8 Ways To Market Your Print Shop's Brand With Custom Merchandise

Business Lessons

About the author: Steven Farag is co-owner of Campus Ink in Champaign, IL. He regularly writes for Printavo and works closely with us to offer feedback, advice, and guidance for how to make Printavo even better. Steven's focus on improving processes and workflow – as well as a relentless pursuit of new productivity-boosting tools and automations – has made Steven a leader among the newest generation of print shop owners.
Steven Farag, Campus Ink co-owner

This past summer, Campus Ink moved to a new location and opened a new retail shop. As we were cleaning out our old shop, I came across boxes of blank shirts and various merchandise we’d kept.

We didn’t have a use for it – but it was some really nice gear.

My immediate impulse was to throw it into a donation box. I didn’t want any of it. No more clutter, finally!

Luckily, my business partner Jedd stopped me in my tracks:

“We’re going to print Campus Ink on all of that. Then we’re going to put it in the new shop, and give it away like candy. Any customer that walks in gets a Campus Ink shirt.”

I thought I was the marketing expert!

With several decades of experience in the printing industry, I realized 57-year-old Jedd had a great idea borne from his first-hand knowledge.

We had printed some business cards and flyers, but we had never really focused on our own branded apparel. It became crystal clear: we have to use the same tactics we recommend to our customers to boost our own shop's visibility!

The power of merchandise

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How could I overlook branded shirts? We’re in the printing business! We do this all of the time for our customers – and know the true value of your brand on a shirt!

That summer we printed our logo on everything we could. I realized we had to get the word out, and never let a single customer leave our shop without giving them a piece of our business to take with them.

So how did we take this marketing tactic to the next level?

We decided to dedicate a few thousand dollars to this project. We wanted to give out really cool merch to go with the shirts we would give out – and force the community to take notice of Campus Ink!

We didn't want to limit ourselves to gimmicks or chintzy crap – we needed high-quality, high-value products that would keep Campus Ink at the top of our customers' minds, put us out into the community in a constant and visible way, and convert customers into advocates.

8 ways we're marketing for our print shop with custom merchandise

I spent some time scouring SAGE Promotional Products to find the latest and greatest items.

We found phone accessories, notebooks, coozies, pens, and even ice scrapers. We wanted unique, interesting swag that would pique interest and start conversations – things that would actually provide value, not just get thrown away.

Pro Tip: Let merchandise distributors know you are purchasing promo products for your own shop. They’ll often have specials and discounts to offer. I saved a significant amount of money by communicating with vendors about what my plans were. They took great care of me because they realized it was an opportunity to win a repeat customer that could purchase at high volumes.

Here’s what we found, and why we chose it:

1. Pens.

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Not just any pens! But light-up pens with a stylus. Everyone needs pens, and if your pens are even slightly different than typical Bics, customers will remember your brand.

2. Coozies.

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We're in a college town. Whether we like it or not, drinking is part of the culture! Coozies are a super simple way to endear yourself to social organizations and event organizers.

We printed our logo on one side, and a joke on the other. It said, “This coozie prevents hangovers.” This made our coozie just a little more appealing than a straight logo.

3. Aluminum tumblers.

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Every person I’ve given a well-insulated, high-quality tumbler to has thanked me for it and told me it will come in handy.

A strong coffee cup that doesn’t spill get used over and over. They’ll see your brand every morning after that sweet relief from the first cup.

4. Vacuum sealed water bottles.

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These last forever (well, until you lose it anyway). What coach, athlete, parent, or student doesn’t want an easy way to keep liquids hot or cold and stay hydrated?

These make incredible gifts for new clients and are another great way to keep your brand close at hand.

5. Ice scraper gloves.

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In central Illinois, an ice scraper gets daily use for 5 months out of the year.

This was my favorite item – customers have never seen a gloved ice scraper, and it gave them all a laugh. It’s also actually useful. Who would throw this away?

6. Phone accessories.

These are low-cost items that really add a lot of value (and keep your brand right in the customers’ hands). 

Everyone has a phone and everyone loves to get free accessories for it. Customers use their phones every day and feel a deep attachment to them – so it's the perfect place for your logo. It becomes a walking advertisement!

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Pop sockets. Hugely popular right now! These are very affordable in large quantities, can be custom printed, and are really a "Wow!" moment when a customer realizes you're giving it to them for free.

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Rubber phone wallets. Super useful for carrying cash and cards! 

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Car magnets. These are so useful, and people love to get these for free. They'll think of your business every time they drive somewhere and use their GPS to navigate!

7. Notebooks.

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We found nice Moleskin notebooks, then got them embossed with our logo.

We use them as gifts for corporate customers and high-value clients that want to stay organized. These are a little pricier, but when you target them at the right clients they're a big value-add.

8. Stickers.

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Not everyone loves stickers. But the people who do love stickers are absolutely obsessed with them.

Computers, water bottles, mirrors, cars – who knows. We ordered enough that we pack them with every order and hand them out to everyone we meet.

Was it worth it?

It’s hard to overstate the value of small gifts. You're boosting your brand’s trustworthiness, promoting it without resorting to the hard sell, and raising your overall visibility. 

A few thousand dollars later and we have an entire library of giveaway items that our customers love. Looking back, I should have implemented this strategy much sooner. Because of these efforts, we've enjoyed robust year-over-year growth. It's spread our name across campus and invited dozens of Greek organizations to partner with us to print their shirts. While that isn't all attributable to giving out branded merchandise, it absolutely help us build a stronger brand.

Want to move customers that are extremely price-conscious toward a trust-based relationship? An inexpensive gift provides an authentic point of connection.

Branded merchandise can “break the ice” and remove awkward barriers to effective communication – it’s a friendly gesture, and virtually everyone gets a hit of joy from a useful, free, and enjoyable gift.

Are you utilizing promotional merchandise to sell your brand? You really should be. You already know it works for your customers – so what are you waiting for?


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