University of Delaware finds a solution for Swag Management

9 min read
Jake Wang
Jake Wang
Jr Marketing Manager

Published: April 08, 2020

Meet University of Delaware

University of Delaware, home of the Blue Hens, is a campus that prides itself on an enthusiastic, innovative, and engaged community. They also know how to do campus swag initiatives the right way. Ever received swag that wasn’t quite, well, swaggy? This story is for you.

When Cristen Smith, Engagement Specialist at University of Delaware, first started this project with SwagUp, she was one of three talent onboarding coordinators. Each of them handled a part of the onboarding process. “I took ownership of new employee orientation. So, that meant having this half-day orientation, where you have the chance to engage with your new employees, give them swag, and establish a connection with them,” says Cristen Smith. “Typically for that process, we’d meet in a room, have a PowerPoint, and lay out gifts for them on the table.”

It’s a familiar scenario for many of us. Unfortunately, what follows next might also be familiar. “As we were doing it, we noticed the gifts weren’t landing- they weren’t as impactful as we wanted them to be.”

“At a university, there’s always some event going on in which you receive something just for going. So it was kind of, how do we make our onboarding and our employee engagement piece stand out? 

— Cristen Smith, Engagement Specialist at University of Delaware

Cristen Smith also realized the process at the time – the “swag closet” model – wasn’t efficient. It was difficult to keep track of exactly what and how much was in the closet. “[We] had pens, chapstick, magnets, and a notepad. Not that [new employees] necessarily got all of those things together – it just depends on the amounts that we had on hand and things that we had gifted to us from some of our counterparts like in benefits or compensation.”

“It wasn’t packaged. So it’s not like a box or a gift bag. The items were just kind of laid on the table to mark the seats where people would sit at orientation. [And] during the summer we had an orientation, and there were over 50 people in that orientation. So if you could imagine hand counting out like 50 pens, and 50 chopsticks, and 50 post-its — it was just like, there has to be an easier way to know what we have, and to have it already packaged and ready to distribute, and [not] just hope that we have enough.” And if they didn’t have enough? “You just have to scrounge and find something else to make up for it.”

Innovating campus swag

Cristen Smith knew the problem – how do you create, package and distribute something more meaningful and in a more efficient way? – but the next part was trickier. How do you find the right solution? If you’re like most people, you start with what you know.

“At first, we looked at one of the vendors that we already use over on the employee recognition side to see what options they had with a vendor we already had an established relationship with,” says Cristen Smith. “It was like low hanging fruit, like hey, let’s talk to them, see what they have, and it’ll be a quick turnaround“

[But] once we got into the nitty gritty of the products, the quality, the pricing, the turnaround time, it just got a bit more complicated than what we wanted. And the vision that we had, it just didn’t land, they weren’t connecting. So then that’s when I decided to go out and research on my own some additional vendors that we could use.”

“It sounds so simple, but it just seemed so mind-blowing. […] I was just like, you mean everything comes branded in one box, and they deliver it all to me and I just hand it to somebody??”

— Cristen Smith, Engagement Specialist at University of Delaware

Like most universities, University of Delaware had a list of already approved vendors they could use. However, the pricing was a bit more expensive than Cristen Smith was looking for. “We’re not a revenue generating area, so we have to be mindful of how we spend our dollars when we get them. So I think I was on LinkedIn, and I saw something come across from SwagUp and I was like, oh, I’ve never heard of these guys, but if they’re on LinkedIn, there must be some kind of legitimacy and professional aspect to it.”

Cristen Smith jumped over to SwagUp’s website, and was intrigued. “I was really impressed with the catalog. […] At that point, I presented it to my direct supervisor, who’s the Director of Talent Solutions, like, ‘Hey, I think this might be a viable option.’ And he’s like, ‘Hey, if you think it works, go with it.’ So I requested the sample box and it came and it was really impressive, especially because we had also requested a sample box from one of our existing vendors.”

