Asking your Client the Question

The caveman carrying the wheels totally recognizes the opportunity for his product to be used, yet he is failing to engage in a relationship that would allow the wheels to be sold/given to the people that would greatly benefit from it.

There are times in life where we stop, listen and hear that there is the opportunity to ask a question.  However, if we are not taking the time to listen and watch, would we even know what question to ask?

The cavemen (to the right) are busy doing what they always do.  Their technique works for them, as it always has. In fact, in all honesty, they do not know anything different.  So they continue and completely pass up an opportunity of a lifetime:  The person with the product to change their world (literally)!

You see, the caveman carrying the wheels totally recognizes the opportunity for his product to be used, yet he is failing to engage in a relationship that would allow the wheels to be sold or given to the people that would greatly benefit from it.  While there are many unspoken needs going on here, it is our job to engage and extract that information from our customers.  In order for us to do this, we need to stop and ask those critical questions – questions that force us to stop, look, listen and take action.


Watch for your cue, listen for the unknown obstacles your client needs to overcome, craft the question and ask it.

This got me thinking about one of my favorite movies:  Say Anything (1989)!  Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack-the optimist), was determined to spend some time with the intelligent and gorgeous Diane Court (the Valedictorian).  When Lloyd arrived at a party with Diane as his date, a friend asked him, “Lloyd, how did you get Diane Court to go out with you?”  His iconic response was, “I called her up”.  Any objection that Diane presented to Lloyd, he was able to help her overcome it, until she realized that she needed what he had to offer.  (He is an amazing relationship builder, because of this quality!)


Case Study

Prior to making an outbound call, I did a little Google-stalk and studied up on my customer’s website and did some Social Media listening.  I proceeded to make the call and when we got to talking, I kept hearing her say “this one client who buys food”.  As we continued conversing, I reminded her that many of her clients are in the financial industry (one of the biggest buyers of food gifts).  By working with her, asking questions and listening, I was able to say…You know, I continue to hear you say “this is your only food client”; however, your customers are buying food…they are just not buying it from you.  She laughed and understood that I listened and was there to help assist her in capturing the SWAG business, from the big-box retailers and increase her sales at the same time.

Watch for your cue, listen for the unknown obstacles your client may not know they need to overcome, craft the question and ask it.

Remember how powerful those well-crafted questions are!  Go ahead, connect today and ask the critical questions that help your customers recognize the need for your services, product, relationship and expertise.



6 Free Tools for Monitoring on Social Media for Sales

Who Is Talking About You Sticky Notes Question Buzz Social MediaIn 2012 we published an article Are you listening? On social media that is! The key points are still relevant, but the tools have changed. This article focuses on why to listen on social media and 6 free tools to monitor your social presence.

When listening or monitoring social sites, view your efforts as mining for information: how others view your business and how well you know your clients. Take it one step further, not only listen to your clients but monitor what they are listening to on social media to gain deeper insights. This is an excellent strategy for keeping tabs on your competitors as well. (A little online stalking may reap important insights!)

Listen for connections. Identify shared interests, activities and supported organizations. People commonly find these on Facebook and LinkedIn.

If you are a supplier in the promotional products industry check out your distributor clients profiles on Commonsku to see what end-user industries they work with. You don’t want to present them with information on fund-raising projects if they have strictly corporate clients.

Follow LinkedIn notifications for job or location changes. If your contact person at an organization leaves, who is now the decision maker? How can you benefit from the new location of your contact?

Is your client physically moving or expanding? What services do you offer to help them promote these changes?

Sign up for blog subscriptions of clients and competitors.

For more ideas on how to listen on social media check out Duct Tape Selling by John Jantsch.

Here are our recommendations for the best free tools for monitoring social media sites. We recommend using them all as they each add a different element to your search. With the exception of Twitter Advanced Search and Pinterest Search, once set up they are practically automatic.


