Promotional products biz shares secret to growing workforce

Totally Promotional of Ohio has created a diverse employment plan that’s increased its total workforce by over 40 percent since January.

Officials at Totally Promotional are using a creative mix of flexible interview times, social media posts, increased starting wages, brand promotion and signage to attract, hire and keep employees.

The combination has produced standout results.

“Totally Promotional has been no stranger to the hiring struggles looming over most businesses today,” said Lynn Huwer, the company’s chief operating officer. “Utilizing multiple avenues to get our company name out to a wide group of people has proven to be a successful strategy in getting candidates in the door to fill open positions.”

The promotional product company’s success gives hope to other businesses in desperate need of additional employees to grow and yield profits.

Event-based companies slammed by pandemic

The promotional product industry was hit hard when trade shows, large gatherings and corporate activities were canceled or postponed during the pandemic. Online promotional products sales nationally decreased 20 percent in 2020 from 2019.

Totally Promotional, located in Mercer County, laid off more than two-thirds of its 260-person workforce in March 2020. Four months later, the employee total climbed back to 116 with new and returning workers.

The company currently has about 280 employees — more than it did pre-COVID-19 — and continues to hire.

As orders began increasing in 2021, officials knew they needed a comprehensive plan to increase job applications and keep current employees engaged: The county’s unemployment rate remained under 3 percent. Every retailer and factory in the area was competing for the same slim pool of employee candidates.

Totally Promotional’s workforce growth campaign

Each of the actions implemented by Totally Promotional brought varying levels of success. However, when combined they conveyed encouraging results.

The employee growth effort includes:

Social media posts. Paid Indeed ads bring 33 percent of applicants to Totally Promotional’s door. Paid Facebook ads covet a close second with 27 percent. The company’s social media director also uses a combination of platforms to organically post available positions and job incentives.

The staff at Totally Promotional also publishes blogs and press releases, and contributes expert advice to various online media sources. Links to the published content are shared on social media sites to promote the company’s brand to interested applicants.

Studies show that job seekers today are more likely to use social media to find careers. Top sites to find new careers are LinkedIn (72 percent), Facebook (60 percent) and Twitter (38 percent), according to the study.

Custom signage. Totally Promotional jump-started its hiring campaign by hanging custom banners designed and printed by its staff. Two large “hiring” banners line the streets outside Totally Promotional’s headquarters in Coldwater. The marketing team also designed an eye-catching billboard located several miles away along a busy four-lane stretch of highway.

About 13 percent of Totally Promotional’s job applicants are walk-ins who applied after seeing the banners or billboard.

Starting wage increases. Starting wages in Totally Promotional’s production facility were increased from $11.50/per hour in January 2022 to $15/per hour in May 2022.

New Careers page. In late 2021, a new, online Careers page was created on Totally Promotional’s website to give job candidates more details about open positions and the company culture.

Traffic to the Careers page increased 470 percent from April 2021 to April 2022.

Employee Referral Program. In Jan. 2022, the company debuted its Refer A Friend program. The plan gives cash rewards to new hires and the person who referred them. Both receive up to $300 if the new hire remains employed after 120 days. The incentive applies to referrals from anyone, not just Totally Promotional employees.

Approximately 7 percent of applicants are referrals from the incentive program.

Convenient interview schedule. Many job applicants have limited time for interviews while juggling current jobs, childcare and other obligations. Brad Stultz, director of human resources at Totally Promotional, began using an “all day, every day” interview schedule to accommodate those who apply.

“Even though the hiring landscape has changed dramatically over the past two years, Totally Promotional has been able to bridge the gap between applicant and employer through innovative programs like open interviews and the Employee Referral Program,” Stultz said.

Engagement and incentives for current workers. A committee was established to add fun and create camaraderie among the workforce. SINGO games are held frequently with prizes given to top winners. The office committee recently treated employees to a taco bar for Cinco de Mayo and plans other catered food events in the future.

The committee also recognizes and awards new hires, employee birthdays and work anniversaries.

Share the features that make you a great place to work

Jared Ebbing, community/economic development director for Mercer County, said companies should exploit what makes them unique to engage new employees.

“You’ve got to find that needle in the haystack that sets you apart from the rest,” he explained.

Ebbing said job seekers often know little about the companies they pass by every day. That’s why it’s so important for businesses to market their brand.

“Tell your story,” he said.”You’ve got to show your bright light.”

Ebbing said he’s not surprised Totally Promotional found hiring success. Its staff understands marketing concepts and how to draw attention to their brand, he added.

Ebbing’s office manages Hometown Opportunity, a website that helps businesses find workers and vice-versa. Eight percent of Totally Promotional’s job applicants were referred by Hometown Opportunity.

Totally Promotional was founded in 1993 and is one of the country's leading retailers and manufacturers of imprinted promotional products. Totally Promotional currently employs about 300 people in its office and production facilities. Its product categories include custom-imprinted trade show and signage; bags; home, office & tech; toys and novelty; outdoor and leisure; writing instruments; drinkware and can coolers; napkins and coasters; personal care items; closeout & sale items; and wedding favors and essentials.

The company's websites include and