“Turning Your Troubles into Dollar Signs” – SUCCESS STORIES Podcast: Ep. 12 (feat. Mark Graham of Commonsku)

Where a business owner’s journey starts, and where they end up is the topic of today’s Success Stories podcast.

In 1997 Mark Graham founded Rightsleeve, a promotional design agency in Toronto, Canada.  The firm specializes in merchandising aimed at businesses, schools, camps, and organizations.  Mark successfully operated that business for 22 years before selling the company to Genumark in 2019.

Along the way, Mark founded another company, commonsku, which is a trusted CRM, order management, and social collaboration tool for the promotional products industry.

Today’s Success Stories podcast will focus on the origins of Mark’s career, the beginnings of commonsku, and his journey into building it into what it’s become today.

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How Jiu-Jitsu Helped Rener Gracie Create the Perfect Hoodie

“I’ve been in the industry for 25 years…THIS is the one we’ve been waiting for.” That’s what a promotional products veteran told Rener Gracie one day, after witnessing his extremely high-energy and engaging presentation of the Quikflip hoodie. The spectacle was one that had huge crowds circling around Gracie, as he magically transformed his hooded sweatshirt into a drawstring bag – within seconds.

Gracie’s energetic presentation of the famous Quikflip Hero Hoodie Lite – LAFZH

Not only was it something the crowd had never seen before, but the prospect of being able to offer customers an opportunity to get double the impressions, by showing off their logo on both the back of a drawstring bag and the surface of a trendy sweatshirt – all in the same product – had every passersby salivating.

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How Solar Energy Is Moving Us Towards Sustainability

By this point, you’ve probably heard that we’ve gone solar, and now, thanks to fantastic new drone footage below, we can give you an even closer look at our entire nationwide network.

As we become more aware of our impact on the environment, it’s clear how much work we have ahead of us to become a more sustainable society. The first step toward change is often the most important, and that’s what this solar project is all about. As our company continues to expand throughout the United States and now Canada, we have an obligation to create new and innovative ways to do it responsibly.

This solar network is only the beginning of our ongoing push to become a more sustainable company, and we couldn’t be more excited about bringing it online. 

Getting this project to completion was a monumental task made possible by the hard work and dedication of our management team and partners at Pure Point Energy.

“Bringing solar energy into our nationwide network is a wonderful opportunity to align operations with both our mission and values statement, which include sustainability objectives.”

– Frank Myers, our COO and CFO
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“How To Hit The G.A.S. on Growing Your Business” – SUCCESS STORIES Podcast: Ep. 11 (feat. Tom Rauen of Envision Tees)

Many businesses talk about growing their sales and setting goals.  For apparel decorator and marketing king Tom Rauen with Envision Tees in Dubuque Iowa, expanding the business and obtaining new customers has been a focus.

You may also know Tom, from his widely publicized Guiness World Record event, where he broke the record for the largest number of T-shirts worn at once by any person.

He’s developed an interesting way of doing that with his “Growth Acquisition System” or G.A.S. for short.

On this episode of Success Stories, we will dig into exactly what this unique approach is, and why it is working so well for Tom at Envision Tees. He’ll also dive into Shirt Lab Tribe, which is a community of entrepenuers dedicated to learning how to build, grow, and scale their decorated apparel and promotional products businesses.

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Here’s Why Tie-Dye’s Back in a Whole New Way

Did you happen to catch Rihanna’s ultra-happy pink tie-dye dress by Asai? The demand for the throwback-patterned style hit such a fever pitch that the designer created a ready-to-wear version, with 100% of the proceeds going to charities that support Black Lives Matter.

That Asai dress definitely hit a cultural note in 2020. Yes, tie-dye has trended in and out for years, but it came to the fore in 2020’s runway and retail offerings—and promises to continue into 2021—because of the feelings it evokes: comfort, nostalgia, cheeriness, casualness and youth, even the sunny idealism of its ‘60s heyday. 

“Designers have featured tie-dye’s optimism for several years, but now the general market is embracing it.”

Pamela Ptak, Fashion Designer

Fashion designer Pamela Ptak attends lots of themed conventions, like Comic Con, throughout the year and noticed a trend toward super-happy consumerism that’s only grown stronger in 2020. “Right now, people are hungry for connection and meaning,” says Ptak, ARTSandFASHIONinstitute.com co-founder. “They’re looking to the past for a time of prettiness, peace and kindness. Designers have featured tie-dye’s optimism for several years, but now the general market is embracing it.”

