Posted on

The Pivot to PPE in the Promotional Products Industry

PPE traveling around the world to essential workers.

At a Glance

  • The promo industry developed an innovative process to get PPE to front lines in the fight against COVID-19
  • The process of supplying PPE has many obstacles, from blatant fraud to a market moving at warp speed
  • Successful companies have proven themselves through persistence, solid ethics, and relying on long-standing relationships

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is a key player in the story of the pandemic. Initially, resources and front line workers were desperate for protection in the fight against the virus. Gradually those in need received the PPE, but not through their usual sources.

The promotional products industry is marked by an entrepreneurial spirit that rose to get PPE into the hands of essential workers. Though successful, the drive to get PPE necessary to fight the virus has held many obstacles. To gain insight into this process we spoke with Molly Johnson of Direct Defense USA and Ian Fenn of Dragon Power Promotional Products. Both proved to be successful through persistence and transparency. We’re here to discuss ways:

Innovation of the Promo Industry

PPE isn’t a part of the Promotional Product Industry’s repertoire, so it’s a wonder how the industry got drafted with the task. However, Ian Fenn says it follows that an industry marked by flexibility and creativity began tracking down desperately needed products. The promo industry has a reputation for creatively finding new products. Fenn believes regular suppliers with established systems of supplying PPE for Hospitals couldn’t accommodate the high demand and lack of supply. With many hospitals and government agencies feeling desperate, Fenn says, “then came in the saviors, promotional products companies.”

Shifting a focus to PPE has proven successful for promo companies, Ian Fenn says, “at least 90 percent [of his sales] is now PPE, without it, I’d be in a bad spot.” This process wasn’t easy to join, Ian Fenn helped Dragon Power Promo pivot towards PPE after hearing a need from customers, then speaking to his usual suppliers of promo products about PPE. Molly Johnson entered the PPE realm through a different route. Johnson created Direct Defense USA after being called upon government agencies that were in need of PPE. Though initially she didn’t know what PPE was, Johnson and her team learned quickly to help many during the pandemic. Johnson says Direct Defense goes, “many layers deep to watch sellers operate and transact, making sure they were consistently doing what they said.” Through carefully vetting suppliers, Direct Defense has become a leader in the industry.

Combatants to the Selling Process

The cause to supply protection to those fighting COVID-19 should be easy but the process has many obstacles. High demand means the supply chain moves incredibly fast. Fenn says, “normally supply-demand forces would evolve over one or two years but now it’s weeks.” The life cycle of products like masks has shown that hyper demand outstrips supply leading to price increases. Then once the suppliers finally catch up, demand shifts to another product like nitrile gloves. This speedy evolution is hard to run alongside as PPE companies try to find the best products and prices.

On top of unprecedented market speed, many people view the desperate need for PPE as a money-making opportunity. In the PPE industry, buyers and suppliers don’t have time or resources to find one another, that’s why companies like Dragon Power Promo, Direct Defense, and Chotchkes work to connect the two. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple: plenty of brokers want a cut of the sale and willingly use fraud to profit.

Often brokers will attempt to gain a cut of the sale that’s far more than the product is even worth. People like Ian Fenn and Molly Johnson have learned to be suspicious of everything. Both require buyers to show proof of their intent to purchase or suppliers to show the products really exist.

Often, suppliers will claim a product exists on the ground in the U.S. to rope in a buyer. Then once a buyer has committed, this supplier will claim the product has been bought, only to get the buyer to agree to a production order at a higher price. Fenn has even found himself speaking with a fake buyer and fake supplier attempting to make a deal. He found it comical how they used similar tactics to pull the other into a deal. Thankfully, companies like Dragon Power Promo and Direct Defense report any suspicious activity. Johnson says, “We learned there’s a lot of nonsense out there. We learned better by continually chasing.”

Resilience through Relationships and Solid Ethics

Solid ethics and established relationships win in the battle to get PPE to the front lines, even with plenty of obstacles. Dragon Power Promo has been an established member of the promo industry for many years. Ian Fenn says he’s been able to track down good PPE suppliers through his 20-year business relationships. Direct Defense commits to maintaining strong ethics and offering support in tough times.

Johnson sticks to her high principle for ethics, even when its meant turning down business that didn’t feel 100% right. Though the practice may not seem like a savvy business tactic, it’s led to a flourishing business and a strong sense of trust. Now Johnson knows to only speak to the buyer or the person representing the buyer when making a deal.

Counter to those who attempt to make large fraudulent deals, Fenn says that if you, “find someone who’s ethics are safe you may make more money.” This business isn’t for the faint of heart. Fenn says “I’m working harder and thinking more sharply, it’s easy to go asleep thinking you’re on top of it.”

