It’s time to start thinking about how you can give your print shop the jumpstart it deserves in 2022, with some artwork and sales resolutions top shops already practice. For example: creating a unique brand experience, following up to get the sale, and knowing when to outsource your shop’s artwork generation. Ready for all 10 business-changing resolutions? Let’s jump right in.
Put These Smart Sales Strategies Into Practice
While we hear over and over that sales are the lifeblood of your business, if your sales process has gaps, that won’t get the cash flowing into your shop. Here are five ways you can up the ante in your sales game in 2022.
1. Get to know your prospects first.
Before you reach out, it makes a lot of sense to both qualify your prospect and learn more about them to build rapport. “Use company sales reporting resources to help provide you with information about the potential customer,” says Nicole Virgilio, a sales rep at alphabroder. “Take some time to view their social media accounts or website to get a better understanding about who you’re calling and what they do to make that strong first connection.”
On the flip side, if you have a good customer who hasn’t ordered recently, approach them in a similar way, by doing research first. When you do reach out, Virgilio says, start the call off on a positive note and thank your contact for an order they’ve placed in the past. You can say, “Thank you for being a customer. I’m calling because I’m concerned your business is down this year with us. Is there anything we’ve done to cause the decline? How can we help grow your business now?”
2. Learn to handle objections even better.
Many decorators lose sales because they’re not comfortable answering objections. One key to success is understanding customers’ objections as they occur in real time. For example, the COVID-19-related supply chain delays that have led to widespread blank garment backorders and shipping delays throughout the industry. “While we’re not in a position to offset these issues entirely, when there are critical deadlines or end-users already upset over delays, we shorten decoration turnarounds where possible,” says Alex Fernandez, president of Say It In Stitches. “Sometimes we process an order in smaller lots, while the blanks gradually arrive. This isn’t always possible, but we help to support our distributor customers and address their buying objections by making those accommodations.”
“Have your artwork staff work in production, since they need to understand how what they create shows up on press or the embroidery machine.” Marshall Atkinson, Atkinson Consulting and Shirt Lab Tribe
The other set of common objections Fernandez’s team deals with has to do with customers who’ve been “burned” by other decorators and have no confidence in the decorated-apparel category. “We address this by working slowly, but deliberately, in our sales conversations to build confidence and trust,” he says. “We also mitigate the perceived risk at every stage in the sales process. For example, we make a point of always doing what we promise, like returning phone calls, and sending physical sew-outs before we run a large order.”
3. Remember that the fortune’s in the follow-up.
Whether you’re selling decorated apparel or leading a team of salespeople, the one practice that just may yield you more sales this year is following up. In fact, 80% of sales require an average of five follow-ups to close, a Brevet study reports. However, 44% of sales reps follow up with a prospect just once before giving up. In 2022, resolve to follow up five times or more to get the sale.
“A key thing to set yourself up for success is following up,” says Chim Olisemeka, a sales rep at alphabroder. “With so much coming in during any given day, it’s easy for us to forget about some opportunities. So, imagine how difficult it is for customers to remember about opportunities you’ve presented them. Customers also always appreciate you following up.”
4. Switch to a 100% upfront payment pricing model.
Carolyn Cagle, owner of Strikke Knits Embroidery, switched to getting all payments upfront. This freed up her cash flow so that she could pay off debts and invest in new equipment. Plus, now Cagle doesn’t have to put out the funds upfront for blanks or decorating supplies. She also never has to worry about chasing customers for late payments—a stressful time-sucker for many decorators.
“We try to mitigate the perceived risk at every stage in the sales process. For example, we make a point of always doing what we promise, like returning phone calls, and sending physical sew-outs before we run a large order.” Alex Fernandez, Say It In Stitches
If you’re wondering how to make the move away from 50% upfront-50% on delivery payment, you can give existing customers a grace period, but jump right in with new customers. “First, thank your long-term customers for their business and then let them know that you’ll be changing your policy, but are giving them a 30-day courtesy notice,” Cagle says. “When new customers approach you, tell them about your 100% upfront payment policy right away. You should also build in a flat charge for consulting time and creating your digitized file.”
5. Build a brand experience your customers won’t easily forget.
Lucas Guariglia, co-founder and CEO of Rowboat Creative, often refers to his decorating business as “the fantasy factory,” because there’s always something inspirational happening. “We’ve always separated ourselves from other shops by ensuring our collective personality and vibe resonates through every aspect of the customer journey,” he says. “The idea is that the experience people have with our shop is amazing from first touch through closing any deals or contracts, and ultimately with product in hand. We’ve worked for years on end to create a whole world in itself that is Rowboat Creative.”
Guariglia says his team are “all artists at heart,” and clients see that very quickly. “We might be working on a private label production scope for some very large designers, production for Nike, set design for a tour about to launch, fulfillment for a popular brand, or even just working into the first stages of a startup brand, artist or company,” he says. “We try to stay real from the jump—and that creates a sales relationship that’s usually unbreakable. The focus is on the long play, since we’ve never been interested in one and down clients or partners.”
