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Chaos in China is causing delays in supply

Posted by USB2U on 24th September 2014 | Permalink

If you’ve got orders in with any UK supplier of promotional products at the moment and you’re against a hard deadline then now is the time to cross your fingers, get your hard hat ready and start worrying whether your order will turn up as promised.

Most promotional products supplied in the UK ultimately come from China and whilst this isn’t normally a problem because the usual turnaround times are often days rather than weeks right now it is.

Suppliers of promotional gifts that have gotten used to painless and quick shipments are currently facing what can only be described as a “melt-down” in China and specifically in the Shenzhen region. The problem is that there is not just one problem but multiple issues that have all come together to create a monster problem the size and magnitude of which most of the suppliers will never have seen before.

The events that have led to this are:

  1. The launch of the latest Apple iPhones and the unprecedented demand for them. This is turn have caused stresses and strains on the infrastructure in and around Shenzhen (China) where they are made (and many other electronic promotional products are made and shipped from).
  2. Alleged thefts of iPhones whilst in the hands of the forwarding agents and couriers which in turn has lead to increased security and customs checks (read delays!)
  3. Money laundering and the shipment of “cash” out of China – a recent high profile case has led to further checks in Customs in China (again read delays!)
  4. Holidays – next week is National Holiday and Golden Week in China so in the lead up to the holidays (when all the factories close) pandemonium breaks out as everyone tries to get their shipments out. The increased output in turn puts more pressure on an already overburdened customs and transport hub – (again, read more delays)
  5. Severe weather events in Hong Kong and the Shenzhen region have resulted in cancellations of some flights resulting in shipments being offloaded and rescheduled (read delays on delays)
  6. Increased nervousness on the part of the Chinese that anything carrying a recognised brand is a fraudulent copy – Customs Officers are now being instructed to seek written approval from the brand owners before they can allow any goods with their brand on to be shipped. This includes any branded promotional product. The issue is that requests for documentation are often not asked for until the shipment is with customs and so any request of this nature leads to delays.

The overriding message is that all of a sudden the slick and smooth “machine” that moved promotional goods (including promotional USB Memory sticks) from China to Europe in a matter of days is on the edge of being “broken”. Orders are missing their “must have by” dates and disappointment reigns. Unfortunately there is very little that can be done other than to hope things sort themselves out but an early resolution looks unlikely.

What Problems - Printed USB Sticks in 24hrs

What Problems – Printed USB Sticks in 24hrs

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Money Laundering, Customs Issues, Crazy Weather, Currency Weakness & Factory Closures

Posted by USB2U on 18th September 2014 | Permalink

All we’re missing at the moment is a volcanic eruption in Iceland and that’ll top off an interesting and challenging few days. Perhaps it’s best not to speak too soon because the Bardarbunga volcano in Iceland has been threatening to cause major travel disruption for the last couple of months so we’ve got everything crossed that it won’t add to the current list of woes.

We’re a UK based supplier of promotional USB memory sticks and like all other suppliers around the world our core products are manufactured in China. For the most part this is not a problem because we’ve been sourcing products from 2 – 3 key partners for the last 10 years or more so we understand very well the issues and the risks. Until a few days ago our standard lead times of 5-7 days were still being honoured but right now things are very different and the outlook is that it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

The usual delays we expect at this time of year (because of the National Holiday and Golden Week) have been exacerbated and extended. The underlying cause is a range of issues all colliding together to create on monster challenge.

The elements that are at play are a major money laundering operation/scare out of Shenzen and Hong Kong which in turn has led to a regime where customs are now being instructed to be undertake more rigorous checks of all packages. This in turn inevitably leads to delays and backlogs and all of this is happening in the run up to the National Day and Golden Week holiday when the couriers, airlines and customs departments are placed under more pressure to get shipments out before the holidays start.

Add into this mix some of the crazy weather that has been experienced in Hong Kong and Shenzen over the last week (leading to flight cancellations and delays) and you start to get a picture of the near “meltdown” that’s happening.

Of course whilst all of this is going on we have the vote for Scottish Independence taking place oday. This is driving uncertainty into the financial markets and pushing the value of the pound (£) down against the dollar ($) – the net effect of which is to increase the cost of any USB sticks that are able to run the gauntlet of getting out of China!

The only saving grace in all of this is that we’ve been around long enough to anticipate some of these issues so we have lots of blank USB sticks in stock in the UK which we can print or engrave and turn around in 1 – 2 days. As a result we will endeavour to ensure all of our customers get USB sticks for their event. They may not be exactly the model they wanted but at least we’ll be able to offer something!

