Shop Unicorn Status: Denied

Gray Shirts Just Printed - Marshall Atkinson

I hate to break it to you this way, but your decorated apparel shop isn’t like a unicorn; mystical and unique, the only magical creature in the land.  Nope, sadly your shop is just like everyone else’s.  Hunkered down, trying to survive, reaching out and grasping for business in an ever changing land of competition.  It’s tough out there.  Anybody can print a t-shirt or sew a logo onto a sportshirt.  That damn internet just makes it tougher to get the business in the first place.

Sure, your marketing makes it sound like your shop is an amazing unicorn.  Unique and singularly the best.  Crisply white, proudly racing through a field of flowers, that single horn gleaming bright gold in the afternoon sun.  “Discover the treasure of our amazing shirts!  It’s a special sale!  Wahoo!”  What a beautiful and lovely unicorn song we’re proudly singing to a backdrop of rainbows and forest animals.

What your potential customers see is just the opposite though.  An ancient, sway-backed horse, a cardboard horn duct taped to its head, standing in a weed choked field, dropping stinky biscuits that will hopefully fertilize the flowers one day.  “Oh, here’s another t-shirt shop e-mail blast with pricing.”  Click. Delete. Yawn.  There are too many cynics in our audience to be singing an old tired song about unicorns.  Like Pop 40 radio, it’s the same song once an hour forever.  There’s only so much of that you can take.  Your message is getting deleted often before a single word or two is even read.

So what songs should shops start singing to differentiate themselves from the competition?  Certainly there’s something we can crow about.  To truly separate yourself from the rest of the herd, don’t just push out Sale, Sale, Sale, Sale seemingly forever.  While that may work occasionally, that chorus is not endearing new customers that will partner with you forever and it’s also discounting your hard work in order to get the client.  This is not doing your bank account any favors either.

Instead, try building your marketing campaign around some different archetypes that demonstrate your skill and expertise and hit on your main Value Proposition.  (You do know what that is for your shop, right?  If not, click here)

Champion Your Inner Wizard.  In ancient stories wizards or mages are the ones that always know everything.  Got a problem with a blood red moon and your harvest is dead?  Call the wizard.  Invading army of orcs on the horizon?  Call the wizard.  Hero “almost dead” but still needs to save the day and rescue the princess?  Call the wizard.  They are basically the warehouse of knowledge for the land as they constantly study to understand their environment better to gain advantage.  In the decorated apparel industry there are so many difficult techniques and unique situations that you could use to your advantage if you demonstrated your mastery of them in your marketing.

For example, instead of promoting a sale like you always do, try showing how you can print on dri-fit performance tees, which are immensely popular but difficult for a wide range of printers to use as they don’t understand the relationship between heat and dye migration.  But you do.  You kick ass with this technique every day, as you know “the secret”.   Other shop’s customers that had problems with their orders, where the white ink turned pink and the shop was clueless as to why will understand immediately that you are an ink wizard and come running to you.  Price isn’t a big of an issue if you can prove you can do it correctly.  It’s a trust thing.  After all, the cheaper guy is the one that ruined the shirts the last time.

For all the would-be wizards out there, crazy-ass long white beards are optional here.  You could have a giant staff with a glowing orb on one end though.  That’s just cool.

Level Up with Better Blacksmith’s Armor.  It’s a craftsmanship challenge.  If you work hard to hone your skills as a printer or embroiderer to the point that your shop is known throughout the land as the absolute best, then customers will flock to you as they want that perfection in their orders too.  People are tired of muddled, misregistered prints that look like crap, or images that are not sewn right and look like some sort of birds nest.  Can you be that shop that everyone’s points to with hushed tones of legendary awe and wonder; “How do they do it?”

Your shop wields a mighty hammer and mystical anvil.  It’s a finesse thing.  Attention to detail.  The right tools for the job.  Laser focus and intensity in making sure everything is just so.  Afterwards when the customer opens their box of goods, angels sing.  Perfection.  This of course does not work for people just looking for end column pricing or constantly beating you down for a nickel cheaper per shirt…so don’t worry about trying to get them as clients anyway.  Find customers that appreciate your skills and will pay for them.  Build your marketing campaign on how well you strike the anvil.  Show the sparks.  Show the fire in the forge.  Demonstrate why you have that legendary status.  Charge for it.

