Vernon Company Recognized as Top 40 Distributor

NEWTON, IA—The Vernon Company has been named one of the 2020 Top 40 Distributors in the promotional products industry by the Advertising Specialty Institute’s (ASI) Counselor magazine.  With a 5-year annual average growth rate of 4%, Vernon is 27th on the annual list of top-ranking industry organizations.

“We are very proud to be recognized again as one of the leading firms in our industry,” says Chris Vernon, MAS, Vernon Company CEO.  “We believe our success can be attributed to the hard work and dedication our Account Executives and support staff provide every day, helping clients find effective solutions to their marketing and branding needs.” 

The annual Top 40 Distributor ranking identifies the largest promotional product distributor companies in the nation, based on their previous year’s revenue, as reported to ASI. Vernon reported 2019 audited sales volume at $80.6 million.

How to Build Now for the Future

For anyone, especially those of us in sales, these last three months have been very unique and challenging. What you do right now will have an effect on what is going to happen in 3, 6, 9, or even 12 months from now. Ask yourself this: What are you doing today, this moment, in the next 10 mins, next week, and next month to set yourself up for the future? There are vital actions that one can do to make sure you have a successful future. Some actions are things that you have not done in a while and some might involve things you have never done, but nevertheless action is required to ensure success.

Here are some proactive ideas for you to consider to help grow your business:

  • Cold Calling
  • Networking
  • Reviewing the last 5 years of sales data (at a minimum)
  • Revisiting old clients who haven’t purchased from you in awhile
  • Calling and checking in on your clients and prospects
  • Reviewing vertical market opportunities
  • Calling on companies who have co-op marketing funds they may need to use
  • Seek out companies that have their fiscal year ending soon
  • Turn any PPE-only customers to lasting relationships

I am not saying any of this is foolproof, but these are definitely tactics you can start implementing today to keep your pipeline full. The worst thing you can do is just sit and wait for a deal to jump out and say here I am. Since that’s unlikely to happen, now is the time to work harder and smarter than ever. All too often, it’s easy to say that you’re having a bad year and chalk it up to the pandemic, but would that be true? No matter what happens, there will be normalcy again. It’s up to you to take advantage now by implementing some new sales strategies and putting in the work to be successful long into the future.

Lean on Supplier Partners

In an industry that relies on someone else doing the selling of products, promotional products industry suppliers are a wealth of knowledge and expertise. If you haven’t been leaning on your supplier’s bank of ideas for your customers, you are missing out. Suppliers have the products, but without the buyers, the products mean nothing.

Here is why they are invested in you:

  1. Good suppliers think through all of the uses of their products for end-users and industries before they bring them to market.
  2. Suppliers have little influence over the sales process through distributors but the more they can affect change, the better they can control their sales cycle.
  3. This is one small way the supplier can influence the selling process when it is seemingly out of their hands.

“As a business philosophy, we are invested in the long-term success of the distributors we serve, rather than just valuing the transaction. As a result, one of the areas we can add tremendous value is by providing sales resources and ideas. Promotional products aren’t anything special just on their own. What makes them magical is when they are used in a way to effectively drive a call to action, invoke emotions, or shape attitudes. To accomplish this at the highest level, it requires experience, expertise, and creativity. The most successful suppliers and distributors going forward are those who embrace this. By working together, there is the potential to provide end-users with returns and outcomes that surpass any other advertising medium available,” explained Nate Robson of industry supplier, Raining Rose.

Why suppliers are better at bringing ideas to the table:

  1. As distributors, we have thousands of products we represent. With so many products to choose from, how could you possibly be the expert for all of them?
  2. Suppliers know why each product was introduced and what market it is targeted for. They know how it’s unique features can solve your customer’s business problems.
  3. Suppliers help a diverse group of distributors all day with those specific products and know how they are working best for individualized markets. Why reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to?

Here is a simple way you can get started:

Be proactive. Take the industry you sell to the most and schedule an appointment with yourself for 15 minutes each week. In those 15 minutes, make a folder with that market, compose a personal email asking a supplier to help you generate ideas for this specific market or industry. Send the email to your favorite suppliers until your time is up. That’s it for now unless you can find more time. As you get responses, throw the ideas in the folder you created. Next week, you will go to the folder and find your favorite ideas, start sending them to clients and potential clients with a nice personal email.

Sometimes, nothing will happen. Sometimes, you may prompt an order or another opportunity with that client. You never know, but really, you are only out 15 minutes which you might have easily wasted away… binging potato chips or browsing through your favorite shopping site? From the supplier side, they know the value of bringing you ideas with their products, if they do a good job of telling the story, you will get an order and that means…they will get the order. Win. Win.

