Promo vs Premium: Why High Value Brand Gear is Replacing Cheap Promo Products

Promo vs Premium: Why High Value Brand Gear is Replacing Cheap Promo Products

By: John D’Angola / 1 April 2019


Over a century ago, a creative entrepreneur had the brilliant idea of printing messages onto tote bags to promote a local shoe store. It worked, and the promotional products industry was born. Since then, businesses have been printing their names onto everything with a solid surface.



Indeed, promo products are quite amazing in their diversity and creativity, but one common thread unites them all: they are all cheap. Which makes sense, right? If the primary purpose of the product is to convey a message, and it is likely to be given away for free, then product quality is not and should not be the primary concern.

But times have changed! We live in the 21st century now. Increasingly eco-conscious consumers now look at cheap, disposable plastic chotchkies with disdain. Not only that, but digital media now provides superior, more cost effective means to promote a message. Perhaps it is time we reassess how businesses ought to use gear to market their brands.



“Here, you throw this away.”

In this day and age, is it socially responsible and acceptable to flood the market with unnecessary plastic products? Products that are sure to end up in the trash after a single use, and then ultimately littering our oceans? Of course not!



“Promo” is now synonymous with “cheap”, but is it really?


On the production side, manufacturers now use the term “promo” as a euphemism to describe their cheapest option. The word has come to mean the opposite of premium.

At the consumer level, wave after wave of cheap plastic promo products have forged the same equivalency within consumers’ minds. Clearly, promo is now synonymous with cheap.


* Calculated as average of top performing promo products, i.e. bags, writing utensils, calendars, shirts and office accessories.  Source: Ad Specialty Institute


But assume you are fine with your brand being associated with “cheap” stuff, you must then ask is it really cheap? If the purpose of promo products is to communicate a message, i.e. drive impressions, is it the most cost-effective means to do so?

They used to be, but not any more! Businesses now possess near limitless ways to digitally communicate with targeted audiences. And despite the cost of digital advertising trending upwards, at a couple USD per thousand impressions digital ads are still significantly cheaper than even the cheapest piece of plastic coming out of Asia.


“Promo product” is all about impressions; “Premium merch” is all about experiences.


Thanks to modern advancements in digital marketing, there is no shortage of methods to generate impressions at very low cost. Content marketing, targeted advertisements and social media are all exceptionally powerful tools, which when used correctly can deliver huge volumes of impressions and ultimately conversions.

But one domain where digital marketing falls short: brand experiences. Human experience extends beyond the visual; we rely on all of our senses to connect with the world. This is where premium merch makes a huge difference.



Well conceived and properly manufactured brand gear has a far greater chance of being adopted by the user for regular use. Whereas cheap promo products quickly end up in the garbage can, a nicely executed piece of brand merch is more likely to become a part of a user’s life. The former delivers a quick impression, whereas the latter creates a brand experience which can last months or years.

Consider the PDI Leather Wallet. Made with Italian vegetable tanned leather, it is more costly than chrome-tanned and imitation leather. But it looks, feels and smells amazing because it is manufactured the traditional way without harmful chemicals. Gift one of these to your VIP customers, and they are likely to use it everyday for the next decade.


Cost Benefit Analysis

Indeed a premium merch product may cost several times more than an equivalent promo product. But if that product is used 100 times more often, which is building more brand value?  Which is better for the environment? If one comes across as tacky and superfluous, while the other feels impressive and valuable, which is delivering a better return?

Versatile Fabrics – Blended Wool

Versatile Fabrics – Blended Wool

By: Tim Wang / 21 January 2019


Customers want their daily apparel to keep them warm in the winter and cool in the summer. After many years of research and development, manufactures and fashion designers have come back around to wool, but not just any type of wool. Specifically, merino wool. What first comes to mind is sheep’s wool, followed by the usual characteristics of itchy, scratchy, and thickness. Simply, ‘regular’ wool is not everyone’s number one choice. However, merino wool feels like fine silk against the human skin. These fibers are much finer and lightweight. This and  other characteristics of wool, allow breathable and moisture managing fabric. The ability to control moisture also helps to regulate odor by preventing bacteria growth.