Wrap Up

The Promotional products industry has proven to be a key player in the search for PPE. Through hard work and strong ethics and relationships, companies like Dragon Power Promotional Products, Direct Defense and Chotchkes have proven to be key players in getting PPE to the front lines.

Brandnews is the official blog of Chotchkes.

Posted on

Chotchkes Trend: Home is Now the Hub

home is the hub of people's lives

At A Glance

  • In the current climate, people spend more time at home than ever before
  • This means customers are trending towards products that make their home a more livable space for work, rest, exercise and just hanging out
  • Your brand can turn a customer’s home from the place they have to be, to the place they want to be.

With everyone working from home these days, our spaces house a wide range of activities. Now our home has to hold our aspirations of producing great work and winding down after a long day. Many people are making upgrades and adjustments to their home to create an atmosphere that fosters personal and career success. This means you can create a more sustained presence in your customer’s life by integrating your brand with the home. Here are trends to watch for in the Promo industry that are all about making your home the hub of your life.

Seamless Transition

Now there’s no need to worry about your appearance in your workspace, except when you need to look decent from the waist up for a video meeting. For this reason customers want versatile clothes that feel and look good while getting work done, exercising, and lounging on the couch. Steer customers towards athleisure that can always fit what they are looking for. Collectively, people veer from items that feel complicated or uncomfortable. Customers want to seamlessly transition from one thing to the next.

Look for footwear that feels good around the house but functions well for walking the dog or making a trip to the grocery store. As people spend more time at home, slippers and slides are more sought after. Versatile house shoes can market your brand and make a constant appearance in the lives of your customers.

Capitalize on comfort

For many new work-from-homers, their office is actually their kitchen table or a not-so-comfortable desk that used to only exist as decoration. This means customers are looking for ways to feel at ease in their work environment and minimize distracting thoughts about an uncomfortable chair. Customers want products like a padded chair cushion, lumbar backrest or keyboard rests. These items will keep people feeling happily productive thanks to your brand’s comfortable additions.

As comfortable as your home can feel, people are always open to products that can increase their contentment. Consider ways to take a customer’s comfort to another level. Weighted blankets can decrease stress and anxiety, which helps when you can’t escape work stress because your home is also your office. Help people ease into a peaceful setting with a room diffuser. This item can help your customer feel focused or relaxed. Products like these will brand you as a companion to feeling content.

Environment to Thrive

Due to all the changes happening in the world, people don’t have their usual outlets to stay healthy mentally. This means customers want to make their homes a place to thrive in every aspect of their life. Focus on products that integrate wellbeing and ways to unplug, these products will show your brand cares about the customer completely. Highlight products that de-stress and ease the strain on your body from work. Think about products like blue light blocking glasses, that will help your customer keep unhealthy levels of blue light from their eyes so they can fall asleep at night after a long workday.

Products that also alleviate stress like a yoga mat or self-care items will help your customers switch gears and take a break. Emphasize ways to boost wellness and healthy habits at home. This means that when customers are missing their gym or spa, your brand can offer an outlet for boosting their well being.

Wrap Up

Current trends show that people want a home that is comfortable and fulfills every need. Be the brand that can make a customer’s home the ideal spot for every task. Following this trend will set you apart as a vital aspect of your customer’s life.

BrandNews is the official blog of

Posted on

Where to Start: Black Lives Matter

Black People United - Anti-Racist
Art by Queenbe Monyei @queenbemonyei

At a Glance

  • Chotchkes stands with Black Lives Matter and aims to be a leader in inclusivity
  • Education alone cannot turn us into Anti-racists, but it can help us understand why, and how we can move towards a better world
  • These resources can help us become more educated as we take informed action

Why it’s not Enough to be Not-Racist

Growing numbers want to understand how racism has and continues to flow through our systems. People felt shocked after hearing about the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and reacted with disbelief. However, many People of Color have accurately pointed out that recent events are not new. These tragedies reflect the reality of Black Americans. It’s positive to see people waking up, but white people need to join the collective that lies awake at night over racism.

Many want to learn how to be an ally to people of color and fight racism, but this education cannot replace active change. Reading about how to become an anti-racist cannot rid you of racism. Education cannot immediately produce change, but it can help us better understand why things need to change.

Reading about how to be an anti-racist or educating yourself on black history cannot replace the work required to eradicate racism. Moreover, the Black Lives Matter movement is not about self-improvement for white people, but lifting up and protecting people of color. Chotchkes stands with Black Lives Matter and is working to become a leader for change in the Promo space. Above all, we recognize that we have a ways to go, and recent events should not remain a single rally cry but a rising voice, resonating onward towards a better future.

We are sharing a list of stories and people to listen to in an effort to awaken ourselves and encourage others to do the same. These voices cannot do the inner work for you or me. These resources can help us all move towards being an anti-racist and an ally to people of color.

