Quality, Sustainability, and On-demand: Insights from ASI Show® Fort Worth

By Phase 3
April 25, 2024


The Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) Show® took place in Fort Worth recently, highlighting what's new and trendy in promotional product sales and product sourcing for 2024. The event is an opportunity for business leaders and marketers like Phase 3 to discover new ideas for clients and make connections with new suppliers. Our team was there to experience the innovation, creativity, and industry insights firsthand.

Here's the key takeaways from our time spent in Texas.

  • Because clients are placing more emphasis on quality over quantity, a significant industry shift is happening right now toward providing higher-quality apparel and promotional products that clients can order in smaller quantities.
  • Sustainability is also increasingly important to clients. They are focusing on domestic manufacturing and materials instead of overseas.
  • On-demand ordering and faster turnaround times are essential.
  • Clients are looking for retail brands that don't typically play in the promotional products space.
  • 90’s retro throwback gear and street wear are popular style trends. 

Intrigued? Read on for more details.




Quality over Quantity

The promotional products market is experiencing shifts on several fronts. Today, clients focus less on the cost of the items they order and more on the quality of the product. For apparel, clients demand high-quality, durable materials and, as a result, plan less frequent replacement cycles.

For commodity giveaways like pens or playing cards, clients are looking for products with added value. They are no longer looking for cheap throwaways. This value could be products manufactured with higher-quality materials or upscale packaging. Clients want giveaways that are useful and show value.

To provide that added value, brands are considering lifestyle-oriented branded merchandise, such as pet drinkware. They recognize that remote work and company culture have become intertwined. Their employees feel valued when given products they can use in both parts of their lives.

At the ASI Show®, we noticed that many clients are evaluating branded merchandise based on quality, not price. This is true even as budgets tighten. They hope to enhance employee and customer engagement by offering higher-quality products in the short term and reducing overall replacement costs in the long term.


Sustainable Sourcing and Materials

Clients are also interested in the source of the materials used in their promotional products, the location of the manufacturer, and the quality of the products produced. They are willing to pay higher prices to ensure these details are met.

Supply chain and political concerns push clients to demand apparel made anywhere but China and preferably in the U.S. Our team met several exciting, new apparel manufacturers based in Turkey and Egypt, as well as new suppliers in the United States. These new manufacturers focus on quality and material sources instead of mass quantity orders. 

Manufacturers using domestically sourced recycled and/or sustainable materials to create their products are in high demand. For example, clients want drinkware manufactured from recycled plastic or bamboo. There are even products manufactured using recycled coffee grounds. More manufacturers use sustainability-sourced leathers, fabric, and vegetable dyes for apparel. Still others are kitting their products using corrugated, entirely recyclable cardboard.

At the ASI Show®, we saw that most materials used to make promotional products still come from China. But more are starting to be available from U.S. suppliers. These suppliers are further reducing carbon emissions by sourcing sustainable materials domestically, an essential detail for many clients.

The shift in the market towards quality over quantity aids this sustainability focus. Clients are doubling down on sustainability as a core value. Because of that, they are evaluating the entire sourcing, shipping, and manufacturing process for the promotional products they purchase and are willing to pay more to meet their sustainability initiatives.




On-Demand Ordering and Faster Turnaround Time

While quality and sustainability are critical, time and ease of ordering are still vital factors. In response to client demands, manufacturers are implementing on-demand ordering capabilities. New technology enables manufacturers to turn around orders in some cases as fast as 24 hours; some promise a week or less.

New apparel decorating technology expands color options at lower prices. This enables manufacturers to require smaller minimum orders. With on-demand ordering, the burden of keeping product inventory in stock shifts to the manufacturer, relieving a significant cost burden for clients.

Our time at the ASI Show® made one thing clear. On-demand ordering is now a given in the industry. Clients expect to be able to order products as needed in smaller quantities with less turnaround time.




Retail Brands as Promotional Products

We also noticed that clients want coveted retail brands that aren't typically available for as promotional products. These brands include Stanley, Dyson, Kate Spade, and Le Creuset. The appeal is the prestige of quiet luxury and high-end quality. It can be challenging to convince these brands to make their products available for promotion. Many of these high-end brands offer custom colors but no branding options. Clients should engage with an experienced team like Phase 3 to approach a retail brand about a collaboration. These partnerships aren’t unheard of but take time, persistence, and creativity.

An alternative to working with a famous retail brand is to find a manufacturer that produces quality substitute products. We saw quite a few drinkware suppliers competing with the famous Stanley cup at the ASI Show®. The benefit of working with a competing manufacturer is that clients can include value-added elements and branding to the product. For example, a manufacturer can add logo imprints on the bottom of glassware or use exact PMS colors.  

Sourcing branded merchandise from coveted retail brands can be a big win for brand-conscious customers. It can also be suitable for C-suite gifting. Although the availability of these items has opened up recently, personalizing them can still be challenging. Securing these promotional partnerships take time. It also takes strong business connections and collaboration.




Style Trends

The ASI Show® revealed apparel style trends worth mentioning. Regarding apparel, retro brands like Members Only and streetwear like Shaka Wear have become popular because they target younger workforces. In addition, these brands offer new styles and colors that appeal to the casual wear audience.

To make corporate apparel more lifestyle-oriented, manufacturers are using more creative decorating techniques. For example, they sew prints into hoodies and change the color of drawstrings and zippers to brand colors. They also print logos on cuffs. Clients like that their employees can wear these items in everyday life, enhancing their engagement and driving brand awareness.




Wrapping Up the ASI Show®

The ASI Show® in Fort Worth provided our team with valuable insights into the current trends of the branded merchandise industry. The event underscored the industry's shift towards prioritizing quality over quantity. Clients want higher-quality apparel and promotional items that offer added value. Sustainability emerged as a critical concern, driving demand for domestically sourced materials and sustainable manufacturing practices. Additionally, on-demand ordering and faster turnaround times have become standard expectations, reflecting clients' need for convenience and efficiency. The desire for retail brands in promotional products shows a trend toward prestige and quality, though with challenges in customization. The event highlighted the importance of adaptability and innovation in meeting the demands of clients.

These takeaways will shape our approach to sourcing branded merchandise for our clients in the coming year. However, we are much more than a promotional products company. We work with you as a strategic partner to develop a branded experience that delivers your distinct message loud and clear. Whether you need a premium product with a quick turnaround or a custom piece designed and produced for your most important customers, our expert team provides creative product recommendations and sourcing solutions to meet your needs. If you'd like to learn more about our marketing capabilities, please contact us today.