Editors note: Conference attendance and economic impact estimates have been updated.
Tote bags, water bottles, lanyards. So many lanyards.
It’s swag, the stuff we all get, and if you’ve ever been to a convention, trade show or company party, chances are you’ve got a lot of it. It was a $24.7 billion dollar industry in 2018 and this year it brought an extra $4 million to the Fort Worth economy.
Since 2003 the Advertising Specialty Institute, an organization serving suppliers and distributors of promotional items, has held one of its three annual convention in Dallas. But this year Fort Worth lured the swag industry to the west, bringing 4.300 visitors this week to the closed conference at the Fort Worth Convention Center.
So how did Cowtown nab a convention that called Dallas home for 15 years? It’s all about the community, ASI president and CEO Tim Andrews said.
“It’s authentic,” Andrews said. “Fort Worth feels like a real town. It doesn’t feel like it’s artificial. People are exceptionally friendly here.”
Conventions, like urban living, are trending toward walkability — restaurants, bars and attractions within walking distance, or at least a short cab ride away — rather than the traditional model of visitors staying in one place at a hotel complex. A visit to Fort Worth a few years ago made it clear to Andrews the ASI convention should relocate here, he said. Registration for the conference, which ran from Feb. 4 to Feb. 8 and was not open to the public, was up about 17 percent over previous years, though some of that draw may have been for keynote speakers Laura Bush and Roger Staubach.
ASI convention goers stayed in hotels dotted around downtown, ate at restaurants and visited venues like Billy Bob’s Texas. They spent about $3.9 million in the three days in Fort Worth, John Cychol, vice president of meeting sales for Visit Fort Worth, estimated.
Though ASI’s swag convention may be niche, it’s a good sign for Fort Worth. Mid-size conventions like ASI’s fit well in the convention center, taking up most of the space and allowing visitors to feel like they “own the city,” Cychol said.
But more important, the conventions mean visitors to Fort Worth and a greater chance to market the city, said Mitch Whitten, Visit Fort Worth’s executive vice present of marketing and strategy.
“This is our chance to wow them and get them talking about out town,” Whitten said.
The swag industry is growing, showing about 3 to 5 percent growth each year since 2014, according to Philadelphia-based ASI, which estimates about 400,000 people work in the industry from the manufacturing of logo-embellished t-shirts, snow globes and pens to the distribution of koozies, cups and novelty fans.
Swag can basically be anything you can slap a logo on, Andrews said. That includes light-up ice cubes, he said, noting a trend toward LED-emblazoned swag.
It’s also an evolving industry.
Recognizing the dispensable and plastic-reliant nature of the promo items, Andrews said companies are moving to reusable and environmentally friendly giveaways, like water bottles, reusable straws, and items made with bamboo or other biodegradable material.
Though the items seem easily disposable, market research shows most people hold on to them, he said.
“People love stuff with a logo,” he said. “You probably have a drawer full of it at home.”