8 Ways We’re Kickin’ Your Butt

Screen-Printing Job Staging - Marshall Atkinson

I’ve always liked the fact that in both sports and music dedication and effort often pay off with huge rewards.  Sure, there’s some talent involved.  However, talent alone doesn’t get the job done completely.  Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.  

The common thread  with companies in the decorated apparel industry is that when they put in the effort with practice, take time to refine their craft, and dream up creative ways to do something…more often than not, they come out on top.  As they say, the devil is in the details.

That’s why a football team will practice running that slant across the middle, or a baseball team will practice the throw from the shortstop to first base a million times.  That’s why bands practice the same song over, and over, and over again.  The practice drill becomes the game time reflex.

What’s the by-product of that?  Confidence.  Camaraderie.  Excellence.  Teamwork.  On game day or in concert, you can always tell who has “it” and who doesn’t.  The same goes for any company.

It’s not just about the printing or embroidery work either.  Are sales and customer service staff friendly, prepared and knowledgeable?  Can the art team absolutely hit home runs with their creativeness?  Do you digitize and prepare files for different fabric types, or are you sewing the same file for performance fabric and fleece?  When you mix ink does it match the Pantone color every single time without fail?  Can your receiving team count the goods in accurately?  Does your shipping team know how to send something to another country?

I titled this article as an attention grabber, but I don’t want to brag.  So when I write “we’re kickin’ your butt”…I mean all the other decorators out there that do things better than you (and me too!).  Because, regardless of where you are, how long you’ve been in business, who is on your payroll, or what market you serve…there is someone better.  There is always someone better.  Or bigger.  Or faster.  Or more talented.  Or hungrier.

What are you going to do about it?

That’s why there will always be another team coming from behind to beat the champs, or a band you’ve never heard of before suddenly on the radio everywhere.  That’s why when a shop opens up down the street from you, you can look at it as competition…or you can view it as inspiration.  You better knuckle down and try harder, buster.

Here are eight reasons there is a boot print on your behind:

Getting Ready

In the off-season Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears would famously run up and down a 92’ hill to train.  It was a grueling regimen, and aligned with his personal motto “Never Die Easy”.  “Sweetness” would invite teammates and other professional athletes to train with him, but they couldn’t keep up.  It’s not a secret that this monster level of dedication to conditioning and getting ready for the season help propel him to arguably one of the all-time best running backs in professional football.  

Training in the off-season allowed his body to strengthen, and far surpass other top-caliber NFL athletes in his time.  He made sure that his physicality was ready for the rigors and punishment that a running back would have to endure each season.  In fact, his “Never Die Easy” approach meant that he wanted to dish out punishment to would-be tacklers who tried to bring him down.  Watch this video if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

For decorated apparel shop owners, we get ready by preparing all of the pre-production work for each order.  The more time and effort we spend making sure everything is just right, the easier and more efficient our production team can handle their workflow.  Like running up and down that hill repeatedly, our teams need to be quality minded and push great communication downstream to other departments.  It’s hard work.  For the most part, it isn’t fun either.

If the inventory isn’t checked in properly there is going to be an issue.  If the file isn’t digitized just right, there will be too many thread breaks.

Is anyone checking your screen tension?  Forget to run spell check on that art?  Such simple steps, but a potential disaster if nobody is ever doing them.

What happens if we don’t have a good preventative maintenance program on our equipment?  When you need it most something breaks down.  Talk about pulling your hair out.

I get it.  You are busy and it’s difficult to get all of this stuff handled everyday.  That’s just a lame excuse though.  Why?

Because there’s a shop out there that is doing the equivalent of running up and down that hill in the off-season.  That’s what makes them great.  They have fine tuned their processes and trained their staff to focus on making sure all of the details are perfect in each step in the shop.  While your staff just hums through their work like a robot, mindlessly doing the work; their’s makes sure everything is how it needs to be before going on to something else.

Are you taking the necessary steps to ensure your success?  Is your team dedicated to climbing that hill every day?

The Joy of Technical Proficiency

I like rock music, I’m a guy, and I’m over 50.  Can you guess my favorite band?  

Rush of course.  

Why do they appeal to me so much?  Besides just rocking their butts off, it’s their exactness that does it for me.  If you haven’t heard it their song YYZ, it is regarded as one of the most difficult songs to play…but they revel in playing that song in concert because it so fantastically precise and complicated.  Watch this video of them performing it in Rio.  Think about the hours of practice and coordination it must take to master this song; let alone write it.

