Expand Capabilities; Enhance Sales

Roger Jennings is president of the R Jennings Manufacturing Co., an equipment manufacturer and printing supplies distributor in Glens Falls, N.Y. Those seeking additional information on the subject matter below should feel free to contact him at

During these difficult economic times, all businesses large and small need to find new customers and ways to increase sales. Easier said than done? Achieving success is easier than you might think.

In this article, we’ll take the approach to enhancing a business model from three directions—sales, capability and profit contribution. Specifically, we will explore what new sales are available, what changes will be required to deliver these new orders, and how these orders contribute to overall financial wellness.

Enhancing potential

Printers tend to print mostly of one type of product—for some it’s T-shirts, scrubs or even signs. This specialty is usually tied to the equipment at hand. However, the process of creating art, making screens and printing is the same for nearly all products and equipment large and small.

Most printing, regardless of substrate, requires a flat screen. So a textile print shop can print graphics on more rigid substrates simply by changing to a dual-cure emulsion and purchasing the ink appropriate for the substrate, opening up the world of sign and decal printing. 

Within the textile-printing business, there are products that can be printed that some may be avoiding. For example, golf shirts, tote bags, aprons and other textured products do not direct print well using traditional screen-printing methods. But with a few tweaks—using capillary film with 3D inks on very tight screens—the texture of the fabric does not affect the resolution of the image. Capability can also be expanded greatly by adding low-cost attachments to print sleeves, legs, pockets, caps, gloves, baby apparel and transfers. Additionally, inexpensive jiffy clamps can transform a tabletop one-color press for printing graphics and transfers. 

So we see that changing the emulsion, screen, ink or attachment on your manual press opens up new possibilities. Those sales opportunities we never would’ve considered are suddenly feasible with little additional expense. Get some technical help from a supplier to open the door to an expanded business. 

New frontiers 

A simple approach to discovering new sales opportunities is to list what printed products people can and do buy. The list should not be limited to what a particular business is capable of printing, nor by season or any other factor. We can discard options later as we gather more information.

The list will include T-shirts, caps, jackets, sweatshirts, signs, golf shirts, decals, paper bags, hockey pucks, tote bags, and many more items. With that identified, look at who buys these products, and when they are purchased during the year. For example, when are yard signs likely to be purchased by landscapers, people running for public office, and building contractors of all kinds? The requirements of customers also change with seasons. When T-shirt sales drop off in cold weather, supplement those sales with jackets, sweatshirts and other seasonal wearables. Consider, for another example, printing static-cling athletic booster decals for high school students to put in the windows of their cars. 

When you go through the process of sales potential you will find the opportunities to be limitless. 

Do the math

Now that the what and how are covered, we still need to determine how to compare such dissimilar options in order to pursue the most profitable options. But things aren’t always as they seem: The lowest profit-margin item might be the most profitable opportunity and the highest profit-margin item might produce the lowest overall profits. For one example, paper bags and boxes used by local manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers are often overlooked because the 25 cent-per-bag price for the printing might not seem profitable. However, when you discover you can print 300 to 400 one-color images per hour by hand, you will have found a very valuable addition to your business. Here is a scenario to help get a better look at what profit really looks like.

The difference between the selling price and cost of the item being printed is what we will call profit margin—ignore all other costs for the moment, such as labor, operating supplies, taxes, insurance and advertising. We will lump all these costs for the month, except the item being printed, into one category we will call overhead and deal with that later.

The profit margin per piece multiplied by the number of pieces printed per hour tells us the profit contribution of that item per hour. Paper bags, decals and hockey pucks can be gang-printed, and simple one-color T-shirts can be very profitable due to the large quantities that can be printed per hour. By contrast, high profit-margin volleyball uniforms for the girls’ high school team may not be the attractive order it appears to be compared to other options considering how long they will take to produce and order size. So we want to always look at profit per piece multiplied by the number of pieces per hour we can produce.

Going back to those overhead costs, simply add up all of the costs for the month, excluding only the cost of items that were printed. Divide this total by the number of days in the month you work to conclude the overhead per day. This daily overhead cost should then be divided by the average number of hours spent printing per day to get a picture of the overhead per printing hour. Finally, subtracting the overhead per hour from profit contribution per hour (profit per piece multiplied by pieces per hour) will show whether or not money is being made. This formula also helps to get a true comparison of the different products you may be entertaining and will point your business in the most profitable directions. 

In these hard times, we want to expand sales and expand our capabilities but spend little or no additional money. Using minimal-investment emulsions, inks and attachments to expand capacity allows businesses to attract new customers and to develop relationships that will also allow us to sell traditional products. But really the only ingredient needed to achieve success is some initiative.