Brand fill is a big issue in the promo industry. While this isn’t anything new, industry pros are shining a brighter light on it because of its negative impact on Mother Earth—and the promotional industry’s reputation.
Even if you’re new to the term “brand fill,” you’re probably aware of the problem it describes. Brand fill is a reference to the cheap, useless and unwanted merch that’s given out to people, which usually just ends up getting thrown away and building up landfills – contributing to the ongoing pollution of our planet.
On the PromoKitchen podcast, Jamie Mair, chief growth officer at Spector & Co, said that “People see ‘branded stuff’ as junk, because there’s too much brand fill that’s being made and given out. We should be focused on selling products with purpose. Instead, there’s so much brand fill and fast fashion that it’s irresponsible, and not sustainable. We clearly see the implications in the supply chain and environmentally.”
At screen-printing shop Night Owls, the crew only uses water-based inks. “We chose to move to an ‘ink solution’ that offers a higher-quality print for us,” says Eric Solomon, owner of the Houston-based shop.
Although design quality is always a huge factor in the printing process, another growing factor for some is how to print in a more environment friendly way. To be more “green,” do you need to move away from the traditional plastisols and toward water-based inks?
Colette Wilhelm, owner of Contract Impressions in Cape Coral, FL, says that while water-based inks are touted as being better for the environment, they’re in fact, acrylic based. “However, they can give customers the great designs they crave, with a better ‘feel’ to the shirt,” she says. “We also recommend water-based inks for clients when it helps enforce their brands’ eco-friendly messaging.”
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of water-based screen-printing inks, along with some things to consider.
The Joys of Water-Based Inks
The screen printers who learn how to use water-based inks for vibrant, full-color and long-lasting designs love the versatility of the ink and its results. Here are seven reasons why they choose water-based over plastisols.
What if you could crowdsource all kinds of interesting, innovative and easy ideas to save money in your decorating shop? We decided to do the heavy lifting for you and asked nine successful embroiderers and screen printers to share some simple ways they boost their bottom lines.
From buying used displays and making the most of every inch of your stabilizer, to going paperless and getting free shipping from your shoppers, you’re going to love this top 10 list.
1. Buy used and save lots of cash.
Need to furnish or redecorate your office or shop? Try finding deals on things like desks from the thrift store, a conference table off of Craigslist, filing cabinets from “buy, sale, trade” groups, and display fixtures from going-out-of-business sales. “To save dollars, we don’t buy about 85% of our displays, desks and other office essentials as new,” says Tanya , owner and graphic designer at The Visual Identity Vault. “The majority of our shop’s things are new to us, and they function and look just fine.”
2. Save your extra embroidery stabilizer.
“We save all the extra embroidery backing we cut off of jobs to use for smaller projects,” says Jennie Livezey, owner of Z Shirts Custom Printing. She and her team pick up the backing scraps, mostly from left-chest embroidery.
“For example, we just ran 165 beanies and didn’t use one new piece of backing,” Livezey says. “What we cut off is the perfect size for the Fast Clamps we use on our embroidery machines.”
Have you ever thought to yourself, “Wow, this is a really cool product, but there’s just no way to decorate it for clients” or “This thing is just too difficult to decorate?” Then, this is the segment for you.
Our Head of Corporate Training and Dev, Stephan Baere meets up with STAHLS Senior VP, Josh Ellsworth, to dispel myths about some of those products you might have labeled “impossible to decorate”, while showing you some neat decorating tricks along the way.
Download the directions for all the demonstrations shown in the video here:
Lots of decorators have seen major shifts in their business, since the arrival of Covid-19. Some of those shifts were forced upon them by the sudden changes in business, which came along with the pandemic, and some were a result of them seizing new opportunities that began popping up.
In the video above, Mark Graham, of commonsku, leads four short 1-on-1 discussions with industry decorators to talk about, how they we’re affected by these shifts, what adjustments they made, opportunities that we’re already coming about, before the pandemic, and how 2020 created other meaningful changes at their company.
One of the biggest changes that occurred last year, was the complete stoppage of in-person events. Companies that would normally have ordered decorated items for their corporate events, trade shows or promotional needs, now suddenly had to rethink how they engaged with their customers and employees.
Lucas Guariglia, CEO at Rowboat Creative, mentions how he tried to find solutions for these businesses by really becoming more of a partner and consultant to them. Doing so gave him and his staff the ability to offer really creative ideas for how these companies could develop a unique at-home unboxing experience, though the use of kits with decorated swag, which really connected with their audience in a more personal way.
Learn about the top apparel and accessory trends kicking off in 2021, from a few of our Brand partners and S&S reps. We’ll also share our top 10 must-have categories, so you won’t want to miss this one.
Print-On-Demand and the use of online stores took off in 2020. Marshall Atkinson, of Atkinson Consulting, leads a panel of industry experts to talk about this major shift and give you tips on how to do it right.
