How To... Land New Clientele

You’re listed in the phone book, you’ve optimized your website, and you’ve made your services known to everyone you can think of. But how do you make your business more than generally available to potential customers? What say we ask a few of those very potential customers?

Below, professionals from the non-profit, corporate and hospitality markets recall what caught their eyes when circumstances called for a promotional-apparel source.

Additionally, these end-users offer their insights on what they’re looking for in such a business relationship, and discuss appealing approach techniques, from a consumer standpoint.

Non-profit negotiations

When approaching the not-for-profit market, the topic of price point becomes more pronounced than usual.

Eric Schmidt of the Family Learning Center, a non-profit operating out of Boulder, Colo., says that in seeking an embellisher he would look to a local decorator who could work within his budget constraints.

“As a non-profit, we’re looking for community involvement within our organization as well as in our promotional events,” Schmidt states. “You’d be surprised to see how many companies are willing to contribute services in the area if given information on how that organization helps the local community.”

While more likely to bargain-hunt, non-profit organizations do not necessarily expect a one-way compromise; Schmidt describes a win-win co-branding collaboration: “We’re not opposed to a company putting its logo on a promotional item,” he offers, suggesting that decorators spread their word through partnerships with their customers by sponsoring an event or giving discounts in return for inconspicuous logo placement.

Because non-profits open a host of networking opportunities through community events, providing these kinds of innovative incentives will pay off when satisfied customers in turn promote your community involvement and advertise your services.

In addition to the usual considerations of price and turn time, it’s also imperative to anticipate how your products and services will fit in with the gamut of prospective non-profit events, and to consider who will be donning your work.

“It’s really important that my printer has a wide variety of materials to print on,” Schmidt comments. “I’d find the highest quality T-shirt and screen printing for staff. If it were for sale, we’d probably step it up even more. But if I were giving something out as a promotional item at a fundraiser, we’re less likely to stress quality.”

He also emphasizes the significance of the garment itself in the delivery of the overall message, recalling the distinguishable style of a local coffee shop with which he’s had fund-raising relations: “The Laughing Goat is a laid-back company and their T-shirts reflect that with frayed-edge, lose-fitting collars and a softer feel,” he states. “They’re the sweetest shirts in town.”

Corporate considerations

Infiltrating the corporate market may prove more challenging because chances are, if a potential client doesn’t already have an established embellisher or promotional-product distributor, someone in its immediate network has.

However, according to the marketing and communications team at Metrolist Inc., a corporation headquartered in Denver’s Tech Center, there are several ways to approach this clientele category.

“Innovative product samples are always interesting,” says Metrolist’s Melissa Olson. She prefers distinctive offerings because of the frequent similarities she tends to see across the industry. “It is valuable to have something unique that no one else in your local market area, region or nationally has.”

Olson adds that not only having, but communicating your knowledge of cutting-edge promotional products can boost rapport with potential customers.

“What I’d really like to see is what’s hot and new, what are the new promotional products on the market today that are high tech, popular? Send me a quarterly update of the top ten most requested promotional items,” Olson remarks. “Sometimes you don’t know what an embellisher can do or you don’t know what is hot on the marketplace until you’re looking for it, and then all of a sudden you’re like ‘Well, why didn’t you tell me this was so cool?’

Because corporate-communications professionals are in the business of keeping one step ahead of their customers, lending them your insider knowledge could result in an addition to your customer base. To that end, all our Metrolist sources resound the importance of getting these innovative offerings not only in their heads, but into their hands.

“Providing me with apparel samples—something I could touch and feel—would be impressive,” comments the company’s Allen Spencer.

He recounts a sales presentation with which he was especially impressed, by an embellisher who actually had his logo stitched out on a sample garment, but adds that just having something tangible speaks volumes. “Even receiving a shirt with the vendor’s logo, for example, would be impressive.”

To get your eye-catching examples—and, subsequently, yourself—in the door, Olson suggests taking novel product samples, especially those with some form of branding, and mailing them in or leaving them at corporate headquarters’ front desk.

Another clever and highly-recommended way to penetrate the corporate scene is to become affiliated with some industry-specific and national marketing veins.

“Get networked with marketing communities, marketing agencies, advertising agencies,” Olson advocates, stating that she has, and will continue to turn to fellow marketing professionals for resources: “I would go to my marketing agency and ask, ‘Who do you have that’s a great screen printer?’ I would go to my industry network, and I might go to one of my trade associations as well.”

Organizations such as the American Marketing Association and Business Marketers Association provide a medium to appeal to a host of professional networkers.

Similarly, going straight to marketing and ad agencies representing these corporate accounts has the potential to ripple-effect business to new heights.

“If an agency lands you a couple of clients and you do a good job for them, the word spreads,” Spencer remarks.

Clearly, corporate America is not intangible; however there are some major corporate outfitter competitors, such as Lands’ End and LL Bean, to be aware of.

Metrolist often takes the retail route for its employee apparel because it’s easy, convenient and consistent in quality, according to the MarCom team.

“Certainly the retail brand is trusted just because it’s familiar, as opposed to the unknown, new supplier,” Spencer reports.

Similarly, Olson stresses the value that accompanies big names: “It’s part of the brand recognition,” she states. “Who wants to get a generic T-shirt? Your audience buys quality, consistency and the whole nine yards, and that is where these companies have the advantage.”

However, the prevalence of retail brands now offered through wholesale channels gives this industry back some edge.

“That would be something they should heavily promote,” Olson says of retail brands through wholesale channels. “That’s a huge selling point. Work on the brand knowledge, brand awareness and the cache of certain manufacturers.”

In the hospitality industry, imbellishers' design suggestions are welcome. Restaurant retention

With fewer formalities than in the corporate world, the local hospitality marketplace will likely offer more creative liberties, welcoming embellishers’ design suggestions.

“Upon meeting Pete, the recommended screener, I was impressed by his attitude, and he actually gave me a lot of input as to the shirt design,” comments Jason Calloway of Joe’s Espresso. “Some printing companies I’ve dealt with in the past want you to have your ideas already nailed down, but Pete was very helpful on what would look the best, and I decided to stray from the designer we typically used and try him out.”

Much like the non-profit and corporate end-users, Joe’s Espresso initially looked within the area network to satisfy its promotional T-shirt needs, seeking advice from another independent coffee shop for its first Barista Jam event.

“I saw their merchandise and was impressed by the quality,” Calloway reports. “So I got the number of his screener and went to work.”

Quality caught Calloway’s eye, but service is what lead him to take a chance on a new embellisher.

“I made this choice because it supported a local business, and Pete was willing to work with me on pricing as a form of promotion for his upstart company,” Calloway recalls. “I will definitely use his company again. The turnaround time was practically nil, the price was right, the quality top-notch, and if I ever had an issue, the president of the company would be through my door instantly to correct it.”

One final appeal tactic that Calloway and all our sources suggest is taking the time to do your research.

“In the past, the people that got my order were the ones who paid attention to my business before they even approached me,” Calloway remarks. “They knew the style of the business and offered suggestions in the vision of the company, which showed me that they were willing to study me, and therefore willing to take the time to create merchandise suited to my business style.”

Because networking and viral marketing clearly factor into every market, when you do land that client, be sure it knows who you are. Associate your name with your quality services and finished product by accompanying every completed order with a business card or two. That way, when the inevitable “Who did your awesome T-shirts?” questions roll in, all your satisfied customers will have your name on hand to spread the word accordingly, automatically building up your customer base.