Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild Podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life, in-the-wild stories about business and marketing.
Julia: Everybody, thanks for joining us this week. I have a special guest, and I’m excited about this one because I think I’m gonna learn as much as you all will as well. Landon, welcome. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your business.
Landon: Appreciate you having me. Where do I start? I guess the quick version is that originally I was born and raised in Springfield, Ohio. Moved to Louisville, Kentucky, that’s where I live now with my wife and three girls. Pray for me, three girls. 15, 12, and six. I think I got that right, and then Rebecca, my wife. So Rebecca, Ava, Claire, and Nora. A wonderful family. We live in Crestwood, Kentucky, which is the suburb of Louisville. Moved here in 2013 after growing up in Springfield, Ohio. I ran a business with my father up there, and when we got here, I worked with him for two years and left in 2015, started this business. So I’ve been in this industry, it’s known by a lot of different names, today it’s swag, merch. When I was first getting into it, it was ad specialties and promotional products, things like that. The industry has been known by some different names over the years, but I’ve been in it since I got out of college, went to Cedarville University, which is a small Baptist Christian college in Ohio, and studied marketing there.
Julia: Do you have a preferred term for it?
Landon: That’s a good question. It’s probably a little bit of what we would talk about here. It just depends on how deep you want me to go down this rabbit hole. I have a lot of strong opinions about our industry, and we don’t have time for it. But I think that there are some terms that I’m completely fine with that people don’t like, like swag, which I used to struggle with, but it’s fine. I’ll put it to you this way, I’m okay with the term that helps people understand what I do the best and the easiest as long as it’s not – derogatory seems like a strong way to say it, but you know what I mean, not disrespectful to the business.
Landon: So I’m completely fine with swag and merch. Those seem very popular today.
Julia: You told us a little bit about how you got into this niche. What do you like about it?
Landon: That’s a great question. I have always called myself kind of a business nerd, a business geek. I have always loved business. When I was growing up, I’d play with hot wheels, and I had limousines, and always was kind of running companies in my fantasy world.
Julia: That’s awesome!
Landon: I played sports, but I wasn’t necessarily the guy that wanted to grow up and be Michael Jordan or something. I wanted to grow up to be a CEO. So first and foremost, I’m in the business to business space. And so because I love business so much, it lets me scratch that itch a lot. I get to work with a lot of very successful business people, a lot of different types of businesses, which I’m sure is something you love about your business as well. I learn a ton by doing that, getting exposed to different industries and different size companies. That’s one of the things I love.
And then I love marketing and branding. I went to Cedarville University, I was gonna be pre-law when I started, and I took a personality assessment and they said I should do marketing. I think that clothing and promotional items, if done the right way, can be an incredibly important part of branding, and so I enjoy that too.
Julia: Totally! So I’ll be honest, I think we talked about this a little bit when we first met, but I am weirdly swag-resistant. I think the problem for me is that when I think of swag or when I think of merch, I think of the pens that you get at fairs with people’s logos on, and then you get home and it’s not valuable. Like, I don’t think about that company necessarily, or people who give away koozies and I’m like, oh, well this will get eaten by my dog by accident. True story! And so when my husband approached me and said, “Hey, Stratos should get some swag, we should do this”, I had this strong resistance. I might be the only person who has that sort of resistance, but how do you help your clients make things that people will care about? Or is that not the purpose?
Landon: No, I think it absolutely is. I would kind of go at this a few ways; one, I think some of the fundamental problems with our industry is the reason that you feel the way you do about it. Meaning the biggest companies in our industry don’t sell to the customer, they sell to me as the distributor. So they’re more or less just banks, if you will, that are trying to find folks like me who have books of business that will place it with them and they’ll pay me a commission to do it. That results in an industry that by and large, has a lot of – I got to tread cautiously here – a little unsophisticated salespeople at times. And so what you get is you can have salespeople that open the trench coat, you want stuff, I got stuff. And I think that’s the reason that a person like you – that’s at least part of the reason – a person like you feels the way that you do about these things, because they can tend to be sold with very little focus on which is your business, which is the objective. What are we trying to accomplish? So that’s one thing.
