The Image GroupThe Image Group

By Justin Herman

You could say that I grew up in the promotional products industry. Both my father and grandfather were in the business, and I followed in their professional footsteps right after college. Needless to say, with today’s online resources, I go to market differently than either my father or grandfather did. And it’s fun for me to compare how the “hot” promotional products have changed through three generations.

My late grandfather, Bob Herman, began selling advertising “premiums” by going door-to-door to area businesses. In his day, popular items included logoed key tags, wall calendars, coffee mugs, cigarette lighters, and ashtrays. He sold messaging buttons to retailers and politicians, and inexpensive pens to everyone. T-shirts, “silk screened” with custom imprints, were his best-selling clothing items. Back then, promotional products were considered novelty items, or what is derogatorily referred to as “trinkets and trash.”

When my dad, Rick Herman, entered the business, branded merchandise was gaining sophistication. Logoed apparel was suddenly fashionable. Golf shirts embroidered with company logos were starting to be commonplace – thanks largely to the workplace casual movement – as were ball caps and outerwear. Novelty items now featured that era’s technology; for instance, I remember my father selling a matchbook that opened to reveal a tiny calculator inside.

Today, my customers want high-tech gadgets that recharge their cell phones and tablets or measure their workout progress. They like wireless speakers and headphones so they can take their music wherever they go without worrying about cords or connectivity. There’s growing demand for environmentally friendly items, such as reusable water bottles. And when it comes to apparel, clients prefer active wear that transitions easily from the gym to the street, and that features cool decorating techniques such as heat seals and debossing.

While many promotional products have stood the test of time (i.e., calendars, screen-printed T-shirts, drinkware), the item hot list continues to evolve. For one thing, packaging is adding a new dimension, bringing opportunities for marketers to engage product recipients and track their return on investment. It’s an exciting time in our industry.

Who knows? Maybe my son, Jack, will one day sell promotional products. In any event, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Justin Herman
About Justin Herman
Three Generations