  1. Hootsuite is a social media monitoring app that works with multiple social networks. It makes it easy to track all of your social media accounts on one dashboard. You can monitor @mentions and track keywords to see what people are saying about your company, brand, and blog. You can watch twitter lists on Hootsuite. Set up a list for your clients and for your competitors. Hootsuite also offers weekly analytic reports, and scheduling options for posts.
  2. Social Mention monitors over one hundred social media sites. It is probably one of the best free listening tools on the market. It analyses mentions by measuring influence within 4 categories: Strength, Sentiment, Passion and Reach. Great resource for monitoring what is being said about Brands.
  3. Twitter Advanced Search can be used to piece together a precise and targeted search. With the massive amount of information being posted by tweeters every day, there is a ton of great information available about your brand, industry and your clients. Taylor your search by dates, people, hashtags, topics, and keywords filtered in many ways.
  4. Pinterest Search. At the Social Media Examiner’s Social Media Marketing World 2015 speakers referred to Pinterest as the new google due to its powerful search function. They went as far to say more users are turning to Pinterest, not Google, as their primary search engine. The Pinterest search bar be used for keyword ideas and customer insights.
  5. Addictomatic is useful at getting an overall view of a brand. It aggregates sources of news and information on one easy to use dashboard. It covers sites such as Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, WordPress blogs, search engines such as Bling, Google and and social book marking sites like Delicious and Digg. All you need to do is plug in your search topic or brand, click “create” and it aggregates the information for you.
  6. Feedly – Great place to access RSS feeds of all your favorite blogs. Be sure to set up feeds for your clients and competitor’s blogs.

In case you’re not yet convinced of the need to monitor your online presence here is a closing story:

I was on Hootsuite and checked current notifications on our twitter handle @MapleRidgeFarms. I was aghast to read the following tweets:

@MapleRidgeFarms awful…

@MapleRidgeFarms really?… #boycott

This tweeter not only targeted the wrong company, they even had the name incorrect. The attached articles they referenced were about a company called Maple Lodge Farms. Only someone clicking the link would notice this mistake. I quickly replied to the tweets asking them to correct their mistake. Lucky for me this twitter user only has 48 followers and the thread was not picked up by others and sent viral. Case in point monitor! If you have additional suggestions, or stories on why to monitor: your brand, industry, clients or competitors, please comment below.


Boost Your Brand: 5 Things to Remember about Self Promotion

Self promotion campaigns are a great way to re-connect with your customers and reach out to new prospects.

As a promotional products distributor, you know better than anyone the power of our industry.  The power of the products available to consumers to showcase their brand and create a lasting impact.  That’s why using those same products in terms of your own self-promotion is a great way reach new customers and cement enduring relationships with your current ones.


Still not sure?  Here’s a look at 5 reasons promotional products work as distributor self-promotion:


1.  Self Promotion campaigns open the line of communication and promote a favorable image.  They are a great way to re-connect with existing customers throughout the year, gently reminding them you are available to lend a hand for any current and upcoming projects and showing appreciation for past business.  They are also a tremendous tool for reaching potential clients who may be unaware of your service abilities.  All while leaving a positive and lasting impression!


2.  Samples sell and self-promoting products pull double duty!  We all know that by placing a physical sample into your customer’s hands, the chances of them positively responding increase.  They are able to examine it more closely and determine if the product can meet their own branding needs.  And it keeps your name on the forefront when they are ready to take action.  It’s also a great way to showcase products they may not even know are available through you, as a promotional products distributor.


3.  Using promotional products to boost your own brand is a proven, cost-effective way of marketing your company with minimum work.  Suppliers understand the importance of self promotion, in terms of how their distributors market both themselves and the products they sell.  Many suppliers offer discounts and specials to distributors using their products as part of self-promotion campaigns, understanding that these types of programs create interest in their line as well.  Sales for distributors equal sales for the suppliers.  This makes the investment in time and money worth it.  Self promo campaigns are a business expense that is easily justified by the possibility of future sales.


4.  Self-promotion projects promote year-round interest.  Many distributors reach out towards the end of the year, using self promotion to drive in sales in the fourth quarter – and at the same time they say “Happy Holidays” or “Thank you for your business this year”.  And although promotion like this is definitely beneficial, utilizing this type of project throughout the year is a great reminder to your customers that they are not limited by product or time-frame.  They are often expecting to receive something during the fall and winter months, so why not stand-out from the crowd and surprise throughout the rest of the year too!  It serves to encourage them to think outside the box and take note of the vast selection of products at their disposal.


5.  You are the best endorsement for the products you sell!  Using the same products you offer to your customers, in your own promotional endeavors, is a great way to show that you stand behind the products and service.  You understand the impact these products can make, and placing them in the hands of your client shows that you are willing to do what you are asking of them.  If you are willing to put your name on them, so will your customers.


K503-Executive Jelly Bean Dispenser- Assortment

Contact our Customer Service Team for special Self Promotion Pricing on our Executive Jelly Bean Dispenser!

Maple Ridge Farms understands that the relationship with our distributors is truly a partnership, and we want to help you “Strut Your Stuff”!  We offer special pricing for self-promo orders, as well as deeply discounted pricing on featured items throughout the year.  Contact our team at for more information, including details on the current promotion showcasing our Executive Jelly Bean Dispenser! through April 30th, 2015.

