A Promo Mixer: The New Distributor’s Guide to Finding Your Tribe

Maple Ridge Farms Team

The promotional products industry may be a big family, but it can seem overwhelming when you’re new. Everyone knows everyone except for you (or so it seems), and it’s awkward. It doesn’t have to be! We’ve put together a guide to help you find your tribe and flourish.

Join a Regional

The first step to finding your tribe is to join your regional association. These nonprofit organizations exist to serve the promotional products professionals in their area and offer numerous benefits. You’ll meet supplier partners in your area and develop key contacts at these companies. You’ll also meet fellow distributors in your area that you can swap ideas with and learn from. Yes, they’re your competitors, but you can both benefit from sharing knowledge. Who knows? You may even find opportunities to collaborate in the future.

Regional associations are affordable to join, but they offer a high return on your investment if you utilize your membership. Check out all the services and discounts available to you. These could include free or discounted industry educational sessions, coupons for regional suppliers and shipping discounts. Plus, they bring instant credibility to your business, which is imperative if you’re just starting out.

Another benefit is the networking opportunities. Regionals bring industry professionals together via tradeshows, networking events, volunteer opportunities and more. Attend the tradeshows to see products in person and develop relationships with supplier representatives. While walking the show floor, you may think of an idea for a customer or potential customer. Share your idea with a supplier rep for feedback (or to generate additional ideas), and order a sample on the spot.

Networking events and volunteer opportunities are equally important endeavors. Get involved with your regional association by helping to plan events and joining committees. It’s a wonderful way to meet people and develop relationships with fellow industry professionals. We’re in the relationship business, so you never know where a relationship you take time to build may lead.

Regional events and shows are fun too. We’ve attended events at local breweries, stadiums and even zoos. You’ll walk away with more knowledge, stronger relationships and a big smile! Keep in mind that these host companies and organizations are buyers too, so be on the lookout for new business opportunities.

Learn more about why you should join a regional association, and find yours on the map. You’re off to a strong start!

Develop Supplier Relationships

Suppliers are here to help you, so take time to develop relationships with reps. After you join your regional association, you’ll see which suppliers are in your home region. Introduce yourself to their reps at events, or reach out to them. They can set you up with their company and educate you on their products and services, including applications and uses. Look at their sample kits, special offers and marketing tools to help sell these capabilities.

Another fantastic opportunity is to attend a factory tour! We love hosting our distributor partners and giving you a behind-the-scenes look at our operations and capabilities. It’s so helpful to see products and packaging in person and watch (or even try your hand at) various imprinting methods. Seeing the entire process in person may help you understand why certain policies or charges are necessary, so you can better explain them to your customer. Of course, if you ever have a question, ask your supplier partner, and they’ll be happy to answer it. We recommend visiting any supplier factories that you can, but our tours do come with delicious, gourmet treats.

Developing relationships with your supplier representatives is important for another reason. We’re experts at what we do, so we can help you better understand how to take our products (and services) to market, including to current customers and potential ones. You have so many products and capabilities at your fingertips, it’s nearly impossible to have expert-level knowledge of them all. So, we’re here to help!

For example, we’ve been in the food gifts and packaging industries for 40 years, so we’ve developed an incredible amount of knowledge on both subjects. All year, our team of dedicated foodies scour shows, trade publications, festivals, online communities and more to find the latest trends, spot potential new products and hone our craft. Take advantage of all our knowledge and insight!

We love to sit down and discuss opportunities with you involving your current clients or new business you’re trying to land. The more we know about the opportunity and the sooner we’re invited to the table, the better we can help you. Feel free to invite us to your end user events, client meetings and prospect pitches. Or we can have a session beforehand to make sure you’re comfortable discussing food gifts overall or a specific program for your client, prospect or targeted niche.

New to Selling Food Gifts? Start Here: First Steps to Success: Tips for Food Gift-Selling First-Timers

Attend Industry Events      

Industry events, such as The PPAI Expo or the ASI Shows, are packed with opportunities. Attend insightful educational sessions and work toward obtaining your industry certifications. Listen to inspiring keynotes and speakers. See new products and best sellers up close and personal, so you can show them to your clients. Meet with supplier representatives, attend networking events and create content for your social media presences.

