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February 2008
Idea Generators
By Janet Kropinak

    In an age where e-mails are prevented from reaching their intended recipients and television commercials are automatically fast forwarded before they even begin, deciding the best places to spend your marketing dollars has become more challenging than ever. Companies are left searching for new and innovative ways to spread their message and brand their name to potential and existing clients.

     Enter Max Daniel, who has made a career out of selling solutions through his promotional marketing business, MaxMpact. Whether it is in the form of a printed T-shirt, an embroidered polo, coffee mug or custom stationery, Daniel and his staff can help your company get its name out in the Charlotte marketplace and beyond.

 

Finding a Niche

    When Daniel founded Corporate Data Products (later shortened to Corp Data Products), a computer supplies product company, in 1984, he was hoping to fill a niche in the market. But in the following years, because of standardization and commoditization of products, he decided to diversify his business and its offerings.

    “We began distribution of hundreds of various sizes, colors, and number of parts of computer papers for different applications, and then people began requesting customization. Almost once we began this business, we evolved into custom forms. Other print products became the next logical step,” remembers Daniel. “This was really a logical progression from where we were to where we wanted to go, and was our foray into the promotional marketing business,” he explains.

     Following this decision, Daniel continued to see the demand of these personalized jobs increase and wisely shifted focus to expanding their distribution of promotional and specialty products, which has since become a $19 billion industry nationally.

In 2006, Daniel decided to rebrand the business as MaxMpact, to more accurately reflect its mission.

    Focusing efforts on business-to-business marketing, MaxMpact has a team of sales representatives that average over 20 years of experience in the industry. “We look for people with desire, creativity and the ability to build long-lasting relationships with our clients,” he explains. “Everyone on our team is hands-on through the entire process, from concept to delivery.”

    Daniel is quick to clarify that they aren’t in the business of merely selling products, but instead look for companies where they can both add value and help enhance image. “We like to think of ourselves as a marketing arm to the company,” Daniel affirms. “We aren’t in this business to sell 1,000 pens at the lowest cost, we are looking for the most efficient ways to help a company brand themselves and gain further name recognition, which is an invaluable service.”

    Daniel explains that branding and name recognition is essential in today’s competitive market and something every company needs to think seriously about. “Whether it’s building morale within their own company, creating give-a-ways for a tradeshow, designing a Christmas gift for their customers, launching a new product or holding a golf event, we can help these companies build upon their brand,” Daniel explains.

    The importance of branding cannot be understated. According to a study by the  Promotional Products Association International, “Promotional products have a positive impact on brand image. Brand image is a mental impression that reflects the way a brand in perceived, including all the identifying elements, the products or companies’ personality, and the emotions and associations evoked in the consumer’s mind.”

 

Partnering for Success

    According to Daniel, the first thing to remember when thinking about the promotional marketing business is that perception is reality.

    “That is what makes this a $19 billion industry; people are looking for ways to better their image, whether it is to their clients, potential clients, vendors, or their employees. It’s a service that everyone can benefit from,” he explains. “We are helping clients improve their image through the use of various marketing products.”

    Upon initial meeting, the sales representative will do a complete needs analysis, which helps the rep become familiar with the companies objectives. This is followed by a brainstorming session which eventually leads to the initial concept and design of a product. “It is our job to help our clients generate an idea and develop that into something tangible,” he says.

    Seeing their relationship with clients as more of a partnership, the sales team is involved in all steps of the process. After a concept is decided on, they participate in the planning and execution. “From development to fulfillment of the order, we are involved in all of it,” affirms Daniel.

     He goes on to explain that the first step in making a sale is often winning over the client “emotionally” before selling them on the product itself. “We can show someone 100 items, but it is usually the one that gets an initial reaction from them that they end up going with. And that is usually true with all marketing.”

    In keeping true with the idea of a partnership, Daniel insists that their job isn’t to push the product; instead they use the pull method, engaging their customers into the buying process by identifying their needs and capitalizing on their objectives.

    Another responsibility Daniel sees for his staff is educating their customers on what is new in the market and what is going to get them the most recognition. “We are doing the leg work, we are researching thousands of products and bringing to the table a small selection of what we think will work best in accomplishing their objectives,” explains Daniel. “This frees up a lot of time and stress from our clients.”