CLICK HERE to see the other videos from our virtual event.
Print-On-Demand is here to stay.
Not only did the events of 2020 lead to a huge spike in the creation and use of online stores, it also gave lots a businesses a chance to see the benefits that a print-on-demand model can bring with it.
Kevin Oakley, owner of Stoked on Printing, says that with many warehouses needing to close last year, businesses had to lean on them for fulfillment, because they weren’t able to do it themselves. With that, came revelations that P.O.D. allowed these companies to keep from worrying about warehousing and shipping out products, because decorators could now provide that service for them.
Sustainability and CSR is increasingly moving to the forefront of consumers minds. David Shultz, of Commonsku and PromoCares, leads a panel of suppliers and distributors to discuss the increase in demand for sustainable products and how you can incorporate them into conversations with your clients.
David Shultz – VP of Supplier Partnerships at Commonsku
CLICK HERE to see the other videos from our virtual event.
More corporations and schools are starting to ask for sustainability metrics on apparel.
Denise Taschereau , co-Founder of Fairware, says that she’s starting to see more conventional corporations ask for background data on apparel.
Tech companies, universities and even those in the food industry are starting to map their carbon footprint as a company, all the way through their own operations, into their vendors operations and into the suppliers operations.
Imagine acquiring six other shops in the last seven years—and then getting listed on the Inc. “5000 Fastest Growing Private Companies in America” list, for that rapid (and sustainable) growth.
That’s exactly what Tom Rauen, CEO of Envision Tees out of Dubuque, Iowa, was able to do, by making the expansion of his business and obtaining new customers, a primary focus. “To move forward, get momentum in your business and grow it, you’ve got to step on the gas,” he says. “That’s what we call our ‘Growth Acquisition System.’”
Rauen started his decorating business, in 2005, out his parents’ basement. After three months, he moved into a 2,000-square-foot shop in a high-traffic area, with a single-head embroidery machine and a six-color, manual screen-printing press. “My goal has always been to build a solid foundation for my business,” he says. “First, we reinvested in equipment and technology, and then as we began to grow, we reinvested in our team.” In 2012, Envision Tees moved into a 7,000-square-foot building. Now, the business resides in a huge 35,000-square-foot facility, operating two manual and four automatic presses, 50 embroidery heads, two laser engraving machines and two large-format printers.
Envision Tees’ latest, big acquisition was five years in the making and happened during a pandemic year: Franklin, NJ-based, 1800Tshirts.com. “I wanted that famous phone number, so I reached out to the owner in 2015,” Rauen says. “He wanted to continue the conversation in 2020, when he planned to retire. That seemed so far away at the time, but I stayed in touch every six months. Despite COVID-19, 2020 was the year we made it happen.”
Jason Parke is another decorator whose built his empire though similar acquisitions. President of The Greek Corner Screen Printing and Embroidery in Springfield, MO, Parke has acquired three screen-printing and embroidery businesses, since founding his own shop in 2007. When he first started, he didn’t know a lot about printing or embroidery, so he watched several videos done by screen-printing veteran, Ryan Moor.
“I soon realized that if I wanted to take off, I couldn’t do it as a one-man shop,” Parke says. His first acquisition in 2009 happened by chance: He subbed out an order that required a sleeve print. After he found the subcontract shop, Corner Graphics, he started the acquisition process. Within two months, he owned the 26-year-old shop for $35,000.
Parke learned a lot with this acquisition. “Although I purchased the business at a good price, it came with a lot of expenses like old equipment that needed replacing,” he says. “We had to rebuild a tattered reputation. However, I also inherited two amazing employees who are still with me today. The staff knew all aspects of the business and taught me what I needed to know.”
If you’re thinking about acquiring your first (or another) shop, you’re in luck. We picked Rauen’s and Parke’s brains to get all their insider tips on the whole process.
To acquire, or not to acquire?
Acquisitions aren’t easy if you’ve never experienced one before, Rauen says. “There are a lot of moving parts on both the buying and selling side,” he says. “Before you jump in, it’s important to know that acquisitions take a lot of time, energy and resources to complete successfully. Weigh your growth strategy options first because there may be better options, if you don’t know the ins and outs of an acquisition.”
Starting from the bottom
Parke cautions that acquisitions can be expensive. “Shop owners sometimes get more concerned with the art or craftsmanship of a shop they want to buy, rather than the actual business aspect of the screen-printing and embroidery business.”
In 2018, Parke wanted to grow his market share, so a business broker paired him with a local screen printing competitor. “This was our largest acquisition and I wanted it, so I ignored a lot of red flags,” he says. “Everything that could go wrong, went wrong every step of the way. For example, the previous owner was difficult to work with and withheld information. More than half the employees who came with the business and quite a few of their customers didn’t want to give us a chance.”
