shop tune-up

Printwear 2016 Shop Tune-Up: Day Three

Follow this year's Tune-Up, featuring Printwear columnist Erich Campbell and Regina Cassidy, owner of It Takes a Stitch. 

Day Three: Erich

The first thing we did today was a little bit of sampling with some magnetic hoops of the style that Regina had already implemented. The additional hoops would allow for hooping while garments were running, thus enabling her to be more efficient. We ran two samples, the first being a piece for a fellow digitizer’s webinar, and the second for self-promotion. The self-promotion sample was a personal monogram designed and digitized by Regina. I suggested swapping in specialty threads to get more mileage from a design, especially for the single-color work that makes up the largest part of Regina’s market for expansion. We selected a twist thread that blended a black polyester with a green-tinged metallic to create a varied and sparkling surface. It was great to show just how different a specialty thread can make even a simple design look without altering the digitized file. During the run, we discussed storage, preparation, workstation arrangements, and production concerns.

We embarked on the consulting work for day three, tucked into the office space for another round of examination and discussion. I was happy to discover that Regina had done a great deal of homework, including getting It Takes a Stitch fully verified on Google’s My Business pages. This step helped improve her visibility with potential local customers searching for an embroiderer. She also completed her profile with sample pictures, and her search cards were coming up perfectly, which was a major step for her inbound work.

Another important takeaway from the day’s discussion was Regina’s concern that her tastes wouldn’t be for everyone. We talked about the sorts of offerings that Regina is planning for the new direction of It Takes a Stitch, and came across another good lesson. When offering a product, it’s important to offer more than a garment with a design sewn on it, particularly in the mixed retail/custom space that Regina wants to inhabit. It’s more practical to select a garment and design a look based on the garment, sampling, or mockup that work as a complete solution. This helps a customer to envision what they’ll get, avoids confusion with too many options, allows a decorator to work with proven methods, and establishes the business owner as an expert consultant rather than an “embroidery machine rental service.” In the end, you can always offer a customer full control over their piece, particularly at the opening of negotiations, but what you show, you’ll sell.

One highlight for me that Regina probably saw as a low point was a visit to what I call the “corner of shame.” Almost all print and embroidery shops have a place where the dead stock collects; the blanks that seemed like a good idea, the canceled orders that couldn’t be returned, and the bits and pieces of apparel and accessories that accumulate over years of running a business. Regina was less than pleased when I called out this corner, but I assured her the area was well put together compared to some shops I’ve seen. Her dead stock was labeled and protected in plastic bins. Upon seeing a box of quality tote bags with various descriptions, I was immediately excited, as this was an opportunity. I suggested that Regina add these to orders as a way to enhance retention with existing customers, or expand her business with other customers. Regina was at first concerned since some of the items were discontinued, but I assured her that it wasn’t a problem with the wide variety of similar offerings still in the catalogs. This was the perfect item to put the It Takes a Stitch logo and contact information. Packaging smaller orders in a quality take-home tote was a win-win situation, since it served as self-promotion in memorable packaging. Plus, it would help clear out the old shame corner.

The discussion of increasing her own self-promotion lead to one of the last things we discussed that day, and it was probably one of the most important, albeit slightly uncomfortable. Regina asked if the It Takes a Stitch logo needed to be updated. I was glad she raised the topic, as it was on my list. Regina’s logo was a bit of a relic, and frankly, didn’t fit with the new direction of the business. The high-end custom work that she’d like to do is not well represented by stock Microsoft font in her logo. Her passion projects were so well-designed that all she had to do was think of her business’s marketing and design work in the same light.

Though we ended a little bit earlier than the long days we’d done in order for Regina to catch up with some necessary orders, the day was extremely productive.

Day Three: It Takes a Stitch

The day started testing new equipment and samples. A fellow digitizer had recently asked the embroidery community if anyone had used magnetic hoops for performance fabric shirts for a webinar he was hosting. While I had a lot of experience with these hoops, none were with performance fabric. With Erich’s encouragement, we ran a test and reported back to him that it was very good using a 5.5" hoop and the lighter-weight bottom ring, even with a general-purpose design on lightweight fabric.

We also stitched out my newly designed and digitized monogram in variegated metallic green thread, which makes a very interesting effect. Erich approved of my digitizing and pathing!

I did some additional work on my company Facebook page, Google, and we reviewed good practices. I now see the benefit and process of commenting and sharing material on Facebook. Erich stressed that I needed to share the kind of work that I want to do, and not the kind that I don’t want to do even if it’s cool or special. I need to make the customer my focus, know my audience, fill their needs, and see results.

I showed Erich my typography class projects from last year. It was fun to share this. The best thing, though, was his reaction. We had been talking about my logo redesign and the branding package. When he looked at my work, he said, “You are fully capable of doing this yourself.” It was such a wonderful validation. I plan on doing this soon, so I can redo the website, business cards, stationery, and the rest of my business products. For new order forms, Erich recommended separate forms for decorated items purchased from me and one for customer-supplied goods that integrates my policies for those; there may be several order forms for the different types of items.

We wrapped rebranding discussions with my business statement. I need a new one that keeps boundaries in mind and sets expectations. If I pursue higher-end home decoration products, I should really have a partner much like Gary Ramsey at Sport Fair. After getting more important priority items done, I may slowly start vetting vendors in my area. 

Campbell recaps the day's discussion on customer retention and repurposing old stock .