The marketplace looks a lot different than it did just a few months ago, with trends driven by social distancing creating clear shifts in demand. Promotional products that support working from home, video meetings and virtual conferences are all top of mind – think headphones, Bluetooth® speakers and comfy branded apparel.
But work from home is just one example of a huge trend. Others may not be quite so obvious, which is why we tapped two PCNA product development pros for an in-depth conversation about the promo landscape. Shoo Passey, Director Of Global Product Design And Development For Apparel, and Liz Tracy, Senior Designer For Hard Goods, put their trend expertise to use every day helping PCNA deliver what distributors need most:
Right product. Right time. Right price.
QUESTION: Trends are interesting because it's a little like predicting the future. But let's start by looking back for a moment: Which trends were you forecasting at the start of the year, and how has the pandemic affected them?
Liz: One of the trends we identified pre-COVID, especially for younger members of the workforce, is this gravitation toward quality products that fit their lifestyle, which is more casual, includes more entertaining at home and has a greater focus on sustainability. All of that's just been amplified because of the upheaval that began in the spring.
Shoo: I absolutely would agree these trends were already playing out, and have only been amplified by the introspection that goes with being in isolation, as well as people wanting to feel comfortable, secure and healthy. That all translates to being more selective in our purchasing behavior, with a focus on quality, versatility and function.
QUESTION: How are these trends affecting product demand in our industry?
Liz: It's increased the desire for products with more permanence and longevity. That's why we're seeing retail brands like Thule®, Carhartt® and Camelbak® doing so well right now, as well as proprietary brands with a high perceived value like Field & Co. And Skullcandy® couldn't be more timely, with people working from home and wanting high-quality audio for video calls.
Shoo: On the apparel side, we've definitely seen an uptick in our retail brand, Roots73, with that whole idea of exceptional quality and comfort. But even with Elevate, which is our in-house brand, there's always been such a focus on innovative fabrication and function, and really creating on-trend garments. When you think about a good-better-best assortment, people are gravitating toward the better-best end of the spectrum.
QUESTION: Aside from brands, what other types of products are generating more interest?
Liz: We're seeing an uptick with outdoor products. Some of that's related to the change in seasons, but even beyond that, people just feel safer socializing outside right now. That could mean hanging out at a park, or it could be their own back yard, but it all translates to products like outdoor chairs, hammocks, barbecue accessories, picnic blankets and coolers.
Shoo: For Trimark, customers are using our lightweight layering pieces to meet the need created by video meetings, virtual conferences and even telemedicine. All of those interactions are branding opportunities, so you want a professional look, but also something comfortable and relaxed enough for working from home, maybe even something that's easy to put on and take off throughout the day.
The other big factor with video calls is brand visibility – your logo needs to be on the shoulder or collar, because if it's any lower, it probably won't be seen on camera. And that's another area where Trimark can really help, because so many of our layering pieces and polos offer shoulder and collar decoration as standard imprint locations, meaning there's no extra charge.
QUESTION: OK, now the really fun part. Looking ahead, what new trends should distributors be aware of for the second half of the year?
Shoo: As people return to the workplace, I think the work uniform will continue trending toward casual, relaxed and comfortable. And I'd go back to that idea of versatility, the idea of "9 to 5 and 5 to 9" – in other words, clothing people will love wearing even after work or on the weekends.
Liz: Another aspect of people returning to the workplace, and public spaces in general, is wanting to stay healthy and prevent germs from spreading. I think we'll see a lot more innovation moving forward with materials like silver and copper, both of which have natural antimicrobial qualities, as well as UV sterilization treatment for things like your phone and keys. I don't think the need to feel healthy and safe is going away any time soon.
Shoo: With apparel, I expect we'll see jackets with taller collars that can be zipped over the mouth and nose, and other integrations that offer protective function. But whether it's apparel or hard goods, all of these innovative protective features will become more affordable as they're adopted in the marketplace. Some of them are available now, but there's a significant upcharge. The price points will shift downward, and the protective features will be accessible for more products.
QUESTION: Last one. What's your biggest takeaway from the unprecedented circumstances of the past few months?
Liz: When things like this happen, it makes everyone rethink our lives and priorities – individuals, families, communities and even corporations. It's a reset. Tying that back to our industry, I think you'll see a lot of businesses asking "What can we do for the health of our employees and communities? How can we help out?" I think companies will be making more thoughtful decisions about employee gifts and showing appreciation in meaningful ways.
Shoo: I'll sum it up in one word: Ditto!