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Why Company Swag Should Be Purposeful And Practical With Seth Frey

Posted by Maya Dolan on July 29, 2021 at 8:30 AM

Bringing Purpose to Your Promotions

It can be challenging to know how to gain exposure for your brand. Providing meaningful branded merchandise is one way you can work towards acheiving your brand loyalty and recruiting goals.

Recently, our CEO sat down with an expert in promotional products. In this blog, Hollywood Branded learns why company swag should be purposeful and practical from the expertise of Seth Frey, President of Big Frey Promotional Products.


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A Little More About Guest

Seth is the president of Big Frey promotional products. With over 20 years of experience, helping organizations achieve their brand loyalty and on-campus recruiting goals by providing best in class, branded merchandise, apparel, and retail, branded gifts to incorporate into campaigns.

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Interview Transcript Highlights

Question: I know this last year has been one where you all have reinvented a bit of what you do in your processes and standards and places. Before we dive into that, can we explore how you got to where you are today? 20 years of owning a business that has been helping people with promotional good items. We're talking where people are getting branded swag, baseball hats branded with their company, pencils, cups, and even more fun things.

Answer: Sure, thanks again, Stacy. Appreciate the invite. Big Frey Promotional Products, we kind of got to start or start right out of college. I went to school at the University of Wisconsin and back in Wisconsin, they didn't really have a program for parents to send gifts to students while they were studying for exams. So we started this business, I was in business with my brother at the time, named Granny's Goodies. We named it after our 93 old grandmother. We put together these boxes filled with blow pops, gummy bears, candy bars, things along those lines. We sold them directly to mom and dad. This was in the nineties, before the internet, so we did mailings, and folks could place their orders over the phone. I know that's somewhat archaic, but nonetheless, we sort of built that business. Then there was an article written about us in the Washington post, with where we were located, and a law firm said, "Hey, I've got these students coming to work for us. I'd like to send them a Granny's Goodies." That led to a transition for us away from directly to mom and dad, to really working with corporations and helping them build their brand on campus.

They started to provide us with their pencils, and drink wear that we could put inside the packages, and then ultimately came to us and said, "Hey, can you source those items?" We really built our business around sourcing promotional items, whether it may be for companies that are looking to hire individuals or students, or those with experience, as well as helping marketing organizations at trade shows, and building their brand amongst their clients. We currently sit in Chicago, and we've grown nicely. We're a small business, and we're really fortunate to be able to go and do things along these lines to sort of get the word out, because at the end of the day, it's about creating eyeballs. That's how promotional products work. We try to follow the things that we've learned and execute on this for ourselves as well.

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Question: Well, COVID hit a lot of people negatively, but to my understanding, this is not necessarily the case with you guys, because you were sitting already on a new marketing practice that we've been seeing. It's awesome. I work in Hollywood and we get all of these different studios who are like, "Hey, you spent a lot of money with us, for your clients." And they'll send us these awesome boxes that are branded with their studio, with their network, with the show, and then lots of goodies inside.

This is something that I love, and it's the branded swag taken to a new level a little bit, but this is something that a lot of companies are doing. I sit there and have meetings with other agency owners, and they tell me about the swag program that they have sending out to prospective clients, or current clients. This is something that people are doing to reinforce their brand. How do people go about it? Do they just call you and it's instant, or what are the best steps to actually come up with and form a true option and way to do this correctly?

Answer: Good question. Through the pandemic we found, as you've sort of mentioned, a lot of folks started working remotely, events sort of cut back, and we needed to figure out a way to keep our employees in place, and continue to drive revenue. We sort of leveraged our Grannies Goodies experience from 20 years ago, and trying to find creative ways to kit these products, and get goods directly to the recipients. As you've mentioned, whether it's a new hire gift, a thank you for working with us gifts, or whatever it may be, we created a bunch of different themes of kits.

There's two ways that we kit. One way is clients will reach out to us directly and say, "Hey, I've got this sort of need, and here's my budget. Can you come up with a whole bunch of creative solutions for us that can meet these sort of needs?" There's that sort of avenue. Sometimes what we've also done is, there's a lot of ways that folks can utilize swag, because there's a tremendous amount of electronic offerings out there. We created versions where our clients can email the recipient a code for $25 for Uber eats, and they could download two movies off of a platform that's not Hulu, premium movies off of not Hulu or Netflix.

They could send things electronically as well, as the creative way where we will build those kits, curate those components, based on a lot of research to try to find the types of things that folks are looking for. We look at trends, we run focus groups multiple times a year to see what's trending, and then we grab that bunch of information, and then go to our supply chain to find best in class product, things that are being most well received, like I said, colors, trends, whatever may be.

We'll utilize that during that curation process. That's sort of one way that folks can curate, reaching us directly. We actually are about to launch a new arm to our business called Kitting Kings. Funny enough, kittingskings.com, which is where it'll route very soon. Kitting Kings will allow for somebody to go online, there'll be 15 different kits that they can choose from. What's neat about our kits as well is that it's a very low minimum to purchase. The buyer will provide us with who the recipients are, and their artwork, and then we'll actually wrap the box with graphics as well for the clients, as well as the name of the recipient on the box itself. Then as they want us to release those goods, we release those goods in one job, or over time. It makes it really easy for head of HR, or director of sales or whatever it may be.

