Merchandise, Marketing, and More

Promotions Unlimited
Written by Claire Suttles

Promotions Unlimited provides the products and services that mom and pop businesses need to successfully compete with the big chains. “We have always been a company that roots for the independent retailer,” says President of Sales Ellen Phelps.
“We love the independents. We are very passionate about giving all independents an opportunity to compete.”

The 40 year old, family owned business supplies marketing services and retail merchandise to a range of stores and distributors across America and overseas, from drug stores, variety stores, and hardware stores to grocery stores and craft stores. The company makes quality product affordable for these independent retailers. “Without our buying power they could not buy these items on their own,” Ms. Phelps explains. The team is happy to cater to the smallest store, even if this means selling smaller amounts of product than is standard. “We deal with stores of many different sizes – from 1,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet – so we are very flexible for the independent. We break selling units for them so they don’t have to buy full cases of product with us. We want them to buy what they feel they can sell.”

Promotions Unlimited reaches customers through two different programs. The first is the Monthly Pre-book Program, which provides seasonal and everyday items in advance. “Every month we come out with a different catalog with anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 products. [We have] completely different products each month; we turn our warehouse 12 times a year for this program.” For example, buyers can pre-purchase Valentines products for February, Easter and spring related items for March, and Christmas products for December, “along with a mix of everyday consumables at great prices that can compete with the chains.”

Promotions Unlimited creates circulars, coupon books, and other advertising vehicles to match this rotating catalog of products in order to provide the specific marketing that stores need for each month’s selection.

The company’s second program is the Immediate Ship Program. Customers order products when they want them, rather than planning months in advance. “Order today, we ship it tomorrow.” Originally a dollar item program, the company recently added 5,000 items that sell for over a dollar. “A lot of the stores were asking us to provide everyday departments for them for their general merchandise needs,” Ms. Phelps explains. Customers will find virtually any everyday item needed – including name brand products – from baby supplies, office supplies, and As Seen on TV products, to licensed goods and pet supplies.

Promotions Unlimited sets itself apart by offering far more than the product itself. “A lot of companies sell product; we also provide programs to help the stores move the product.” In addition to providing circulars and coupon books, this marketing support includes in-store signage, direct mailing, and more. “We are even coming out with a custom email program where the stores could create their own email ad on our site and we will email [that ad] out to customers. We provide them email addresses for customers in their trading area if they haven’t collected email addresses on their own.” Retailers can also purchase decoration kits for virtually any season or occasion, from Back to School and Halloween to Christmas and Mothers Day. In addition, the company creates planograms to help retailers organize and display merchandise in the most effective way. “We’ve gone in and helped set up a whole store before with our planograms,” says Ms. Phelps.

The company’s advertising services are key to moving product. “You are going to be the best kept secret in town unless you let your customers know what you have. The chains advertise every week. We try to help these independents and give them the tools so they can compete and get the word out about the great deals that they have going on in their stores… We try to provide as many services as possible to help them sell more product.”

The company is in the process of rolling out an exciting new service to provide independent retailers with even more support. The new digital eCommerce solution, CMainStreet, will make it easy for independent retailers to sell online. “Internet shopping is a growing business and we wanted to find a way to help our brick and mortar stores move to the Internet shopping world,” Ms. Phelps explains. The team creates a website for a customer or simply adds a link to a customer’s existing website that says ‘Shop Online Now.’ “When the consumer clicks on that link, it takes them to a fulfillment site that actually still looks like the store’s site.” The site has a stunning range of product: 50,000 craft items, 30,000 hardware items, 10,000 general merchandise products, and 10,000 art supply items. “So now a 2,000 square foot pharmacy can be a 100,000 square foot store to their customers online. They can start offering a wider variety of products to their customers now.”

The team takes care of all the details, from packaging to shipping, making ecommerce hassle-free for retailers. “The store makes profit on the sales without ever having to touch the product. All we ask is that they advertise their website in their store.” CMainStreet is still in its early stages, but several hundred stores have already signed up. “We are getting a lot of really great feedback from the stores,” Ms. Phelps shares.

After 40 years in business, Promotions Unlimited continues to be a family affair. “We are a family business. My parents started the company and they are still involved in the company. I have a sister and two brothers who are involved. I have a daughter and a son-in-law who are involved.” Being family run gives the company remarkable flexibility. “We can actually make decisions on the spot. In a lot of corporate businesses, you have to go up the chain of command. Our whole family is very accessible to our employees. We are all very hands-on. So if there is an issue or if there is a new item that a store would like us to carry, [that request] gets to the right people to make it happen.”

This flexibility and hands-on approach allows Promotions Unlimited to evolve with the marketplace to continually offer customers what they want. “We are always adding new items,” Ms. Phelps remarks. This vast array of stock is held in the company’s 500,000 square foot headquarters located in Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin. The facility’s 75,000 square foot showroom displays products so that buyers can get a firsthand look. “We invite stores to come visit us and they can see three or four months of products from our monthly program and then they can see our everyday program that is set up all the time. We do that because, in a catalog, sometimes people can’t grasp the quality of the product.”

The team is so sure of the company’s products that they cover the cost of a new customer’s visit to the showroom. “We fly one person in per store. We pay for airfare, hotel, food, transportation.” Promotions Unlimited hosts two major shows a year, one in April that displays fall, winter and Christmas products, and one in October that displays Easter, spring and summer items. The most recent show brought in 750 stores to view the merchandise, and next month’s show is expected to be equally successful. “It is nice for the store because they can come in and they can knock three or four months out at one time and also see all of the items that we have added in our everyday program.” If buyers can’t make it to one of the two shows each year, they are welcome to drop by the showroom at their convenience. “We have stores coming through all the time,” Ms. Phelps reports. “We always have two or three months on display in our showroom for them to see.”

After four decades of supporting independent retailers, Promotions Unlimited continues to be a reliable source for a range of affordable, quality product. “From Crest toothpaste to Christmas trees, we have it in quantities that [independents] can turn.” And, the team will make sure that these products are marketed effectively. “We will help anyone with what they are looking for.” Ms. Phelps summarizes. “We are going to help the stores succeed.”



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