Got a great comment in from one of our Promo With Purpose Today email subscribers: The most frustrating thing about promotional products purchases is to find a way to get samples as the catalogue cannot do justice to a lot of the products. True, but your promo distributor may be hesitant to send them to you. I’ll explain why and discuss how you can get the promotional products samples you want.
I’ll agree with the subscriber in that looking at catalogs often does not give you an accurate representation of what the product looks like in real life. It’s not that the photos are bad or misleading. It’s just that the products are usually shown as close-ups and isolated on a blank background which makes it difficult to assess how it is size-wise when held in your hand. For fabric products such as T shirts, it is almost impossible to tell how the fabric feels from looking at a photo. Colors are also tricky since lighting in a photo studio can vary from that in a home or office. So really the only way to make a judgment call on a product is to get a physical sample.
One popular “sample” method used these days are virtual samples. What your distributor will do is place your logo on a photo of the item you’re considering and send it to you so that you can get an idea of how the product will look when finished. Virtual samples are helpful, especially if you’re considering several items and want to narrow the field. Then order physical samples for those that are mostly likely to be winners.
Let me dispel a myth right off the bat. Promotional products distributors, except for maybe the really large Internet retailers, rarely keep a huge inventory of samples on hand. Why? Because there are so many products out there! In one database alone, there are over 750,000 different product SKUs (yes, that’s three-quarters of a million). So while most distributors have a personal stash of popular samples from their primary suppliers, they will rarely have the exact sample you’re looking for on hand… even if they have it available for sale on their website.
So what your distributor needs to do is order a physical sample for you from the supplier of the item. But here’s the rub. While many suppliers are very accommodating when it comes to samples, I’ve found that most do charge for them. So, in turn, your distributor may charge you for the item you want. Additionally, they may charge you for the freight to send the item to you. Some may ask you to pay for the sample upfront OR they may roll the cost of the sample into your final invoice when you actually place the order (might be included in “shipping & handling costs” if not separated out). Except in cases where an expensive sample would be sent to you for review only, samples are non-returnable.
You might be thinking, “Well, isn’t that a distributor’s cost of doing business?” Technically, it could be. But if every client wanted a sample on every order, or if every client who’s are just thinking about ordering wanted one, your distributor would be running at a loss very quickly. Trust me, I speak from experience in this area! The cost for a small plastic promotional item, plus freight, can easily run me up to around $10 per sample sent when all costs and processing are included. I’ve even had situations where I sent samples of expensive jackets for review only. Customer didn’t return them on time and I ended up spending about $300 in samples. Ouch! Then they didn’t even order after that. Double ouch!
- High Cost. If the item has a high per piece price (such as awards or expensive leather goods), it’s usually a good idea to secure a sample for review before investing a large amount of money in them.
- High Quantity. Doing a large run, say at least 5,000 or more? Better check it out before you end up eating the cost of a large order for an item that’s not what you expected. Suppliers for large quantity orders may also require you to pay for a production sample (they imprint with your logo artwork on just one piece) for approval prior to doing the actual run.
- Custom Products. You will not get away without paying for a sample here! Distributors and the suppliers manufacturing the order will not run your order without your approval on a production sample. As well, the costs to custom develop products (such as mold fees) are paid upfront and are non-refundable.
- Unsure of Quality or Suitability for Your Project. Always order a physical sample if you feel unsure about any promotional product you’re considering. Just be prepared to pay for it. Let’s just call it insurance.
So how should you go about getting samples?
- Contact your promotional products distributor direct. Some may offer the ability to order samples from their websites. If not, look on their Contact page to either email or phone them to get the process rolling.
- Inquire about both virtual and physical sample options. The virtual could be used initially if you are considering several items and want to eliminate some candidates. Then order physical samples for only those that show most promise.
- Once your distributor receives your final sample request, it may take a few days to fill your order, plus shipping time, to get it in hand. Do not expect overnight service unless you expect to pay for it. As well, the sample may be shipping direct from the supplier which could mean anywhere from 1 to 5 days of shipping time in the United States, depending on your location. So allow at least 1-2 weeks to get your sample with normal turnaround.