Printed-in-24hrs

Printed-in-24hrs

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Review of USB2U Flash Drives by Professional Photographers

Posted by USB2U on 16th September 2014 | Permalink

In today’s highly competitive flash drive market a clear focus on quality, service and value is absolutely critical. Arguably when it comes to supplying flash drive packages to professional photographers the bar gets raised even higher.

Why? Well professional photographers aren’t just buying USB sticks to give away at a trade shows. They’re not using them to give to a team of roving sales people who can hand them out as a “promotional gift” and they’re certainly not looking to post them out in their thousands to a prospect list!

No, most professional photographers are using them to hold and store some of the most precious memories any of us will ever have!

USB flash drives have for many photographers become the obvious replacement for CD/DVD’s. Partly it’s because less and less people now use CD/DVD’s, partly it’s because they’re a format that is now a little dated and old fashioned and partly it’s because the range of USB flash drives now available are much more attractive, particularly when combined with great packaging (something that was harder to do with a large CD/DVD).

Quality, quality, quality is what’s needed. Cheap and cheerful standard promotional USB sticks that have poor read/write speeds, a short life span and a relatively high failure rate are certainly not the order of the day. At USB2U we understand this. Not only have we invested in taking time out to meet and talk to photographers at shows like The Photography Show but more fundamentally we have hired a dedicated Photography Sector Account Manager who, because her mum is a professional photographer, really understands photographers and what makes them tick.

USB Flash Drives for Professional Photographers

USB Flash Drives for Professional Photographers

We’ve also put together a dedicated web site aimed specifically at photographers and all of the products and bundles that feature on the site have been carefully selected – so expect high quality packaging options combined with high performance flash drives all of which are then hand finished (printed or engraved) in our own Northampton based facility. This way we get to control the quality locally and nothing is sent out until we are 100% happy with it.

The feedback we’ve been getting over the last 18 mths (since the new website launched) has been amazing. Here’s just a sample (more can be viewed on the TrustPilot site where there are well in excess of 2,000 customer reviews):

Sally (Amplified Studio): “We went for engraved wooden USB’s that came in gorgeous presentation boxes to match. The price was good, and communication was excellent. Nothing seemed too much trouble. The turnaround time was also faster than expected. I will certainly be using USB2U for all of our USB’s from now on and can’t wait to start giving these out to our clients.”

Iain Struthers Photography: “Great speedy service at a reasonable price. Ordered 25 wooden usb sticks for presenting to my photography clients. They are stunning items and have been very well received by all who have seen them. Will definitely be using them again!”

Steve McKenna L.M.P.A. (SMK Photographics): “Got my USB drive delivered and love them. From first initial point of contact all the way through to the finished product we were kept informed of what,why ,how,& when Great product & going down a treat with my customers”

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Hang onto your Hats if you’re about to buy Promotional USB Memory Sticks

Posted by USB2U on 15th September 2014 | Permalink

At USB2U we’ve been supplying promotional USB memory sticks for nearly 13 years and because of this we’re pretty good at understanding when things are likely to get challenging in the market.

We’re about to enter such a period and it has nothing to do with the forthcoming vote on Independence in Scotland albeit the uncertainty around this has caused a bit of a spike in prices because of the pound has fallen heavily against the dollar.

No, the turbulence we’re about to experience happens every year and it is holiday related. Not ours but the factories in China that manufacture the flash chips and assemble the USB memory sticks. The holiday in question is one of the biggest taken in the year – The combined “National Day and Golden Week”.

National Day is celebrated on the 1st October and whilst the official holidays break is only 3 days it tends to be extended into the week-end with most factories and offices closing for at least 1 week. This extended holiday allows their staff to return to the provinces to spend time be with their families.

Whilst a week might not sound long the problem is that people panic buy in the lead up to the holiday, the factories get rammed with orders and the whole mess that ensues can take weeks to sort out. Of course when the factories return from their holidays they have the double whammy of trying to deal with orders not fulfilled before their holiday and handing the backlog of orders that have built up during their holiday!

Chinese National Holiday - Promotional USB Sticks

Chinese National Holiday – Promotional USB Sticks

The cut-off day to get an order sent from the factories in China before they close for their holidays is the 25th September. If you miss this date then they won’t start working on your order until the 6th October when they get back to work. The reality is that on this day they’re going to be handling a large back-log so the usual turnaround times will be extended. You could, depending on when you place your order, be looking at a 4 week lead time!

