Growth Opportunities for Apparel Decorators
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that diversification and flexibility are key operational functions to remain in business. For apparel decorators, the idea of convergence (or adding additional products and services) has emerged over the past several years. It’s clear that to survive today’s consumer buying habits, decorators need to offer more than T-shirts. But there is a right way and a wrong way to expand.
The Right Way
“Diversification is important,” believes Dan Neto, president of Canada-based Print Geek. “By diversifying, [apparel decorators] can add more value to their customers, acquire new customers, and become that one-stop shop that clients may be looking for.”
In addition, decorators also set themselves up for better control. “Having [a process] in-house, you can dictate the turnaround time, quality, and customer experience,” says Tom Rauen, founder and CEO of 1800Tshirts.com, co-founder of Shirt Lab based in Texas, and Apparelist advisory board member.
Before purchasing new equipment and inventory, evaluate what you already have and whether adding a service is a good fit. “Make sure it is something your customers want to buy, and you will have the volume to keep that piece of equipment running,” Rauen advises. “Focus on what you are good and efficient at, and contract everything else out. Once your volume increases high enough in a specific item, then weigh out the cost and margin difference of bringing that production in-house versus outsourcing it.”
Some products fit naturally while others don’t. “Mugs and other flat dye-sublimation products, stickers/labels, and direct-to-film (DTF) transfers are easy products to introduce,” he states. “The saying ‘build out and they will come’ doesn’t always apply, and can lead to stress on the business. New service offerings should be shared with existing clients to gauge their interest level. Once the interest is there, then you can start thinking about equipment and workflow around it all to make it happen.”
Where to Go
For those who have decided to expand, there are a few places to go to ask questions and source products. In-person trade shows are an excellent opportunity to see equipment and products. “Bring your own art file and have [manufacturers/suppliers] print a sample with your file to compare apples to apples across various equipment,” says Rauen. “If you see other attendees in the booth, ask if they have the equipment and get feedback.”