I also think people overthink these things sometimes. Some of these things should have high strategic purposes, and some of them are just things that you need to have around as esprit de corps or just part of the branded environment. One of the things we talk about a lot is that there’s really just a handful of buckets that we tend to work in. One is space, so we always talk about the office space. If you’re a distributed office, it’s still your space, your desk or whatever that needs to be branded. Two is the employees. So what does the employee need to wear? And this is very Simon Sinek, start with why. People wanna be part of things bigger than themselves, they wanna be a part of brands. There’s a reason that I like Rucking, for example. I like GORUCK. I wear GORUCK hats and T-shirts because it says something about me. You want to have a company and a brand that the employee wants to have something said about them. The customer, obviously to a point, needs to be given things that reinforce the brand or whatever messaging you want them to know. And then obviously, marketing is fourth. There’s a very large bucket, but what we mean by that is just what are you doing to keep, retain and grow, and find new customers?
What I notice is that when I start talking to customers in those terms, where it’s like, look, before we get to the stuff, let’s start talking about, how do you go about working in those four areas and what do you wanna accomplish with swag clothing and promotion items in those four areas? Then some of that aversion starts to fall off because they start to think, they love their company, they love their brand, and they wanna strategically build it.
Julia: For sure! Well, and I think that even by breaking it down into those four categories, in my brain, the word that keeps on coming to mind is purpose, like you’re giving purpose to it. Because when you mentioned all four of those things, the one that sticks out to me is employees. Like, we have a really strong team culture, and I’m like, oh, having a sweatshirt that we’re all wearing is gonna further that team culture. And so it’s not just like these pens at booths.
Landon: I got to give you a quick story about that. I just told you I got back from vacation. I was in Maine, you said you’re trying to get there. Anybody listening to this, if you can get to Portland, Maine and Kennebunk Maine, do it. There’s a restaurant called Lost Fire that we ate at while we were there, and the gentleman that owns Lost Fire also owns a couple of other restaurants in the area. The next day I played golf, went to have lunch at another place that he owns, we saw him and he was there wearing a black hoodie that had the Lost Fire logo on it. First of all, the vibe of Lost Fire is awesome, everything about it. The food was amazing! The entire experience was amazing! Then I see him wearing this hoodie, and I’m like, “Man, I would rock that hoodie.” And so there’s an example, because for me, it was like, I love my experience at Lost Fire. I’m in a beautiful area, it might be something that I would wear that would say something that people would know, oh, where is that?
And to my knowledge, I don’t think there was a way for me to buy any swag, because It was a higher-end restaurant. They didn’t exactly have a gift shop. So I think he did exactly what you’re describing, which was that hoodie was not something that I could buy, it was something he’d given to his team!
Julia: There’s an exclusivity about that too, right? You almost wanna work there for 24 hours so you can get a hoodie.
Landon: And I will say this too, he was wearing a black hoodie and the logo was done in a gray. It was just very classy and simple, just one color, gray. And that’s something we can talk a little bit more about. To me, it starts with the item, but equally as important, is how do you decorate that item. And there’s some philosophies that we talk about, depending on the audience, about how you go about decorating the items and do it so that certain people don’t feel like they’re running around with just a gigantic advertisement.
Julia: Because that’s what I’ve always felt like. We’re a marketing company, who cares? Like I don’t wanna give all of my customers a T-shirt with just our logo on it. I don’t know if you know this, but my husband and I own a different company. It’s a mobile photo booth inside of a retro camper.
Lando: That’s cool!
Julia: We just bought it earlier this year, have just started doing events this summer, and I just printed these random T-shirts for us with the logo on it just so people know that we belong with this camper when we’re at the farmer’s market. But we’ve started thinking through what would our customer like? I love the idea, like what you were just saying, it was such a cool experience at this restaurant that you would love to support their logo. Where we’re like, what kind of experience are people getting when they’re at the photo camper that then they would want to have merch that’s ours? And so we haven’t figured it out yet.