Our advice is to get your order in now. Don’t wait. Get your place in the production queue secured. The longer you leave it the more likely you are to be disappointed. If you wait until next week then beware of any promises you are given on delivery.

Buying locally will de-risk your order and ensure you get your promotional USB memory sticks when you need them but the challenge will be finding a supplier in the UK that holds stock and has the capability to print or engrave them. A small number do but typically those that do only hold a very small range of products and a limited range of memory options.

At USB2U we’ve learnt over the years that customers need support during this period which is why we hold large quantities of USB sticks that we can print or engrave in-house. We also offer a “Super Fast” 24hr turnaround service on a wide range of USB sticks, a service that is designed to get customers out of trouble.

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Promotional USB Memory Stick Price Volatility

Posted by USB2U on 8th September 2014 | Permalink

It’s particularly difficult time to be buying promotional USB memory sticks at the moment. It’s not that there are any fundamental issues with supply it’s just that the pricing is all over the place.

The biggest problem is the weakness of the pound (£) against the dollar ($).

Pretty much every USB stick in the world is manufactured in China and USB memory sticks are traded in dollars. So if you’re a UK company (as we are) and you’re looking to import stocks from China then the exchange rate is critical in terms of setting price and margin. Ideally you also want reasonable levels of stability so that the prices you quote can be supported for more than a day or two. At this moment the pound is in “freefall” against the dollar so it’s a brave supplier that will hold their prices for any more than a day or two!! Not ideal for all parties.

The problem, no surprise, is the forthcoming Scottish Election on independence. With the polls now suggesting things are going to be very very close the uncertainty over the future of the UK has cast a long shadow over the currency markets. In the past few weeks the falling pound has resulted in a 6%+ increase in the price of imported USB memory sticks.

USB Memory Stick Prices Rise on Back of Scottish Election Worries

USB Memory Stick Prices Rise on Back of Scottish Election Worries

Unfortunately the next few weeks are likely to see the pound come under further pressure so price volatility is going to be with us for the foreseeable future.

Whilst all of this is going on the seasonal changes the usually impact the promotional USB market are also happening. It’s around now, as buying chase their Christmas stock that prices start to rise. So we’re about to see a “double whammy” of currency instability coupled with annual price rises. The combined effect could lead to prices increasing by around 20%.

Our advice is to buy now. Talk to your supplier, negotiate the best price you can get but don’t hang-around whilst you’re doing it. When you have a price you’re happy with then get your order confirmed and lock in the price. The exposure on the price/currency volatility is then your suppliers responsibility and at the moment they’re going to be in a very uncomfortable place.

Hopefully after the election things will settle down but at the moment there is just so much doubt and uncertainty about that it would be a brave man that would bet on it.

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Handmade Wooden USB Boxes from a Sustainable Source

Posted by USB2U on 4th September 2014 | Permalink

We love our little wooden USB gift boxes and fortunately our customers seem pretty happy with them too! When we started to look for a range of gift boxes that we could offer to professional photographers we wanted at least one box that was manufactured from wood (and the wood had to be from a sustainable source), it had to be a really good looking box and it had to be a box that we could engrave or print in the UK.

Finally any wooden USB gift box we supplied had to be something that we were proud to associate our brand with and it had to be a box that we were confident that our customers would be happy to put their brand/logo on.

Our handmade wooden slide boxes tick all of these boxes and some. They’re available in a light wood or dark wood, they’re from a sustainable source (with certificates to back up the claim), each one is handmade and hand finished which does of course mean you will get slight variations in size, colour and graining but that is part of the charm of buying a natural product.

Wooden USB Sticks for Professional Photographers

Wooden USB Sticks for Professional Photographers

We bring them into the UK with no logo on and no internal finish (stuffing) because we prefer to print or engrave them in-house using our own highly skilled staff and state of the art print and engraving kit. This way we get to control the final finish and quality of the boxes and we can respond more quickly to requests from customers.

The wooden slide boxes are usually combined with our Woodland USB memory sticks (available in the same light and dark wood). As a package they look amazing, they’re warm to the touch, slightly rustic looking and very tactile.

We finish the boxes off with a natural coir fibre insert (we’ve tried straw but it was just too big and looked silly) so when the boxes are sent out they arrive fully assembled with the USB sticks inserted and the filling neatly in place.