“I like to use the phrase ‘one-stop-shop’ when it comes to acting as a liaison for project requests.  I personally enjoy working on projects from the ground up by suggesting products that fit provided guidelines and then seeing the project all the way through. That includes the initial product recommendations, creating and providing mockups, providing price quotes, processing the order, and providing tracking once completed. This is especially helpful for distributors who are unfamiliar with our products; seeing a website with loads of products may be overwhelming to start but we are able to easily eliminate products that are not a good fit for a given project. Additionally, since Origaudio is now part of Hub Promotional Group (HPG), we are able to combine our product offerings with other companies within our group. For example, a client needs a speaker and a water bottle: Origaudio may be a good fit for the speaker but we only carry one water bottle; we can loop in our sister company. It’s best to provide the water bottle and have everything fulfilled at one facility on the back end to take the burden off of the distributor,” shared Bryan Woods with Origaudio.

What are you waiting for? You can see suppliers are anxious to help you and do what they do best! Let these partnerships take you to the next level.

Be Prepared

Like anything in life, the better you prepare, the better the experience. We are working hard gearing up for our National Sales Meeting in April and like anything else, a successful show is closely related to the amount of thought put in on the front end. Our Account Executives give their energy during these few days with their friends and colleagues but without a plan its just time away and fun experiences. Our hope is that it’s both of those things and so much more.

It’s important for our people to know what they will need before the meeting and to come prepared with:

  1. Artwork from their top customers. That way, they can quickly share it with suppliers at any moment.
  2. A list of upcoming customer events and projects to make it easier to collaborate and brainstorm with suppliers on-site.
  3. Reach out to.

It’s also common for our account executives to reach out directly to top suppliers in advance to better prepare them for discussing specific clients and ideas during the meeting.

We also strongly encourage participants to approach the meeting with specific goals in mind, such as:

  1. Striving for conversations with five suppliers about proactive marketing campaigns.
  2. Sending customer art to three suppliers ask them to prepare storyboards and virtual samples that can be discussed in person at the meeting.
  3. Finding one or two favorite products and using those for a self-promo project after the meeting. This is a great way to showcase the product to clients while promoting themselves.

By having a plan and building intention into once-a-year opportunities like our annual sales meeting, our reps can have a great experience but come with a plan to maximize the event. If they can make everything happen by having art files already sent, there is no follow up, they can get back to work and the work from the show starts rolling in. Then, the chance to shine is with their customers by bringing the suppliers’ great ideas to life.

Don’t be afraid of Social Media

As someone who has grown up with social media for a good part of his life, ranging all the way from the Myspace days to where we are now with LinkedIn, Snapchat, Instagram, etc., a question that has always been on my mind is; “How do I leverage this new age communication to benefit my business goals of boosting new and existing sales?”

I’d be lying if I said I knew the exact formula to make you really stand out, but if you’re new to social media, the following 6 recommendations will help to make this space seem a little more manageable.

  1. JUST DO IT. I’ve been guilty of this as much as the next person, spending so much time thinking about “What should I post?” or “Will people even care about this?
  2. ” that I end up not posting anything. That’s why I always say just start with anything. Let people know that you’re out there and that you’re active in social media.
  3. Almost as important as actually creating the post, is posting consistently. I personally use LinkedIn for most of my business-related posts, and I try to add new content at least three times a week. Setting up a consistent schedule will ensure that you are getting your name and brand out there without overwhelming your connections (or yourself) with too much content.
  4. Once you’ve committed to posting frequently with a schedule that is manageable, we’re now back to the question of what to post. When considering different subjects and topics, I believe that your primary objective is to make the content unique. You want to show people your personality while keeping it professional (let people see who you are and why you’re different). This is really your opportunity to shine!
  5. After each post, I use a simple feature available on LinkedIn that allows me to see “Views of your post”.  Knowing know how many people have seen the post itself as well as any likes, shares or comments really gives me an idea of how well the post was received and helps to point me in the direction I need to consider going in future posts.
  6. Finally, always consider your audience. You’re going to want to connect with the right people to get the most benefit out of each post. For starters, connect with the clients that you already have good relationships with to increase their top of mind awareness of you, your products and your services. You should also add prospective clients that you’re trying to win in order to grow your customer base. The goal would be to create interest with prospects with useful content that gets them to think, “Wow, I need to work with this person!” Along with connecting with potential clients, you can also message them directly using LinkedIn’s InMail feature. This is another effective way to reach them, particularly if you’ve been finding it hard to connect using more traditional methods.

As we all know, there are so many ways to reach new and existing clients to boost your business, and using social media is an easy addition to the ones you’re already using. Once you get started, you’ll be surprised how easily you can become a social media-posting whiz.

