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Lego Lovers Crowded Expo Center for Merch, Memories

Lego enthusiasts of all ages crowded into the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, PA, on April 21 and 22 to enjoy Brick Fest Live!, which bills itself as the #1 Lego event in the U.S. The show featured feats of artistry and engineering, including detailed cityscapes, working miniature rollercoasters, a life-size statue of Darth Vader and a lovingly rendered replica of Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night" – all crafted from the colorful plastic bricks that have been a toy chest necessity for decades.

The event was also an opportunity for vendors to peddle Lego-themed merch, from vintage building sets to apparel and accessories decorated with actual Legos. At the official Brick Fest Live! Booth, attendees could purchase a $20 #BrickSwag box, which included a T-shirt, flashlight keychain and a mystery minifigure. Other booths were selling caps modified with Lego baseplates, allowing wearers to customize to their heart's content. Several entrepreneurs had crafted hair clips, bracelets, earrings and bow ties out of Legos. There were even brick-shaped pillows and molded chocolate lollipops.

The Pennsylvania Distance Learning Charter School also set up a booth at the expo to share information about its virtual summer camps. To help build goodwill and boost name recognition, the school was giving away a slew of promotional products. Children could spin a wheel, and receive a branded foam stress brick, backpack, temporary tattoo, chip clip or other prize.

Brick Fest Live! heads next to New York City in July, then stops in Pasadena, CA, in August and Houston in October. Check out some of the highlights from the Philadelphia show below.













Hawaii Bans Certain Types of Sunscreens

Hawaii's state legislature has passed a bill that bans sunscreens containing chemicals that can reportedly damage coral reefs – a new regulation that could impact sales of branded sunscreen.

Senate Bill 2571, passed on Tuesday, prevents the sale and distribution of sunscreen that has oxybenzone and octinoxate, unless prescribed by a licensed healthcare provider. If Governor David Ige signs the legislation into law, the prohibition would take effect Jan. 1, 2021.

Should the ban become law, promo distributors and suppliers could no longer provide sunscreen containing the blacklisted chemicals in the Aloha State. What's more, the Hawaiian ban could resonate to the U.S. mainland, possibly influencing some would-be buyers of branded sunscreen to seek natural options that are perceived as better for the environment – or to avoid purchasing sunscreen altogether in fear their brand will be perceived as a polluter.

Found in popular sunscreen brands like Coppertone and Hawaiian Tropic, oxybenzone and octinoxate contribute to coral bleaching, studies show. For example, a recent study from the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology found that chemicals in sunscreen kill coral and result in DNA damage in larval and adult stage coral. The impact on DNA limits coral's ability to grow and develop healthily. Coral bleaching was reportedly a cause behind widespread destruction of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. According to researchers, about 14,000 tons of sunscreen glop onto coral reefs annually. Sunscreen concentrations were found to be among the highest in the world on the beaches of Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Certain environmental organizations praised legislators for passing the bill.

"Hawaii's reefs have been slowly dying over the past 20 years, and that death spiral has been accelerating with the impact of El Niño-induced mass bleaching events and increased local pollution impacts from both tourism and development," Craig Downs, the executive director of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, told The New York Times. "Everyone has come together to support this legislation, from local nurses and doctors, to resorts and airlines, as well as the entrepreneurial spirit of new sunscreen companies to supply reef-safer products."

Of course, the ban had opponents, too. Traditional sunscreen manufacturers pointed out that the chemicals are FDA-approved and important ingredients for protecting people from skin cancer. Ban opponents also included the Hawaii Medical Association. The association expressed worry that the prohibition could encourage people to reduce the degree to which they wear sunscreen – a concern given the heightened risk for skin cancer that comes with not using sunscreen.

Forbes reports that mounting public pushback against sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate has opened the door for a niche market focused on natural sunscreens made in Hawaii. "Tourists and locals on the islands can find Kōkua Sun Care Hawaiian Natural Zinc Sunscreen, Mama Kuleana Reef, and the mainland All Good products," wrote Geologist Trevor Nace for Forbes. Of course, chemicals found in sunscreens are far from the only pollutant causing problems for coral reefs. Ocean warming, agricultural runoff and sewage dumping also are weakening and killing reefs, research shows.

