2022 Gift Guide

2022 Gift Guide

The fourth quarter is your time to shine. Here’s how to deliver with top-notch picks and surefire strategies.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. You know – Q4. Budgets are being spent, big sales are coming in, and both distributors and suppliers bring cheer to millions while closing out their stretch run with a bang. The good news? Despite plenty of economic challenges, clients remain very eager to spend. The bad news? Persistent demand will complicate the inventory and delivery issues that are already plaguing the industry.

Don’t fret. Use our following guide to navigate the next tricky few months and you’re sure to be able to deliver something that buyers will love. Peruse our six showcases for targeted gifts to workers in six hot markets that definitely earned a little bit of appreciation this year. Ace this part and you’ll be in line for some deserved holiday cheer.

Ace Holiday Orders in 4 Steps

Placing last-minute gift orders before Christmas? Good luck. Here’s how to nail the most hectic Q4 ever.

Even in the best of times, promo is still a madcap industry.

But this year – with rapidly disappearing inventory, lack of warehouse staff, and deliveries collecting dust in freight companies’ distribution centers for days (sometimes weeks) without explanation – has been another experience entirely.

And now we’re headed into Q4 – the craziest quarter of any year, but especially so in 2022.

It’s complicated, but promo firms say holiday demand is poised to surge. In fact, distributors are expecting a red-hot end to the year, despite inflation and other dire economic news. That’s great for year-end numbers, however it can take a toll on stress levels.

While the distributor mantra to end-buyers is the same year after year – “order as early as possible to avoid the rush” – it’s more than just a request this year. In 2022, there’s a good chance (maybe even a guarantee) that an end-buyer who approaches distributors with year-end orders too late in the game won’t receive their first choice – or even their second or third. “It’s difficult to execute an order when you’re waiting on an end-buyer, and we get that,” says David Katz, partner at Midnite Snax (asi/71685). “But as we move down the line through the quarter, we have to manage expectations as well, and we’ll make suggestions for alternatives.”

Instead of hand-wringing and panicking, here are four steps to seeing Q4 orders through … and making it a happy holiday season for all.

1. Offer Viable Options

As Q3 concludes and Q4 fires up, deadlines for year-end gifts will become increasingly strict. It’s imperative that distributors communicate early on with end-buyers about ordering earlier than usual, and that they’re honest from the beginning of an order about what’s feasible at that particular point in time.

“We’re upfront with what we can and can’t do,” says Jen Gangwish, CEO of College Hill Custom Threads (asi/164578). “We’re polite about it, but we’re clear about what we can make happen.”

Even with proactive messaging, there are sure to be end-buyers who approach distributors at the 11th hour needing gifts. The same principle applies – instead of trying to make the impossible happen, focus on what you can reasonably do.

“We’re upfront with what we can and can’t do. We’re polite about it, but we’re clear about what we can make happen.” Jen Gangwish, College Hill Custom Threads

“We’ll send nice reminders about ordering earlier, and clients are generally receptive,” says Kim Peters, owner of Fully Promoted Lethbridge (asi/483805). “But we’ll still have those customers who need items the next week. Though most B2B clients understand because they’re dealing with it in their trades. But clients have to know that if they order late, there won’t be as much choice.”

And have the confidence to say no if a customer’s idea isn’t viable. “If it doesn’t make sense and will just stress everyone out, say no,” says Gangwish. “Because the stress is all they’ll remember.”

2. Go to Preferred Suppliers

Simplify things by sticking with providers that have proven themselves trustworthy, proactive and diligent when it comes to staying in front of supply chain and staffing challenges. PowerStick.com (asi/51566), for example, anticipated Q4 challenges and made necessary adjustments ahead of time.

“Previously, products came to us by ocean,” says Nigel Harris, CEO at PowerStick.com. “We’ve shifted to air freight and either raised our prices slightly or absorbed the cost difference. Our distributors have a right to expect us to be there for them and their customers and to carry sufficient stock.”

Katz at Midnite Snax says they use a local supply chain and manufacture their own product and packaging, which helps avoid bottlenecks. “We ordered materials and inventory early and often,” he notes. “Those suppliers that can actually come through can be a buffer against some challenges.”

In anticipation of Q4 headaches, Gangwish’s team put together a detailed list of preferred suppliers to approach for year-end gifts, based on the product category that an end-client needs. “We’re educating our own team on who to turn to,” she explains. “Say the client needs a tech product; we put together the 10 suppliers to reach out to, their top five tech products and how to pitch them. We want to focus on what’s available.”

Peters recommends speaking with suppliers – and decorators if necessary – ahead of Q4 to find out their deadlines, and to communicate that to the sales team. “They’re going to have similar staffing issues,” she says. “We’ll reach a point when orders are a no-go because it’s too late in the season. So we have to work ahead on contingency plans and possible alternatives. We have to ask suppliers, ‘Can you do this? Is this a good plan B?’ We’ve also been working with more local people.”