Landon: Two thoughts come to mind, and then just to kind of demonstrate the way that we like to think about it. The thing we always say about our company is to me, there’s a gap between what I call the traditional product sellers in every community throughout the country and agencies, like what you do. What we try to do is kind of be almost like a translator or an intermediary between the bottom end or the entry level of our industry, and then the agency. Because what we find is our customers, they struggle to engage the agency because it can be too costly for all the simple swag and promotional item type stuff. But then if they try to have a strategic conversation with a lot of the entry level sellers, they struggle to have those conversations. So then they get a little frustrated, they are in the middle, they wanna do cool swag, but they don’t have the right partner to do it, because they can’t use the agency, they can’t use the lower-end, and they’re frustrated. And that’s kind of where we try to live.
Julia: I would say even from our experience, for everybody listening, we’ve been using a third party vendor for our swag up until now. And it was really hard because we have a team of designers, but they’re like, where do we put the logo on the shirt? How do you know that it’s gonna look good when it’s printed? Things like that where we might be designers, but we’re just doing our best, and somebody like you has seen the products, knows how it works, seen also flops, I’m sure, where you’re like, “Yeah, we’ll never do that again.”
Landon: Absolutely! And we make mistakes, that’s the thing I’ll say, is we definitely make mistakes, but we fix them when we do. But it happens.
Julia: Yeah, for sure! So if somebody wants to create some swag, you already talked about your four buckets, knowing where are you playing, what are some other tips that you might tell people when they’re coming to you saying, hey, I wanna create something?
Landon: Clothing is a big category for us. And I was kind of gonna jump back to something, you were talking about where to put the logo. Something we’ve been doing a lot of lately, and it seems so simple, but it’s something that we’ve spent a lot of time with, is just logo size and proportion. And so, something that we’ve spent some time doing recently is putting a logo on a 8.5 by 11 sheet of paper at two or three different sizes and then sending it to the client, and saying, “Hey, print this out, hold it up to your chest, tell us what size you prefer.” It’s pretty antiquated.
Julia: But it works!
Landon: But there’s no better way to do it. And what we find is, we will think that a client might want the logo larger, and we find out they want it a little bit smaller. And those are subtle things that we try to do. We always sow out different things so that they can see how the finished product is gonna be. A lot of times, we’ll get people who reach out and say, “Hey, we wanna do polos, or we wanna do pullovers, or we wanna do hoodies or T-shirts or whatever for our team.” And then they’ll kind of leave it at that and they’re looking for us. One of the things that I’ve gotten into a big habit of is I go back and say, “Hey, what do you wear personally? Tell me what brands do you wear personally that you love? Or what have you gotten maybe at a previous company?” Because the biggest bridge, or the biggest challenge with clothing is trying to find brands and sizes that work. That’s the thing people are most worried about. How’s it gonna fit? And so, that’s one thing that I would tell people, “Hey, if you’re going to a company like ours, just come at them with, hey, I really like Bella Canvas, or I really like Next Level, or I got this hoodie that I love, and it’s this brand. Because a lot of times, we can get those brands, and there is no reason to recreate the wheel if you have clothing items that you like. It certainly expedites the process. And then we can go immediately to let’s talk about how you wanna decorate it. So that’s a huge one for clothing.
Julia: I love that!
Landon: And then with promotional items, it’s kind of the same thing. I always tell people, look, what are the things that you’re using every day? What do you put in the car with you when you head to work? Or what do you use at your desk every day? Let’s start there. And you’re gonna go, “Oh, yeah, I love this Corkcicle tumbler, I put coffee in it every day.” It seems so simple, but at the very least, we’re passionate about the things that we love. So even if I give away something that I have myself and I love it, other people will get excited about it because I’m excited about it.
Julia: And even if you have a favorite water bottle, and even if you end up being the only person who spots your water bottle, at least it’s something that you love too, which won’t be if you give it away. But I love that idea! So when you think about what makes a really good physical product or what makes a really bad one, I’m hearing things like, well, will you even use it? Do you like it? Does the business owner who’s buying it for their customers even like it? What are some other things that might differentiate a good one or a bad one?
