At 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.
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…
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?
- 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 www.commonsku.com.
2014 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:
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:
Last minute ordering
If you have seen a trend towards later ordering of holiday gifts with your clients, you are not alone. Our experience shows that people are choosing to place holiday orders later every year. In 1999 50% of our holiday gift orders were placed after Nov. 8. In 2013 the half way cut off was November 15. How can you partner with suppliers to secure these late season orders?
We all want to do business with ethically, socially, and environmentally responsible companies. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is good business! Doing business with responsible companies leads to higher standards in safety, quality and integrity of products, ensuring satisfied customers and employees.
With the hectic schedule that most of us endure during the holiday rush, many people do not have the opportunity to take the time to hand-deliver gifts to their customers, employees, and other business associates – although they wish they could! Have you ever come into the holiday rush season and realized that your conference room is bursting at the seams with gifts that need to be delivered or shipped? Do your customers depend upon you to ship their gifts to their clients?
Take a moment and check in with your supplier! Some, like the team here at Maple Ridge Farms, offer to individually ship gifts directly to the recipients, saving both you and your customer time and money. If you haven’t taken advantage of this service from Maple Ridge Farms, here are a few reasons to give it some thought…
It’s an unfortunate fact that many buyers don’t realize that they can order their holiday food gifts from you as a distributor—they just don’t know that it’s a service you offer. This can send them straight into the arms of the retail market, where they can find inexpensive holiday gifts. Don’t lose hope! There are ways to combat the direct-sellers:
Are you using video to get the word out about what you have to offer? Here are some compelling statistics to think about when marketing promotional products or other business needs: According to comScore, which measures online engagement and use, 90% of online shoppers said that they find video helpful in making buying decisions. The average user spends 16 minutes and 49 seconds watching online video ads every month. Forbes reports that 75% of executives watch work-related videos on business websites at least once a week, and 65% have visited a vendor’s website after watching a video.
Our industry is brimming with creative people, and there are some fun and interesting videos out there. Free PromoTips regularly shares supplier spotlights and product videos, and who hasn’t enjoyed Promo Marketings video battles? Many suppliers are on the ball and offer a multitude of product videos.
There seems to be 2 schools of thought from the distributor’s perspective on how these videos are best delivered: branded with the supplier’s name, or unbranded. Dale Denham wrote an interesting blog article on this topic which sparked active discussions on social media.
Recognizing that both schools of thought have credibility we decided to offer both options: unbranded and branded videos. Our unbranded videos show the benefits of sending food gifts to their clients and employees and are hosted on sites that do not reference the brand Maple Ridge Farms. The end message on all these videos is “Contact your promotional product professional today.” These videos are hosted on Food Gifts YouTube site.
Since we started over 35 years ago we have only sold through the promotional products industry. Some distributors wish to bank upon our outstanding reputation for providing high quality food gifts and outstanding service. So we offer the same video, with the same message, followed by the Maple Ridge Farm’s logo. We have hosted these on Vimeo and well as a separate Maple Ridge Farms YouTube channel.
Take your pick on what works for you as a distributor. Most videos are between 30 and 40 seconds in length, and all focus on the benefits of giving food gifts. Click here for a full listing of our videos with links. This list is also available on our Distributors only section of the Maple Ridge Farms website.
We hope that you will find our videos share worthy, and they bring awareness to what you as a distributor can offer your clients. We would love to hear from you for additional video ideas. In the meantime, take a look at what we have to offer, and pass on the word that you are the best source for your clients’ food gifts!