Now compare the work in delivering that song to their fans, who by the way know every single note of the piece by heart, to the work you do in your shop.

How is the technicality and precision of your work?  Can you embroider tiny lettering or details consistently?  Can you print over a red performance shirt that was manufactured by some unknown brand from Bangladesh without the threat of dye migration?  Four color process on black?  14 color simulated process?  Appliqué?  Jumbo stuff?  Foil?

How about just getting the day to day stuff printed or embroidered perfectly and out on time?

What’s the hardest thing technically you’ve ever had to produce?  When you go to trade shows are you comparing that work with the ones with all the ribbons for best in show?  How do you stack up?  Think you are better, or do you stand their with your mouth open and wonder how they pulled that off?

More importantly do your fans (customers) rave about your work and try to convert their friends like we do with the music from our favorite band?  I’m sure you know some dude who has gone on and on about Rush and tried to convince you of their legendary awesomeness.  I’ve been guilty of that, just ask my eleven year old son who is the best drummer ever and he’ll quickly tell you all about Neil Peart.  I wonder where he learned that?

What if that was someone talking about your shop?  Does that happen for you?  When you get to the point when your customers are trying to convince other people to be your customers, that’s when you are dominating the marketplace.

If you don’t like your answer, are you doing something about it?

Helping Others

Cause marketing is simply tying in a philanthropic idea to business to help promote both.  Sports teams do it in October to promote Breast Cancer Awareness by wearing pink on their uniforms.  Musicians have long been advocates for social change, and will consistently show up to help raise money for a cause.  Think Farm Aid with Neil Young, Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp, or the (Red) campaign for Aids that U2 is backing.

Are you just sitting in your shop and not participating in the world around you?  What part of the human story moves or motivates you?  What about others in your company?

The absolute top shops in this industry all share these same altruistic notions and try to do more for others.  Some donate their time and effort in local causes.  For others, they get on board with more national efforts.  Regardless of the cause, finding something that piques your interest and worth investing your time and treasure in can be a great way to set yourself apart, and give back simultaneously.

As leaders in the decorated apparel industry we have the opportunity to really align our values with helping others around us.  Apparel is such a default item for raising money for a cause.  However, it doesn’t have to mean you go broke giving away the store.

Helping others is big business.  Who did you help today?

Fundamentals Matter

John Wooden coached to Hall of Fame success for the UCLA Bruins basketball team and amassed ten national titles in a twelve year period, including a record of seven in row.  His teams at UCLA included four perfect seasons.  He was a very particular coach, and emphasized that his players learn the game his way, which emphasized his “Pyramid of Success”.  

His way was the only way.

In fact, on the first day of practice he would always teach his new players the basics…but not only about basketball.  No, on their first day the players would all learn and practice putting on their socks.

That’s right, their socks.

For Coach Wooden, teaching starts with basic fundamentals.  Learning to pull on your socks to prevent blisters from the hard work they were going to be starting was always the beginning lesson.  It also said to the players in a unique way, “forget what you know, I’m teaching you much more”.

In your shop are you emphasizing the fundamentals?  Getting these right can lead to a tremendous competitive advantage as other shops don’t stress maintaining the correct details.

The culture of perfection and execution starts with learning how to pull on your socks.  

In your shop it could be just learning how to count in shirts and fold them into a box.  The importance of coating your screens just right.  The reason why a sharp squeegee and the angle is so important in printing.  How to quickly change a thread color or bobbin.  Why the pretreatment step is the most important one for digital printing.  Maybe even the importance of smoothing down a label on a box completely so it doesn’t come off during shipping.

Fundamentals matter.  Are you teaching how to pull on your socks in your shop?

Marketing as Entertainment  

Think about the genius of the Foo Fighters television series on HBO “Sonic Highways”.  What a great idea.  Dave Grohl and his band traveled to different cities famous for their unique perspective on music, and collaborated with some of the famous residents with one song per city.  You got to see their influences and inspiration.  As they geeked out over a certain song, band or music hall, viewers witnessed that they were fans too.

There was a great human element and connection that was shown.  Afterwards they have a new album and more songs for their listeners to enjoy.  What was really interesting was that they turned the idea of writing and producing their new music on its head.  The journey was the show.  How they developed the songs made it interesting.

All the while they are getting paid by HBO and cultivating new fans.  What a huge win.

