Make Money with Headwear

As T-shirts move to the forefront of fashion, one can’t help but notice the wave of casual clothing taking over the streets of America. And while some may argue this wave heralds a disintegration of formality, it’s hard to deny the windfall such a trend means for the decorated-apparel industry. And this isn’t just in relation to T-shirt sales. Other industry categories such as athleticwear and performance gear are also reaping the profits, as much so as headwear. While sweatbands are enjoying a comeback into mainstream wear thanks to the modern recycle of ’80s fashion, baseball and trucker caps are likewise becoming more accepted as part of everyday attire. And, as such, all products under the umbrella of headwear are becoming a more attractive piece of promotional programs, uniforms and giveaways.

Hats off to sales

Headwear clients aren’t exactly a-dime-a-dozen, but there are many companies that lend themselves more naturally than others to headwear purchases. “There is a lot of opportunity for caps in giveaways and such,” says Headwear USA’s Tony Karlicek, “but a bulk of the market is in what I call blue-collar programs. About half of all headwear sales can be chalked up to construction and landscaping companies, home-audio installation companies, along with plumbers, carpenters and so forth.” Partly because headwear can be added into uniform programs, and partly because such clientele typically enjoys a more laid-back everyday and working attire, this market has proved successful.

Existing clients in trade-oriented fields is one example of how to augment mainstream decorated-apparel orders, and team and spirit wear are another two of the more obvious examples of existing markets where headwear is a natural fit, where it’s perfectly appropriate for players and their supporters to don an embroidered or printed cap to demonstrate lines of loyalty.

So why, you ask, go to all of the trouble of finding a reputable headwear source, investing in additional printing and embroidery platens and hoops and, generally, go through all the hassle for a couple of smaller potential markets? “It’s the smaller, everyday customers that will grow your business,” Karlicek explains. “If they don’t order much, they’ll order consistently.”

And besides, as David Chen of Mega Cap points out, opportunities with headwear aren’t limited to smaller markets, but can prove lucrative in many mainstream instances. In fact, Chen believes what limits sales is actually a tunnel-vision about the opportunities for headwear. “A lot of people view headwear simply as an accessory,” he says, “but it’s a much bigger part of clothing. For many, it’s part of everyday apparel. Thinking in more broad terms allows you to get creative with headwear programs for corporate clients, law firms, organizations and, really, anybody.” Reaching into all markets with the likes of a great cap to fit their needs is, to this industry, the true hat trick.

Knowledge is power

But no matter who the client turns out to be—and no mind to whether they run a gym or a mortgage company—all our sources agree that wooing them with product knowledge and providing them options is the pathway to consistent sales. “Contrary to popular belief, a cap isn’t just a cap,” says Jennifer Treinen of Legend Marketing. “Making the sale includes finding out what they loved about their favorite cap in the past. Was it the shape? The way it fit? The way it felt? Headwear offers many options and determining first what type of cap they are looking for can ensure you will be able to fulfill their needs.”

Karlicek also stresses the difference between order-taking and providing an appropriate decorated product: “The customer doesn’t know what he wants, even if he says so.” Karlicek explains that a decorator’s product knowledge is what the customer seeks, and such expertise should be iterated first and foremost. “The client may know he wants a thousand embroidered caps, but it’s your responsibility to give him options to make those thousand caps work for him.”

Ask the right questions, he suggests, and find out how they’ve used headwear before, assess how effective it was in that context, and know what they’re trying to achieve with their order. Repeat business comes from satisfied customers, and if a specific cap promotion is leaving clients flat, take a different route to make it work.

Finally, seal the deal by showing initiative and innovation. “Decorators need to know that the limits on a cap are endless,” says Treinen. “An important component of any sales presentation is being able to show the customer new options while incorporating some traditional ideas. And show them with physical samples, as well as sketches of designs.”

Shopping suppliers

As true as it is for any other piece of this industry—whether regarding soft goods or hard equipment—all of our sources resound that having a reliable supplier for headwear needs is key to profit. Though the industry is heavily price-driven, and this generalization absolutely extends to the market for headwear, buying solely on price-point can harm rather than help the bottom line.

Caps, hats and visors are items that are increasingly being sourced overseas. With China opening up its trade agreements, US manufacturers can hardly compete on price. “But turn-around has to be a consideration in that price equation,” notes Karlicek. Many headwear orders are last-minute, and it hurts to lose business for the sake of inventory. But that’s why many headwear sources offer domestic options that can save the day. Plus, Chen points out, sourcing from headwear specialists rather than mass manufacturers is a sure-fire way to ensure quality and delivery.

Our sources also let us in on another unique aspect of this soft goods genre: the partnership that exists between many headwear suppliers and their clients. Many offer decorating or logo services to make adding headwear to your menu of services a no-brainer.

Trends in embellishment

The two most prominent methods of decoration for caps and hats are screen printing and embroidery. Both methods require some degree of skill working with the odd-shaped item, and also demand special tools—hoops, platens and such—to get the job done right. Other decorating techniques such as sublimation, digital-direct printing and transfer printing are also options for headwear. These latter, however, because of their heightened sensitivity to natural UV light, aren’t yet as popular as the old stand-bys.

Karlicek notes that there’s no real advantage of one technology over the other in this scenario, but that preference depends on each individual promotion. For example, an unstructured cap may look stellar with one embroidered logo, but another may require so much stitching that it will overwhelm flimsy fabric.

Certain youthful trends such as trucker and military caps are well complimented by a distressed screen-printed graphic, but such a combination may not suit a corporate client as well. Which is why our sources stress the importance of matching a headwear promotion to its buyer for best success.

(Editor’s note: Looking for a wealth of additional information on decorating headwear? Check out “Cap-Printing Options” and “Headwear Embroidery,” this issue.)

Boning up

With the endless possibilities that headwear presents, and the wealth of opportunity it opens, study up on the styles and get into it. A great way to start boning-up on the latest options in headwear is to be found on page 46 of this issue where you’ll read and view detailed information straight from the industry’s finest manufacturers.