Archive for February, 2011

A Response to Rick Spence’s Ode to Branders.com

February 28, 2011

 

Rick Spence’s recent National Post article on how Branders.com succeeded in “marketing just one point to triple volumes” was a fascinating look at one of the promotional products industry’s largest players. The single point Branders markets is price. It’s the one thing most experts tell you not to compete on – but alas Branders has owned it and succeeded.  Succeeded in short term financial terms anyways.

The article boasts of extreme cost cutting measures, constant shifts to lower cost production and massive layoffs as tenants of success.  Branders success is pegged on their target customer – ones that scour for low cost and nothing else. While it’s proven successful  – it’s not without risk.

The Branders model doesn’t leave much room for developing deeper connections with your clients, relationships that  ensure their custom  products are a) needed and b) on brand with the campaign or promotion and c) align with their values.

The Branders model runs the risk of amplifying all that is wrong with the promotional product industry. Specifically, the issue of quantity over quality and the issue of more and more useless stuff being handed out, likely destined for landfill. There is an emerging backlash against the industry and the products it creates – recently the State of  California banned the use of promotional products as a cost cutting measure.

Increasingly, our clients are becoming aware of the brand risk using promotional products can pose. Can a price driven  model account for supply chain risks similar to the likes we’ve seen with the recent cadmium laden McDonald’s Shrek Glasses (also reported in the National Post)?

That Branders has succeeded by owning the race to the bottom is nothing new in this industry – what is new is the scale at which they’re doing it (according to industry stats only 4-5% of distributors are over 2.5M a year in sales – Branders does 120M).

We entered this industry with a very different intent – to build relationships with our clients, to ensure that any promotions they do drive real outcomes, reflect their values and don’t’ put their organization at risk. In short, we’re the opposite of Branders. But given that we’ve seen an average annual growth of 86% over the past 5 years – in an industry that has according to industry stats averaged -3% in the past 4 years – it seems there is a place in the world for custom branded products that consider more than price.

February Bike Battle

February 24, 2011

We could call it the “February Bike Commute Challenge” but lately the Fairware contest to see who will bike to work the most days in February has taken on battle undertones. With only two days to go Stefan and I are locked in a race to victory, separated by a mere half point!

Here’s how it works: Staff receive a point each day they bike to and from work. If you bike only one way (say it starts raining mid-day and you take the bus home) you get a 1/2 point. If it rains, and you get significantly wet during your ride, it becomes a double point day. We record points daily on a calendar in the lunch room (pictured below).

Sarah (SW) enthusiastically enters the race

The race was tight at the beginning but a hit of the flu for Nicole and week-long business trip for Denise took them out of the running. Sarah looked like she would be a serious contender, entering the race mid-month with great enthusiasm, but fell behind shortly after.

I won’t go into details of the battle between Stefan and I, which has been crazy exciting, but the next two days will define winner and loser. Tomorrow has a forecast of -15 so it’s not going to be a pretty finish.

Stay tuned as the winner will be announced Monday. The prize? Honour, prestige, bragging rights, the opportunity to rub victory in the face of your colleagues…and beer of course.

Report from the Green Meeting Industry Council Conference DAY 1

February 21, 2011

The annual GMIC Conference is the place to be if you’re an event planner or supplier interested in sustainability issues. Targeted at a wide audience, participants range from experienced green meeting professionals to those just getting started with green event practices.

The conference looks at events through a sustainability lens, and considers topics like venue & destination selection, menu planning, measurement tools, as well as broader topics like community outreach, CSR and sustainability objectives & strategy.

Portland is such a great destination for sustainability geeks, right off the plane you know there is something different about this city. I mean it’s one thing to have mass transit via the TriMax train – but a dedicated place to assemble bikes? That’s stepping it up a notch.

I had the opportunity to participate on the opening plenary panel on the business dimension of sustainability. We were a diverse bunch, joining me was James Tansey from ISIS and Offsetters , Ian Lee from the Sprott School of Business, Regina Hauser from the Natural Step and Guy Bigwood from MCI.