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“Their Favorite Books of Wisdom” – SUCCESS STORIES Podcast: Ep. 10 (feat. Lots of Industry Leaders)

It’s no secret that many people gain tremendous insight and inspiration from reading books. Because many people tend to buy and share their favorite books as holiday presents, on today’s episode of Success Stories, we’ve asked a wide array of industry leaders to give us their favorite tips and recommendations for books that they have enjoyed this year.

We’ve asked a wide array of industry leaders to share their favorite book recommendations with us, to help you get inspired going into the new year. You’ll hear from:

  • Mark Graham
  • Charity Gibson
  • Roger Burnett
  • Jay Busselle
  • Tom Rauen
  • Jeff Solomon
  • Brian Rainey
  • Mark Kapczynski
  • Mark Coudray
  • Nate Leber
  • Shawn LaFave
  • and of course, Marshall himself

You’ll also hear from some of our staff, here at S&S, because we love books too! Whether you’re looking for a new book to give you an edge over the competition, or trying to find the perfect gift for your staff, we’ve got you covered in this special episode.

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Read This Before You Invest in New Decorating Equipment

Six months before COVID-19 hit, shop owner Howard Potter was planning to invest a cool $240,000 on new equipment and a building addition. However, as the lockdowns started, luckily he was still in the “thinking phase” and hadn’t made final purchases. This gave him time to replan A&P Master Images’ next moves to stay profitable during the pandemic.

In 2020, Potter instead made some smaller strategic purchases to the tune of $20,000, like moving his shop’s server room into the office to offer more file protection and create more production work space (that cost $5,000). He also bought cameras and monitors to have a full view of production; digital phones, so staff can answer customer calls from any computer; software upgrades; new LED lighting in the screen-print room; and extra screen-printing press attachments.

“Number one mistake: Most buyers look at price first. Research the vendor and find out how their customer service and service after the sale is.”

Howard Potter, Owner of A&P Master Images

Now that Potter pivoted his Utica, NY shop in 2020 and is even more profitable, next year he plans to invest in an $87,000 eight-head embroidery machine. He made this equipment investment decision after carefully reviewing his shop’s needs and where he wants to grow the most. “We produce more than $500,000 in embroidery every year with four heads in 350 square feet,” he says. “This one new machine will allow us to run everything three times faster, book three times more work, and still hold our high-quality standards.”

As we head into a new year, yes, it’s usual for decorators to review their business plans and consider adding new decorating equipment like embroidery machines, screen-printing presses, DTG printers, heat presses and more. But with a global pandemic still at large, investing in new equipment might look a little different, so here’s what you need to know.

Should You Invest in New Equipment Right Now?

Potter advises shop owners to take a realistic view of their shop status before jumping in. “In 2020, did you take a loss, break even or gain market share?” he says. “Is your P&L statement strong to where you have the cash flow to make the investment? If another lockdown happens, can you still carry the loan payment on the investment?”

If you’re thinking about investing in new equipment, there are lots of factors to consider:

  • Your older equipment isn’t cutting it anymore, so you need to upgrade it to become more production-efficient.
  • You need to increase your production capacity to keep up with your current business demand, as Potter did with embroidery.
  • You want to bring your production in-house, instead of contracting it out.
  • You’re a screen printer and want to offer a new service like embroidery. (Or you’re an embroiderer and want to offer screen printing or direct-to-garment printing.)
  • You want to reduce your tax burden. Older machines are often fully depreciated, whereas new equipment can open the doors for new tax programs and savings for your business. Always check with your accountant to be sure.

Once you feel new equipment is necessary for your shop’s growth, think about these questions:

  • Will you have to spend on advertising to help grow your business or hire an operator to keep the equipment running? 
  • Do you have the capital for the investment? Have you talked to a bank or leasing company to apply for a loan to purchase the equipment? “Try to get the furthest terms possible, with the lowest interest rate, to create the lowest payment as a safety net,” Potter says. “You can always apply extra principal payments later.”