“When we did a side-by-side, there was no comparison, the box from SwagUp was more thoughtful. The sample box had a T-shirt, a water bottle, a pair of socks, all of these things that people would actually use. And the quality was great. I mean, I’ve got notebooks that I use myself for my work. One of the notebooks that I have was the same one that came in the box. So I’m like, “Okay, these guys have a standard for quality.”

“The one that we requested from our other vendor, um, the quality just wasn’t there. There wasn’t the neat packaging, it wasn’t as thoughtful. So even though it was just a sample box from SwagUp, it was branded and presented as if I were part of SwagUp. If it were my first day and I got that I’d be ecstatic,” says Cristen Smith.

“It was like, OK, we’ve got something here. This must be something way different, way better than what we’ve ever done, because there’s a lot of excitement about a product that we haven’t even made yet.”

— Cristen Smith, Engagement Specialist at University of Delaware

Of course, trying something new is risky, and Cristen Smith knew there would need to be some buy-in from other stakeholders to make this work. “There was probably maybe a three or four month window in between the gap of when SwagUp gave me the initial quote, and when we were able to submit designs and get the ball rolling, just because from a pricing standpoint, it was like, alright, if we’re gonna do this, this is a sizable investment.”

“We’ve got to get some stakeholders on board with spending this money, secure these funds, get designs approved, kind of like all of these things had to go into it. But in the end, like once we got to that final one, even our President’s onboard and wanted to put a note in the box and all this stuff. It was like, OK, we’ve got something here. This must be something way different, way better than what we’ve ever done, because there’s a lot of excitement about a product that we haven’t even made yet.”

The verdict?

“It’s caught on to where it’s not just our new employees who are receiving things and excited about it. There are existing employees and other units who are like, this is really cool what you guys have, how do we get one? How do we get in on this? Can we have one as a giveaway?” says Cristen Smith. “So it’s caught on really quickly. And I think it’s just helped us a lot in establishing a connection when there’s a lot of events we have [on campus], and just about every event you go to, you get something. But not all of those things land. I think for us with this, it’s landing with our audience 100% of the time.

Now Cristen Smith doesn’t spend time digging through a closet trying to make sure she has enough single items. “I know I have enough of what I need from the get-go,” says Cristen Smith. “At our new employee orientation […] we just go ahead and carry that box on over to our orientation and pull the smaller boxes out and stack them on the table and present them to people as they come in, which is super easy compared to digging in a closet and trying to make sure I have enough single items.”

“We see people across campus with their shirts on, and in meetings, they’ll pull out the notebooks, it’s just really great. It’s not necessarily an exclusive club, but it’s kind of like that wink and nod when you see they have it, because you know where it came from, and like why they got it.”

“You guys have been a game changer. The fact that people are excited about this product, as opposed to any of the other things that they receive on campus, is huge.”

—Cristen Smith, Engagement Specialist at University of Delaware

Was there anything that surprised Cristen Smith about working with SwagUp? 
“The communication,” says Cristen Smith. “Typically, when you want a quote for anything or you email a customer service/sales rep, like you’re not expecting an immediate response. Not a real-time, phone-call follow up response.”

“Working with SwagUp, I’m getting same day responses sometimes within the hour, down to the point where we’re approving the final design and I can do last minute changes. He’s there every step of the way. He was super responsive, and I never felt like we were pressured into a decision. I felt like if I asked for his opinion, I got honest feedback. And it was always timely. So like I said, I just was completely blown away at just like, how involved and how communicative he was throughout this entire process.

”These days the swag at University of Delaware is being put to good use. “When I go into a meeting, and I see someone with our water bottle, and they’re using our notebook, I get such joy on the inside, because I’m like, yeah buddy, you know, what’s up, you got your swag. The excitement that people have of getting it. It’s nice to know you’re being thought of,” says Cristen Smith.

Interested in building camaraderie with your employees? Take a page from Delaware U’s book and talk to a Swag Expert today. Consider this your invite to our secret club 😎

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