Put These Smart Sales Strategies Into Practice
Besides sales, your shop is only as good as the artwork you create and print on apparel. That’s why you need a seamless workflow so that the customer’s vision gets onto the T-shirt. Here are five tactics you should try in your shop to remove any artwork bottlenecks.
1. Clearly define your shop’s art services.
Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More isn’t a “graphics studio,” and owner Kyle Perkins makes sure that he doesn’t advertise his shop as such. “We give all customers 15 minutes of free design time, and if the graphics service will require more work, we refer the customer to a local graphic design studio, who can take care of the proper design work and not distract us,” Perkins says.
In his shop, Perkins watched numerous customers spend one to two weeks finalizing a design, with a tweak here and there, only to eventually flat-out reject a project. “That means all of our labor is wasted, no matter how we try to save it,” he says. “We evaluate art requests before accepting them, and have turned a lot of the requests down due to the request’s complexity—it may not make us favorable in some customers’ eyes, but we do know that by not accepting the art project, we can focus our efforts on something more important. There’s no need to spend 10 hours on a piece of art for a $20 shirt.”
2. Take the time upfront to get all the information you need from your client.
Marshall Atkinson, business consultant at Atkinson Consulting and Shirt Lab Tribe, says one of the biggest missteps he sees print shops making is not being clear on what the client wants their design to look like—before the creative process begins. For example, you’ll want to put all of this important information together in a creative brief for the artist, including a general idea of what they want (and don’t want), the image, the text, font, colors, and what type, size and color of garment that you’ll imprint.
“We evaluate art requests before accepting them, and have turned a lot of the requests down due to the request’s complexity—it may not make us favorable in some customers’ eyes, but we do know that by not accepting the art project, we can focus our efforts on something more important.” Kyle Perkins, Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More
“This is also the time to do a quick thumbnail sketch, where you lay out the headline, main art, sub-copy and so on,” Atkinson says. “There’s no idea key on the keyboard, so this is where you need to put some thought into the design. It takes 30 seconds to move elements around at this stage, and the customer’s more likely to approve the final art later on.”
Finally, if this is a new client, ask for their brand guidelines. “Subway doesn’t want you to distress their logo, but Nike doesn’t care,” Atkinson says. “Every brand is different, so find out what you can and can’t do. They’ll often share specific fonts and colors to make your job easier.”
3. Always charge for your artwork.
Atkinson also notices that the shops that lag behind neglect to charge for artwork. “Often, customers will say, ‘Give me two to three designs, and we’ll pick one,” he says. “Full stop: No. You should charge a flat fee or hourly rate of $50 to $100 for each design you create. But preferably, if you get all of the pertinent information upfront, you can create one design and nail it for the customer.”
Lots of shops also track their artwork generation and prep time for digitizing or separations. “That way, you’ll have enough time to do the project correctly,” Atkinson says. “Remember, also, that people don’t respect you if you give your art away for free or don’t charge for your time.”
Pro Tip: Shop owners often complain that clients hand them a low-res art file that’s just not usable as is. “Make sure you say, ‘OK, this is our fee to make this file work,” says Atkinson, who notes that nine times out of 10, when you say there’s a fee for redoing art, the client produces the correct file. “You can charge $50 for the redo, and then outsource it. Your shop is a profit center, not a break-even center.”
4. Have your artists work in production.
“Have your artwork staff work in production, since they need to understand how what they create shows up on press or on the embroidery machine,” Atkinson says. “At least once a month, they should do the production they’re designing for, so they can build up the vocabulary and experience to know why this color needs to print before that one, and so on.”
All of the top shops that Atkinson works with ask their art department to specify everything, from the mesh counts to the squeegee durometer. “It’s their job to create the vision for what will print out,” he says. “That’s why about 30% of shops do this, so if you want to uplevel, you need to follow suit. If the production person doesn’t know what mesh count the artist wants, for example, the final output won’t match what’s in the artist’s brain.”
5. Make sure your artwork approval proof is complete.
When you’re creating an approval mock for multicolor shirts, show your logo or artwork image on every shirt color the client selected. “You want your client to see how their artwork will look on all their garments, so what if they have blue text on a navy blue shirt?” Atkinson says. “While this is more effort for your art department, it’ll save you more time and money in the long run. You can correct any mistakes before you go to print. Plus, everyone knows how the design is supposed to look on every shirt color, you, the client and your screen-print operator.”
“We’ve always separated ourselves from other shops by ensuring our collective personality and vibe resonates through every aspect of the customer journey,”
Lucas Guariglia, Rowboat Creative
What to Do Today
Take an honest look at your sales and artwork processes to see where you can make room for improvement. As you review these resolutions from industry experts and veteran shop owners, pick ones that you can implement, and create a timeline for each one. Break each one down into manageable steps and schedule them out. Of course, loop your team members in, and hold everyone accountable. Meet regularly to track and measure your progress. We guarantee that in one month, six months and then a year from now, you’ll have improved your shop operations in leaps and bounds.
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Laurie is part of the marketing team for the leading supplier in the industry, alphabroder. During her free time, Laurie likes to ride horses, sail and spend time with her husband and her two children. Reach her at Lprestine@alphabroder.com