    Making sure they are on top of the trends is crucial for the MaxMpact staff. “Right now, we are seeing a shift toward digital items. iPod accessories, flash drives and digital photo frames are all very hot right now. Green items, made from recycled products are also on the rise,” says Daniel.

    “You can never forget about the old mainstays like writing instruments and stationery, those are still some of our best sellers. Apparel also holds a large share of our business and accounts for nearly 30 percent of our revenue. But now, we are seeing a lot of environmental friendly clothing and performance fabrics options coming into play, so adaptability is key in knowing what products to push.”

    Daniel emphasizes that this is a knowledge-based business, so one of the most important elements in being successful is making sure you stay knowledgeable despite an ever changing market.

 

Competitive Edge

    In addition to their strong focus on customer service, Daniel says it isn’t the only factor in his business success. “One of our biggest assets is our showroom,” he says proudly. In 1989 they built a 25,000-square-foot facility in Charlotte from which they can promote and showcase over 1,700 vendors, making it one of the largest in the Southeast.

    “This is something you can’t get from a catalog. We are really able to show our customers options and let them see what they are buying before they buy it,” says Daniel. “Having the ability to touch and hold an item before you buy it is such a large advantage.”

    In addition to catalog sales, online promotional marketing sites are also vying for marketing dollars. Noting the problems with Internet sales, Daniel also acknowledges the advantages it has brought to the industry. “Going digital has really made our jobs a lot easier. From exchanging information to placing orders and receiving proofs, it really has cut down on the paperwork. But it still isn’t able to offer any guidance to the purchaser, and that is where we come in.”

    Customers who choose to purchase items from a catalog or off the Internet are missing out on the expertise that the sales team can bring to the table. “We are able to walk them through the details; we understand printing, four-color process, bleeds, registration, and embossing. We are also able to offer direction and assistance with the design of their product from our creative team,” he says. “We strive to help our customers do it right the first time. This is a customized solution they are buying and there is no room for error in this business.”

    This drive to satisfy their customers has helped MaxMpact build long-term relationships with many of its clients. “We approach everyone with a ‘customers for life’ mentality. And that really seems to work for us,” Daniel states.

    Another advantage MaxMpact has is its size. The business is small enough to remain focused on the details and make sure things aren’t falling through the cracks, but large enough to handle national accounts. Their size also helps reduce costs to their customers because they are able to purchase larger quantities than some smaller operations.

    Additionally, the ability to store merchandise in their local onsite warehouse is another service that the majority of their competitors cannot offer.

 

Moving Forward

    When it comes to a business plan for 2008, Daniel aims high as he lays out his goals.

    “We had a lot of changes go on this past year—building renovations and new phone systems—which have really helped position us for growth this year,” he states. “We are looking to grow our revenues by 30 percent in 2008.”Though he is quick to admit that a few additional sales and support staff will aid in making this goal happen.

    “We are looking to add to our customer service staff, which will allow our sales reps more time with the clients and less time doing research, which will in turn help increase our sales volume.”

    Daniel and his staff attend trade shows throughout the year, including four national shows, including one catered to the PGA, and monthly vendor shows that come through Charlotte. This allows them to stay on top of the newest trends and products.

    “An important factor of success in this business knowing when a product needs to be replaced and also knowing what to replace it with,” he says.

    To showcase their findings to potential customers, MaxMpact holds quarterly open houses, where customers can tour their showroom to gain ideas for their own marketing needs. They also have the opportunity to see new offerings and talk to the sales representatives and vendors about future projects.

    Our open houses have been instrumental in our success, they really give people an idea about all the offerings out there,” says Daniel.

    Over the past 24 years, MaxMpact has provided marketing strategies, branding concepts, employee awards, sales incentives, and motivational programs. According to Daniel, MaxMpact has gained a spot in the top three percent in sales volume nationally among the industry.

    Priding themselves on partnering with clients through originality, creative listening, thinking outside the box, and hard work, Daniel is able to summarize their success in a complicated industry with just three simple words, “Price, quality and service.”
Janet Kropinak is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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