Landon: So in the past, I feel like there was a big gap between retail and corporate. That gap has all but disappeared. It’s almost to the point where what we see a lot is people using things in their personal life and they’re coming to us and saying, I love this thing, I wanna do it for my customers. So in saying that, there’s a couple things. One is people are buying lower quantities, but higher quality, which I think would speak to someone who kind of has your experience in our industry, which is like, they’re buying better items, they’re buying fewer of them so that they can buy nicer things. Not that it’s rocket science, but there’s a lot of brands. We sell a lot of brands. And so when I get asked the question, what makes a great promotional item, a lot of times I say it starts with brands. Brands have already established themselves as quality people like them, and so we go to brands first. After that, it really kind of feeds into what we call our partner series, which is where we are handpicking what we feel like are the best companies to work with in certain product categories that may not have recognizable brands, but we have experience with their products and we know that the products are as good and get to a lower price point. And that’s kind of how we try to approach it. And it seems to work really well!
Julia: That’s awesome! I have a question, and I’m just being nosy. Landon, how do you make your money then? You as Landon Wade from Goodson Supply, how do you make your money?
Landon: Almost everybody in this industry makes money the same way because we don’t charge for – well, we have some services we charge for, but admittedly, service revenue is a very small portion of our overall revenue. The way our industry works is pretty much there’s margin built into the product. So when you buy 100 coffee cups, we’re buying it at a wholesale price and we’re selling it to you with a markup, and we make the spread. And any salespeople on my team would make a percentage of that spread and so on.
Julia: So then if people are interested in something like this, they’re not necessarily paying for your time unless if you’re doing extra things for them, like they’re paying for those products that then they can resell or gift. Is that accurate?
Landon: That’s right! Generally speaking, yeah. For example, something we’ve done a lot more of since COVID is we do a lot of kit projects or putting packages together, so we obviously charge more or less a time and material fee for something like that. We warehouse products and fulfill them, we charge for that. We have online stores that have set up fees and annual fees. Currently, if someone reaches out to me and says, hey, I wanna do 100 or 250 or 500 widgets, and I’m working with them on figuring out what item and so on, we’re not charging any sort of service or creative fees for that kind of thing at the moment. We make our money if an order is placed
Julia: But don’t hold Landon to that if you’re listening to this a year from now.
Landon: That’s right!
Julia: So I am curious, one last question before we close out. How do people know if they’re ready? Like, have you ever encountered a company who thought they were ready for swag, but really they weren’t?
Landon: I think I would say most of what I have encountered there tends to be startups. Startups are tough because they’re working off of raised money, and when you’re working off raised money, there’s a high degree of sensitivity to spending it on swag. So those environments can be difficult, and they just gotta be very careful. That’s one space. I think really, small startup companies that aren’t venture funded, so like bootstrap startups, sometimes they’re early. But again, what I’ve found is if I work through those buckets – so I had a guy reach out to me at a small construction company and he said, “I wanna do some cool swag.” And I said, “Well, okay, that’s wide, wide edges. Let’s try to figure it out.” And I said, “These are the buckets we typically work in employee customer space and marketing.” And I said, “You’re the only employee, so we’ll probably need a few things for you.” I said, “Let’s just think through where you’re engaging with customers. Are you calling on them? Are you going to meet with them in person, and so on?” And when we worked through that, we realized, he’s like, “Yeah, I probably was thinking I needed a lot more than I actually do.” So in that case, it wasn’t so much that they weren’t ready, it’s just that he didn’t need as much as he thought once we helped him think through the actual areas where he would use it.
Julia: I love that you’re helping people make those decisions too. Like you’re not pushing them to create. In a previous company I worked as a sales rep, and we were required to have a lot of inventory, and I think that’s also why I have this aversion, because I think while my house would not reflect it, I would love to be a minimalist. And so I’m like, I don’t want to have a bunch of swag that we’re not using sitting in my basement. And so, I think that that’s awesome that you’re helping people think through it and not just selling them what they think they need. I think that’s really cool!
