Four Do's and a Don't

Multi-Color Print on P11 - Marshall Atkinson

Looking for the latest tip or trick to run your decorated apparel shop better?  You won’t find it in this article.


All I have here is going to be a lot of work on your end if you decide to accept the challenges.  Think you have what it takes?  We’ll see.

Listed below are four things you should be doing in your shop and one that you should not.  Because it sounded catchy, I’m naming these the four do’s and a don’t.  I think these are the cornerstone of running your shop more efficiently.  They are somewhat interconnected, but very relevant.

Ready?  Here goes…

Do #1

Do invest in your people.  They are what make your company tick.  Can you honestly sit back in your chair and say to yourself, “Yep, everyone that works here is the absolute expert at their job.  We have zero worries.”  

Of course not.

So then, what are you doing about it?  People need to be challenged.  People like to try new things and discover new skills.  It makes them smarter with their job, and more valuable to your company.

So why aren’t you doing this more?

Cross training is something that should be undertaken seriously and constantly.  Here’s where you find your new embroiderer, press operator, shipping clerk or even manager.  Find someone that has some aptitude and desire to learn and pair them with a mentor that can teach them the ropes.

An easy way to do this is to just schedule the activity.  Every afternoon after lunch or maybe every Thursday, they just do something else and learn.  The trick is to have coverage for their old job while they are learning the new skills.

What’s the benefit?  Simple.  A better trained work staff that not only knows their position, but another one too.  Sometimes, they find they like the new work task even better or they are better at it.  Just because you hired them to clean screens or to do embroidery trimming shouldn’t mean they are locked into that job forever.  During this process it’s important to keep the channels open and listen to feedback they may have.

Can you imagine how much better your shop will be run if at least half of your staff is trained in another position?  Think about how much easier it will be to scale if the working knowledge in your firm is doubled when you need to make that push.

This challenge doesn’t happen overnight.  There are some speedbumps along the way too.  First you have to find people and marry them to another possible skill they may want to learn.  Then comes the time it takes for them to learn that skill.  You have to build the program, monitor it, and make it work.  People are involved, so there are going to be conflicts and sometimes a little drama to work through.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.  Are you ready to start walking this path?

Do #2

Do give clear expectations.  It’s crucial for your staff to understand what they should be doing and how they should be doing it.  Secret goals or hidden agendas should never be entertained.

There shouldn’t be any doubt what the rules are and that your company operates in a certain way.  If you haven’t already, write an employee handbook.  Have regular employee performance reviews, and make these really in depth discussions that are focused on the positive things that the employee does, and also the areas of opportunity for improvement.

Almost all of your people will follow the rules.  There will be some that won’t.  You can’t ignore these transgressions.  Act on them in a fair and standardized way.  You may have to suspend or even terminate someone for repeated offenses.  That’s ok.  Remember, it’s their fault and not yours that they are in trouble.  Document everything and be clear about what you are doing.  Also, don’t forget that the rest of your work staff is watching to see if anything is being done.  They all know that Fred comes in ten minutes late every day or that Mary takes a longer lunch than allowed.  If you don’t act on it, it just breeds resentment with the rest of your staff.

There should be clear expectations on the work being performed also.  What is your quality standard?  Are you training on that?

How are shirts placed in boxes…just any way or is there a precise way to do it?  Are your job and shipping labels placed on boxes straight and even, or just slapped on in any random method?

Details matter.  In every step along the way in your shop, there should be expectations on how things are handled.  Craftsmanship and the need for making things easier for the next guy should be promoted.  Can you honestly say that you are doing all you can on this idea?  What could you do to make it better?

Expectations all start with how you communicate what the result should look like.  Whether it is your attendance policy, your quality standards, or how someone knows on the production floor what color thread or ink to use…it is up to you to determine how that message is coming across, getting received, and being acted upon.

Think about your shop for a moment.  What is the biggest problem you struggle with every day?  If you were to give clearer information regarding this challenge, could it go away or be minimized in some meaningful way?

Want better results?  Give more exact expectations.

Do #3

Do consider a sustainability program for your shop.  I know, I know.  I write about this all the time.  Ever wonder why?  It’s a money thing.  Let’s face it, it is extremely hard to give price increases to your customers these days.  Everyone is constantly nickel and diming you to death.  

An active and robust sustainability program can add much needed margin to your business.  It’s just the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse & Recycle.

So what are some quick easy steps?