News To Follow

Because of them We Can highlight black leaders, good news, and inspiring stories in the black community. This news source works to shed light on positive change happening in the black community.

Podcasts worth hearing

Codeswitch is a podcast by NPR by journalists of color. They talk about the role of race in every aspect from pop culture to politics. COdeswitch includes everyone in the conversation and offers perspectives you may have overlooked.

Witness Black History is by BBC and interviews people around key moments of the civil rights movement. This podcast serves to open eyes to the black experience and the way these voices have been largely ignored by history books.

Books to read

How to use your difference to make a difference is written by Tayo Rockson, a black leader of a consulting firm. Rockson has given multiple ted talks on the subject of race. Rockson talks about how to be an ally of any person that you might consider “other.”

How to be an Anti-Racist has soared in popularity and become a critical book for the exploration and understanding of racism. Ibram X. Kendi reframes our thinking so that readers will leave understanding racism and how to oppose its hold on our society.

People to Follow

Ryan Williams is one of a few black CEO’s of a large company in the U.S. He uses his voice to call out broken systems of America and push industries towards change.

Glo is an author of creative content that focuses on learning about Anti-Racism and unpacking our implicit biases. Glo asks questions most are afraid to ask so readers can do the inner work required to bring outward change.

BrandNews is the official blog of

Posted on

Industry Trade Shows are Going Virtual: Here’s What to Expect

At a Glance

  • Virtual trade shows have become more sophisticated while in-person events are not possible.
  • Virtual trade shows may feel incomparable to in-person events, but for the current climate they offer great ways to collect leads, display products and establish new business relationships
  • Learning to adapt to the virtual platform will ensure your relevancy in the evolving economy and prosper your brand

With in-person events forgone for the foreseeable future, virtual trade shows offer an adaptation to quench our craving for interactions. Though the virtual substitute can’t replace those meaningful handshakes, they have many features that will spark new business relationships and generate sales. Here’s an idea of what we can expect from the platform and understand the impact on the promo industry, with help from Jessica Del Rio, the event manager for the upcoming Sage Show, a promotional products trade show.

Many Ways to Communicate

Virtual events offer a variety of ways to connect. Live showrooms have moments where exhibitors speak with more than one person at their showroom or lounges. Virtual events accomplish the same over group chat rooms, one on one chat and video call. In showrooms and lounges, you can speak to the room’s audience to address significant questions or break off into one to one meetings to discuss deals. In these One to One meetings, attendees can meet with distributors and talk specifics about products. At the Sage Show, everyone can also schedule meetings at a time outside the trade show. In addition to this, Sage will group people into lounge areas by local areas. This way, attendees feel a closer connection while remaining far apart.

More Attendees and More Data

Virtual events can allow for more attendees because the barrier to entry is lower: the cost or time involved with travel can’t impede anyone. Jessica Del Rio shared that Sage expects the same number of attendees at their virtual rendition of Sage Show. In addition, virtual events offer more data on who attended your panel, presentation, or showroom and how long they stayed. Every move within the virtual landscape is traceable. Through this data, exhibitors will walk away with an understanding of the pieces that make their brand successful, even though they may not feel a perceivable reaction from buyers through a screen. At the Sage Show, exhibitors will also receive chat logs so distributors can draw out useful tidbits from a conversation or read exactly what a potential buyer shared.

Sage World Show Lobby, Courtesy of Jessica Del Rio

Custom Booths and Showrooms

As a distributor, expect to work with specific software to create your showroom to display products, videos, and demos. This platform still allows your customers to walk through your unique landscape. Expect a 3D simulated environment that is entirely customizable. These spaces offer you the ability to put your brand name throughout and create demo areas. The Sage Show will have a leader board in the main lobby to tally up distributor interactions like initiating chat features or scanning their badge. Attendees will feel incentivized to get the most out of the experience.

Educational Sessions

Virtual trade shows do not compromise on insightful educational sessions for the industry. Some trade shows even allow for extended access to these sessions after the event. Though the Sage Show doesn’t plan to make speaker content available later, they have made it easy to enjoy the sessions during the show. Speakers pre-record their message so they can chat with attendees anytime throughout the show, and attendees don’t have to accommodate their schedule to attend.

Sage World Show Product Pavilion, Courtesy of Jessica Del Rio

Promotional Products Included

Though promo products can’t be passed out as readily in a virtual setting, there are ways to integrate promo into the experience. After an attendee finishes their visit to your booth, they can be promoted with a “thank you for attending” message with space to fill out their shipping info and choose a gift to receive later. This interplay won’t feel as spontaneous and exciting, but attendees will remember your interaction when they receive their free promo in the mail. Jessica Del Rio says the Sage Show allows potential buyers to request samples, which are easy to access because every item is in Sage World. They also plan to continue having a product pavilion with top products from the industry, that are “cool and fun” so everyone can stay on top of trends in the promotional world.