Promotional Products Opportunity: Canadian Premier League Reveals Official Logo

Canada is ready for its own kickabout. And now it has some branding in place to show it means business.

The Canadian Premier League is expected to begin play in the spring of 2019. It will be a FIFA-sanctioned, top-level, Canada-specific fully professional soccer league. While play hasn't begun yet, the league recently revealed its official logo – a crest of attractive green and blues.

As the CPL explains, Canada's people and natural beauty inspired the crest. Certainly some thought went into it:

"The North Star acts as a guiding light for the game of soccer in Canada, acting as a beacon for talent within our borders. The four rings portray a soccer ball, our coasts, and the earth formed out of a stylized time lapse of a star field. The maple leaf is comprised of many parts, which is a reflection of the diversity within our country."

Some soccer fans were already chiming in to say that the CPL logo is superior to the crest for Major League Soccer – the top professional soccer league in the U.S. MLS features several Canadian teams, too.

The CPL also released an all-red version of the league emblem. Teams will wear the crest of red – Canada's traditional color, of course -- on their uniforms on Canada Day. They'll also don the red logo during the Canadian Championship and when playing in the CONCACAF Champions league – an international tournament that features professional clubs teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

The CPL expects to begin play with 8 to 10 teams. Teams will reportedly be owned and operated, at least in part, by a mix of National Hockey League and Canadian Football League ownership groups. The league aims to foster and enhance Canadian soccer talent, as this promo video details.

For promotional product distributors, learning about the CPL's crest is an interesting case study in how a logo can be crafted to invoke the intended essence of a brand in a way that resonates with target audiences. What's more, it's a heads-up that there could soon be new opportunities to provide branded merchandise for teams in the forthcoming professional league. So far, it's confirmed that there will be teams in Hamilton, ON and Winnipeg, MB. Reports suggest there could be teams in Halifax, Calgary and the York Region as well, among others.

Even if you don't score orders directly with teams, distributors and/or decorators could hit the back of the net on any number of ancillary promo deals, such as providing scarves and T-shirts for fledging supporters' groups or soccer-related swag for pubs that want to be the go-to spot for fans to watch CPL matches. No doubt Canadian footy fans are already excited:

Pantone Creates New Wine-Inspired Color

Wine has helped fuel many an artist's creative endeavors. And now, a particular wine is the muse behind a new unique color from the Pantone Color Institute.

Pantone partnered with Valspar Paint and Laithwaite's Wine to develop English Sparkling Laithwaite's Wine. The color takes its inspiration from the shade of Wyfold Vineyard by Barbara Laithwaite -- one of England's most awarded sparkling wines.

Pantone said English Sparkling is "a subtle and stylishly elegant, creamy hue that quietly expresses effervescence and good taste. Young in spirit and timeless in its appeal, this natural off-white shade conveys feelings of spring freshness and modernity. Carrying an undertone of pleasantness and geniality, the inherent warmth of Laithwaite's Wine English Sparkling creates a sparkling yet soothing presence."

Available as paint from Valspar, the new hue could harbinger forthcoming color trends in the apparel world – something promotional product distributors whose clients have fashion-forward tastes and audiences will want to be aware of.

"English Sparkling is more than just a new shade of Valspar paint. Like every bespoke color we mix, it's about eternalizing a personal feeling, a moment in time, a memory," said Kasia Wiktorowicz, marketing communications manager at Valspar. "For us, this color is reminiscent of a warm laughter-filled summer's evening, enjoying an English Sparkling wine with close friends and family."

The new hue is also serving to promote English sparkling wine, elevating it into the official pantheon of color terminology in a manner akin to continental rivals like "burgundy" and "champagne."

"Just as burgundy and champagne are very well-known terms for colors, it's now time for English Quality Sparkling Wine to take center stage," David Thatcher, CEO of Laithwaite's Wine, was quoted as saying. "Creating an official color is a great way of acknowledging the ever-growing popularity of the English wine industry around the world."

Minnesota Twins & Princes Estate Launching Merch Line

Purple Rain is going to fall during Minnesota Twins games this baseball season.

