Does your decorating shop stand out from competitors? Really think about it—there are thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of screen printers and embroiderers, many offering the same blanks and services as you. Don’t worry, we’ve got a smart way to separate yourself from the pack: Become a rockstar decorator, within your special niche.
While this isn’t something you can do overnight, when you position your shop as a “go-to decorator” for something specific, you’ll score repeat customers and watch your profits rise.
We talked to three successful decorators who’ve established themselves as experts in lucrative niches. (And, we’ve got insider secrets to fast-track your success!)
The Bling Brigade
Husband-and-wife team Andrew Sequeira and Lee Romano Sequeira call their business a “big, sparkly niche.” For two decades, the Sparkle-Plenty.com co-owners have focused on offering custom rhinestone, stud and crystal transfers. “We use Swarovski crystal, the ‘Waterford’ of sparkle,” Andrew says. “It’s a decorating niche, since most shops focus on embroidery and ink. We offer something different for a specific market: women.”
Choosing the Niche:
After Lee started GoodtoBeYou.com, an online store featuring unique, blinged-out women’s gifts, Andrew and Lee realized sparkle was everything. “The majority of our customers love crystals on apparel, hats, bags and shoes,” Lee says. “Our work makes them smile.”
As an offshoot to their first site, they launched Sparkle-Plenty.com, and it took off. Their customers include distributors and other decorators, as well. “We provide the designs, which shops can apply themselves,” Lee says. “We also do custom bling for lots of industries, but most frequently for cheer, dance, sports teams and schools.”
Niche-ing down helped the Sequeiras quickly build expertise and authority in this area. “Customers figure we’re the bling experts and want our recommendations,” Andrew says. “That moves the process faster when they allow us to make decisions and get them what they want.”
The Benefits of Bling:
By far, Sparkle-Plenty.com fulfills orders for blinged-out t-shirts. “In this niche, if you’ve done the initial job well, you’re in for repeat orders—it’s that simple,” Lee says. “People want decorated apparel with minimal hassle. If they’re happy with the quality of our on-time work, why risk trying someone else?”
Top Niche Tips:
If you’re an embroidery or screen-printing shop and want to offer custom bling transfers, the Sequeiras recommend outsourcing to a firm like theirs. “An embroidery shop could market our product as theirs, immediately expanding their service options,” Andrew says. “We’ve worked this way with shops for years. It’s an easy fix to a problem every decorator faces: What else can I offer to keep my customers interested and coming back?”
The One-Stop Shop
Utica, NY-based A&P Master Images is a promotional business unlike anything else on the market, according to their high-energy CEO, Howard Potter. The 17-year-old decorating shop offers screen printing, embroidery, sublimation, vinyl graphics and graphic design, while also acting as a distributor of more than 700,000 advertising specialty items. The team also manages 100 online stores for customers and offers free rush service. “We ship to 15 states and five countries so far,” Potter says. “Our team treats every order like it’s the only one they’re working on.”
Choosing the Niche:
Potter’s niche? Being a one-stop shop for all your promo needs. “While that may sound broad, our goal from the start was to never limit our products or services,” he says. “Any business can be a customer. When they want a promo product, we say, ‘Great, we have almost a million options. We’ll find what you need.’”
Potter’s customers love that A&P’s a one-stop shop. “They want us to ease the burden of ordering or looking for new ideas to promote their brands,” he says. “We relieve that stress.”
The Benefits of One-Stop Shopping:
A&P sticks to the basics: t-shirts, hoodies, hats, midweight jackets and coffee mugs. “These core products are always top sellers,” Potter says. “The twist? We reinvent the basics with new designs and always improve our decorating techniques.”
A&P Master Images fills a tall order: Be everything to everyone at all times. “What we’re doing isn’t easy,” Potter admits. However, his shop grows steadily at 11% to 18% year-over-year. “We can bend with market and trend changes,” he says. “We feel safe with this business model.”
Cross-training his team is key to Potter’s success. “Our entire staff, from customer service to production, is well-versed in our product and decoration offerings,” he says.
Top Niche Tips:
Potter admits being a one-stop shop isn’t for the faint of heart. “I live, eat and breathe this business,” he says. “You have to build a team that steps up every day.”
A&P’s 5,500-square-foot building houses $500,000 in equipment, and Potter plans to order a $100,000 machine in 2020. “Equipment costs add up,” says Potter, who averages $35,000 a year in equipment investments. “We’re always building, investing and changing. It’s great.”
The Music Merch Masters
Brothers Dan and Dallas Strickland opened Panama City, FL-based Garment Gear Inc. in 2000 to combine Dan’s screen-printing prowess with Dallas’s painting talent. “We serve gospel bands that tour up and down the East Coast,” says Dan, Garment Gear’s president.
Choosing the Niche:
About a decade ago, the Stricklands took on their first band customer—and never looked back. “Bands know each other,” Dan says. “You work with one and then ask for a referral: ‘Hey man, I hope you’re happy with everything. We delivered on time, and you’re selling out of our merch. Tell other bands about us.’ Then, it snowballs from there.”
Despite rolling along with referrals, the duo always has an ear out for music industry news. “If we hear an artist is joining a record label we’re involved with, I make a sales call” Dan says. “Or if the label signs a new band, I reach out and say, ‘I’d love to jump in and help with their artwork.’”
The Stricklands guarantee repeat customers right from the sales presentation. “We build storyboards showing what t-shirt, ringer tee or hoodie in the colors and graphics we recommend,” Dan says. “When we do that, the band says, ‘OK, we’re sticking with this printer. We’re not going down the road to the next one.’”
The Benefits of Being with the Band:
Garment Gear’s sweet spot for bands: water-based discharge screen printing or DTG on short-sleeve concert tees in ringspun cotton. “Bands want soft-hand designs on lightweight heather grey and black T-shirts,” Dan says. “We also do lots of ladies’ styles like tanks and V-neck tees.”
DTG printing has been key to Garment Gear hitting customers’ main desire: smaller, cost-effective runs delivered on time. “A band might be on tour for 10 weeks and want 200 shirts at every concert venue,” Dan says. “We deliver fast, efficient and high-quality production—and stay a week ahead of their schedule on the road.”
Top Niche Tips:
Garment Gear builds a library of each band’s artwork, including a logo, one-color and full-color graphics, band members’ headshots and a list of tour dates. “That way, we can turn out great event t-shirts,” Dan says. “If they want something different, we can print those fast and effectively. It’s always a collab.”
If you’ve never worked with a band before but have got the chops, create a collection of killer samples. “Show off your printing skills,” Dan says. “Design original, kickass artwork. Then, pitch to band managers and record labels. Post your images on social media. Just score that first music artist client.”
The Best in the Best
Every decorator wants to think of themselves as the best in their business. By specializing in a particular niche, you’ll set your shop apart from the crowd—and show your customers exactly why they should choose you.