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FAQ

In-depth answers to iCoStore’s most frequently asked questions

What is a promotional products program or online company store? / What is a “program”?

A promotional products program is a curated collection of logo merchandise (logo apparel, promotional merchandise, swag) made available to you and your buyers. Basically, it is a custom catalog of products designed to meet your needs and fulfilled by one or more partners on your behalf. iCoStore manages promotional programs for nearly a hundred companies. The products in each of those programs are as individual as the brands they serve. They are a rightsourced combination of just-in-time, in-stock, and special order items that are picked just for you and made available online and through our various customer service channels.

Why would I need an online company store?

There are many reasons for having an online company store. If your company purchases over $50,000 annually of promotional merchandise, company apparel and marketing materials, you are a good candidate. iCoStore will work with you to determine if a store is right for you. See the Why iCoStore section for more details.

What are the requirements to set up a company store?

As a general rule, you need to spend at least $50,000 per year on promotional products, logo apparel, general logo swag and marketing supplies with iCoStore. This is your total spend, store purchases and special orders. In some cases, if it is a uniform program with embroidered items only, we can set up a program with lower spend.

Feel free to call us if you are not sure. In many cases, different departments purchase similar items, so you may not realize how much your company is actually spending. HR, Marketing, Procurement, Sales, and Communications & Event Services all purchase apparel and promotional items for different reasons.

What are promotional products?

Promotional products go by many names: swag, promo items, promo merchandise, logo gear, tchotchkes, trinkets, etc. They all refer to products that are decorated with your logo. Promotional products can be logo pens, drinkware, koozies, uniforms, calendars, golf balls and so much more. The one commonality is that they all have a logo.

Promotional products are physical logo merchandise, branded with your logo to be sold or given away to spread awareness and positive associations with your brand. We offer more than  1,000,000 promotional products available from thousands of manufacturers—and it doesn’t stop there. iCoStore can also help you design and manufacture truly custom products that have never been seen on the market before.

We already buy promotional products online. Why should we set up a company store?

You can spend your days searching the Internet for the lowest priced promotional products that you use. If you use a small collection and buy infrequently, this may be the most cost-effective way to manage your promotional products. However, once your volume starts to grow, so does the complexity of dealing with the supply-chain partners necessary to provide a full suite of products.

Many companies go through a fairly standard path of evolution with regard to purchasing promotional products. Someone in Marketing or HR starts spending a small portion of their time sourcing and buying promotional products and apparel. Then, as the volume grows, so does the time invested. Eventually, one or more employees end up do nothing but sourcing and procuring products on behalf of the company.

Office closets and warehouse shelves fill up with outdated and unused merchandise that was purchased to meet minimum-order quantities. Eventually, most organizations reach a point when they realize that it’s time to bring in an expert to work with their internal team to handle the merchandising and fulfillment of their promotional product needs.

To set up an iCoStore program for your company, you only need to spend $50,000 per year with us.

We don’t have a promotional products program. How do we set up a program?

The short answer is Contact Us We will help you navigate the process. There is some homework that you can do ahead of time to better prepare yourself for putting together a promotional products program:

  • Gather documentation of your branding standards, including logo-usage guides, Pantone colors and web colors.
  • Gather vector art for all logos you want to be available in the program.
  • Look at your past promotional products spend and estimate what and how much you think you will buy in the next year based on purchase history and expected trends for the coming year. We require a minimum of $50,000 per year in spend to create a custom program.
  • Define, at least in general terms, who your buyers are, approximately how many there are and what their roles are in the promotional products purchasing space.
  • Define the objectives of your promotional products program.

Once you have gathered your brand standards and have an idea of what and how much you plan to buy, you can begin to look at promotional products providers and see who best fits your needs. We have an easy on-boarding process. We can schedule a call with you within one business day to get started. We can have your program online within a couple weeks. For clients who know what they want and are able to turn around approvals quickly, we have put programs online in just 48 hours.

 

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How do we select the right vendor for our company?

There are over 30,000 promotional products distributors. Your best fit is going to be the provider who best meets your specific needs. Every program is different, and every company approaches programs differently, so tailor your questions to your specific needs. However, there are some basic questions that you should definitely ask every prospective provider:

1. Will I have a dedicated account manager who knows my account, my people, and my needs—or will I be talking to a call center pool?
2. How long does it take you to bring a new program online?
3. What is your approach to inventory and sourcing for a program?
4. Do you own your online store platform? Can you make changes to it, or do you have to hire outside contractors to do so?
5. What kind of online budget management tools do you have?
6. What kind of online user management tools do you have?
7. How do you handle online stores for promotional merchandise?
8. What kind of reporting can I get on store purchases and user activity?
9. What fees do you charge us for your various services while running our program?
10. How do you handle items that must ship within 24 hours?
11. How do you handle damaged and defective merchandise?
12. What security measures do you take to keep information about my program and personal information of program buyers—including payment card data—confidential?
13. How many programs do you run? How large are your clients?
14. How much do you charge for hosting and web store setup?
15. What is your standard lead time?
16. From where do you ship?
17. What are your order cutoff times for same-day shipments of in-stock merchandise?
18. What are your lead times for made-to-order merchandise?
19. Do you decorate in house or rely on third-party decorators?
20. How does pricing change as my program gets bigger?
21. What is your policy on providing sample products?

What makes iCoStore different from other promotional products distributors?

Turn-Key Web Stores. All iCoStore programs feature private label, highly-customizable, turn-key web stores for purchasing custom promotional merchandise. We build your web store to your brand specifications. You select the items, styles and colors, payment methods, decoration options and shipping options. We take care of the rest.