Knights Lead the Quest.  How are your shop’s leadership skills?  Are you a wallflower, or are you out in front on some sort of quest?  If you are, do so in a public manner.  Share your story on a blog; take videos or thousands of pictures to document your journey.  Your epic quest could be about anything really.  It could be a creative quest linked to artwork or a decoration technique.  It could be a civic quest where your shop is helping plant a Victory Garden downtown, hire and train inner city youth, or clean up a neighborhood.  It could be that you print and help philanthropies and have a business built around cause marketing.  It could be an environmental quest and discuss the benefits of sustainability (my favorite).

The point is that you are sharing your journey and heroic tale.  If your shop has a higher purpose than just cranking out logos on stuff, share that adventure with the world.  How did you start?  Where did you stub your toe?  Describe the successes and failures.  Make it relatable and don’t sanitize it.  Be bold enough to share the pain as that makes the victory sweeter.  More people will want to join your quest, as they will appreciate the leadership behind your efforts.  That’s your call to action!

All Hail the Oracle.  Are you the person that keeps up with the latest trends?  When the military switched their camouflage pattern, did you predict a surge in digi-camo apparel?  Do you attend the Surf Expo or MAGIC shows just to get a heads up on upcoming fashion trends and colors to help your clients?  Do you scour the internet constantly looking for something unique that nobody has noticed yet?

If you are known as the go-to person when it comes to discovering the perfect garment or decoration technique, what are you doing about getting that trait circulating?  Oracles work best when they share the knowledge, not when they keep things a secret.  This is where a shop newsletter, Pinterest boards, blog or a simple “Ask the Oracle” type column on your website could position you as the leading thought person in your local market.  Nobody has to sacrifice a goat to ask you a question.  Promise.  Unless of course that’s your form of payment.  Baaaaa.

Laughing at the Court Jester.  Got a big funny bone and aren’t afraid to make a joke?  One way to get a tremendous amount of publicity is to build your shop’s marketing campaign around hilarious blogs, videos or photo set ups.  Warning: this is only for the brave.  Of course, that’s what comedy is all about.  Being brave.  Why do shops or companies do this?  Simple, it draws attention to their shop that a boring ad that only shows a sale will never accomplish.  This drives an avalanche of orders, web traffic and discussion.

You have to do it right though.  I’m sure we’ve all told a joke that wasn’t funny.  I know I have, especially if you ask my wife.  The risk of course is the sound of crickets, or worse, people leaving in droves or not understanding your humor.  If you have the confidence and a big stinky bag full of hilarious ideas, what are you waiting for?  Make a crazy shop video from a dog’s point of view.  Film shirts being printed by gorillas.  Show how all embroidery is sewn by a platoon of cartoon penguins.  The more creative and fun the better.  Just make it short.  I have an attention span of a five year old you know.

The Fire Breathing Dragon.  This is the last metaphor I promise…but it’s the best.  Want to be known across the land as the biggest, baddest, ultimate beast to be feared?  Do something no one else will.  Of course, you have to figure that part out.  What no one else has touched yet, or been able to pull off.  Once you do though, take your turn flying around the country laying waste to your competition in spouts of soul searing flame.  I love that image.

So, how do you build the dragon?  Inventory your skill set.  What can you do well?  Then describe your idea for the dragon and how it will be completely different than anything in the market right now.  Analyze the competition, your supply chain, what equipment you’ll need, your financial resources, how you’ll handle the marketing…basically everything you need to get your dragon built, flying and the envy of everyone that may feel the heat.  It’s essentially connecting where you are now to what you want to be in the future.  A to Z.

Oh wait.  That build a dragon idea above?  That’s essentially just writing a basic business plan for your company that will allow you to innovate.  Sounds more fun if you call it a dragon doesn’t it?  If you execute your plan well, you can still lay waste to your competition in spouts of soul searing flame.  At least metaphorically.

Have fun storming the castle!


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