The Rise of Print on Demand

“We see a lot of printers investing in print-on-demand decoration and fulfillment automation as more and more brands, retailers and groups need fulfillment services alongside printing.”

Ryan Moor, CEO of Ryonet and ROQ.us

POD and direct-to-consumer fulfillment is a shift that many decorators have had to make in 2020, and might influence what equipment you purchase. “We see a lot of printers investing in POD decoration and fulfillment automation as more and more brands, retailers and groups need fulfillment services alongside printing,” says Ryan Moor, CEO of Ryonet and ROQ.us

So, what types of equipment investments make sense here? First up, direct-to-garment printers. “DTG technology allows for on-demand printing and minimizes inventory, while folding and shipping automation allows for minimal touches and overhead during the fulfilment process,” Moor says.

S&S Activewear Account Manager, Frank Good, has talked to many decorators looking for easy ways to fulfill short-quantity runs. They usually choose DTG printers, sublimation printers and heat presses to fit that need. “If you aren’t quite ready to purchase a machine, there are many decorators able to offer reasonably priced heat-transfer services with a fast turnaround and all you need is a heat press,” Good says. “Heat presses come in at budget-friendly price points.”

Heat-transfer services include: custom screen-print transfers, cut or print-and-cut heat-applied vinyl, heat-applied rhinestones, faux applique, leather patches, sublimation transfers, and heat-applied embroidery.

Selecting the Right Equipment Vendor

When it’s time to buy your equipment, you need to choose the right vendor that will be a partner to you long after the machine arrives in your shop. Here’s what to look for in that ideal supplier:

1. A big footprint. Shortlist established companies that have a nationwide sales and support network. That way, you’re in a better position to get help exactly when you need it, from a real, live human. Read online reviews and see what people say in online forums. And don’t hesitate to ask other decorators for their feedback on different vendors. “Most people will jump at the chance to tell you a horror story or explain how happy they are with the company,” Potter says.

2. Extraordinary support. After you’ve taken delivery of your new machine, what happens? Does a rep come to your shop to train your staff? Can you reach someone 24/7 if you have a problem or question? Do they offer an online learning center where you can learn to use their equipment and troubleshoot issues? Can they send techs out to your shop fast to troubleshoot issues? What does the warranty cover and for how long?

“Service and warranty is big, especially as the labor force tightens up,” Moor says. “You need a vendor that offers a good warranty and has the resources and reputation to support it. If your equipment goes down and you no longer have the team in place to fix it manually, you want to ensure it gets up and functioning right away.”

3. Ability to help you grow. As your business grows and changes, can this vendor be there for the long haul to help you? “Remember, expandability is everything right now, so can the equipment you invest in today expand to a new world of tomorrow’s customer needs?” Moor says. “You’ll want to ask your vendor, and find out what else this equipment can, or cannot do, in the future.”

A New Age of Automation

In 2020, many shops reduced their staff due to COVID-19. That means shop owners like you might be searching for automation solutions related to garment decorating, to help offset a smaller team.

Working with multiple contract decorators gives you many options without the overhead of equipment or additional staff

Frank Good, Account Manager at S&S Activewear

Moor has seen a lot of decorators looking for newer, more efficient machines that run faster with fewer people, especially in the pre-and post-press screen printing areas. “An equipment payment is typically 30% to 50% of the equivalent human overhead to do the same job on less efficient equipment,” he says, “so not only is this a cost savings, it’s also adding an asset to your business books.”

Let’s look at a few examples. If you have a manual screen-printing press, you might turn out 40 to 60 pieces an hour. Investing in an automated screen-printing press can increase your production to 60 to 120 prints every 60 minutes. “This keeps your crew fresh, by putting the bulk of the work on the machine,” Potter says.

“By adding automated computer-to-screen equipment, automatic screen-coating machines or automated screen reclaiming machines, you’ll also save considerable labor costs,” Good says. “Automated folding and packaging machines reduce the amount of staff required to prepare goods for shipping or pickup.”

Similarly, if you purchase a better-quality sublimation printer that can handle larger prints and more prints in the feed tray, buying a heat press that runs off an air compressor allows an operator to do other tasks, while also controlling the press.

On the embroidery side, Potter cites this example: Say you have two single heads and one two-head machine. If you have a large run, you need to load a design three times with three setups. If you invest in a six or eight head, you can save time by setting up a design once and running more pieces at the same time. “Your runs get done faster and you improve profit margins,” he says. “If the machine takes the workload, your staff can work on other tasks.”

