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Not understanding the time requirements for purchasing branded merchandise and  promotional merchandise could lead to missed deadlines, frustrated employees, and cost overruns; especially when you’re working towards an event date.

Some organizations require certain printed documents (contracts, for example), which are necessary for conducting daily business. Not having those printed materials in-hand on time can be detrimental and quite costly to your organization.

Understanding the buying process and timelines for ordering materials and merchandise will help you plan accordingly and avoid future disappointment.

Branded Product Selection Timeline

If you’re buying from a new vendor you’ve never purchased from before, you will have to spend some time browsing through catalogues to choose your products. Even if you’re purchasing from a vendor you’ve previously purchased from, they may no longer stock the same product in the same colors, meaning you may have to select something new.

Download the Free Checklist: Buying Promotional Products Made Easy

This browsing and searching product options takes approximately 1-2 hours. It could take even longer if your employees’ time isn’t properly managed or expectations are not realistic.

Asking Questions About Promotional Product

If you’ve ever done the browsing of products yourself, you’ve probably noticed how many options there are. For something simple, like a polo shirt with a logo in the upper right, you could have more than 50 options including different fabrics, fits, brands, features, sleeve lengths, etc. Most people have questions to be clarified including color options, best imprinting methods and actual fit. It is important to take the time to work these questions out to avoid purchasing something different than what you had in mind or mistakenly ordering a low quality product.

Depending how many questions you have and whether you ask everything up front or have additional follow up questions, this step can take 1-2 days.

How Long Does It Take to Review Promotional Product Samples

Suppliers will gladly provide you with sample merchandise when you’re selecting new product. Samples help you experience the actual look and feel, quality, color and sizing of the product in person, which can often be difficult to determine from the product photo online or in a print catalogue.

If you require samples, plan on an extra 2-4 days for them to arrive before you’re able to move forward in the ordering process.

Getting Artwork Right for Branded Marketing Products

This is the part where a lot of people lose time! The back and forth communication on artwork, while time consuming, is essential to ensure your imprint is exact. Even if you’re ready to go on your end with all artwork finalized, there are still details to clarify with your vendor.

Artwork Questions that Must Be Answered Before Ordering:

  • File Format. You’ll need to send all your artwork in a very specific file format that your supplier will use for printing. Save time by verifying the file format and having it ready ahead of time. Companies that do not have a graphic designer in-house may find converting file formats challenging.
  • You will be asked questions pertaining to the imprint colors (one-color or two-color) of your logo and any other artwork submitted. Knowing the specific pantone colors listed in your branding guidelines will speed this step up and ensure a good color match.
  • Position and Placement. Many products have more than one imprint location where your logo and other artwork can be printed. For example, a mug may have a front and a back printing location in relation to the handle. You’ll need to tell your vendor exactly where you want your logo and any other artwork printed on the product. You may be required to specify the orientation (horizontal or vertical) for your artwork as well.
  • Technique. Some products, apparel especially, offer imprint options including embroidery, debussing, heat seal and screen-printing. Some techniques work better than others on certain fabrics and in certain locations so take the time to make the right decision. Not sure? Your supplier should be able to send you a sample. Be aware that additional samples may run you an extra 2-4 days.

Expect a lot of back and forth communication about artwork and the actual imprint at this stage, making yourself available to answer emails and/or phone calls in a timely manner. Ask your vendor for a checklist to help you stay on track, or take a look at our checklist for purchasing branded merchandise and marketing materials.

You can easily spend 1-4 days on this back and forth artwork communication, depending on how well your vendor explains things up front and how complete you are in your questions.

Negotiating Pricing for Promotional Products

Here you are, a good week into your order and you’re finally at the negotiation of the final price you’ll pay. Your pricing will be adjusted to reflect the decisions you’ve made in the artwork questions above. Keep in mind that imprint decisions in color, number of imprint locations and technique may raise the original price of the product.

Price negotiation can take an extra day. If you plan to use a promotion code or coupon, it’s best to mention that up front to save time and potential frustration in the products selected not matching the offer.

Promotional Products: Proof Approval Process

Now that you’ve got all the fine details worked out, your vendor will send you a proof of what you’ve created. Review the proof in full, confirming colors match previously printed materials, spelling and grammar is correct and the imprint method is appropriate for the material selected. Keep in mind that imprint proofs may not be to scale and use a measuring tape to verify it will be correct per the size specifications you provided.

Your supplier should send your proof(s) within 24-48 hours. If there are no further changes to be made, your order officially starts now.

Think back to the very beginning of this ordering process. If the supplier told you it would take 5 days to get mugs with your company logo on them, that 5 days begins now, as soon as you approve the proof.

Follow Up

Now that your order has been submitted, it’s a matter of waiting for the boxes to arrive at your office. Of course, you’ll probably want to check your order status as you get closer to your in-hand date and track the delivery of your order to be sure you’re ready to receive it when it arrives.

Following up on an order can take another 1-2 hours of an employee’s time.

Plan Ahead When Ordering Promotional Products and Branded Merchandise

In total, you could be looking at almost 3 weeks to complete a single order, depending on how prepared you are to answer art questions and how long approvals take within your organization. You know your organization best, so use this article as a guide to help manage expectations and keep your order on track.

We hope these timelines will help you plan backwards from your upcoming event date to determine when you should start the order process to ensure materials arrive on time.

The Quicker Solution: An Online Company Store

If you find yourself placing orders like this on a regular basis, you might consider an online company store program to speed things up and streamline the process. An online company store completely eliminates ALL the above, time-consuming, steps.

When you set up an online company store, you answer all the questions about artwork, techniques and proofing up front, before making a product available for re-order on your store. Placing a new order with an online company store takes 5-10 minutes instead of what we’ve estimated to be as much as 15 hours. And, once an order is placed through the system, it usually takes 1-3 business days for your order to be shipped.

Click here to learn more about online company stores to help you determine if one might be a good solution for your regular ordering.

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