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The Ultimate Guide to Succeeding in a New Apparel Decoration Business

by: 

Ed Levy

Ed Levy is an industry veteran and director of software technologies at Hirsch Solutions.

Just starting in the apparel decoration business can be daunting, but there are ways to accelerate your shop’s growth in year one. You can do this by taking steps that other entrepreneurs aren't doing or don't know they should be doing. Whether you only have a few days under your belt or you're in your first year, these tips apply to your success. 

First and foremost, you have to have a business model and plan. Are you a contractor or a retail shop? Contract printing is when the customer supplies the blanks, and you fulfill and charge only for the decoration. A retail shop is one that provides and charges for both the blanks and decoration. Network with other shops and industry veterans to get an idea of what you want to offer. As far as the business plan goes, you want to answer five main questions:

  • What services do I offer?
  • Who is my target audience/buyer?
  • What do they need?
  • Where do they hang out online?
  • Does my marketing target the way they take in content?

The U.S. Small Business Administration has free or low-cost services for business planning, startup advice, and loan application guidance if you need help.

Aside from the basics of laying out who your business is and what it will offer, these six steps are what will make or break your business. 

DECIDE ON EQUIPMENT

Make a short list of equipment and supply companies and reach out for information about their startup options. When requesting information, ask about training options, support, and financing. Highlight your growth plans, and see what they can offer.

Pro tip: Measure your production space before deciding on machinery, so you know what kind of space you're working with before you buy. Also, measure doorways for equipment delivery.

BROWSE FOR BLANKS

No matter what products you're offering, reach out to recommended suppliers or those whose products you like or have seen at trade shows. Ask for catalogs, price sheets, and samples. Only open accounts with vendors that match up with the types of products your buyers want.

Pro tip: To save on shipping or to get goods faster, work with regional suppliers.

DESIGN A LOGO

In the branding business, you need a logo. If you don't have one yet, design one or hire someone to do it for you. To keep the branding consistent, order business cards, brochures, stationery, work orders, and invoices with your logo slapped on it somewhere. Don't forget to stitch or print your shop's name and logo on promotional wearables like T-shirts, hoodies, and hats. Wear those pieces out and about and have business cards on hand at all times.

DIVE INTO SOCIAL MEDIA

Your customers are online, so it’s a great, stress-free place to talk to them for free or for the low cost of boosted posts and targeted paid ads. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter can grow your business’s visibility, especially when you share sneak peeks of your work. Share useful information and ask questions, as well as give them easy access to you. Social lets your customers behind the scenes and makes it easy for potential customers to find you.

BUILD A WEBSITE

Whether you decide to go e-commerce out of the gate or not, you need a professional website that gives customers the 411 on who you are and what you offer. Consider including a blog where you share video tours of your shop or show how you embroider or screen print a product.

GET INVOLVED IN THE COMMUNITY

From sponsoring school sports teams to outfitting the local charity run, there are several ways to get involved. Don’t be shy about asking for referrals.

You control and influence your shop’s growth. You have to be willing to push the pedal to the metal because you’re the key driver of your success.