In a good building, a strong foundation is essential to the viability of the entire structure; the broader and sturdier the base, the better the building. Likewise in a business. As is true of most apparel decorators, you probably started out with a single discipline—no doubt embroidery or screen printing. You spent time learning the ins and outs of the process and the business, to build a good, solid—though not particularly broad—footing.
The lesson today, though, is in order to maximize your return, your capabilities must match up to your client’s need; when that need and your capabilities coincide, the relationship naturally grows stronger. In today’s world, people are looking for one-stop shopping. Shopping malls and “superstores” are so successful because they provide convenience and save time—you only have to park your car once. Likewise, if you can diversify your offerings by adding decorating disciplines that are complementary to that with which you started, you will strengthen your ongoing business, gain referral business, increase your profits and posture yourself for growth and longevity.
The bigger picture
The promotional-product industry is over $18-billion and growing; and this figure does not even take into account direct-to-consumer sales for weddings, reunions, private parties and such. Of this $18-billion, promotional apparel represents over 30 percent. The rest of the pie is made up of ad-specialty/promotional-product giveaways, drinkware, recognition and award products, buttons and badges, magnets, calculators, clocks, electronics and more. There are several methods used to decorate such products, and there is enormous opportunity to both strengthen and broaden your client base through the ability to do so.
The corporate client who calls for embroidered shirts is also a great candidate for cylindrically screen-printed coffee mugs for employee recognition, screen printed T-shirts for a company party or event, or even a dozen sublimated T-shirts for a personal happening such as an annual camping trip. Having the ability to provide a wide variety of personalized and custom gifts stimulates your clients’ thought process as they are exposed to greater diversity. In addition, having more capabilities attracts a larger client base to create a more stable business and, as the variety of products grows, the word-of-mouth and referral business increases dramatically.
The folks at MWM Sports (Brenham, Texas) believe in and practice such diversification. Brandon and Kristi Musser started their business in the summer of 2004. They decided to start with screen printing, knowing it would be the easiest thing for them to sell at the onset. They invested in a six-color screen-printing system and devoted the time to attend training so they would be prepared to go into production right away. Being parents with children involved in many sports, they first approached local schools for business.
“Our first order consisted of thirty shirts, one color,” Musser explains. “It was delivered on August second to our local junior high.”
Shortly thereafter, they added embroidery and spent the next several months meeting customers and writing screen-printing and embroidery orders.
By January of 2005, they were holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony at their beautiful new facility, with Lance Berkman of the Houston Astros signing autographs, live radio coverage and a concession stand benefiting the local high-school baseball team. The grand opening was a great success and brought in significant business.
“Since then, we’ve added CAD-cut for doing names and numbers, and have done a little sublimation,” says Musser.
By adding a heat press and CAD or vinyl cutter, they can easily increase profits on sports-team jobs by offering names and numbers: Names average between $2.50 and $3.50 each and, with a number, we’re talking up to $7 a pop.
Similarly, Michael and Joan Grote of Just For You Promotions (Trevose, Pa.) added a heat press and vinyl cutter to their screen- and promotional-product-printing business. Says Grote: “Now the little kids look like the big leagues all because we offered it . . . along with driving our profit up.” The CAD and vinyl cut also provides the ability to fill the one- or two-piece order quickly and easily.
Another great benefit of diversifying is that you are not relying upon just one decorating method to keep your business active. “We do plenty of embroidery business for corporate,” Musser says, explaining that they stay very busy with embroidery on the executive level and, with their screen-printing services, for broader corporate events. “Having multiple technologies has really helped us keep steady business coming in the door and brought in lots of referral business as well.”
Adding a new technology does not need to be a difficult or expensive proposition. Screen printing is one of the most high-demand and high-production decorating methods. However, you need a different decorating technology to print a coffee mug or a golf ball. Cylindrical-screen-printing and pad-printing equipment is affordable, takes up very little space and returns a good profit.
Darrell Abang, owner of Big Bang Promotions (Redmond, Wash.), added both pad printing and cylindrical printing to his screen-print shop because he had a need to meet his customers’ demands for all kinds of non-apparel goods: “Customers who come to me for T-shirts often need other types of decorating. When they found out they could order can koozies, key chains, sport bottles, pens and the thousands of other items we now offer, things really took off and our clients got pretty creative. Pad printing and cylindrical screen printing offer other, really flexible ways to print other products, along with a great chance to up-sell. Another nice thing about it is, while I was limited on production space, everything operates in a desktop space.”
Abang produces orders for many school sports teams and offers to bundle screen-printed sport bottles, pad-printed sport balls and other complementary products as an upgrade to each order. This has increased his profits, gained greater product awareness and referral business.
Nothing we can’t do
Most companies agree, if they are not already using it, that sublimation is the next decorating technology they would add. The digital-photo gift industry is growing by leaps and bounds. Everyone has a digital camera and, with the wider variety of products available, there are more options that appeal to a broader client base.
“The next step for us to take would be sublimation,” says Grote, “We have customers that want that picture quality and it is necessary to satisfy that customer. We want to be a one-stop shop for all. Nothing we cannot do. Our motto is: If you think it, we ink it!”
The promotional-product decorating, personalized-gift industry is an exciting business to be involved in, as it offers amazing growth and opportunity. The decorator who starts with a good solid base and diversifies its capabilities and offerings to match its customers’ needs will not only grow its client base and profitability but will create a business that is built to last.