Anatomy of Food Gift Customers

Sales of MRF products by industry Pie ChartFood gifts can be a tricky sale for a simple reason: a large number of clients don’t realize that they can get their food gifts from you as a promotional products distributor.  Instead, they buy direct from mail-order and internet companies, or big box stores.  Food gifts are a multi-billion dollar annual business, but only a fraction of that goes through the promotional products industry.  Often, it’s up to you to educate clients on the availability of food gifts, but where do you start?  Whether you’re working with existing or new clients, there are some industries we’ve found through years of analysis of Maple Ridge Farms orders to be more apt to purchase food gifts.

Consistently, financial services are the top purchasers of food gifts, with approximately 28% of sales.  Of these, banks take the top spot with 15% of sales.  Don’t limit yourself to banks, though!  Frequent buyers also include credit unions, investment funds, financial planners, brokers, and title companies.  There are countless opportunities for these clients to utilize food gifts—they’re not just for holidays!  We frequently hear of these clients using food gifts for a closing gift, as an appreciation gift (whether for years of services, continued business during inconvenient circumstances, or a new account), or a gift in gratitude for referrals.

Healthcare services are also a top performer, at around 11% of sales. This covers everything from hospitals to medical equipment providers, from dental services to insurance companies—and more!  Many healthcare providers are subject to federal regulations regarding the acceptance of gifts, but food gifts—especially if they’re to be shared in a department—are generally an exception, making them a great option for those tricky situations.  There are also many special days of appreciation and awareness that provide opportunities to present food gifts, including Doctor’s Day, Health Day, Nurse’s Week, and Chiropractic Health Month.

Trade contractors such as construction, electrical, or plumbing companies account for another 8%.  Referral gifts are great for these companies, but we also find that gifts for new home owners on the first day in their new house are a popular option.  Best of all, these can be sent as-needed by Maple Ridge Farms—contact a Gift Specialist about our release programs for more information.

Freight and transportation companies come in at 8% of food gift sales, and oil-related companies at 6%.  Our line of collectible wooden vehicles is extremely popular with these companies, whether as holiday, referral, or thank-you gifts.  We add new vehicles every year, so be certain to check our website or keep an eye out for our 2015 catalog around the beginning of July for new options!

Manufacturers come in at 7% of sales.  We’ve found that incentive gifts are particularly popular with these clients, such as a reward for meeting a quota.  Food gifts are also great as room gifts for tradeshow attendees, and as gifts for employees at sales meetings or company parties.  Don’t forget our line of custom-labeled individually wrapped items for tradeshow hand-outs, too!

Finally, property management companies account for 4% of sales.  These offer many opportunities for a variety of orders, particularly resident gifts.  Generally, property management companies have multiple buildings with many clients at each, whether residential or commercial.  In addition to holiday gifts, food gifts make great welcome gifts for new tenants.

This isn’t to say that food gifts can’t be sold to other industries, of course—there is still a hefty chunk of sales in other industries that don’t factor into these.  We’ve simply found that these historically are the most frequent buyers, so try these companies if you’re looking for somewhere to start selling food gifts!

Have you found that a particular industry or company type buys more food gifts through you?  Let us know in the comments!

Sense and Sensibility – Using All 5 Senses to Promote Your Brand

Using all 5 senses in your marketing strategies helps your customers to truly connect with the product and ensure longer lasting brand recognition.

According to Merriam-Webster, sense is defined as “one of the five natural powers (touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing) through which you receive information about the world around you.” And sensibility as “the kinds of feelings that you have when you hear, see, read, or think about something”.

The use of promotional products in conjunction with standard multi-media is the only way to evoke all five of those powerful senses, and extend the upper-hand to your customers. Consumers can see and hear ordinary advertising. But can they feel them? Smell them? Taste them? Promotional products can help do just that. Here are five ways to appeal to consumers that simply are not achievable with other advertising strategies:

The Make It Happen Industry

BrainstormingAt Maple Ridge Farms, we have a saying: We are the Make It Happen team.  It’s not just us, though—the promotional products industry is all about making things happen!  Whether it’s help with an unconventional request or keeping abreast of industry concerns, there are several resources out there to help you do just that.

Fun Facts from the Farm! – Maple Ridge by the Numbers!


Check out the 2014 Year in Review!

2014 was an eventful and exciting year.  And we have you to thank for it…  our wonderful distributors, your customers, and our devoted staff.  Together we tackled the craziness of another season, and together we were able to bring a bounty of delicious gourmet food gifts to recipients across the country.

