Bruce Fox Blog

Sino the Times

Posted by Dave Miller on Feb 6, 2020 9:18:10 AM

Estimated Read Time: 4.5 Minutes

Industrial port at dawn

Online sellers. Low-margin competitors. Global headlines that deeply impact our efforts. Suppliers selling direct. Distributors sourcing direct. Consolidation. Let’s face it, the state of the industry has given us all plenty to think about as we lie awake at night.

While there are many causes and reasons (and excuses) behind these circumstances, there is one common denominator: Our industry’s utter reliance on Chinese goods.

Our relationship with China has been nothing short of codependent. And it is proving to be an unsustainable condition over the long term. Now we are suffering the consequences of that unhealthy relationship.

We have encountered—and largely overcome (or at least adapted to)—a number of serious challenges…

  • Product & material safety issues
  • Labor & social concerns
  • Tariffs & political issues

And the eggs we’ve been carrying continue to roll out of what could soon be a very empty basket. Now it’s the coronavirus outbreak, what the Wall Street Journal terms “an abrupt and open-ended freeze out” of the Chinese manufacturing economy.


So what’s the prognosis? What’s the solution? What’s the timing? The fact is, no one knows. We don’t even know when the CNY will end, who will be back to work when it does end, and how long it will take to fill the pipeline of demand. Hell, we don’t even know if/when/how imported shipments will be cleared when all that does happen. When it comes to all the “ifs”, “whens” and “hows” associated with the present situation…          

What we do and dont know

So the question much of our industry may soon be asking itself: What will we sell when there is nothing to sell? The commoditized majority of our industry may soon be transformed from “Your Logo Here” to “Your Logo Nowhere.” We have built a $25 billion house of cards.

What Can We Do?

Yes, there may be a wait-it-out remedy at some point. But, then again, there might not. In the meantime, you do have choices. Rather than confining yourself to the waiting room hoping for all of this to just “blow over” on its own—while your sales (and income) dwindle with each passing day—you can:

  1. Pivot your supply chain to other countries
  2. Partner with domestic sources for the products you sell
  3. Re-align your business and what you sell to mitigate external influences

Without stepping out onto the slippery slope of politics, world health, or global economics, these options offer very different possibilities.

Option #1 may dodge or defer (some of) the issues at hand, but is it a lasting solution? Can you assume with confidence that rerouting the supply chain from one foreign country to another is not simply a frying-pan-to-fire proposition? Does it change your position along the scale of “you are either in control or out of control” in a meaningful and enduring way?

Option #2 offers a great deal more certainty and control. And an irrefutable truth: When you align your business with domestic suppliers, you know you don’t have the same concerns about the coronavirus…or tariffs, or product safety, or forced labor, or environmental conditions, or…well, the next whatever. And there will be a next whatever. But Option #2 has serious limitations. Domestic alternatives are few and far between—if not altogether non-existent—in many product categories.

Option #3 is a different contemplation. Rather than redefining source channels, perhaps it’s due time to reassess product channels. Consider what eggs you carry and in what baskets they are carried. Products that are both commoditized and imported are vulnerable to largely unforeseeable and uncontrollable external factors—to say nothing of the price warfare that ensues.

I will assert that recognition awards—done properly—are a product category that offers safe haven. (“Done properly” is a key component to this statement, as imprinted globs of glass don’t qualify.) Reflect and consider some basic questions:

  • Do I have clients who are buying awards?
  • Are they buying them from me?
  • Can they buy them from me?
  • Would a custom approach appeal to them?
  • Would a domestic source appeal to them?
  • Do I consider myself to be a knowledgeable practitioner of the awards category?

Maybe none of this resonates with you, and that’s okay. An award is not a promotional product, and therefore can’t be sold like one. As a practice, it takes practice. But if you’re willing, we can help. We can help China-proof your business.

Not sure what we offer or where to start? Check out our website or start a conversation.

Our people-3

Dave BlogDave Miller is VP of Sales & Marketing at Bruce Fox, Inc. and a professional writer by virtue of the fact his company is paying him to write this blog.  He was born in Normal, Illinois.  So it says “normal” on his birth certificate.  The goal of his blog is to “edu-tain” (educate + entertain) promotional products distributors, with a focus on custom work.  Dave also finds it very awkward to write about himself in the third person.  


Tags: Sales tools for distributors, Challenges faced by distributors