by Jürgen Geiger, CEO & Founder of mypromo.com
“Just let them carry on sleeping!” – said an internationally positioned online printer half-jokingly a few years ago. He was convinced that our industry of 3.5 billion euros had completely slept through the entry into digitization. Instead, he saw a largely untapped field and sensed huge potential for his online business.
How has the promotional products industry developed digitally since then? It’s hard to believe, but it’s true: On the whole, it’s hardly developed at all. Corona has apparently not only paralyzed our business, but also our thinking and clouded a clear view of the future. So, get your head out of the sand and focus your attention on the facts once again!
The market share of pure online players is growing. In Corona German terms, this means that online sales declined considerably less than traditional retail during the crisis. What’s more, online business is now getting back on track and growing much faster. For a year and a half, traditional retailers and their similarly positioned suppliers were in pure survival mode. Their declining sales in 2020/21 are not only attributable to Corona, but also in part to the online competitors. No one knows exactly how large this share is. But one thing is for certain: the share that has gone will not come back.
Obviously, Corona has done massive damage to their hearing. Otherwise, the industry would have heard the shot long ago. Digitization initiatives, whether those of the GWW (Gesamtverband der Werbeartikel-Wirtschaft e.V.) or even entrepreneurial ones, are for the most part coming to nothing. Interest among industry players is negligible. Some are even trying to rewind and are discontinuing digitization measures that have just been started. The realization that it is not possible to make a “quick buck” with online sales is used as proof that digitization and online are not for consultants. For me, this borders on a denial of reality.
“Our products are not suitable for online sales” or “My customers want personal advice and service”: I used to hear phrases like these mostly from the printing industry. Today, they have fallen silent. Why? Because these print shops no longer exist. They are part of the one-third that have raced into the abyss with the gas pedal to the floor and a steady gaze in the rearview mirror. And there is no end in sight to the decline of the printing industry. I still hear phrases like this from promotional product dealers every day – and they’re not dwindling down. You don’t think history repeats itself? I fear that it does repeat itself! Specifically, right now, because too many people are succumbing to the same misconceptions.
Will the industry do away with itself because of this? No, not at all! Promotional products will benefit from the new opportunities offered by online business, and the market will once again grow. Those who will do away with themselves, on the other hand, are market players who stubbornly cling to the belief that they are on an island and that the tide of digital change will simply sweep past them without affecting them or their business.
Hasn’t the ship sailed for traditional advertisers a long time ago? Not yet, but it really is a matter of time! Online is here, is growing, and will continue to grow. That is as certain as an amen being spoken in church. But the online players are still within reach and are not yet dominant. Yet the classic promotional product consultants and retailers have an ace up their sleeve that they surprisingly continue to keep hidden as opposed to finally putting it on the table head-on. They, and only they, are the ones who could offer the customer with their expertise: both personal service and online sales with digital processing tools, that always fit the specific needs and wishes of the customer.
From my point of view, there are three insights and thus key factors for a successful digital transformation of classic promotional product companies:
- Digitization is not an operational tool for day-to-day business, but rather a strategic task to position one’s own company for the future. It requires investments in money and time. It is not a 100-meter sprint, but a marathon race.
- Digitization involves more than just selling online. It is equally important to have digital processes in place for processing and production.
- Put an end to black-and-white thinking! It’s not a question of “either-or”, but “in addition to”. The recipe for success is to add a digital component to the classic approach to consulting so that all customer requirements of the future – online and offline – are covered.