Think about how you market your shop.  Are you just pushing out e-mail blasts that only scream about a sale?  Do you even bother with Facebook, Instagram or other social media channels?  Do you ever have anything interesting to say?

How are you developing or managing the content for your shop in your marketing effort?

What if instead you invite your customers in?  Have an event where they can decorate a shirt.  What if you built a deeper connection with your neighborhood or city and pulled back the curtain on how apparel is printed or embroidered.  Sponsor some job development for veterans.  Host some inner city kids and let them learn.

Video this.  Blog about this.  Take a page from the Foo Fighters and show your struggle.  How hard it is to create that awesome design.  Make better connections by showing the pain and the long hours.  How creative can you be with this format?

While you are wondering how Twitter works, or should you make a Facebook page, your competition has already figured that out.  Don’t just post disposable ads on social media with some sort of a sale.

Build and cultivate an audience by giving content people can use and understand, and even look forward to every week!

Doing Business Your Way

While all of the other thirty-one NFL teams have branding deals with major sporting goods labels, Jerry Jones with the Dallas Cowboys sees things differently.  He knows that his team is one of the top apparel and merchandise selling teams in sports.  Why should he split that revenue with another company?

That’s why in 2002 the Cowboys decided to print and market all of their own clothing with a vertical operation, rather than split the royalties with the then sports marketing owner, Reebok.

This is one of the reasons why this team is now worth over $4 billion dollars, and is the most valuable team in sports.  They do it their way.

Think about your shop.  Are you taking risks or doing things with an attitude to create your own success?  The great thing about the decorated apparel industry is that although the overall market is incredibly large, there are numerous niche markets we service.

While some shops discount their way to volume, narrow-mindedly thinking “it’s the only way we can compete”, others build value and explore opportunities to grow their own success.  What market you serve today, doesn’t have to be the market you serve tomorrow.

If you have been in this industry for any amount of time, you can recite the backstories of a few apparel decorating companies that did something different and went onto incredible success.  They all started with nothing but an idea and built on that.

Are you taking some calculated risks to open up new opportunities?  Or are you just waiting for that high school dance team to call you back about that twenty-four piece order?

Dream bigger.

Be Known for Something

When you think about Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, or Led Zepplin specific songs and images might come to mind.  Same thing for Bob Marley or Stevie Ray Vaughn or the B52’s.  There is a flavor and mood when you think about their music.  Name your favorite band and song and you know what I’m talking about.

Great sports teams have that connection too.  The Steel Curtain defense from the Pittsburgh Steelers when they were a Super Bowl winning machine.  Steve Spurrier’s Fun N” Gun offense that changed the way SEC football is played today.  The great passing attack of the San Francisco 49ers when Montana and Rice torched everyone all the time.

When you think about your shop, are you known for something special?  Is there one thing that you can hang your hat on and brag about?

Are you the guy that always says “No, we do just about everything here.  Whatever walks in the door.”?

More successful shops have a direction.  They know how to grow and market their business as they know exactly who their core customer is at all times and cater everything towards them.

Think about your most profitable job or biggest success.  What type of work was that?  Can you build a marketing plan around doing thousands of those orders a year?  Who are those customers and how can you reach them?  Be known for that work and build your marketing to the point where when someone thinks of that work, you are the shop that instantly comes to mind.

Emotion Creates Energy

In 2007 Georgia Bulldogs coach Mark Richt wanted to find an edge that would give his team a spark to beat their neighboring state rivals, the Florida Gators.  In the past few years previously the Gators had beaten the Bulldogs 15 out of the last 17 years.  The annual tradition was a customary beatdown, and he wanted to do something to change that.  

He decided early on that when the Bulldogs scored, every single player would rush the end zone to congratulate the touchdown.  He knew that a penalty for excessive celebration would follow, but calculated that the intense emotion it would create would motivate his team to victory.  It would be worth it.

The 70 player Georgia Bulldog victory dance in the end zone injected incredible emotion into the day.  It was jaw dropping and brilliant. The Bulldogs would go on to win 42-30.

While that example might be a bit dramatic, it still illustrates the importance of celebrating with your team.

In your shop, when you achieve a goal, win an award, close out a big month, or just simply want to say thank you; do you do so with a celebration?  The positive feedback and enjoyment of having a celebration in your shop can create that energy you need to tackle other big projects in the future.

People might not remember what you said, but they remember how you made them feel.  

What do you do in your shop to create that positive energy?  Are you doing a 70 player touchdown dance?


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