The first known Promotional Product used in America were commemorative campaign buttons used by George Washington during the Presidential campaign in 1789. In the early 1800's calendars and rulers as well as some wooden items used for advertising, although an organized industry for creation and distribution did not yet exist until the late 1800's.
A commercial printer by the name of Jasper Meeks from Coshocton Ohio was the 1st seller of promotional products for the industry when he got a local store selling shoes to print their business name on book bags for local schools. Mr. Meeks local printing competitor Henry Beach followed suit and began printing and selling other items like marbles, aprons, cloth caps, card cases, calendars, and fans to businesses.
In 1904, Mr Meeks and Mr Beach along with 12 other manufacturers of promotional merchandise came together and founded the first Promotional Product Trade Association for the industry. The organization is now referred to as the P.P.A.I (Promotional Products Association International) This organization now includes over 7,500 global members. and represents an industry of more than 22,000 distributors and 4,800 manufacturers across the world.
The United Kingdom & Ireland Promotional Product Merchandise Industry officially emerged as corporate marketing became advanced during the late 1950s. Before this era a company may have handed out occasional gifts, but there still was no recognised Industry in existence. The 1st dramatic growth in the industry began in the 1970s. When an increasing number of corporate companies saw the benefits gained from promoting their Business name, brand and product or service with the use of gifts displaying their own logo. There was a limited choice In the early years of Promotion Products, then at the beginning of the 1980's demand grew from distributors for a generic Promotional Product catalogue they could distribute to their corporate customer displaying their brand as their own.
In years to follow these catalogues could be over-branded to show a distributor's corporate logo and then distributors could deliver them to their end-user as a product of their own. In the beginning stages these catalogues were a vital sales tool and customers would order directly from these catalogues.
Beginning in the 1990s new catalogue services became available for distributors from many sources. The Industry created 'Catalogue Groups' who offered a specialized catalogue to a selected geographical group of Promotional Product merchandise distributor companies. Membership of a Catalogue Group also offered improved buying term options, a group of fellow distributor companies, & offered more support services. A current example of this type of Group would be the Envoy Group, who offers discounted products to a select group of distributors who have been in the industry for a minimum of three years. These members of the Envoy Group have regional exclusivity as a perk.
Preceding the 1990s the Promotional Product Merchandise Industry had a peak season, this was around Christmas & the giving of gifts. This changed dramatically by the beginning of the 1990s when Christmas gifts became less popular in the growing multicultural Country of England. Corporate companies became more creative by using promotional product merchandise to support their brand throughout the entire year.
In the early 2000's the role of a Promotional Product merchandise catalogues started to change, because they could no longer fully display the vast range of products being offered. By 2007 companies were mailing catalogues to targeted customer lists, instead of the blanket postal mailing list they were using before. The catalogue has become more of a 'business card that demonstrates the concept of what a company did, instead of a critical sales tool. In 2009 results published showed research involving a representative group of distributor companies, this indicated the usage of real hard copy catalogues would fall up to 25% by the end of 2010.
Distributor companies are experts in finding a way to source their creative Promotional Products. Traditionally, to make sure that they offered an effective manufacturer network, theses companies kept themselves updated on the trade product ranges available by attending exhibitions held all over the world, the (Trade Only National Show in the United Kingdom, Product Stewardship Institute or (PSI) in Europe and the P.P.A.I Show in Las Vegas, NV) & from the mailings the manufacturers received themselves. In 2004 Promotional Product sourcing began to change due to the launch of online trade sourcing services that became available and united distributors with manufacturers all over the world. This service is completely for vetted trade promotional merchandise distributor companies & is not offered to corporate end-user companies.
By 2008 just about every distributor incorporated a website demonstrating a range of items available. Not many offered the ability to order online mainly due to the complexities surrounding the processes to brand the merchandise needed. Today there are several companies that offer home based business opportunities to sell Promos. This allows the big distributor companies the ability to bring in more orders without having to advertise themselves. Smaller business can compete in the industry since all they need to do is advertise, find orders, and place orders, not having to worry about overhead costs. The fulfillment centers collect the artwork, print the orders and handle delivery.