Brands That Give Back

Would you be willing to pay a bit more if you knew someone or something was befitting from your purchase? Would you choose to purchase a product from a business that made regular charitable contributions over one that did not? Would you like to get your brand on a product that’s known to be environmentally friendly? If you answered yes to any of these, then you’re not alone. More than 50% of us consider a brand’s social (responsibility) status when making business, employment, and purchasing decisions.

Business

Business to business relationships are stronger when they share common principles. It’s easier to sell a product when you stand behind it not only in quality but in social responsibility. Brands that give back are more likely to fly off shelves than those that don’t. It’s the same concept as “Made in America”. People want to purchase products that are good for our economy so it’s important to communicate those brands and efforts; don’t make your customers look for the good, show it to them.

Promotional products are the perfect example of a business to business relationship. We work with suppliers and decorators to meet our customers’ needs. It’s equally as important to believe in the brands we do business with as well as the products we sell.

Careers

We’ve taught Millennials to recycle, be kind to the earth, and be charitable; so it comes as no surprise that as adults, they want to work for socially responsible companies. They prefer to work for businesses that participate in local humanitarian events, make regular donations, sell environmentally responsible products, and give their employees the opportunity to actively participate in altruistic events. We have instilled this giving mindset in Millennials, so it’s imperative to lead by example and give them the tools they need to be successful as our future leaders.

Trying to attract new employees? Make your social responsibility report available to the public. A sustainable company sells itself to potential employees and a social responsibility report can also be used as a sales tool to help your account executives acquire customer relationships. Remember, the only way to provide annual content is to make annual efforts; holding us accountable to DO GOOD all year.

Partnerships

We’ve all heard the definition of TEAM as “Together Everyone Achieves More” and that holds true in just about every aspect of life. Communities are brought together through partnerships that are formed for the “good” of a cause. For example, if an organization decided to hold a benefit, and they needed some logoed items, that would be an opportune time to partner with that organization to provide items at cost or as a donation. It’s likely that those companies that participate will end up listed as sponsors on one thing or another, building community partnerships.

Benefits and fundraisers are all around us so partnering with other socially responsible companies should be simple. Oftentimes, larger corporations can partner with smaller companies to achieve their common charitable goals by using their larger footprint to spread the word; businesses of all sizes CAN make a difference.

Purchases

We’ve all been asked if we would like to “round up” at the register, right? Pay a bit more to feel good about our gasoline or soda purchases?  Purposely choose the family meal deal just because $1 of every purchase is donated to St. Jude’s even if we don’t want that extra 2-liter? Life is busy so if we can give back a bit by simply purchasing a little something, shouldn’t we?

Want to feel good about your promo purchases? At Vernon, we make an effort to give back all year so it only makes sense that we partner with brands that give back too. Here are a few of our favorites: Hit’s AWS lineSweda’s Basecamp lineCharles River Apparel’s Clothing for a CausePCNA’s Ecosmart line and PCNA’s Welly line.

Ripple Effect

Here’s a beautiful story of a ripple effect of kindness. The Salvation Army “exists to meet human need wherever, whenever, and however, they can”.  But they wouldn’t be successful in their efforts to save the world without the generosity of humankind, and that kind of munificence can be found right here at Vernon. We have generous employees who take the initiative every year to collect donations (for the Salvation Army) on an Angel Tree and a Children’s Clothing Tree at the home office. Vernon employees open their hearts each year by filling the trees with toys and clothing, but this year they had a bit of help reaching their goals from a bunch of little artists in town who are making the world a better place by “using their creativity to be part of something bigger than themselves.”  The students of the Art Junkie Studio create art year-round, which they typically donate as silent auction pieces for fundraisers and benefits. This year, they used 20% of their open house proceeds to purchase toys and clothing items for Vernon’s trees, helping them reach their goals of charitable donations for The Salvation Army.

Family members, teachers, and community supporters came out on a cold and rainy day to purchase paintings of “Fancy Goats” and cows named “Henrietta” not because they needed or wanted children’s paintings, but because they were proud to support the kids donating to charities, encouraged by Vernon, and powered by The Salvation Army.

Brands that give back are all around us, making the world a better place. Ask yourself, ask your customers, ask your employer, what can I-YOU-WE-do to give back? And…give back for the right reasons; because it feels good and it’s the right thing to do. Good employees, healthy business relationships, and an abundance of sales will be an effortless by-product of your DO GOOD deeds.


The Vernon Company is recognized as one of the largest and most successful promotional product firms in North America. Founded in 1902 by F.L. Vernon, we serve more than 40,000 customers from our Newton, Iowa corporate headquarters.

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