Another thing to consider? Here’s an alternative to investing in new equipment: contract decorating. “Working with multiple contract decorators gives you many options without the overhead of equipment or additional staff,” Good says. ”It’s a good option for a any small or growing business.”

“Play Customers Their Favorite Song” – SUCCESS STORIES Podcast: Ep. 9 (feat. Brett Bowden of Printed Threads)

These days there’s a lot of talk about trying to find a competitive advantage that gives your company an edge.  One apparel decorator in North Fort Worth Texas has found that edge, and what they are doing may surprise you.

Printed Threads is a full-service merchandising company that specializes in high-quality screen printing, embroidery, retail finishing, and fulfillment services. 

Brett Bowden’s fun, creative, and sometimes quirky style carries over to his staff of dedicated professionals. Just check out this Instagram post, and you’ll see why people love following — Over 19K Followers — and doing business with them.

Find out what it took to develop this unique winning culture, that made Printed Threads a Texas powerhouse, and competitive nationwide.

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Don’t Pass on These 5 Trendy Puffer Jackets

Although 2020 hasn’t been what most of us expected, we’re still taking time to go outside, walk our dogs, hike, shop and socialize at a distance. With winter nearly here, that means people have already started their search for the perfect warm and fashionable jackets. But, with the crazy amount of options out there, which ones are they choosing the most?

While puffer coats aren’t a new trend, they’re still extremely popular and a go-to option for many people trying to stay warm. So much so, that they’ve even popped up on the fashion runways this season. Things like black belted puffers from Prada, quilted jackets in sage greens and bronzes, longer length bright white puffers and collaboration pieces with streetwear designers.

The good news is, with today’s puffers, you don’t have to choose between function and fashion. Many of them offer performance features like wind and water-resistance, along with thoughtful details like adjustable cuffs and zippered pockets, which make these styles anything but basic.

Here’s a detailed look at five outerwear styles that’ll help you and your clients figure out which ones fit their budgets and tastes perfectly for corporate programs, holiday gifts, premium uniforms and more.

Columbia – Powder Lite Hybrid Jacket – 186463

When buying outerwear, consumers want long-lasting gear that performs and molds to their lifestyles. Columbia is one of the most recognizable and desired brands out there, offering stylish outerwear, infused with the performance tech that wearers worldwide are looking for.

Their new Powder Lite Hybrid jacket features the popular puffer style, along with a hood that has an adjustable drawcord to give you the best of both worlds. The built-in heathered soft shell also brings even more fashion-forward appeal to this jacket for your client.

This jacket is proof that extra warmth doesn’t need to come with a lot of extra layers. Columbia’s new Omni-Heat™ technology uses lightweight synthetic Thermarator™ insulation to give you a “high warmth-to-weight” ratio. Also, to protect against inclement weather or unexpected downpours, the brand’s Omni-Tech™ keeps wearers dry by using multi-layered protection in all weather—and also comfortable, because of its breathable material.

Why Your Clients Will Love This Style:

  • Columbia is a popular retail brand that people know, love and request.
  • A puffer jacket style with a hood offers the best of both worlds.
  • The heathered soft-shell part of this jacket gives it a more fashionable look than the full puffers.
  • The Omni-Heat™ reflective lining and Thermerator™ insulation combines to give you the best in heat retention during cold weather.
  • The jacket’s water-resistant quality helps make this style an all-weather solution.
  • Has a women’s companion style (Style# 169906).
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“How to Run Apparel Programs for Big Brands” – SUCCESS STORIES Podcast: Ep. 8 (feat. Jordy Gamson of Icebox)

Have you ever wondered who is handling the apparel programs for some of the largest and most well-known brands?

The answer can be found with one Atlanta branding and promotional merchandise agency, Icebox. Founded in 2001, they have been building turn-key solutions for corporate clients that include product sourcing, in-house design, production, warehouse fulfillment, and global distribution. 

Icebox has helped brands like Delta Airlines, Hooters, Buffalo Wild Wings and AT&T with their apparel programs. Co-founder, Jordy Gamson, is talking to us about what it takes to run these turn-key programs, especially through uncertain times.

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