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Wearables Business

Small steps to prosperity

Small steps to prosperity

Jeff Rundles

Byline: JEFF RUNDLES

Small observations.

As I was perusing the new numbers given out by the various organizations this year – PPAI and ASI – concerning the distributors sales for 2003 and the rankings of the top distributors and suppliers for the year, I couldn’t help but notice a few small trends that I found interesting.

As for the overall sales figure – $16.1 billion if you believe ASI and $16.3 billion if you believe PPAI (I’ll go with PPAI; always exaggerate, it makes life more interesting) – it represents a significant rebound and is good news for the industry. Using PPAI’s number, the $16.34 billion in distributor sales reported for 2003 was some $700 million, or about 4.5%, higher than the 2002 number and it is the first increase reported in two reporting years. Rah!

If you look deeper into the numbers, I think you see that, as the industry rebounds, it is the smaller companies that are hauling this industry back into positive territory. That has to be good news. I like small business and I think, generally, smaller businesses give their customers better service than the larger ones – almost in direct proportion to size. Since ours is an industry that will live or die on service and relationships, smaller is indeed beautiful.

I think you see the same thing, among other interesting points, in ASI’s annual Top 40 lists ranking suppliers and distributors by sales volume.

First, looking at the supplier list, I was struck by the overall smallness of the numbers. Broder Bros. is Number One with some $363.6 million in sales – and this is the combined Broder Bros. and Alpha. There was a time when both of them were on the list separately, and not number one, and they each had sales volumes approaching that number. Everyone on the Top 40 Supplier list appeared to have lower sales than in the boom years by a lot, which, when you consider that the overall number is on the rise again, means that the next 40, and the 40 after that, are taking up much of the slack. Once again, smaller is beautiful.

Same is true on the Top 40 Distributors list. Halo Branded Solutions, which is lucky to be alive, is Number 1 with a paltry $186 million in sales. These top PPDs used to go almost double that size. Once again, that tells me that the next 40 and the 40 after that, and the thousands after that, are getting more of the action. I like this news. Spread the wealth, I always say.

Going back to the suppliers list, the top spot, five of the top ten, and ten of the top 20, are wearables suppliers. And, wearables remains overall at about 30 percent of the entire marketplace, with the second place item category, writing instruments, being just 10 percent. The importance of wearables, I believe (and I am biased), cannot be denied.

To prove this last point, consider #20 on the Top 40 Suppliers list, Cutter & Buck. Cutter & Buck is a brand name apparel company, most noted for its golf shirts that are very popular at green grass retail. The company employs a limited marketing strategy in the promotional marketplace, sometimes referred to as “franchise” sales, where it will only sell its product to a limited number of PPDs in each locale and also demand a minimum from these customers each year. So, without even offering its catalog to the entire spectrum, it garners 20th on the list. That I find fascinating. To them, I suppose, small is large.

I think we can safely say that the industry is talking small steps back to prosperity.

That’s huge.

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