazon delivery level. 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 some of the most popular products include stainless steel tumblers, pens and apparel. Many of Sherman’s customers consist of local government entities, health care companies, banks, schools and corporate accounts.
Currently, Sherman employs four.
Shapiro says technology has helped streamline the ordering process. Her company uses an order management system that allows customers to create company stores and pop-up shops.
“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 says these boxes are very well received.
She says the demand for eco-friendly tri-blend clothing is also on the rise.
Eco-friendly T-shirts are made with polyester from recycled plastic 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.”
Pictured at top: Traci Miller from Color 3 Embroidery stands near the sewing machines and holds a hat that was embroidered.