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.”

How To Setup Effective Physical and Virtual Product Showrooms

The first three years that Megan Lindholm ran her decorated-apparel business from her home, she hauled samples everywhere, from uniform fittings to school offices to baseball fields. “We had apparel literally everywhere, since we saved our print overruns for sampling,” says Lindholm, owner of 643SPIRIT in New Albany, OH. “We created endless mock sheets for people with style ideas. We took lots of bad photos of spirit shirts or basketball socks and sent them to clients.”

“We host uniform fittings instead of hauling samples all over town.”

Megan Lindholm, owner of 643SPIRIT

Finally, Lindholm was over the time-consuming back-and-forth with her customers and moved into a showroom. “It’s been fantastic,” she says. “People stop in to pick up what they want for their organization sales, and it takes five minutes instead of an hour. We host uniform fittings instead of carting samples all over town. People driving by see our signs for masks, custom tees and work apparel, and stop-in to order tees and hoodies for their workplace.” Are uniform fittings still a thing with COVID?

Here are 10 ways to set up an effective apparel showroom that customers can’t wait to visit.

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How to Build Your Brand on Social Media in 5 Steps

Since we’re all in the branding business, you know how vital brand recognition can be to your shop. Getting really clear on your shop’s identity, values and uniqueness allows creation of a brand that defines your company—and in turn, a brand your clients identify with (and love).

“Regardless of the social media platform, your brand should be recognizable and authentic to its values.”

Brooke Banta, co-founder of Bea + Elle

“Establishing your brand online is an important aspect of your company’s success,” says Brooke Banta, co-founder of branding agency Bea + Elle. “Regardless of the social media platform, your brand should be recognizable and authentic to its values.”

Generating that level of recognition takes time and work. Start building your brand on social media today in 5 steps.

1. COVER YOUR BASICS

Before creating your social media accounts, you need to have all your brand ducks in a row. For starters, do you have an established and consistent logo, fonts, color palette, phraseology and voice?

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How to Fix These 6 Common Customer Complaints

Want some not-so-fun customer service news? The average American tells 15 people when they’ve had a poor customer service experience—and 56% of buyers have stopped doing business with a company because they’ve experienced poor customer service, Microsoft reports.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

Bill Gates, Co-founder of Microsoft

But here’s the good news: 67% of customer churn is preventable if your shop resolves customers issues the first time they occur.

“Your customer service team can make or break your success with each customer,” says Zach Ellsworth, general manager at Stahls’. “If you’re receiving complaints often, it’s time to dig in and take improvement seriously.”

To quote the great Bill Gates, “your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” The customer complaints your shop racks up the most often are your best resource for understanding how your business can perform better.

We asked the experts to break down six common customer complaints decorators get—and how to fix them for good.

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“Sell Trust, Not Decorations” – SUCCESS STORIES Podcast: Ep. 6 (feat. Traci Miller of Color 3 Embroidery)

One thing that contract apparel decorators sell most is Trust, with a capital “T”.  Sure, you can focus on the embroidery, screenprinting, heat transfer or other methods of embellishing a garment, but seasoned contract professionals know that sales for them are not transactional.  Everything is about the relationship.

As a 25 year decorating veteran, Traci Miller, of Color3 Embroidery, knows this all too well. Listen as she shares advice on how to establish strong business relationships and how to sell trust instead of decorations.

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Why Finding Your Niche, Might Make You Rich

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

Photos courtesy of Sparkle Plenty

“In this niche, if you’ve done the initial job well, you’re in for repeat orders—it’s that simple.”

Lee Romano Sequeira, Co-owner of Sparkle-Plenty.com

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.”

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5 Essential Ways to Create Customers for Life

Every employee of Eastlake, OH-based wholesale printer Blue Moon Promotional Inc. is involved in providing their customers with exemplary customer service and CEO, Pierre John Jamnicky, makes sure of that. “Every person knows what we’re after and is dedicated to making it happen,” Jamnicky says. “Yes, some are more into it than others, as is the case with all employees, but the reality is we’re all on the same page.”

