When I first started my business more than 25 years ago, I wanted to be different. I was a marketing professional moving from the corporate world and felt that I could help companies stand out more. Over the years we created some uniquely custom promotional items that helped move the needle for our clients' brand awareness.
Custom Products Take Brands to Next Level
I love the creative process. I enjoy brainstorming ideas and seeing them come to life. There were periods when we would have many different types of custom products in production from frames to key chains to bags to USBs to awards and more. Some of my go-to manufacturer partners would say to me, “can’t you come up with product ideas that are easier to produce?” Where is the fun in that?
One of my favorites is a flying (not literally) teacup we designed for Virgin Atlantic Airways, complete with saucer. They wanted something to help them open new markets. Help to introduce them to the travel community with something that showed that they were an airline and quirky. What’s more quirky than a teacup that looks like an airplane?!
Custom Products Made in America, Too
Today, we continue to produce custom or overseas projects regularly. And being custom does not mean it has to be made in China or another country. We designed custom pewter picture frames (varying sizes over the years for one client) which were manufactured in Wisconsin.
We have also designed a variety of awards (one that looks like a palm tree) and that were manufactured in the USA out of wood, acrylic and various metals. Other custom USA made products include bags, wooden boxes, calendars and clocks to name a few.
While not everything is cost effective to produce in the United States, there are a wide variety of materials that can be used to design and produce right here.
Reach out to Manufacturer Partners
Next time you have an opportunity to speak with one of your manufacturer partners, ask about their custom process. Discuss the types of products and materials, how far you need to take the design process or will they assist? How long does it take?
A good partner will help you understand the process, help in the design and more.
Depending on how custom an item is will typically dictate the timing. If it is a uniquely custom designed item then I inform clients it’s approximately 4-6 months. It is better to deliver early than late! I had a client go with another company a few years ago for a custom box and frame. The client had the initial concept and bid it out. They chose someone that promised they could deliver 2 weeks before we could. I know the process, I had spoken to the factory. The other vendors delivery was impossible without air shipping. A month after the other vendor promised delivery the client still did not have their products. They missed their event. And the vendor lost the client.
Understanding the general schedule is key: 1-2 weeks for initial design, (usually goes through a couple of design revisions so another 1-2 weeks), once approved, produce a pre-production sample. The sample typically takes 2-3 weeks, once approved (most of the time we nail it and first sample is approved), full production typically takes 4 weeks. If made in China and comes by FastBoat it’s another 35-40 days for shipping and customs clearance. So about 4 months for production and shipping. However, I always say 4-6 months! Again, be early not late. And listen to the manufacturer. If they aren’t optimistic then you shouldn’t be either.
Clients Love Their Brand to Stand Out
Think about recommending custom ideas to clients for new product introductions, company expansions, event sponsorships (many companies do this annually), re-branding and more.
We have a few clients that produce custom items for their big events each year. Several of our clients continued the tradition in 2020 and we mailed the items to past attendees to keep their brand top of mind in the Pandemic. Remember, custom doesn’t mean expensive. It means branding impact.
So, we reach out to those clients each year with plenty of time to spare. We know when to start the design process, especially when we need to allow for Chinese New Year shutdowns. Sometimes it is just a matter of training your client that for uniqueness they need to plan ahead!
If the idea is to modify an existing product more than something newly custom designed, then you can cut production time down dramatically. And of course, if it’s made in the USA you only have about a week for shipping instead of 4-5!
Make the Brand the Hero
Sometimes taking an existing item and changing it a little to be more suitable for a client’s needs is all that is needed. It can be faster and still appear custom.
Other times you may want to take your clients logo and make it the Hero. For example, University of Miami is represented by a capital U. We designed a U-shaped stress reliever (and getting it shaped to stand up was a challenge) to help them introduce the new brand. The U was the hero. And because of the design challenges It took five months to deliver (a month ahead of the promised delivery date).
The best part about the creative process is that you are not in it alone. I am not a designer or an artist, but I do have a vision about what I think the client will like. Sometimes when I see existing products it will spark an idea. That is when I reach out to my manufacturer partners and work with their designers to bring the ideas to life. They know how to recommend the best materials and processes to make it cost effective.
So, if you aren’t reaching out to your partners then you need to start. It’s a great way to take your involvement with your clients to a different level. Be a partner in their branding. Help them take their branding to the next level. And, you’ll have fun doing it, I promise!