The Twins have struck a deal to sell Prince-branded merchandise throughout the year at their stadium in Minneapolis – Target Field. Items, which will include hats, shirts, pins, patches and balls, will go on sale at the Twins home opener on April 5th. The StarTribune reported that the co-branding deal could be the first of its kind for a Major League Baseball team.

Why the Twins and Prince? Simple: The international best-selling musical artist was from Minneapolis. "Along with our fans, we look forward to celebrating the legacy of a man who brought an international spotlight to our great city," Twins CEO Dave St. Peter told the StarTribune.

For the second year in a row, the Twins will also host a special Prince Night. During the June 8 game against the Los Angeles Angels, additional Prince merchandise will be on offer. Game attendees who purchase a Prince Theme Night package will receive a Twins/Prince co-branded hat.


Attribution: Minnesota Twins

Perhaps most interestingly for Prince Night, there will be a special giveaway – inflatable purple guitars in the shape of Prince's famous symbol that will also display Twins branding. During the 7th inning stretch, the 10,000 folks lucky enough to have scored the limited edition guitar giveaway will be encouraged to stand and illuminate the item – a show of remembrance and respect to the hometown musical genius who passed away in 2016.


Attribution: Minnesota Twins

Who knows, the inflatable purple guitar could become a sought-after bit of merch. After all, the umbrellas the Twins provided fans on Prince Night in 2017 were being offered for as much as $220 on eBay.


Attribution: eBay

For those curious about the nuts and bolts of the co-branding deal, it seems that Delaware North Sportservice, the Twins' retail provider, negotiated it with Bravado – the company handling the merchandising and branding for Prince's estate. The word from the Twins is that Prince's family is cool with the merchandising.

The Bobblehead Tax: Cincinnati Reds Court Case Could Impact Promo Industry

The Cincinnati Reds, Ohio tax officials and branded game-day merchandise like player bobbleheads are at the center of an intriguing court case that could send reverberations throughout the promotional products world.

On Wednesday, the Ohio Supreme Court agreed to consider an appeal from the Reds. The Major League Baseball team argues that state tax officials have no legal basis to demand the payment of $88,000 in taxes tied to Reds-branded promotional products that the team provided to fans on game days between 2008 and 2010. The Ohio Department of Taxation, however, is doing just that, saying the Reds owe the levy.

The Reds contend that they're entitled to a resale exception/exemption because they're reselling the items as part of advertised ticket sales. Ohio law exempts companies from paying tax on items they buy to resell.

Lawyers for the Reds explained their position: Team officials identify certain games on the schedule they suspect fans won't be as interested in attending. To beef up ticket sales to such contests, the team advertises – and then provides – bobbleheads, player cards and other Reds-themed memorabilia as part of a fan's ticket purchase. "The price paid for the ticket includes consideration for the promotional item," Reds attorneys say in a court filing. "Accordingly, the Reds purchase of such items is exempt from tax since the items are resold to game attendees."

Ohio tax officials take an altogether different view. They say the Reds didn't resell the promotional items as part of the ticket price, but rather gave them away for free to increase interest in games. As such, the state tax commissioner contends that the promotional items should be taxed because the Reds bought the products to be distributed as freebies and are not, in fact, part of a ticket sale.

To support their position, tax officials say that the ticket price for each particular seat is the same throughout the season, whether a promo item is offered or not. Furthermore, not all patrons are guaranteed that they will get promo merch for a game in which it's advertised because supplies are limited. Relatedly, if a game attendee decides she doesn't want, say, a bobblehead, then her ticket isn't discounted. Given all that, the state Board of Tax Appeals denied an appeal from the Reds.

"We conclude that the Reds have not provided this board with competent and probative evidence in support of the position that it does not owe the assessed tax," board members wrote in their ruling. "It is the decision of the Board of Tax Appeals that the decision of the tax commissioner must be affirmed."

The Reds decided to appeal to the state Supreme Court. There the case rests, awaiting an initial hearing.

Depending on how the court rules, the case could have sweeping implications for the promotional products industry. Should the court side with tax officials, will teams and other businesses in Ohio be discouraged from investing in branded merchandise for game-day promotions and, indeed, other events because they don't want to pay taxes on the items? Could an Ohio ruling in favor of the tax commissioner's findings influence other states to enforce similar actions? Stay tuned.

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