Secure Lead Capture and Payment

Virtual events allow lead capture to be faster, easier, and more reliable. Most platforms have systems in place to track attendees’ contact information and gather lists of buyers to follow up. At the Sage Show, an attendee can click to have their badge scanned when they enter the booth. This action will generate a lead for the supplier. Some platforms guarantee a minimum amount of leads. For any deals you want to make on the spot, virtual trade shows embed eCommerce platforms into the event to allow your brand to secure transactions at the end of a deal.

Extended access to Content

VIrtual Tradeshows are typically shorter, some as few as two hours. The Sage Show is six hours. Following the live event, some platforms allow participants can access any content they missed or revisit showrooms, panels, and presentations. Different trade show mediums offer varying levels of access to the information after the event and lengths of exposure, from 30, 60, to 90 days afterward. The Sage Show makes leads accessible to exhibitors any time after the show.


Virtual Trade Shows will feel different but can be a great asset to your brand. Expect the emergence of these events to create a safe option anytime a pandemic or natural disaster disrupts plans for in-person trade shows. Adapting to virtual shows can ensure your brand will prosper no matter the circumstance. These online experiences will also make you appreciate shared spaces and handshakes even more in the future.

BrandNews is the official blog of

Posted on

Which Face Mask Is Right for You?

At a Glance

  • Now everyone needs to wear a face mask but PPE guidelines can be confusing
  • Following the process of evaluating your needs, evaluating the mask and finding an efficient source can help you get the best PPE, for the best price and the quickest turnaround

COVID has changed the world’s perception of face masks, making them a regular part of everyone’s lives. With masks becoming a necessity, finding the mask that fits your needs has become more difficult. PPE can get in the hands of your team if you understand your needs, evaluate the right mask, and find a supplier that is committed to efficiency.

One thing is obvious in the PPE supply chain: medical professionals are still struggling to find adequate PPE and fulfill their needs promptly. The supply chain is working to produce more PPE for the sake of fighting the spread of COVID, but it is even more crucial to get the right PPE to healthcare workers as quickly as possible. To simplify the process of getting face masks, you should:

1. Evaluate Your Own Needs

Are you wanting to promote your brand? If you are a business and looking for a way to promote your brand, cloth masks provide safety and follow CDC guidelines for everyday use in public spaces. Though mask guidelines can be confusing, it’s clear medical-grade masks need to go to healthcare professionals. Your brand can still deliver high-quality protection with cloth face masks.

Are you working directly with COVID patients or providing care to potentially infected people? Surgical masks offer protection but do not filter .1 level microns. N95 masks are the optimal choice for healthcare workers, which is why these are in even shorter supply. KN95 masks pass standards created by China that are similar to N95. Some KN95 masks are approved for use by NIOSH and the CDC. If you’re curious about the capabilities of specific KN95, the CDC has tested most KN95 masks and published their findings. N95 masks are the optimal choice in the medical field but if these are out of sight, an approved KN95 mask can offer the right protection.

2. Evaluate the Mask

Searching for the best-branded cloth mask? Look for options that have more than one layer, offer room for a paper filter, and are washable. Breathable fabric and comfortable ear loops are ways to win big with your customers.

For medical-grade masks, you can easily make sure the face masks measure up. Every medical-grade mask receives an approval number by CDC or NIOSH. Approved PPE will have the approval number listed on the mask. Suppliers also show approval information in their description, whether the mask is made in the states or abroad. If you are concerned about the legitimacy of a mask, there are ways to identify counterfeit masks. The CDC and NOSH have done the work to ensure that you will have the resources to evaluate any possible masks and put them through the test. Be sure to do your homework so your team can be protected well.

3. Find the Most Efficient Source

For cloth masks, many suppliers are at the ready and offer great options. Be sure to ask about the timeline for receiving the face masks. If a great mask will take a long time to arrive at your doorstep it is not a great mask. Prioritize efficiency.

Receiving your PPE quickly is as high of a priority as finding the right mask. Masks that are on the ground in the U.S. might be able to ship more quickly, but they can be harder to locate. Masks in China will take longer to arrive, but in many cases these suppliers are easier to find and more prepared to ship. Both options will provide you with effective, sterile equipment. Consider both options and be ready to act once you find the right supplier.


Information about PPE is ever-evolving. The world is trying to find the most effective and efficient way of getting PPE in the hands of healthcare professionals. The CDC and NIOSH are committed to keeping us informed and guiding us through the process. By evaluating your PPE needs, assessing the mask you find, and finding an efficient supplier, you can offer the best equipment for fighting coronavirus together.

BrandNews is the official blog of