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Marketing Embellished Women’s Wear

Promotional-products expert Don Sanders joins us this month and going forward with insightful commentary designed to help apparel decorators bridge the gap between merely embellishing garments and selling promotional apparel.

Q: I print rugby shirts for a women’s rowing team in the area and they’ve asked me to provide them with ideas they can use to expand their fund-raising efforts. I would like to show them something really neat so, if I make the sale, I can call on other rowing teams and try to do business with them, too. Any suggestions?

A: Most club rowing teams support themselves by soliciting donations from individuals and corporate sponsors. For that to work, they need to offer thank-you gifts. So show them items that people would like to receive in return for their financial support. Decide on a dollar amount for each sponsor level, then match items to those levels of support. For example, if someone donates $50, they could receive a custom cap with the club’s logo embroidered on the front panel. For a $100 gift, suggest gym bags either sewn or screened with the logo. For big donors who contribute substantial gifts such as $2,500 and up, an etched brass wall plaque that can be displayed in the foyer of their office would be a fitting gift. You may also want to help them design the literature they leave with potential sponsors. By providing a turnkey job for your customer, you can contact other clubs and demonstrate the success you have had with this program.

Q: Our local women’s foundation buys women's golf shirts from my company for its annual retreat. At this year’s meeting, they want to discuss how to use gift items to increase their volunteer efforts. Have you had any experience with this?

A: We’ve done several items for women’s groups that ended up being used in this way. A great thing to pitch to this group would be a die-cast lapel pin covered with colored enamel. You can sell a pin manufactured like this for around $5 and make yourself a nice profit. The foundation can give them to volunteers as a reward for the hours they have donated. In our experience, they were so popular that people who were a few hours short of the total deserving of a pin called the office wanting to know when they could help out again just so they could obtain one of the pins. That proves that you never know what motivates people. Put on your thinking cap and come up with some clever things you think people would like to receive for their efforts. Something you will need to keep in mind is that you may want to show your customer exactly how to use the items you suggest. Many non-profit organizations are good at what they do, but they often come up short when it comes to making the most of situations. In addition to providing the promotional product, you may also need to be the leader on a program for them.

Q: There’s a women’s leadership conference that is held in our town every year and a friend of mine works for the public-relations agency that helps promote the event. I know in the past they’ve used promo items to promote the event to the media. So how do I get a part of this business?

A: Start by creating some personalized samples of new or unique items. Ask your agency friend to send you a digital file of the event’s logo, then forward it to some friendly suppliers who are willing to do some spec samples for you. Do this far enough in advance so that you aren’t rushed; you always want to appear well organized. When the samples arrive, take your friend to lunch to show her the goods. By doing that you will get the ball rolling on this sale. In all instances, established sales relationships are hard to break; and since promo items have been used in the past, they’ve obviously been buying from someone. The best way to replace that person is by showing that you are more creative and reliable.

Q: With the economy in a slump, many of my shirt customers seem to be holding back. Even some of my usually very reliable buyers are spending less. What can I do to stimulate sales?

A: That’s a great question for this issue of the magazine. The best way to increase sales is to start calling on some different types of customers. One such niche may be the women’s market since many people shy away from calling on organizations primarily serving females. They just aren’t familiar with the current buying trends for women. In the case of apparel, many new items are now available for both female employees and executives. In an effort to support the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s fight to wipe out breast cancer, many suppliers are now producing products in the foundation’s signature pink color. Search out suppliers with these types of product offerings and show them to new contacts. Getting outside your comfort zone and selling different items to new customers is the way to move forward with your business.

Q: The university from which I graduated features several women’s study programs that have monthly speakers. One of my peers has asked me to think of some items they can use as speaker thank-you gifts. Any thoughts?

A: To reward someone properly, suggest presenting him or her with something meaningful and useful, such as a high-quality leather portfolio embossed with the university’s logo. The more expensive pieces in this product category are made of one hide that is free of imperfections. You can sell as few as twelve pieces and they are an item that recipients will be proud to have and use. There are many other high-end products such as this. The important thing to point out is that you are the person who can offer high-end gifts that people want and that reflect well on the university.