How to use Just-In-Time strategies to save money (and your nerves!) on promotional products for your event

Waiting… waiting… waiting… are the registration numbers where they should be at? What should we guesstimate for final count? These are two of the toughest questions that meeting and event planners wrestle with daily. The answers impact everything from catering menus to registration to hotel rooms blocked.

An area that it also impacts is event giveaways. How many folders, bags, mugs, etc. should you have on hand? When should you order? What if the numbers aren’t as high as anticipated and how much of your budget will be eaten up by unused promotions? What if we don’t have enough for everyone? What if it doesn’t arrive in time?

One solution is to take a tip from manufacturing and use a Just-In-Time (JIT) promotional product buying strategy. With JIT, a precise number of goods are ordered and scheduled to be delivered right when and where they are needed. This helps save money tied up in inventory and saves storage space. The challenge, though, is in the coordination.

  • Plan for the three-week window. Most in-stock promotional items have normal production times of 5 to 10 working days. Adding another 5 working days for shipping is usually adequate for most domestically sourced orders in Canada or the United States. Planning for the 3-week window gives you expanded product choices and reduces the stress of last-minute orders. Ask your promotion distributor for estimates on both production and shipping time. Allow extra time during periods of severe weather.
  • Recruit clutch player providers. This is not the time to experiment with new providers! As with any good team, you want to have your clutch players lined up for those orders that may require a tight turnaround. Hold tryouts by making some small, non-critical orders with a couple of providers. You’ll have a good idea of their normal capabilities and service style for when it really matters.
  • Plan for delivery. If sending direct to the meeting facility, coordinate arrival and storage with the facility’s staff. Be aware that some items (especially drinkware) do take up a lot of space. Make sure the facility can handle it.
  • Purchase about two to five per cent over. Just as most catering operations plan for a small percentage of extra guests to be served, plan on ordering about two to five per cent over your anticipated need. This allows for those last-minute stragglers who register late, but still expect the full event package since they are paying full rate (and sometimes a premium for procrastinating). Ordering a small, less than normal minimum batch to accommodate them is very expensive, sometimes to the tune of 50 per cent or more than normal prices in addition to special handling fees. As well, chances are you’ll require express shipping for those last-minute extras which also adds dramatically to the cost.
  • Have “Plan B” selections. Realize that out-of-stock situations can occur. Choose two to three additional product selections so you don’t have to scramble to find something at crunch time.

About the author
Heidi Thorne is a promotional products marketing expert and speaker and has a background in the tradeshow and hospitality industries. She is also editor of the Promo With Purpose Today blog ( and author of SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products for Marketing Your Business, available through major online booksellers or at

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