Wooden USB Sticks

Wooden USB Gift Box and Memory Sticks

The price for these boxes (printed or engraved and with the coir fibre inlay) is around £2.50 to £3.00 each which is amazing value when you consider how much work goes into them and how much the competition charge for some of their boxes (£8 – £20 is the norm).

If you’re a professional photographer and you’re looking for some USB flash drives and USB gift boxes that will help you stand out from the crowd and will be loved by your clients then our wooden USB sticks combined with our wooden USB sticks are a great option.

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Recycled USB Sticks – Great for DT Projects

Posted by USB2U on 2nd September 2014 | Permalink

With many students starting back to school this week it’s going to be an exciting time for many as they start in new schools, new classes and embark on new courses and subjects. Of course many will have just advanced a year in the same school and will be glad to get back into the routine (hopefully).

If you’re a teacher and you’re eagerly anticipating the arrival of this year’s cohort then good luck to you. Hopefully all of your preparation work is done and it’s just a question of putting your well-honed plan into action.

If you’re specialism is Design Technology (DT) and you’re still looking for assignment ideas then you might want to give some thought to setting your students the challenge of coming up with a new design for a USB stick. Despite the popularity of cloud based storage solutions like Dropbox and i-Cloud millions of USB memory sticks are still bought every year in the UK alone. They may be losing popularity in some sectors but the promotional market has taken to them with renewed vigour.

Part of the appeal is the falling price – it’s now possible to pick up fully branded (printed or engraved) USB sticks for well under £2.00 per unit (depending on memory size and the order value) so all of a sudden they’re in the “cheap and cheerful” giveaway category albeit they still deliver a range of valuable USP’s that other promotional gifts simply cannot match.

Build Your Own USB Flash Drive

Build Your Own USB Flash Drive

With thousands of different designs/styles of USB sticks available the challenge for any reseller of USB sticks is to come up with something different, something that will carry a printed brand or logo and something that looks good – in essence it’s a sector crying out for continuous innovation in terms of product design.

So, if you’re a DT teacher and you want to set your students a challenge then why not ask them to design and build a new range or collection of USB memory sticks that might appeal to various sectors of the promotional market or if you want to keep it simple to design a USB stick that the school could use or perhaps the students could sell to local businesses.

Inside any USB sticks is a simple flash memory module, a controller chip and a capacitor. These are typically attached to a Printed Circuit Board (PCB) and attached to the PCB is a USB connector. All of this is then “wrapped” in a shell (the design) to give it an attractive, portable and easy to use form factor.

The internal USB PCB’s are readily available from USB2U who can supply new versions or versions that have been stripped out of USB sticks that are no longer wanted or more commonly are taken from new USB sticks that have had the wrong logo printed on them (there are new but are classified as re-cycled because they will have signs of glue etc. on them).

Of course if you buy re-cycled USB sticks for your DT project they’ll be much cheaper!

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New Reversible USB Design Finished

Posted by USB2U on 19th August 2014 | Permalink

The standards group that have been developing the next generation of the USB cable and connector have finally finished their work and have now passed the exact specifications to the USB Implementers Forum.

Expect a smaller USB port with that will support cables and peripherals that can plugged in any way around! There are also significant improvements in the data transfer speeds that can be supported – 10 Gigabits per second which is twice the current maximum supported by USB 3.0.

The next stage is the manufacture of products, cables and peripherals to take advantage of the new specification. Dubbed “USB Type-C” the new connector is not dissimilar to Apple’s Lightning cable/connector.

USB Type C Cable and Connector - Courtesy of Foxconn

USB Type C Cable and Connector – Courtesy of Foxconn

Whilst USB Type-C has many benefits it is not compatible with the current USB standard so it’s going to take a while before it gains any critical mass and of course users will have to upgrade all of their peripherals to take advantage of the benefits on offer.

The move from USB 2.0 to USB 3.0 has been slow so it’s going to be interesting to see how quickly the market adopts this new standard. Its adoption is likely to be helped if it’s picked up and marketed by the makers of Android Smart Phones – it’s unlikely it will get any help from Apple who are likely to prefer their own Lightning standard.

USB flash drives that take advantage of the Type-C connector are likely to emerge later this year albeit we may just see first generation prototypes in 2014. Of course without PC’s, laptops, tablets and smartphones to plug them into it’s going to take a while!