Somebody that wants to communicate with clients, or communicate internally, their internal clients we call them, employees, in a very easy way, because they're really busy. We are just seeing a mass uptick in activity, as I know it was across all of a lot of different industries right now, supply chain is having challenges meeting demand, getting goods. It's a mess. It's a mess everywhere. But that's a good thing, because that means we're heading back to whatever the normality will look like. Nonetheless, our goal is to help our clients build brands, whether that's internally or externally. We found some creative ways to do it and really try to do a lot of legwork beforehand so that they can focus on their job, not on, "Oh my God, what am I going to send to my employees or to these folks?"


Question: I think you've hit on something that's really important for our listeners to hear, that you do all of this market research and these deep dives, into what is actually cool out there, because gone are the days that you can just throw your logo on something and send it out and just be having someone be so excited about the mouse pad that you just sent them, that's branded. Those are probably not happening so much anymore. Everything I've seen seems to be themed, also, that's a new going trend.

Answer: That's true. We're seeing a lot of that. The one thing I always tell folks is we run these focus groups, and it really gives us a cross section of what's going on, whether it may be in a particular demographic, or industry, but it's super important for folks to run an internal focus group. Ask clients questions, ask your employee questions, see what's going on internally because they're really the folks that are going to give you the types of ideas that you should be putting in the swag. I mean, in these boxes or sending out at events and what not, that's a piece that's, I think, really important. We can provide some good data to get you started, but when we come up with ideas, ask the people that are working with you, "Hey, what do you think about this? Would you like to receive something like this?" That's something that I think is important for folks not to lose sight of as well.

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Question: I've always been a little testy when it gets into branded clothing and items like that. Because I'm like, that is not, we're this cool agency. No one, I don't want to, if I don't want to put the logo on me, then I can't imagine anyone else, that's been really enlightening having our early 20 something year olds, deep dive into what they actually think is cool. That could have a logo on it, and they'd still wear it. So there's certainly a lot out there that is not your grandpa's swag.

Answer: True. The other thing to also keep in mind, and this is a bad example, because I've got this plastered across my chest, but that's because we're sitting here talking, but subtlety is something that's really important as well, because to your point, you want folks to utilize the item or to wear it. If they're walking billboard, sometimes folks don't like that, but you can put logos on the sleeve, or put things tone on tone, so the logo is still there and that, but there's the propensity for somebody to wear that. You want them to wear it, you've invested money as a business owner, and the ability to get the brand out there can still be done. There's lots that can be done to get the person to wear it even more, like personalized things right on the arm.

Again, it's not this cheesy looking thing, if you will. The other thing is, is that in our world, thank God, we've got so much access to retail, and that cache is really trending too. So folks want to wear Nike brand, and North Face backpacks, and whatnot, and fortunately all that stuff's in our space now, too. Personalization as well.


Question: What are some of the other mistakes people make along the way when they're looking at swag and different branded promotional items for their company?

Answer: I think what's really important to pay attention to, well, first of all, is budget, and really to know your audience. We talked a little bit about that beforehand, because you don't need to break the bank to get your brand out there. There's a lot of folks that make decisions based on what they like, as opposed to what other people are going to like. I think that's where we try to help create some insight, but understanding budget, again, it's not about the cost of something, it's about the, I call it, the throwaway factor, are they going to hold onto it? Because sometimes you got to get really cute.

My job has also push back and say, "Are you sure you want to do that? Are you sure that that ties into your culture?" Just because somebody else is doing it, doesn't mean that that's going to make sense for you. So budget, culture, is it tasteful? I have lots of clients, make sure that it's tying into your brand. Smaller businesses may not have brand guidelines, large companies do. And it's our job to kind of police that. And internally that should be policed as well. "Hey, do you want to really put your logo on a fuchsia shirt?" I'm not saying fuchsia is a bad color, because it's great, but it just, you want to make sure that it is tasteful. And again, that kind of goes back to, are they going to use it? Because some of this stuff can add up, particularly when you're going to an event, you want folks to be able to use that.

Plus there are a lot of products out there where we can actually capture data around usability. Unfortunately, you can give somebody the nicest Nike polo, but you're not a hundred percent sure they're wearing it unless you try to do something creative through social media, "Hey, take a picture with it, and you'll be in a drawing to win a blah." That's one way to drive the use of something. But the other way is there are some products, particularly some of these electronic gifts that we do, where you can see whether somebody's redeeming them or not. And that's another easy way to distribute swag. There are a bunch of electronic gifts, Uber eats codes, codes for movies, and the like. So those are just some things like I said at the top of my mind.


Check Out The Podcast!

Seth has so much great information from his experience with promotional products, check out the podcast below to learn more about how to drive your business from his advice and expertise!

Every week we have a marketing professional on our show to share their tips, tricks and lessons learned from their professional experience. Check out some of our other podcast blogs from earlier this year: 

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Topics: Business Advice, Podcast Interviews