Even though its business completely halted in April, Ethical Swag has bounced back thanks to a new strategy and its certification as a B Corporation.
The Sydney-based company, which sources ethical promotional products for corporations and organizations, was having a great first quarter in 2020, doubling its revenue from the same period a year earlier. But its business was heavily dependent on events, so it was vulnerable when COVID hit in March.
The company changed tack and is now focusing on helping clients maintain their branded culture during times of social distancing. It’s paying off. In November alone, Ethical Swag’s revenue exceeded that of the entire first quarter of 2020.
“We were doing really well, but COVID obviously was shocking in the events industry,” said Founder and CEO Tara Milburn in an interview. “Our pipeline was really strong in the first quarter and in April it basically went to zero. I think everyone else in the industry was the same.
“It was an interesting time in the spring but we were exceptionally fortunate. . . . We did a deep dive on what our customers were looking for, what problems we were solving. We were able to do a lot of data analysis that we just didn’t have time to do before. That was a really worthwhile breather in the spring.”
With clients across North America, Ethical Swag sources goods from ethical manufacturers and sells them on to companies or organizations to represent their brand. The goods on its website range from apparel to handbags to T-shirts to notebooks. Producers offer environmentally sustainable products and procedures and are committed to the social good of their communities.
Ethical Swag got a boost in July when it received its B Corp certification. That means it has passed rigorous examination to show that its business is sustainable and that it adheres to ethical business practices. Companies that are B Corp-certified are instantly recognized for meeting high ethical standards in terms of how they treat the environment, workers and community.
“We’re one of only four promotional product companies that are a certified B Corporation in North America, out of over 25,000 companies,” said Milburn.
She said the company has focused in the last few months on swag packs – boxes full of branded products that it mails directly to customers’ stakeholders, including their employees. In times of remote working, companies still have to infuse their staff with a healthy and productive corporate culture.
“We have a service where we will fit into boxes a combination of products you want and we ship them to the addresses you give us,” said Milburn. “We’re working with HR depts throughout North America. They have distributed work forces but want to maintain their brand culture.”
The new strategy required precise execution. Ethical Swag needed strong enough cybersecurity that corporations would share employees’ addresses. Then there were the logistical challenges of sending hundreds of boxes with the right products to hundreds of addresses. For example, one client in California was having a major online meeting with staff, and wanted every employee to receive their swag pack the day before so they could wear a company T-shirt on the call.
With a staff of five (plus some contract workers), Milburn said Ethical Swag’s new strategy is paying off. Even with no sales in April, the venture managed to increase revenues 30 percent in 2020.
She said the swag pack business looks likely to continue in a post-pandemic world, and the company expects to benefit from the rebirth of the events industry.