The first key to having a successful event is to have a plan. As fun as showing up and winging it may sound, you’ll get more out of your experience if you do some work ahead of time. Look at the floorplan to see which suppliers you want to visit, and make note of where they are. An easy way to do this (and so much more) is to download the event app. Highlight your supplier partners and any new companies you want to meet. Note any special areas, such as the New Product Showcase or Brand Pavilion.

While you need to have a plan, schedule some free time so you can stop to check out something that catches your eye on the show floor or follow your nose to a delicious scent. You may even want to block out a specific time to wander part of the floor, play with puppies or get a quick massage. Attending shows is work!

Attending shows involves a lot of walking, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes. Those fabulous heels or brand new wingtips may look amazing, but your feet will thank you if you go with something more comfortable. You may want to save your spiffy shoes for the networking events (or not, after walking all over convention centers).

Whatever shoes you wear, attend the networking events! They can be as valuable as the show floor. There are several “off floor” events hosted by industry organizations, suppliers and distributor groups, so keep your eyes open in the weeks leading up to the show. Make sure to RSVP to events you’re interested in attending, add them to your schedule and know where you’re going.

Finally, bring business cards. Physical business cards are still valuable in our digital world. Give them to supplier representatives when you’re discussing a project or ideas. Jot down notes on cards you pick up from supplier partners, industry organization leaders or fellow distributors you want to follow up with. A quick note on the card will remind you why you connected with an individual or what you discussed. These notes are so helpful when you’re doing post-show follow-up!  

You may be surprised how hungry you get attending sessions and walking the show floor. When that happens, head to our booth and pick up a tasty snack!

Get Social

OK, you’ve joined your regional association, started developing relationships with supplier partners and registered for upcoming industry events. Now, it’s time to get social. Like anything else, your social media presences will provide the most value if you have a plan. Take some time to think about what platforms you want to join first, and how your social media activities will fit into your overall marketing strategy. Once you’ve made your plan, jump in!

  • Social media provides numerous benefits to distributors, including:
  • Developing relationships with suppliers and fellow distributors
  • Enhancing your experience at shows & events
  • Building a community of people interested in what you do
  • Promoting your products and services
  • Generating leads and business opportunities
  • Staying top of mind with your customers (without being annoying)
  • Positioning yourself as a marketing thought leader
  • Developing social proof (by showcasing projects & case histories)

One of the benefits you’ll notice is enhancing your show or event experience. When you’re attending an industry event, follow the official hashtag. It will help you connect with others in attendance and find out about events and spontaneous meet-ups. Plus, you can shoot videos and take photos to share with your audience. Don’t feel pressured to share all your content while at the show. You can continue to share it throughout the year, or include in client presentations.

As a new distributor, you’ll benefit from the insightful discussions and loads of knowledge at Promochat, a Twitter chat held every Wednesday at 2 PM CT. It’s fast-paced, but everyone’s friendly. Search for the #Promochat hashtag, and once you’re comfortable, join the conversation. It’s that straight forward, although it may be helpful to use third party software, such as Tweetdeck, when you’re attending the chat.  

We’ve already tackled How to Get Social in the Promo Industry, so we won’t rehash all our advice here. However, social media is worth taking the time to do right. Focus on quality over quantity, and engage with your audience. It’s not all about posting continuously. You can learn so much about your audience by listening, which can help you better meet their needs. So, choose your platforms wisely, and join the conversation! You’ll be happy you did.


Here’s to You!

Don’t be overwhelmed by everything we’ve mentioned here, or everything you have to do when you’re starting out. The promotional products industry is full of opportunity, and eventually you’ll feel right at home. Joining your regional association, developing supplier relationships, attending industry events and getting social can help you build your network and find your tribe. In the meantime, give us a call or stop by to introduce yourself at an event. We’re looking forward to getting to know you over some delicious, gourmet treats!

Welcome to the best industry in the world. We’re happy you’re here.