Our recent interview with Eric Anderson, Sales Director for the PMC incentive division of Almo reminded us of a serious challenge that we, the associations and our fellow media in the rewards and recognition business, should all remember: This is still an unknown business.

Despite Incentive Federation research indicating U.S. companies spend over $50 billion on rewards, almost no one I’ve met outside of our business has ever heard of it. In our interview, Anderson points out that it amazes him how many businesses buy rewards bulk at retail simply because they don’t know any better. He said he has seen situations where one department in a company is buying through the special markets channel while others shop at retail. Even if in some cases retail is price competitive with the special markets channel, he said that the extra services and convenience far outweigh the benefits of using most retail solutions for merchandise rewards. In that same interview, Anderson made another unrelated comment that might help explain how this remains the case: this is a much smaller industry than we think.

Working for one of the largest wholesale distributors active in the incentive business, carrying a large percentage of the leading brands and only selling through intermediaries, Anderson suspects his company does business with most of the leading incentive, recognition, loyalty and related companies in the marketplace. So how many serious volume resellers are there really, we asked? His answer: probably under 500 companies. Compare that with the advertising industry, in which there are estimated to be at least 8,000 firms, or the promotional products business, with over 20,000.

Over the years, some of our industry organizations and trade magazines have undertaken various efforts to make businesses aware of our marketplace, usually focusing on the importance of using incentive programs, and they should be supported whenever possible.

Perhaps it’s time to undertake an effort with an even simpler message: Businesses can get better price and service for most reward programs through the special markets channel than they can through retail.

After all, everybody likes a deal.

Written by Bruce Bolger