The Advertising Specialty Institute® (ASI) today announced total 2020 sales for North American promotional products distributors dropped nearly 20% in the most challenging year the industry has ever confronted. The year-over-year decline was better than expected at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to the industry’s pivot to personal protective equipment (PPE) and strong Q4 sales.
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Sales dropped, on average, by 19.8% in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the Distributor Quarterly Sales Survey from ASI, the largest membership organization in the promotional industry, with a network of over 25,000 distributors and suppliers.
“Everyone in the promotional products industry should be proud of the supreme effort everyone made throughout the global pandemic, with many suppliers producing critically-needed PPE products like face masks that helped save lives,” said ASI CEO Timothy M. Andrews.
Numerous companies especially hard hit by a year-long shutdown of trade shows, conferences, sporting events and fundraisers successfully pivoted from selling their trademark promo products to providing PPE like face covers, sneeze guards, distance dots and sanitizer displays. While distributors’ total annual sales of $20.7 billion marked the lowest collective tally since 2013, the industry’s pivot to PPE prevented a more precipitous year-over-year decline.
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PPE/hand sanitizer sales accounted for $6 billion in revenue in 2020 – or 29% of all industry sales. If PPE revenue was excluded from the total, distributor sales would have fallen 43% for the year.
In Q4 2020, traditionally promo’s strongest quarter, distributor sales were down just under 17% year-over-year, a significant improvement from the 44.4% plummet in Q2.
According to ASI, the industry’s largest distributors – those with revenue of more than $1 million – fared the best in 2020, with sales being down, on average, by 15.3% compared to 2019.
Sales of promo products are fueled by branded items like T-shirts, caps and pens that companies typically give away to promote their business, brand or event, or to thank employees or clients.
Industry sales in 2019 hit a record $25.8 billion, up 4.7% from 2018 and breaking a distributor sales record for the 10th consecutive year.
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