Branding Yourself With

Starting a company is just one step in a long list of many things you need to do if you want to succeed. Promoting yourself is another, and that is where can help.

Branders offers a variety of products for you to choose from. Once you’ve decided on the product you’d like to put your “brand” on, add your logos, receive a quote, and make your order. Of course, this company once had to start at the beginning, too. I recently spoke with co-founder and CEO, Jerry McLaughlin, about his company.

Tell us about

Branders is the largest and lowest-priced online promotional products company in the world. We’re headquartered in Mountain View, California, with offices in The Philippines and China. Our aim is to help small businesses and nonprofits build their brands, at a price they can afford and with the kind of personalized attention and service we believe every customer deserves. We put logos on everything from pens, mugs, and t-shirts to office supplies, candy, and games. Our customers know that when it comes to marketing bang for the buck, promotional items are one of their best tools.

Who founded the company?

I founded Branders back in 1999 with three of my friends and colleagues. My partners have moved on to other businesses, but I’m still here—and loving it.

What inspired it?

My co-founders and I saw an opportunity to revolutionize the promotional products industry by bringing it online, so that customers could shop from the convenience of their homes or offices. We also saw how technology could improve the buyer experience. Traditionally, this sector has relied on traveling salespeople visiting potential customers in their offices, bringing catalogs and a few samples. At Branders, we developed and patented technology that allows our customers to upload their logo to our site and see it on any item they want—taking the uncertainty out of the ordering process, and making it not just convenient but fun. Today, nearly 9 in 10 of our customers tell us that our See Before You Buy design studio is the coolest feature on our website.

As it turned out, however, it’s Branders’ low prices that really set us apart. Most clients, especially small businesses and nonprofits, shop for promotional products based primarily on price. Once we figured that out, we made cost-savings a core operating imperative—reorienting every aspect of our business to serve that goal. That took hard work; for example, I moved my entire family to Asia for four years, so I could build direct relationships with manufacturers. But it worked: Today, we source our products ourselves; we decorate them at our own factory; and because we’re online, we can avoid a lot of overhead expense. This is a unique business model in our industry, and it allows us to give our customers a great deal, while still making money ourselves.

How many different promotional items does your company offer?

We offer about 3,500 different items on our website.

What are some of your top selling products among business owners?

At Branders, we encourage business owners to focus on utility and durability—that is, to choose long-lasting products that recipients will actually use. Last year, our most popular item was a 20oz aluminum water bottle. It’s attractive, affordable, and fits with people’s lifestyle—inside the workplace and out. Reusable bags are increasingly popular, especially now that people are more conscious about the environment. Items like these get used over and over again, keeping our customers’ brands in the hands and minds of their target customers.

What type of customization is available for your products?

Our Design Studio allows you to customize your products to your heart’s content, right there on your computer. You can upload your own artwork, play with colors and styles, and get advice and support from our team of designers to make sure your logo looks exactly the way you want, before you buy. But customization isn’t just about how your product will look; it’s also about choosing the right product for your business’s promotional needs. We have branding experts waiting by the phones to help you customize a product to fit your branding strategy—free of charge.

What separates you from the competition?

Our prices, without a doubt. I’m proud of a lot of things about Branders—our quick and friendly customer service, our talented employees, our patented technology—but it’s our ability to offer the lowest prices without compromising quality that really sets us apart.

Do you have any goals you’d like to reach with the company in the next year or so?

Branders is already the largest company in the promotional products industry, and that size is crucial to the savings we’re able to pass on to our customers. So we’re always looking for ways to grow, and in the coming year, that could mean acquiring some more of our competitors. We’ll see.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

At Branders, we get very excited about helping our customers market themselves. With millions of visitors to our site every year and more than 130,000 businesses and nonprofits as our customers, we’ve been thinking a lot about how to connect this large community of customers, subscribers, and visitors to one another. One of our endeavors is called Happy Customers, which you can take a look at here. It’s been a great way for our customers to gain visibility and profile their own successes—and we love learning about all the creative ways our customers are using promotional products from Branders to build and promote their brands.

Do you have any advice you’d like to offer entrepreneurs who are just getting started?

Successful entrepreneurs build good habits on top of the talents you’ve already got. In that regard, I think the most important behavior is a bias to action. The fact of being out there doing something is more important than what you’re doing. The first draft of your idea is never going to be perfect—but if you put it into action, you’ll find yourself refining it as you go. And that leads to all sorts of other good habits—making clear observations, testing your hypotheses, and integrating new information into your thinking. Those are all much easier once you’re actually on the move. So my advice is: Do.

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