Expand With Signage!

Grow Printer/Cutter Sales

Steven Jackson is the Product Manager of Digital Technologies at STAHLS'. As a veteran in the apparel industry, Steven has developed an in-depth knowledge of the heat-applied graphic process and trends. He also has previously developed a one-of-a-kind hands-on workshop for the Roland VersaCAMM and was the site administrator for MyVersaCAMM.com, a site that regularly hosts chat sessions on with topics covering the gamut of the apparel industry including digital decoration, heat-applied graphics, sign making and social networking. 

When most decorated-apparel business owners purchase a printer/cutter, they view it as a way to do short run jobs that are not cost-effective with screen printing or embroidery. In short, they do not want to turn orders away.

However, those businesses that have a printer/cutter may still be missing out on some jobs. If you aren’t promoting your capabilities to provide signage to your clients, you are turning away business that, in some cases, can even have a higher profit margin than T-shirts.

One of the greatest strengths of a printer/cutter is its versatility. It crosses over into so many markets. When my wife and I opened our screen printing business, we saw a lot of highs and lows in sales. We’d be going gang busters with back-to-school orders and then we’d hit a slump.

Once we added a printer/cutter, we found that making decals, yard signs and banners helps to even out the roller coaster.

Small businesses are the most obvious customers for signage, but any group or organization including schools, YMCA, sports leagues and local events present a potential sale.

Marketing Is Key

The key to being successful at expanding into signage is getting the word out. I often tell colleagues that you can have a banner stretched across your checkout area that reads “we do banners,” and you’ll get customers who will lean over the counter and ask, “Do you do banners?” That is to say, it’s important to find ways to get the message in front of customers multiple times.

One method we use in our shop to market to existing customers is printing samples and flyers. When we complete an apparel order for a customer, we take the left chest logo we already have queued up in the machine, switch out the media, and print out a row of decals. Then, we create a simple flier that shows several of the sign products we can do and staple the logoed stickers to it.

Another marketing opportunity presents itself when creating a digital proof for a customer. Normally, you send one page that shows the artwork on a garment. I add a couple of other pages showing the same artwork on a banner, a bumper sticker and a decal.

The material is not that expensive so both of these opportunities mostly just involve an investment of a little extra time. Doing so opens up the client’s eyes and makes them think about other possibilities. And offering this service encourages customers who might only come to you twice a year for shirts, to visit twice as often.

Cast wrap sign material is probably best-known for doing vehicle wraps, but it’s handy for a wide range of applications. When heated, it conforms itself to whatever shape it’s being applied to. In this instance, it was used to decorate a plane’s tail.

Logistics

As with any new venture, there is a learning curve when first using sign materials. But, as you learn how to use one or two of the sign products, you’ll find that the same principles apply to many projects.

For example, one sign product that seems to create the greatest concern is banners, but making a banner is pretty easy. You load the material, print it, throw some hem tape and grommets on it, and it’s done.

The profit margins in signs overall is higher than decorating garments and, in some cases, it’s significantly higher. For example, if you add up the cost of all the products to make a banner, which is the material, ink, grommets and hem tape, it costs about $1 per square foot. Depending on your region, you can sell that banner for $8 per square foot. Compare that to a digital heat transfer material, which averages between $2.50 and $3 per square foot. You might be able mark that up times three and charge around $9 per square foot. There’s a huge potential for profit margin in banners.

Decal media runs anywhere from $0.20 up to $0.50 cents a square foot. In many markets, it’s not unreasonable to see it selling for $6 to $8 dollars a square foot. I will take that kind of profit margin any day!

Materials

There are seven types of materials that cover every type of job. They are: heat transfer (for apparel), decal (all kinds of stickers), poster, wrap (for vehicles or odd-shaped items), banner, wall graphics, and a static cling (for window decals). Let’s take a quick rundown on each type.

Heat transfer materials are designed to be adhered to cotton, polyester and blends. There are some types that will adhere to almost anything including leather, nylon and performance polyester. The two main categories are clear for light-colored garments and opaque for dark-colored garments. There also are some specialty materials for low temps, metallic, etc.

In the decal sector, there are two major categories: calendared and cast. Most decals have a pressure-sensitive adhesive. Calendared material is like a ball of pizza dough. When you mash it down, the edges pull back up to their original shape. Projects for this material include traditional stickers, short-term applications (two years or less), and jobs where it is not critical that the media shrink from the edges.

Cast material is different. When it is manufactured, it is poured onto webbing and allowed to cure in that position, which makes it very stable. It doesn’t shrink back. Cast materials are what are used for vehicle wraps, football helmets or any application that is long term, such as a business sign or vehicle lettering.

Wraps are a specialized type of cast decal material suitable for use on vehicles, boats, refrigerators, motorcycles, etc. When it’s applied, it’s heated so that it conforms to the shape it’s being applied to. This type has the biggest learning curve, but it’s not as hard as people think—this material is very forgiving and, if you make a mistake, you can simply pull it off and start over. When the material is reheated, it resumes its former shape.

Next up, there are two major types of banners, scrim, which is what you see most often, and a super smooth point-of-purchase material. Which you choose depends on the application. When the banner is being used on a trade show floor or on the back fence of a baseball field, people are viewing it from far away and scrim is ideal.

However, if people will be viewing the banner up close, like in a retail store next to a display, you want a smoother texture. The smooth material is more expensive. Within each of these two main categories are tons of choices; the specific application will determine which material fits best.

A big consideration is whether it will be indoors or outdoors and, if outdoors, how much sun it will get. Banners in the northeast tend to last longer than those in places such as Arizona, due to the difference in UV light exposure.

Wall graphics printer/cutter material also comes in two categories: vinyl and fabric. The vinyl typically ranges from 4 to 10 mil thickness. One disadvantage of the vinyl is you can’t print and cut all the way to the edge. If you see a wall graphic with a white edge around it, it is most likely a vinyl-based material. This type is easy to work with in terms of handling and application, but the edges tend to curl.

The fabric-based material is a woven, and it can be printed right up to the edge. It is also easy to work with, but you have to make sure you cut it cleanly all the way through. If a portion is not completely cut through, but still connected to the exterior portion of your design, when you are pulling it off the carrier sheet, you could cause a fabric thread to catch and pull out, leaving a gap or white line across the entire design.

Both materials are pretty comparable in price, but we see more customers using the fabric versus the vinyl. There also are wall graphics materials designed to conform to the texture of the wall.

The only type of signage material with no adhesive is static cling. It is designed for use on windows and comes in white and clear (for use with machines that can print white ink). Window decals are more complicated to create than regular decals because they have to be printed with a white backing, and they have to be printed in reverse.

Poster or photo media has various purposes ranging from wall decorations to adhesive-backed products that can be used for food labeling or items such as wine bottles.

Just by reviewing this list of sign materials alone, you can understand the diverse range of products you can offer with a printer/cutter. If you are using your machine only for apparel, you are leaving money on the table and risk losing customers to other shops.

Take some time to research what sign materials are available and which of these products are the best fit with your current clientele. You will find you can get a lot more profit out of equipment you already have.