3. Prepare for the Unexpected

Though planning helps to mitigate the chances of an end-buyer losing out, nothing is guaranteed. A pre-Q4 prediction from a supplier about inventory levels for a certain product can be rendered void with one major order from a large client, and that reality should be shared with end-buyers. Mike Fossano, vice president of account services at Premier Communications Group (asi/298496), says they’ve recently had challenges with apparel in specific colors.

“A customer wanted a specific shirt for its particular style, color and feel,” he says. “Several suppliers had all the sizes except Medium. We found an alternative, but we don’t always know until we reach out to suppliers. Clients will need 100 of a certain item and by the time we put in the PO, the inventory number has changed. Things are very fluid.”

“We go to every supplier’s website and check inventory. It’s a lot of extra work, but it’s training us to ask more questions. We’re digging even deeper into what the client wants.” Kim Peters, Fully Promoted Lethbridge

Even after working ahead, having an idea of suppliers’ deadlines and submitting the PO, Peters continues to monitor inventory levels and keeps customers in the loop, which she notes has been a good thing. “We go to every supplier’s website and check inventory,” she says. “It’s a lot of extra work but it’s training us to ask more questions. We’re digging even deeper into what the client wants, and we’re more concise with our questions. We’re constantly looking at suppliers’ products now, and we’re seeing things we hadn’t found previously.”

Contract decorators may also experience logjams due to holiday demand, which can delay order fulfillment as well. That’s another link in the chain to take into consideration. “Lots of companies didn’t survive COVID,” says Gangwish. “Now there are two print shops in town when there used to be 20, so they have all this business coming out of nowhere.” Communicate with both suppliers and decorators, and work in tandem with their schedules and deadlines.

4. Manage Expectations Through Final Delivery

Even with everything in on time and on schedule, there’s a good chance there could still be what Fossano calls “hiccups” with overextended freight companies. Fortunately, says Gangwish, suppliers have generally been good with live inventory and offering updates on order progress, but once the delivery is in the hands of UPS and FedEx, there are few guarantees.

An order for one of Fossano’s clients recently took a several-week-long tour of the American Southwest, beginning in Los Angeles and making stops in Phoenix, Albuquerque and Denver before finally arriving in Vegas. Such circuitous routes are only going to become more common in Q4 due to staffing shortages and delivery companies spread too thin.

“No one was happy about it, but we all understood,” says Fossano. “There are just so many variables, including how large the order is and how many addresses the products are going to.”

Most important, be honest about the situation and keep clients in the loop. “If you overpromise and underdeliver, you’re in hot water,” says Gangwish. “The pandemic has had lasting impact on our industry and we’re still catching up. It’s going to take a couple years to get back to normal.”

Above all: remain calm. The reality on the ground is the same for everyone. Communicate early, do what you can and manage expectations. “Most customers who order in the crunch period between Thanksgiving and Christmas are forgiving, thankful and flexible,” says Katz. “By that time, the supplier may be out of steak and lobsters, so they go with the chicken. People understand.”

Try Not to Panic

Are clients still waiting to get their order in? Don’t get flustered. Use this holiday benchmark guide to know where you stand and the next step to take. (A bonus tip: communicate it with your customers for an easy-to-follow timeline).

Post Labor Day
Sweat Meter 2/5

Double down on “order early” messaging to end-buyers, continue having conversations with suppliers about Q4 timelines, and start getting orders in whenever possible.

Sweat Meter 3/5

Cast a wide net among suppliers to find out who can make your client’s vision happen and make sure they receive their first product choice, if at all possible.

Sweat Meter 4/5

Time for your varsity team – approach your key suppliers who’ve come through for you before and see what they can make happen.

Sweat Meter 5/5

After talking with your suppliers, let clients know what’s in-stock at the moment and can be shipped immediately, but that options will be limited.

Tireless Technology Reps

According to careers resource site Zippia, the technology market accounts for 10.5% of total U.S. GDP, just behind healthcare. It’s a significant industry full of engineers and sales reps who are a perfect fit for personalized apparel and luxe accessories.

Managers can reward high-performing reps with this unisex sports watch (WC9055) with polished black finishing and silicone strap from Logomark (asi/67866).

Recipients are sure to use this sleek full-color kit (PJKIT) that comes with a 3,000 mAh charger and five-watt Bluetooth speaker from PowerStick.com (asi/51566).

These are a must-have for frequent travelers: Apple AirPods Max headphones (AIRPODSMAX) with noise cancellation technology from Sunjoy Group (asi/90154).

Techies can keep their various cables sorted – and mobile device within easy reach – with this bamboo desktop organizer (25310) from Hit Promotional Products (asi/61125).

Year-end party attendees and team-building participants look forward to receiving swag; consider a personalized Sport-Tek quarter-zip (LST253) from SanMar (asi/84863).

Resilient Educators

School has been no picnic the last couple years, particularly for teachers, administrators and staff. One bit of good news: the desire for promos is back, as education rebounded to become once again the largest market for promotional products, making up 13% of total industry sales. When targeting these clients, be sure these hard-working professionals get rewarded with high-end accessories, lifestyle items and edibles as thank-you gifts for their dedication.

