We are proud to call Little Star one of our loyal customers for over 10 years! We are also proud to help spread the word as to how they are making a positive influence on the lives of children, teens and young adults with autism.
Little Star Center is a nonprofit agency that started in 2002 as the first center in the state of Indiana providing this type of intensive service. The organization was started by a mom and dad who had a child with autism who didn’t do well in public schools. They discovered there was a need for a specialized school to service autism, but the closest one was 5 states away. As a result, they held a fundraiser to raise money…and Little Star was born! They now have locations in Carmel and Lafayette, and are opening a Bloomington center. Additionally, they also have a home a program. Some learners are full time, some part time; it depends on the child’s needs.
We recently had a chat with Executive Director, Mary Rosswurm, who shared her deepest, darkest secrets on their marketing strategies and love for high-quality promotional products…
Distinct Images: Why do you think there is value in branded promotional products?
Mary: It’s a fun staff pride tool. We are all so proud to work here. We did a grand opening tshirt that was only available to people if they worked the event, so that “exclusive” aspect drove the desire for people to help out. People love tshirts! And for organizations, they are a good conversation starter.
Parents are prideful and like the promo items, too. At Christmas we like to have a good gift for our families. One year we did a nice golf umbrella, and this year we did nice snow scrapers (which turned out to be very fitting for the winter we’ve had!). Our goal is to find an affordable item for 80 families plus our staff that is high quality and will be used, not tossed away.
We find value in nicer, durable products. We proudly give them away because they aren’t cheap and junky. We like to do unusual items that not everyone does. Nobody had done an item like nail polish, and when we did that last year at an expo – we stood out that much more!
Distinct Images: What types of promotional items items have you ordered from Distinct Images?
Mary: A whole bunch of things! Name tags, embroidered shirts, tshirts, sunglasses, padfolios, letter openers. We also do anniversary items for staff earned by longevity at the organization, so each item symbolizes how long they have been with us.
Distinct Images: Have you seen a direct increase in sales or increase in brand awareness due to your distribution of promotional products?
Mary: Nothing measurable. Giving away an umbrella isn’t going to make a family choose our facility over another, but we hope it communicates a consistent brand. Nicer items with our name on them last longer than a gift card. Tangible items commemorate events and milestones.
Distinct Images: Do your competitors use promo products as a marketing tool?
Mary: Yes, but I’m not sure what they give away. I do know that we were the first organization at the Autism Expo who distributed giveaways…and the next year everyone had an item to pass out. The difference with ours is that they stand out! Everyone comes to our booth expecting something new and interesting, and that’s a good, prideful feeling.
Distinct Images: What has been the most successful promo products you’ve ordered and why?Mary: Probably the tshirts we did that had a general autism message. They had our copyright, but they didn’t scream “Little Star”. By taking this more broad and general approach, it was applicable to many more than just those affiliated with Little Star. It spoke to all those connected to autism in some way. Even our competitors wear them!
Distinct Images: How would you describe your marketing approach (budgeted, spur of the moment, strategic…)?
Mary: Oh I’m very spur of the moment and last minute…our marketing is filled with items that come to my mind on the fly! A lot of it is a gut feeling and me noticing something different that I want to bring to life. I always blow my budget, but we always get great feedback so I know it’s worth it. I don’t think about it as “Marketing” as much as I do “FUN!”
We also sell merchandise on our website which seems to be a beneficial approach. Through that avenue, we’ve sold items to Canada, which is really great for the organization. Items have been posted on Facebook, which helps with our word-of-mouth marketing and in turn leads to international orders!
Distinct Images: Do you have a busy season? What do you do “off-season” to keep your name circulating?
Mary: Our busy season is our conference season. In March we have one local expo here in Indiana. In May and April they are national, and the AAI Walk in September takes place in Carmel. We don’t do giveaways at the national conferences, but it’s busy for us because we’re presenting our research which takes a lot of prep work.
In the “off season” we work on our word of mouth and reputation. I want my stuff on people whether they know what they’re wearing or not! When we go to other conferences, we’ll wear our cool shirts and people ask us where we got it. We tell them about our website and they go to it. When someone says “Autism” I want him or her to think “Little Star”. NAME recognition is key.
Distinct Images: You are active on Facebook and Twitter, how is that helping?
Mary: I don’t know that we have gotten a client because of social media, but it helps keep people excited and up to speed. It builds momentum among staff and the people we already have involved.