Any business owner will tell you that, while bringing in new customers is certainly important, retaining your existing customer base is the real key to surviving in any industry. It’s the loyal customer who returns to you time and time again or refers you to other clients because of your ability to meet their product or service needs

But, don’t take our word for it—let’s break down the numbers showing how important returning customers can be:

You have a 60% to 70% chance of selling a product to a returning customer as opposed to a 5% to 20% chance of selling to a new one.

( Matt Mansfield, smallbiztrends.com )
  • Your returning customers will provide you with 65% of your company’s sales.
  • The average business will lose about 15% of these returning customers each year.

Since it’s so important to cultivate a close-knit relationship with your returning buyers to run a successful business, let’s look at exactly how you can keep these customers coming back for more.

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5 Proven Content Marketing Strategies You Can’t Ignore

Is a video worth 1,000 decorated-apparel orders? Jonathan Ornelas, owner of Success Print Shop, thinks so. On the regular, he shoots short videos of his screen-printing process and posts them to Facebook and Instagram to connect with customers and prospects.

“We show how we decorate t-shirts, and that we’re experts,” Ornelas says. “Our customers can also see that we love what we do and have a lot of fun.” For example, he plays his team’s favorite music in his videos, like Vistas’ song “Like an American.” 

“These days, the most human company wins,”

– Marshall Atkinson, Owner of Atkinson Consulting

As a result of the pandemic, 7 in 10 (69%) CMOs asked their staff to get more active online to promote their company and what it offers. And it makes total sense: Half of U.S. consumers say they’ve spent more time taking in online content this year, according to Media Frenzy Global. Buyers are also looking to brands for inspiration. That means many companies are making their messaging and content strategy their highest brand-related priority. Are you?

The most important component of your shop’s messaging is to be human first, according to Marshall Atkinson, a decorated-apparel business coach. “These days, the most human company wins,” he says. “Are you showing your vulnerability? Emotions? Victories? Defeats? People respond to other people, so inject some personality into your marketing. We all like smiling faces.”

The great news is that It’s not too late to kick your content strategy into high gear for 2020. Here are five ways to dive right in.

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“Creating Impactful Apparel Designs For Clients” – SUCCESS STORIES Podcast: Ep. 4 (feat. Jeremy Picker of AMB3R Creative)

How do you tie creative art development into more sales? 

On this edition of the Success Stories podcast, we’ll dig into that by discussing how Jeremy Picker and his team of creative professionals have found success by going the extra mile when developing ideas for their clients. 

We’ll also touch on AMB3R Creative’s approach to developing impactful designs, that’ll get end users choosing to wear their clients’ promotional apparel over and over again.

AMB3R is a Colorado-based apparel design firm that brings fashion to people by creating products that people love. They serve non-profits, churches, restaurants, corporations, and other businesses with their team of talented designers and project managers that takes a kernel of an idea from start to finish. 

We’ll learn how they use t-shirts for everything from an entire clothing line, to a merchandising campaign for promotional products. 


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Are You Dealing with Employee Mistakes the Right Way?

At Printed Threads in Keller, TX, the laid-back El Capitan, Brett Bowden does a lot of measuring. “We track the amount of work everyone gets done each day,” he says. “We track all errors.” Why? “Mistakes happen, and we try to coach through them. Since we track the different types of errors, we see if there’s a pattern.”

For example, if there’s a misprint or mistake on a job, a Printed Thread QC (Quality control) staffer fills out a slip and turns it over to the rep managing that account. The rep then uses Google Sheets to record the job name, type of error, cost of the mistake and the person responsible.

“We keep a running tally and make sure that misprint errors don’t exceed 1% of our monthly sales”

– Brett Bowden, Printed Threads

Madeira USA, out of Gilford, NH, has a similar approach to monitoring mistakes, where process operations are metrics-driven, depending on the role. “We hold employees accountable to success metrics like customer satisfaction ratings or order fulfillment rates,” says Sam Young, vice president of marketing and sales. “We track performance so we can deliver the highest-quality service for our customers.”

And if Bowden notices that a particular press keeps logging errors because there’s not enough glue on the pallet, he knows the operator needs more training. “But look, inevitably there will be someone who isn’t good at their job,” he says. “That leads to a conversation of, ‘Maybe it’s time for you to find another company or position to make you happier.’”

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