What kinds of things should I buy for my conference/workshop attendees?
I have a strong affinity for swag that is purposeful, intentional, and not wasteful. I often err on the side of choosing unique things that people may not otherwise have, but I'm also extremely thoughtful of what the purpose of the workshop/retreat is, and to curate swag that aligns with that purpose.
For example, if someone is running a business conference for women, I try to steer them away from beauty products because, while I'm sure much appreciated, it doesn't really fit within the purpose of a business conference to get a swag bag full of lip glosses. And also, when was the last time you went to a co-ed conference and they gave out cologne or hair gel for men?
Similarly, I'd recommend staying away from things that can be highly, highly personal (journals are one item that comes to mind). Unless you're creating a workbook for your attendees within the journal, most people already have some sort of note-taking system, or a book of "Big Ideas" that they like to work out of.
So what do I recommend? Depending on your conference:
Scratch Pads: I love cleverly designed scratch pads because they can be used to take notes at the event, or used anywhere in an office or home. Bonus points if there are lines and/or some sort of cute theme to them (I love these from Idieh Design).
Mugs/Tumblers: Mugs are a relatively easy, cheap, customizable product and, while you may say "But who needs another mug?!", creating an intentional design for the mug that coincides with the theme of your event can be a really great way to remind your attendees of your event long after they've gone home. I always use this website and have the design created by a talented designer.
Inspirational Prints: Dang, I love me some prints, and they're relatively inexpensive when you buy them in bulk. I get all my prints wholesale from Birdwalk Press, and Mina's so amazing that she'll even create a custom design with a custom quote for me if I give her enough time.
Treats: Depending on your event, it's always nice to have a little snack, treat, or delicious bite inside your swag bag. I prefer to choose something local (like these delicious treats from Bequet Caramels, located in Montana) or something whose branding I love. If you're running a wellness retreat, ProBars are a great choice.
Big Gifts: Sometimes, if you're running a big retreat, and you only want to buy one gift for attendees, it's worth thinking about how that one big gift can be beneficial to their entire experience and also save you some money too. For example, if you're running a wellness retreat and you have to rent glassware for cocktail hour each night, think about purchasing a branded mason jar or wine glass for everyone at the event and you can save on rental fees.
What about packaging?
Good question, my friend. I'm a BIG fan of using ULINE for kraft boxes. I also buy that crinkle paper from the dollar store to stuff the boxes with, and then I generally tie them with baker's twine or satin ribbon from the Dollar Store.
When I used mugs, I packaged everything in the mug. I don't often use Pinterest to get ideas, but I've heard it's a great place to get packaging inspiration, too.