Landon: I appreciate that!
Julia: I’m curious also just because this just popped up, but how do you talk through ROI with your clients? I would imagine unless people are selling swag in a swag store, I would think it would be hard to track that.
Landon: I think it’s probably almost impossible to track ROI in our space a lot of times.
Julia: Are people generally worried about that when they come to you? Or is that not an issue that they come up with?
Landon: It’s a topic that we’ll hear about. I wouldn’t say it is a thing that we feel like we have to defend or really demonstrate terribly often. I think people generally understand that this stuff can tend to fall in the buckets of awareness based marketing. I’m building out a team, if I’m giving something to a client, a lot of times, it’s either on the front-end by way of a trade show or some other front-end program, or it’s being given as a gift where revenue’s already been created, and they kind of have an idea. That was another thing I was gonna mention, we do understand that. Let me take your photo business as an example, there’s all kinds of cool things that could be done, but there has to be also an understanding of what’s the average revenue per client or per event, and how much can I justify investing in something that I give to them. For example, we just did those old viewfinders that you put the reel in the top, and you click, click, and it cycles through some pictures. That type of thing would be really cool to do, but it’s probably cost prohibitive based on the revenue that you generate. We did that for a distillery here. ROI is definitely something that we hear about, but I think people generally understand that that’s not necessarily the space we’re playing in.
Julia: For sure. No, that makes total sense. Because I’ve talked about the photo camper here on the podcast before, and we’re due for an update! So everybody, it’s coming! We set up at a farmer’s market every other week, and we’re really doing it for brand awareness because it costs 20 bucks to be there, and we usually make 35. But we’re giving free sessions away the whole time, and we bring our 15-month old daughter with us. And so it’s my husband and I, and our daughter. And so last week, I bought us these photo camper T-shirts. I guess this is my closing anecdote for everybody because I was shocked at how many people would look at my T-shirt and then be like, “Oh, you’re from that photo camper?” Even though I was just walking around or playing in the splash pad with our daughter – we got her a really cute shirt for it too, and so of course, she is free marketing for us, and so everybody noticed her shirt. And so I think it surprised me that there was the brand recognition because as much as I am in marketing and preach that, it was really cool to just hear that spoken back at me. So that was a really cool instance where our merch was working for us and helping create that connection.
Landon, this was really super helpful. I feel like I’ve been converted, if anything, but I’m curious, if people wanna get in touch with you, learn more about you, maybe pitch you some ideas for some swag for their own companies, where should they find you or how should they find you?
Landon: The website is the best way. We’re actually getting ready to launch another version of it here within the next couple of weeks, just expand it. Nothing major’s gonna change. We’re adding some pages to try to do a better job of explaining the services we provide. But that address is goodsonsupplyco.com. https://www.goodsonsupplyco.com/ That’s the best way. We’re on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/goodsonsupplyco), we’re on Instagram, (https://www.instagram.com/goodsonsupplyco/), and I believe LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/goodson-clothing-&-supply-co-/) and so on as well.
Julia: Awesome! Landon, thank you so, so much. I really appreciate this time we’ve had together.
Landon: Likewise! I appreciate you having me on, and look forward to potentially working together since you’re now converted.
Julia: I’m there! I’m there for it!
Friends, thanks for tuning into this week’s podcast episode. I am so glad that you have. If you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have, I just ask you to subscribe so you know each time we have a new episode coming out. If you loved our podcast and wanna give us a rating or a review, I promise, we will read each and every one of them. A special shout out to our friend, Carson Childers, who is producing our podcast. We really appreciate him and all the hard work that he’s done for us.
Also, thanks to the Stratos team. They have been behind the scenes doing all of the graphic design, brainstorming, et cetera, et cetera. Really, this wouldn’t be possible without them. I’m thankful for each and every one of you guys.
Lastly, listener, we’ll be back next week, and I hope you will be too.