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 reason 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 $50,000 per year in 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, we can set up a program with lower spend, if it is a uniform program with embroidered items only.
Feel free to call if you are not sure, because in many cases, different departments are purchasing similar items and you don’t realize how much your company is actually spending. HR, Marketing, Procurement, Sales, 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, tchotchke, trinkets and the list goes on. They are all referring to products that are decorated with your logo. Promotional products range from logo pens, drinkware, koozies to uniforms, calendars and golf balls.The one commonality is that they all have a logo.
They are physical logo merchandise, branded with your logo to be sold or given away to spread awareness and positive associations with your brand. There are over 1,000,000 promotional products available from thousands of manufacturers in the and it doesn’t stop there. iCoStore can also help you design and bring to reality truly custom products that have never been seen the market before.
I buy promotional products online today, why should I set up a company store?
You can spend your days trolling 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. They start with someone in Marketing or HR spending a small portion of their time sourcing and buying promotional products and apparel. As the volume grows, so does the time invested. Eventually they wind up with one or more people who do nothing but source and procure products on behalf of the company and closets or even warehouse shelves full of merchandise that was purchased to meet minimum order quantities or to enable quick fulfillment, but which is starting to grow stale on the shelves. Eventually, most organizations grow to a point where they realize that in order to get the value for their promotional dollar it’s time to bring in an expert to work with their internal team to handle merchandising and fulfillment of their promotional product needs. Program minimums start about $50,000 per year
I don’t have a promotional products program today. How do I set up a program?
The short answer is Contact us and we can help you navigate the process. There is some homework that you can do to better prepare yourself for putting together a promotional products program:
- Gather documentation of your branding standards including logo use guides, pantone colors, and web colors.
- Gather vector art of 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 1 business day to get started. We can have your program online within a couple weeks. With clients who know what they want and turn around approvals quickly, we have put programs online in as little as 48 hours.
How do I select the right vendor for my company?
There are over 30,000 promotional products distributors. The best fit is going to be the provider who best matches your priorities. You need to find out the mechanics and the economics of running your program with each provider you consider. 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 will know my account, my people, and my needs, or will I be talking to a call center pool who has no idea who I am?
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 and for what sizes of 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?
What is JIT (Just-in-Time) production? What is On-Demand production?
JIT stands for Just-In-Time. JIT items are produced to order. You order a decorated item, we order the blank goods, decorate them just the way you ordered. 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. So everyone can have the style, color, and size to meet their individual needs without inventory. There are many benefits to JIT.
Examples of JIT items are embroidered apparel, bags, hats, banners and other items iCostore can produce in-house.
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 using your dedicated account manager for 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? Let’s say you need to have employee welcome kits available for next-day delivery, a wide selection of apparel available for events ranging from executive conferences to company softball games, and you need a wide selection of trade show giveaways with price points from below a $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 on the company store. This is the easy way to run stores and anyone company can do it. We don’t believe this is the best way to run programs for most customers. See our comparison between iCoStore and traditional program here.
- Designed for programs with an annual volume of $1,000,000+
- Stock program with pre-decorated swag items and company apparel on a shelf
- Pick, pack, ship when an order comes in
- Works in some scenarios for some types of customers
- Not cost effective when looking at the overall program
- Bad or stale inventory risks are large
- Logo changes mean buying out all of the old inventory and starting over
- Not flexible to change styles and add new ones due to inventory cost restraints
- Changing economy will have a profound effect on this type of program
- Credit is much harder to get and the distributor carries the burden of the inventory until the end of the program
- In today’s time, good or bad economy, Just not a smart way to run a program
What if I 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 all decorated on demand at iCoStore, however some promotional items such as pens, mugs and other non apparel items need to be decorated in bulk. This is a key part of rightsourcing your program.
What is direct-to-garment printing / DTG?
Direct-to-garment printing or DTG printing is a digital printing process for printing directly onto cotton and cotton blend materials. DTG printing works best on 100% cotton, but works on many cotton blends as well. We use DTG printing for t-shirts, tote bags, and other applications where we are printing directly onto cotton in fairly small run sizes. 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 that direct-to-garment printing will be the most economical decoration method.
What is silk screening or screen print?
Silk screening is a printing process where a design is separated into its component colors and 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 in the decoration. The downsides of silk screening are high effort to set up each color for each production run which make it impractical for designs with many colors and for small quantity orders.
What is laser etching?
Laser etching is an imprinting process in which an industrial laser is used to burn away a layer of material on a decorated item to reveal the material below in a very precise pattern, such as a logo. Laser etching is most commonly used on metal and ceramic items, but is sometimes also used on leather and heavy apparel.
What is “vector art” and why do you need it to print my logo?
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. If you have questions about whether your logo file is a vector art file, send it to us and we can check it out for you.
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