Stand Out

Josh Ellsworth

Josh is the VP of sales, dealer channel for Stahls'. He deals in the sales and implementation of heat-applied, apparel-decorating systems with a focus on customization. He holds skills in the production, sale, and marketing of customized apparel. He presents seminars at trade shows and contributes articles to trade publications, like Printwear magazine.

Imagine sitting in the stands at a high school football game under the Friday night lights. Count the players on the field on both sides wearing jerseys, now count the coaches, trainers and water boys. Before adding up the money made on decorated apparel sales to them, look across the field. Now look beside you. No, not at the band—look in the stands. The fans far out-number the players. Decorating fan apparel is often overlooked. Let’s look at a few strategies for capitalizing.

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Selling to fans can be approached in a number of ways. Opportunities exist for selling onsite at the game, in person before the game, online before the game or possibly through another sales channel, such as a fundraiser. Regardless of the sales strategy, the printing technique and merchandise choices can make or break the success and profitability of this venture. It’s important to put together combinations that sell.

When selecting merchandise to sell to fans, observe what they buy. Some observations are evident from the stands: Team colors are very popular. When setting up to sell to that fan-base, print stock combinations of team colors. Do homework on blank garment vendors who carry items in color combinations that work for the local teams. A garment can sell on little details such as the inside lining of the hood in a team’s complementary color or by contrast stitching on a T-shirt. In fall and winter, fleece is king especially in cold weather climates.

Beyond sweatshirts and jackets, stadium blankets are often on laps—sometimes you just can’t get warm enough. When putting merchandise together, don’t leave out these higher price point customized blankets that bring in higher margins.

Seat cushions and stadium seats are carried in by fans for added comfort—who wants to sit on a cold, hard bleacher? Having at least one option in the seating category can reap rewards.

Once spectators are all bundled up, they can really get the adrenaline going by waiving a rally towel in the air, rooting for their team. And, what if it rains? A last consideration should be in the shelter category. An umbrella choice with a team logo may make perfect sense for that rainy game.

The game plan

Though there are countless decorating techniques to print these fan-oriented items, here we’ll focus on heat-applied graphics. When considering various techniques in this arena, consider what can make the right profit.

If printing garments in quantities more than 24 pieces, a screen-printed transfer may be the right choice. The transfer route is nice because the prints can be ordered, but substrates don’t have to be inventoried. They can be ordered as the orders come in, or stock can be replenished in time for the big game. This business model can also limit the trend risk—if one product doesn’t sell well, the transfers can be used for something that did. 

Screen-printed transfers are available in a number of varieties. Distressed, glitter, hot split and foil transfers are just the beginning. Showing different transfer effects, especially on Ts and fleece can make an impression. Regardless of the style, always make sure to select a transfer that is compatible with the fabric of the item to be decorated.

It’s also feasible to apply screen-printed transfers onsite—all that’s needed is a heat press, blanks and the transfers. Just be sure that there is enough power to run the press. 

Reviewing films

Heat-applied film is a great choice for more personalized graphics for fans. Simply cut the team logo or text design and press it to an item. This works well for fan jerseys that several blanks suppliers now sell. This is also true of heat-applied flock. Flock material lends itself to fleece products as it maintains the soft and cuddly feel of a stadium blanket.

Especially in the teamwear market, bling is big. Designs completely out of rhinestones or foil material will make for big sellers with kids and parents alike. Rhinestones can be ordered in as a transfer for easy heat application onsite, or there are systems to create custom rhinestone templates for personalized designs.

Don’t forget about photos. Having an inkjet printing device and compatible transfer media allows for photo quality images to personalize popular fan items. Sometimes this can be the photo of a player, a touchdown score or even a shot of the stadium.

Choosing sides

There are certain opportunities to combine the best of both approaches. A repetitive part of a design, for example, can be completed with a screen-printed transfer while still adding personalization. The best option here is to combine the process of heat applying a screen-printed transfer along with a heat-applied film design or rhinestone element. A common example of this is a stock design with a name or number drop. This approach will allow for fast and easy personalization of garments while yielding a complex-looking design. 

Although it doesn’t fit perfectly into the quantity-based examples, digital transfers also make good sense for fan items. These digitally printed transfers are available in any quantity and lend themselves well to items such as stadium seats or umbrellas. Another advantage is that this technology allows for full-color graphics. Digital transfers pose the same advantages as stocking screen-printed transfers in terms of inventory control. Once decorating capabilities are matched with the perfect merchandise, the only thing left to do is sell.

The crowd goes wild

Selling and printing at the game can be challenging but rewarding. When setting up for event-based printing, there may not be a lot of competition. That’s because there are lots of points to consider: power requirements for equipment, staffing, fast and simple order procedures, clear guidelines as to order completion times, and booth display and setup. A lot of preplanning goes into decorating at events. Be sure to coordinate with the booster club to make sure it goes as seamless as possible.

Another profitable option is in co-op programs with the school or booster clubs. Set up a nice merchandise package and pitch a fundraising program for students or the team to sell to their families and friends. Be sure to allow for enough profit for everyone involved. Good luck on capitalizing with football fan sales and don’t forget… basketball season is just around the corner!