Guy set the stage by leaping onto it in a super hero costume – which, while making the panelists nervous, was effective in getting folks to contemplate what it will take to up our leadership and take on the challenge of being sustainability superheros. The session was casual and conversational and probed us on themes relating to business and sustainability.

The key message I’m taking away is that there is both risk and opportunity driving the business dimensions of sustainability. I was particularly intrigued by the connections Ian made between trends in the aviation industry (only 5 airlines will survive in Europe with oil at $150 a barrel) and trends in the marketplace towards localization. While our customers may be driving demand for locally made or story laden,  ‘charismatic’ products, (to coin a term James used) dwindling resources and shifts in global transportation norms may be creating the conditions for localization to succeed.

It was great to see such synergy amongst a disparate panel on the issues of the social dimension of sustainability, the need for fewer standards, and  the desire for more transparency in, and stories about, our supply chains.

I’m looking forward to keeping the conversations going over the next couple of days – tomorrow I’ll aim to get some insights up on the vendors and exhibitors that are showing their wares.

Oh, and go team Cedar!

Insights on Carbon Neutrality for Organizations

February 17, 2011

Flickr / cariliv

Carbon Nuetral – it’s a statement we’re hearing more from clients, suppliers and colleagues. But what does it really mean?

We were recently forwarded a short report titled Greener Horizons – Insights on going carbon neutral by our friends at Bullfrog Power. The document summarizes the key points presented at a panel discussion on carbon neutrality (for which Fairware provided speakers gifts).

As the report outlines, net neutrality means achieving net zero carbon emissions by balancing carbon released with an equivalent amount eliminated or offset.  One of biggest criticisms of this approach is the risk that organizations buy offsets without changing energy consumptions behaviors first.

Environmental groups recommend organizations first eliminate emissions through conservation, then switch to environmental benign or lower-impact products and services.  Only once these efforts have been maximized should unavoidable emissions be offset by purchasing credits from a reputable source. It’s stressed that offsets shouldn’t be considered a substitute for conservation efforts or green products – whenever possible, emissions should be prevented in the first place.

At Fairware we’ve undertaken a number of initiatives to reduce our carbon emissions. Our most recent project has been switching over our office lighting to new LED technology which features extremely energy efficient and long-lasting bulbs.

LED’s are a great technology that in many cases are leap-frogging compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), LEDs can reduce energy consumption by 80-90% and last around 100,000 hours (compared to reductions of approximately 75% and lifetime of 10,000 hours with CFLs). On the downside, the bulbs are expensive, but we’re making the switch over time as our current bulbs burn out.  We believe we’ll see longer term savings through reduced energy and replacement costs (we’ve been joking that we’ll take the bulbs with us if we move offices). Once the switch is complete we’ll be doing some analysis of of our previous energy bills to determine the difference.

But back to the report. It takes just a few minutes to read and is a great briefing for anyone considering carbon neutrality (or just reducing carbon emissions) in their organization.

Read the full report HERE.

Pantone’s Color of the Year: Honeysuckle Pink

February 3, 2011

Pantone “the global authority on color”, recently announced the new color for 2011. Following on 2009’s mimosa yellow and 2010’s turquoise blue, 2011’s color is pink, very pink. Specifically, honeysuckle pink.

According to the Pantone website:

“…Honeysuckle emboldens us to face everyday troubles with verve and vigor. A dynamic reddish pink, Honeysuckle is encouraging and uplifting. It elevates our psyche beyond escape, instilling the confidence, courage and spirit to meet the exhaustive challenges that have become part of everyday life.”

So prepare yourself for more pink this year. Pink weddings, pink rooms, even pink credit cards.

At Fairware we’re still waiting for our first request for pink SWAG. It’s sure to be super chic and all the rage. Looking forward to it!


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