How to Become a Promotional Products Distributor

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Competitive distributors include both Fortune 500 companies and mom-and-pop businesses with one or two employees. Starting a distributorship, though, is not the same as keeping one running. Success requires smart business planning, industry education and membership in industry organizations that provide education and assist company growth.

Create a business plan. All promotional products distributors should have one to secure bank loans and project growth. While each plan is different, they should all include a description of the business, overview of the market, financial planning information, management structure and all supporting documents.

Join the nonprofit Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) or the for-profit Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI). Neither is required, but membership will increase the likelihood for success. Both organizations increase revenue by providing various resources, such as tools for finding the right product, discounts on shipping, artwork transfer services, credit reports and industry statistics for business planning.

Attend a promotional industry trade show. These events bring suppliers together to exhibit their products to attending promotional products distributors. It’s a quick way to connect with many different suppliers at once, establish relationships and see what new products are available. Larger trade shows also include a day of seminars covering a variety of topics of interest to distributors.

Find potential customers. Any business that uses advertising is a potential customer to a promotional products distributor, from the local coffee shop to the biggest Fortune 500 company. Another way to get a foot in the door is to join your local chamber of commerce, which is made up of other local businesses. Also target potential clients with mailings that include samples of new promotional products.

Find the right product. Once a client is found, choosing the right product depends on knowing the client’s needs, creativity and price point. Also consider turnaround time. No matter how great a product or its price, if the supplier can’t deliver the product when the client needs it, it’s worthless.

Start a relationship with a supplier. Doing business with a supplier is simple, if you are a PPAI or ASI member. They both assign a unique identification number to each promotional products distributor. These numbers tell a supplier a company is a trustworthy distributor and not an end buyer trying to secure wholesale pricing. The numbers are not essential but they will make relationship building easier. Without one, some supplier may decline an order.


Most promotional products suppliers give distributors 30 days to pay an invoice.

New distributors often need to pay up-front or pay a deposit on initial orders.

Supplier catalogs and websites often use price codes to disguise the prices of their products from end buyers. Learning these codes is part of the education process of becoming a distributor.


Many suppliers source and manufacture products overseas. That may tempt some promotional products distributors to go direct, but that can be disastrous. Suppliers have relationships with these manufacturers and on-site personnel to ensure product quality and timely shipping. Without that oversight, the order becomes a gamble.