Even with these benefits, there are disadvantages for using fine fibers. Mainly, longevity and durability. No one wants to buy a product that has a lifespan of less than a year because that would be considered money poorly spent. To counteract this and give the consumer a product with a better lifespan, blended fabrics have quickly come to the forefront of fashion. Merino wool mixes with cotton, polyester,  nylon, and many more. The important reason for blending fibers is to produce better performance. Blending fabrics can improve the characteristics that are poor in one fiber, and mix it with another type of fabric that excels in those characteristics. In the proper ratio, blended wool can combine the best features leading to a superior piece of garment.


At Premium Direct Imports, we are constantly sourcing for the best quality and materials. In our search for another fabric to blend with merino wool, we were led to TENCEL®. A fiber made from eucalyptus trees that is wrinkle resistant, machine washable, and eco-friendly. Quality not only comes in the form of the product, but the ease of mind knowing it uses a sustainable and renewable process. Tencel is manufacturing is a 100% organic life cycle, meaning, the raw material and chemicals are all natural and recyclable in the development process. The smooth surface and uniform fiber structure make  Tencel a particularly stable fiber. This becomes evident thanks to the high resistance to pilling and  tearing.



Both merino wool and Tencel are odor neutralizing, heat and moisture-regulating, as well as extra delicate against the skin. With our own ratio of both fabrics the drawbacks of durability are no longer a problem and the best characteristics are amplified. Head on over to our shop and check out our own custom Merino wool TENCEL® blend of short and long sleeve shirts or hoodies.



Keep an eye out on new releases . Comment and let us know what you think about merino wool or blended fabrics in the comments below. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Instagram!

Factory Direct Sourcing

Factory Direct Sourcing

By John D’Angola  /  17 January 2019


Cut out the middleman to bring down price and increase profit.


PDI Answers Simple But Wrong

That is the straightforward, if incomplete, logic to factory direct sourcing. But when searching for answers to tough problems, such as maximizing profit, it is the simple solutions that sometimes get us into trouble.

Warren Buffet is famously quoted as saying “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” Let’s take a look at the topic of factory direct sourcing through the lens of Mr. Buffet’s guidance, to help us better understand when factory direct sourcing makes good business sense.



“Price is what you pay…”

The notion that factory pricing is lower than that quoted by trading companies requires an untenable “all else equal” assumption. We would have to ignore obvious variables like order quantity, internal operating expenses and legal costs. That would be silly.

Order quantity is usually the main factor manufacturers consider in negotiating price. Because individual buyers typically order at lower volumes compared to trading companies, factories tend to quote individual buyers higher prices. Unless the individual buyer can match the volumes of the trading company, this economic reality will reduce the potential cost savings presented by factory direct sourcing.

Next buyers must consider relevant operating expenses. Selecting and vetting a manufacturer requires expertise and time, both of which have associated costs. Communicating with manufacturers and resolving issues during and after production is equally crucial and costly. These costs are not reflected in factory direct pricing, but ought not be forgotten.

Last but not least are the costs associated with the preparation and execution of the supplier agreement, plus potential additional costs for dispute resolution. Add these expenses to the overhead required to manage the project, plus the price difference attributable to order volume, and true the price paid for factory direct sourcing becomes a bit more clear.


“…. Value is what you get”

Trading companies present additional value to their clients in the form of manufacturing alternatives, trade expertise and communication.

Individual factories have limited product offerings and generally lack an incentive to direct you to alternative manufacturers should your job require a product or feature they themselves cannot provide. Instead, factories often persuade buyers to fit their needs to the factory’s capabilities. In contrast, trading companies have relationships with many manufacturers and are incentivized to match the buyer to the most suitable supplier.

As their name suggests, trading companies are built for trade. Freight forwarding, export/import regulations and proper licensing are areas where both factories and buyers tend to lack the infrastructure necessary to get the products delivered smoothly. In contrast, trading companies have streamlined these processes.

Another massive advantage, one which is often overlooked, is the value trading companies offer in the form of communication. To effectively minimize errors, buyers ought to communicate with suppliers in their language. But beyond that, fluency in the terminology specific to both product and process are crucial in ensuring all technical aspects of the job are properly managed.  


Do the Calculation

When deciding whether to source directly from a factory or through a trading company, we recommend you ask the following questions:

Are our volumes large enough to secure good pricing?
Have we accurately assessed related operating and legal expenses?
Do we have alternative manufacturing options should we require it?
Can we get the product imported safely and securely?
Are we capable of communicating effectively with the manufacturer?

If you’ve answered “no” to one or more of the questions above, you may want to consider working with PDI.