Ultimately, Parke says, the team who remained has been great and they moved the merged business to a newer, bigger facility. “We bought a great building with tons of room to grow,” he says. “Without acquiring this new company, there’s no way we could have bought it on our own.”
Acquisitions come in other forms, too, such as purchasing media, traffic sources and intellectual property. “This could include art catalogs and portfolios that you’ll use or license to others,” Rauen says. “You can also acquire podcasts, social media accounts, events, and other sources of traffic to increase the number of clients coming into your business.”
What’s the value of your new acquisition
According to Rauen, you need to look at concrete numbers when you’re acquiring a shop: What’s the annual revenue? What’s the profit? “The numbers tell you the story,” he says. “When you look at the P&L, you can also see where you can reduce costs.”
Is there a good customer list?
“Make sure that they have their list with all the contact info you need in a CRM,” he says. “Is anything missing or is it just one big mess?”What’s the value of the customer list? “See if the top 20% of their clients are bringing in 80% of the revenue,” he says. “Focus on the value and volume of their larger national accounts that can still continue to bring in significant revenue post-acquisition.”
How about the equipment and inventory?
Rauen says the new equipment should align with yours. “If you have all M&Rs or Tajimas it might be harder to sync up with a different brand. And you’ll have different file types, platens and squeegees. Plus, you’ll need a different service tech.”
How about their art files?
“Are there 500 or 5,000 files?” Rauen says. “There’s great value in how much time their graphic designers spent creating these files, especially for embroidery digitizing, since that can be expensive if you need to recreate those. And are those files organized or do you have no idea how to find anything?”
As an example of how to value your acquisition, consider Parke’s experience. For four years, Parke outsourced his embroidery to five different subcontractors, and it was proving to be time-consuming. On top of that, the quality wasn’t consistent either. That’s why in 2014, he decided to acquire an embroidery business. As part of its allure, the new retail and contract shop once had kiosks inside every Bass Pro Shop in the United States, along with kiosks inside Silver Dollar City and a store at the Branson Landing, both in Branson, MO.
“There was a skilled, experienced embroiderer who wanted to continue working with us,” Parke says. “There were also two machines, more than 10,000 valuable digitized files and a large book of customer contact information.” While there were some challenges to overcome, Parke felt that his $25,000 investment to bring embroidery in-house was definitely a win.
Is your shop ready to acquire another one?
There’s no-one-size-fits-all answer for this, because every shop’s situation is unique. However, there are still some general things to consider. “A good shop that’s set up to acquire another shop needs the management team and infrastructure in place to handle the growth and all the moving parts to make the acquisition go smoothly,” Rauen says.
When you’re looking to acquire another shop, a good rule of thumb is to look for one that fills a service need in your shop or works with your business plan. “An example would be a screen-printing shop that outsources their embroidery,” Rauens says. “Once their outsourced embroidery grows beyond a certain volume, it may make sense to look to acquire an embroidery shop to bring that service in-house or possibly acquire the contract decorator.”
Rauen and Parke outline five things you need in place personally—and in your shop—to acquire another business:
1. Do you have good systems in place?“You need to be organized and have a detailed plan going into the acquisition,” Parke says.
2. Can you improvise and adapt? The best-laid plans will sometimes go off kilter. “You need to be a leader who can easily change course and come up with a new plan when you need to,” Parke says. 3. Does your shop align with the seller’s? “Your vision and values should align with the owner’s, along with the company culture and customer base. If these things don’t align, you’ll realize very quickly that your shop won’t m esh with theirs,” Rauen says.
4. Are you ready to work with frustrated people? Parke points out that often, the employees in the shop you’re acquiring might be angry, confused or worried about the future. “They may not like change, so you need to be there to build that bridge,” he says.
5. Can you communicate well? Remember, you’re bringing a whole, new group of people, employees and customers, into your organization. “Be ready to openly and honestly communicate how things will look moving forward, so they know what to expect,” Parke says. “You’ll also need to go out and meet your newly acquired customer base. That’s the only way you’ll retain them.”
6. Can you handle risk? “Hopefully your acquisition will go well, but do you have a contingency plan if it isn’t successful?” Parke says. “Are you in a spot financially that you can recover?”
7. Are you willing to walk away? With one of his acquisitions, Parke had tunnel vision and didn’t care. “I wanted to do the deal and ignored multiple red flags,” he says. “If you see a red flag, it probably exists. For example, if the seller doesn’t give you the information you need, you probably need to walk away.”
Starting small at square one
If you’re a shop owner, who’s decided to explore an acquisition, Rauen advises looking small and locally at first. “There can be some big wins and also some major learning lessons, so if you start off small, your lessons learned will be less painful or make less of an impact,” he says. “Once you’ve gone through one or two acquisitions, you can learn to adjust and find the sweet spot that works best for you and your business.”