Inevitably USB flash drives that take advantage of this new specification will be expensive so they’re unlikely to be used as promotional items and give-aways (unless you’re a company with deep marketing budgets and you’re targeting classic early adopters!). They’re also likely to have much larger data storage capabilities that the typical 8GB or 16GB USB sticks you see today – after all there is little point in putting all that power and speed into a USB stick and then equipping it with 8GB of memory that you could fill in seconds. It’d be a bit like designing a Ferrari with a 1 litre petrol tank – it’ll look fantastic, sound fantastic and drive amazingly well but it would only go 100 metres before you’d need to fill it up with petrol again!

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USB Lanyards & USB Name Badges – Ideal for Conferences & Seminars

Posted by USB2U on 14th August 2014 | Permalink

If you’ve got a conference, seminar, press event or show coming up any time soon then one of the many challenges you’ll have to wrestle with is how you make sure that the attendees can be identified easily. Of course you’ll also be expected to supply them with copies of the speakers’ slides and notes together with any associated Press Releases and marketing material.

In today’s security conscious world the identification of people attending an event is of paramount importance. You need to know that the people attending have actually been invited, they are who they say they are and once identified to you as the organiser that other attendees can easily identify who they are, who they work for and ideally what position they hold. The obvious way of doing this is to go through a sign-in process and the attendees with a name badge – a version they either pin to themselves of a version they attach to a lanyard.

At larger events a common technique is to add a Barcode to the name badge so the badge holder can be “scanned” and identified at various points around the event (handy for controlling access to VIP areas or just for tracking who went where).

If you use a USB Name Badge or USB lanyard you can get all the benefits of a standard badge and lanyard but with the added benefit of supplier the badge holder with a digital copy of the speakers notes, slides etc.

USB Lanyards and USB Name Badges

USB Lanyards and USB Name Badges

A USB name badge can be pre-printed with the attendees’ details and can include a bar code or QR code. Or, to keep it simple you could continue to use the current style/type of name badges you use today but substitute the usual lanyard with a USB lanyard – these can be printed or embroidered with you logo and marketing message as usual.

Either way you get a brilliant way of distributing all of your marketing material to every attendee. No more printing of speakers’ notes and slides, no more building a secure website login to allow attendees to login and download them – just load them up onto the USB lanyard or USB name badge and you’re done. The “uploading” of the data can usually be done for you free of charge by the USB suppliers you just need to have your data ready before they are ready to deliver them to you.

An added benefit of using a USB flash drive solution is that they tend to be retained by the recipient so you get much more continued brand exposure than you ever would with a regular name badge or lanyard.

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USB Wedding Favours – Recent price drops make them an attractive idea

Posted by USB2U on 13th August 2014 | Permalink

If you’re one of the thousands of happy couples that are going to tie the knot this year then amid all of the euphoria, stress and excitement that you’ll be going through there will no doubt be a million and one things for you to organise to make sure your happy day goes to plan.

The big things tend to be easy to remember (the church, the registry office, the rings, the dress, the venue and the flowers etc.) but it’s the little things that can get overlooked or they can just burn hours and hours trying to get them just right. Of course finding the suppliers for everything on your wish list is never easy!

If you’ve decided there’s enough budget left to provide Wedding Favours to your guests then there are literally hundreds and hundreds of ideas you could consider including the old favourites of chocolates, sweets , cup cakes and keyrings – most of these, if you include a nice little box to put them in are going to cost around £5 each. If you want them personalised then typically you’ll also need to add the cost of the artwork set-up and print costs which can add another £20 – £30.

Another option, and one that is gradually gaining in popularity, is a USB Flash Drive Wedding Favour.

USB Wedding Favours

USB Wedding Favours from USB2U

USB flash drives, and in particular engraved wooded USB flash drives have become really popular with professional wedding photographers who are now using them instead of DVD’s – the tend to buy them in “bundle” that include a printed or engraved box and the end results look stunning.

Having seen them some couples are now looking at buying these Flash Drive and Box bundles and using them as wedding favours. The boxes and sticks can be fully personalised and of course the one thing you can do with a memory stick favour that you can’t do with any other type of favour is to pre-load them with tons of digital files – so for example you could pre-load a little movie saying “thanks” to all your guests and load that on the flash drive. Or, you could put together a collection a montage of photos, music and videos that tell the story of who you are, how you met, how the relationship blossomed and finally images from the Hen and Stag do (if you dare!)

All of these files can be copied onto each USB drive by your supplier – typically at no extra costs.

Custom USB sticks for Wedding Photographers

Custom USB sticks for Wedding Photographers

With prices for USB flash drives falling you can expect to pick up a really nice engraved wooden USB memory stick for £3-£4. USB2U have some lovely packages on their photography site which are well worth a look at.

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