Administrators and front-office staff will be both stylish and prepared with this expandable, high-end messenger bag (LB1011) with a padded cellphone holder, under-flap organizer and black nickel finish hardware from alphabroder (asi/34063).

Show appreciation with this sweet-and-salty 24-pack snack bundle (SBP24) in an imprinted gift box from The Magnet Group (asi/68507).

Teachers will be eager to refresh and accent their classroom desks with this unique “encourage-mint” ceramic planter kit (5661) with wooden sign from Illini (asi/62190).

After a long day, front-office staff will love to warm up with this Sherpa-lined rustic ranch throw (DP1719) with faux leather face and zip-closure pouch from Terry Town (asi/90913).

Those with chilly classrooms require a smart layering piece like this full-zip cardigan (7062/4073) made of a soft cotton/acrylic/nylon blend from Edwards Garment Co. (asi/51752).

Industrious Contractors

Construction companies in the U.S. have grown an average of 3.3% each year since 2017, according to market research firm IBISWorld. However, with materials slow to arrive because of supply chain woes, workers in the field have been under increased pressure to finish projects. Contractors and their staff will appreciate these gifts that recognize their hard work in these difficult times.

Music provides a boost of much-needed serotonin, so help contractors amplify their tunes with this compact Bluetooth speaker (1592) from Evans Manufacturing (asi/52840).

Contracting companies can thank loyal clients with a sampler pack of three Wisconsin cheeses and gourmet salami (CB4) in a gift box from Cheese Brothers (asi/44680).

Team members on the road need this mini Maglite combo set (KM2A) that includes two flashlights, batteries and a spare lamp in an engraved case from HPG (asi/61966).

Help supervisors express goodwill for a job well done by their workers with this tool bag (1430-58) that has exterior pockets and elastic holders from PCNA (asi/78897).

Those working outdoors need insulated outerwear like the Carhartt thermal-lined active jacket (CTJ131-E) from NC Custom (asi/44900).

Attentive Hospitality Employees

The hospitality industry was one of the hardest hit during COVID, but indicators show it’s poised to make a comeback. According to the U.S. Travel Association, nearly 90% of companies now allow non-essential domestic business travel among their employees. Consider pitching the following products as gifts for industrious employees at hotels, resorts and restaurants.

Help cruise ships recognize employees’ work milestones with a glass award paperweight (8513) with 4-color process imprint from Innovation Line (asi/62660).

Restaurants can refresh uniforms for 2023 with this silk woven tie (SWT-4) with custom design from Buffalo Bay (asi/42416).

Food service companies can show employees – and their families – appreciation with a DIY cookie decorating kit (LGMB-CKM) from Midnite Snax (asi/71685).

Resort shops are a perfect setting for a high-end gift like a cherry wood cutting board (NCS02C) with laser imprint from Starline USA (asi/89320).

Hotels can give retiring employees an elegant send-off with the Oasis decanter set (BWC605-X) with deep-etch imprint from St Regis Group (asi/84592).

Diligent Healthcare Workers

Healthcare is one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment is expected to grow by 16% each year from now through 2030, the most of any occupational group studied by the BLS. Consider pitching products like meal kits and R&R bundles to encourage healthcare workers to prioritize their own health when they go home at the end of the day.

Clients can send a soothing message to doctors and nurses with this gift set (NGSSATORI) that includes lemon verbena bath salts and candle in a rustic wooden gift box from SnugZ USA (asi/88060).

This is a must-have for morning coffee, tea or any beverage of choice: a 12-oz. double-wall stainless-steel tumbler (884460) with copper vacuum insulation, push-on lid and removable silicone base from ETS Express (asi/51197).

Primary care offices can thank employees for their hard work and resilience with a fun customized gift box of 3.5-oz. containers of edible cookie dough (9050-G5) in five flavors from Edoughble (asi/51667).

Lunch breaks will be more enjoyable with this insulated and water-resistant lunch bag (ALB) with exterior pocket from Gold Bond (asi/57653).

After finishing up a long workday, doctors and nurses alike will be quick to grab this taco kit (1742102) in a reusable branded tote from Stuff A Mug (asi/89971).

Dedicated Nonprofit Volunteers

The nonprofit sector is the third largest workforce in the U.S., according to nonprofit membership and advocacy organization Independent Sector. It accounts for 10% of all American employees, or 11.4 million jobs. Those working to make the world a better place deserve quality thank-you gifts for all they do.

Volunteers will appreciate a USA-made accessory that protects their laptops and important files, like the canvas and leather Duluth Pack laptop bag (B-138) from Compass Industries (asi/46170).

Hardworking employees – and their families – will love a sweet treat like this cinnamon walnut coffee cake (SLCK5) from Maple Ridge Farms Inc. (asi/68680).

Dedicated employees will love these gourmet Milk Bar cookies (101554) with a thank-you message from Gemline (asi/56070).

Organizations can reward volunteer achievements with this jade glass award plaque (36691) from Koozie Group (asi/40480).

Staff members can plan out successful strategies with a four-pen executive gift set (APGSBP046) from BEL Promo (asi/39552).