Custom Decoration. Because every item is made to order, you can co-brand items with multiple logos, offer personalization options and give your program buyers multiple logo location options.

Unlimited Brands. We have a wide variety brands, including Nike, Tumi, Under Armour, Cutter & Buck, Patagonia, Eddie Bauer, Ogio, Dickies, Oakley, The North Face, Carhartt and many more.

Online Points. Allow your audiences to accrue points towards purchases from your web store. You let us know who has earned points and how many, and we take care of the rest.

Unlimited Selection. Because there is no inventory involved, we can offer every size, color and style that our manufacturers have available. We have access to every logo item you have ever seen.

Hands-On Customer Service. With iCoStore, there are no call centers and no automatic email replies promising to contact you within 72 hours. You’ll receive personalized service from your dedicated account manager.

Private-Label Gift Cards. Our gift cards, redeemable online, are built around your brand. You give the gift cards to your most loyal and worthy partners, and we take care of them like royalty. You can purchase gift cards in any denomination, decorated to your specifications. To redeem them, recipients simply log on to your web store, select what they like and pay with their gift cards.

Online Budget Control. You can set budgets for your apparel program customers, track their spending and receive a simple, monthly invoice for all budgeted purchases. If your apparel program customers want to go over their budget, they can pay the difference with a credit card.

Rightsourcing. We will apply the perfect blend of pre-decorated inventory and just-in-time production to make sure that you get the right product, to the right place, at the right time and at the best price. We help you select the best logo apparel, swag and promotional merchandise for your program and demographics.

In-House Decoration. Unlike traditional companies, we do the majority of our decoration in house. If we need a rush or special handling for decoration, we don’t have to beg an outside vendor to do it.

What is JIT (Just-in-Time) production? What is on-demand production?

JIT stands for Just-In-Time. JIT items are produced to order. We order blank goods and decorate them just the way you specified. One of the main benefits of JIT production is that you can order from a very large catalog of items without having to stock inventory of any of them. This means that everyone can have the style, color and size to meet their individual needs—without all the inventory. There are many benefits to JIT.

We produce many JIT items in-house, including embroidered apparel, bags, hats and banners.

What is rightsourcing?

Rightsourcing is the practice of merchandising a company store with the right blend of Just-in-Time, bulk buy, in-stock merchandise and special order merchandise. Using the rightsourcing approach to a program, you can minimize your costs, have items available for immediate-ship and make sure that you always have access to exactly the right products to support your brand.

What does that mean for you? Let’s say you need to have employee welcome kits available for next-day delivery, a wide selection of apparel available for events and a wide selection of trade show giveaways with price points from $1 to $50. To decorate all of that merchandise and put it in a warehouse would require tens of thousands of dollars—or more—in inventory. Rightsourcing your program would mean having employee welcome kits made up and in-stock, JIT apparel and promotional items made to order and a sourcing team working to develop custom products to meet your needs.

What is a traditional program?

Traditional programs are online company stores that are run in the old, traditional way of stocking pre-decorated inventory for all of the items in the company store. This is the easy way to run stores. Any company can do it. But we don’t believe this is the best or most cost-effective way to run programs for most customers.

Traditional programs work best if you have an annual volume of $1,000,000 or more. With this model, you warehouse pre-decorated swag items and company apparel until they are ordered, packed and shipped. But the inventory risks are large. Not all items will sell, and, if you change your logo, you will need to start over. This model also makes it hard to change styles and add new ones without incurring significant additional costs.

See our comparison between iCoStore and traditional program

What if we want employees to order single items that are not JIT?

No sweat. We will work with you to pick the right items to keep in-stock to ensure that your immediate-ship needs can be met every time. All company apparel is decorated on demand at iCoStore. However, some promotional items such as pens and mugs need to be decorated in bulk. This is part of rightsourcing your program.

What is direct-to-garment printing (DTG)?

Direct-to-garment (DTG) printing is a digital printing process for printing directly onto cotton and cotton-blend materials. DTG printing works best on 100% cotton, but also works on many cotton blends as well. We DTG print T-shirts, tote bags and more. Direct-to-garment printing is often thought of as an alternative to silk screening. Silk screening can be faster and more economical for large-quantity production runs with low color counts. The lower the quantity and the more colors in the design, the more likely it is that direct-to-garment printing will be your most economical decoration method.

What is silk screening or screen printing?

Silk screening is a printing process during which a design is separated into its component colors. Silk screens—almost like porous stencils—are created for each color. Ink is applied through the porous screens onto the decorated goods. Once all of the colors have been screened onto the goods, they are placed in a dryer to cure the ink. Silk screening is a great solution for large runs of T-shirts and other items with a relatively low color count. Setting up silk screens for each color takes time, which means that it may be an impractical option for small-quantity, multi-color orders.

What is laser etching?

Laser etching is an imprinting process that uses an industrial laser to burn away a layer of material on a decorated item, which reveals the material below in a very precise pattern, such as a logo. Laser etching is most commonly used on metal and ceramic items. A different type of laser can decorate leather, fleece and other apparel. It gives the item a debossed look.

What is “vector art” and why do you need it to print our logo? What is an .eps or .ai file?

Without getting too technical, vector art refers to image file formats that scale to any size without distorting the content and the relationships among the shapes in the picture. Examples are .ai (Adobe Illustrator), .eps (Encapsulated Post Script) and certain .pdf files. Unless you have the software to open these files, you won’t be able to view them. If you have questions about whether your logo file is a vector art file, send it to us and we will let you know.

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