Now it’s time to look back and reflect on the trends in product and services from the previous season, and we love to share the news.  So, what’s in a number?  Let’s take a look… 

Interview with Tom Riordan from Maple Ridge Farms

This blog article was originally posted on the commonsku blog on December 17, 2014, and written by Jen Vaughn of commonsku.


The future is bright as long as we continue to bring value to our customers.

What is your role at Maple Ridge Farms?

I am the owner and its President.

When did you know that you wanted to go into the promotional products industry and what was the path you took to get here?

That’s an interesting story.

We started as a local, direct sales company. In an attempt to develop national distribution, we tried commissioned reps (that failed) and direct mail (we were fairly successful but not sophisticated enough to understand that we were successful).

Our banker introduced us to his brother in law, Bob Leklem, who worked for K-Promotions, a large distributor from Milwaukee. Bob told us about the “ad specialty” marketplace. Since we were branding company logos on our cheese boxes, it sounded like a good fit.

He introduced us to a multi-line rep from Chicago, Paul Rizzo, who brought us into the industry in 1982. So it was not a matter of wanting to get into the promotional products industry, it was more or less a case of backing into it.

What do you see as the future of the industry?

I think the future is bright as long as we continue to bring value to our customers.

What are some of the challenges that you have communicating with distributors and how do you think we as an industry can overcome them?

For many years, most of our communication with distributors was via telephone. That allowed for lots of things to get lost in translation. The fax machine, and to a much greater degree email, allows for more written communication. I’m a big believer in clear, succinct, written communication. Less things get lost in translation.

What does it take to bring a new product to market and how does Maple Ridge approach new products and categories?

New products are frequently driven by distributor requests. Custom products, items not found in the product line, represent about 25% of our business.

Many times, a custom item we create for a distributor ends up in our product line. An example of that is our tremendously successful line of gift towers made from pillow top gift boxes. An end buyer “demanded” that we build their towers out of pillow top gift boxes. We told the distributor why we did not think it would work. The buyer wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. We used the pillow top boxes for their order and, with the distributor’s o.k., added the pillow top towers to our product line.

Today they’re the most popular tower design we offer.
How do you know when it’s time to introduce a new category or eliminate a category?

By watching trends in retail, we can see when it’s time to introduce a new category.

For example, a few years ago, we noticed more and more mail-order companies offering fresh-baked cookies. We added cookies in 2007, and since that time have sold over 10 million cookies!

When it comes to eliminating products or categories, that’s relatively easy. We just watch the sales trends of a product or category. When you see sales of an item or category going down, not just in one year, but for a few years, it’s time to jump ship and move on to something else.

You are the largest company in America specializing in corporate food gift programs, what do you think has been most important to your company in growing and maintaining that top spot?

Three things:

  • Innovation
  • Service
  • Marketing tools

Continuing to come up with new food products and new packaging is always important. Providing our customers with excellent customer service is a given. And, developing tools to help distributors market food gift programs to their customers is very important too.

What is the best management decision that you’ve ever made?

This isn’t exactly a management decision but a management idea. In 1979 was selling wooden boxes to the cheese industry for gift packaging. I would imprint the cheese company’s logo on the lid of the wooden box. One night, while I was imprinting box lids for a large, national cheese company, I had an idea. If I put a local company’s logo on the lid of the box and filled it with cheese, I’d have a great executive gift. As they say, the rest is history!

What is the worst management decision that you’ve ever made?

Building a new 85,000 square foot facility just before the “Great Recession.”

What would you do differently if you had the opportunity to start again fresh?

I am not sure.

About commonsku:  commonsku is complete promotional products business and sales software. It has all of the software tools you need to run a modern promotional products business. commonsku is unique to the industry as it is the only community where suppliers and distributors gather to help each other close more business. Learn more at

2014: A Year in Review

2014-in-Review2014 was a great year for innovations and new opportunities here at Maple Ridge Farms.  We introduced handy new marketing tools and expanded our product line, all while maintaining the same great service you’ve come to expect from us.  Here are a couple of things you may have missed:

Is there still time?


Is there still time to place your holiday order? We say “Yes!”

This time of the season gets hectic for everyone, customers, distributors, and suppliers alike, and as part of the Promotional Products industry, we all get asked these questions every day:  “Is there still time to place an order?” and “What’s my cut-off for holiday shipping?”

The answers are simple:  “Yes!” and “There isn’t one!” respectively.  And here are a few reasons why those are our answers here at Maple Ridge Farms: 

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