First, bring together a sustainability committee for your shop.  These are people that are interested in making the program work, but should include a diverse set of employees.  I recommend having production team members, department managers, and at least the owner or accountant, as there are financial decisions that need to be made.  Get together and talk about what you want to do and why you want to do it.  Find some easy fruit to pick and set some goals.

Next, look to your energy consumption.  Get an energy audit from your local utility.  This means they will schedule someone to come out to your shop and examine areas of opportunity.  In a week or two, you’ll get a great report on how you can save money on energy by changing a few things.  They will give you a list of ideas…all you have to do is complete them.  Quite often if you have to invest in new equipment or lighting, there could be grant money or low interest loans available to you.

Keep track of your energy consumption.  Start a spreadsheet and log past months usage and costs.  Get a graph going.  Once you start changing your energy usage by altering your habits or equipment, you’ll see the numbers changing.

Third, take a close look at your consumables.  Are you using products just because that’s what you’ve always purchased?  There are probably better performing, lower cost items that you can move to and make a positive impact.  This means your ink, solvents, tape, cardboard boxes, paper…everything that you source for your shop.

Also look at how you are using these items.  Quite often nobody considers how much or even why we use stuff in our shops.  Once you start investigating the matter, you’ll find that there is a lot of waste going on, and you just never realized it.  

For example, do you really need to tape a box with three or four layers of tape along the top?  Will just one suffice?  If not because of your tape, what if you switched tapes to something that worked better?  Even if it was slightly more a roll, you still would save money as you would be using far less than normal.  However, this doesn’t help if your crew still uses three or four passes with the tape gun to close a box.  If you switch, make sure you train on how to use the new item properly.

If you get to the point with your sustainability program that you want to reach the next level, I recommend obtaining the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership Certification.  This is an independent third party audit that shows you meet a best in industry specifications regarding sustainability for your business.  This certification is a market differentiator.  While a sustainability program is a defensive model, as you are saving money…the SGP Certification is an offensive posture as you can leverage your program to get new business.  To learn more about SGP Certification click here.

The Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA) runs a great webinar class that meets once every two weeks for an hour called the Peer to Peer Network.  Each session is devoted to training you all about one topic needed to obtain your SGP Certification.  Enroll in the class, learn the material, build your program, and get your certification.  To sign up for the class click here.

Do #4

Do continue to learn every day.  There are so many different areas of the decorated apparel industry, with techniques, methodologies and vocabulary all their own.  Your job as a professional is to master your craft and become an expert in whatever facet your company thrives in each day. 

This requires constant refinement and struggle.  It’s not good enough that you just bang out the orders every day.  Any slob with junk equipment they bought on the internet can do that.  Want to get to the top of the mountain?  Refine what you do to the point where people come to see “how you do it”.

If other companies, printers, embroiderers, or industry types aren’t asking you that question, then you should be still on the learning trail absorbing information, trying out new ideas, and tweaking your processes.

Guess what?  When those people do want to see “how you do it”, you’ll still be in search mode as well.  The learning never stops.  Learners succeed where others fail.  Why?  Not because they have the answers, but because they know how to develop them.

You should be in a constant state of curious.  “Hey, why are we doing this that way?”  A few days later, you might have a better solution.

Those supplier reps that are constantly wanting a minute of your time?  Often they have the answers to the questions you haven’t asked yet.  Maybe you should spend that twenty minutes with them next Thursday and have a chat.

That trade show that you always put off?  Maybe this year you should go.  Browse the products available in the booths.  Take a few classes.  Network with other printers.

Open your mind to new ideas and possibilities.  It might just be the thing that sparks a huge chunk of growth for your business.

I’m always uncovering great ideas.  I want the information.  Maybe I’ll never use them, but when that opportunity arises I’ll have something in my pocket.  I’m still learning that’s for sure.

…and the Don’t.

Don’t put off achieving some goals.  And by goals I mean some Big Ass Scary Goals.  These should be goals that will revolutionize your business.

Maybe you want to upgrade to an automatic press.  Maybe you want to buy a Direct to Garment printer.  Maybe you want to double your sales.  Maybe you want to land that huge account.  Maybe you want to create an app for your shop.  Maybe you want to learn discharge printing.  Maybe you want to staff a second shift.  Maybe you want to open up a second location.  Maybe you want to buy your own building.  Maybe you want to get your SGP Sustainability Certification.  Maybe you want to _______________.

These aren’t my goals.  These are yours.  Another year just went by, and you didn’t do what you’ve been dreaming about.  Meh, it’s ok.

It’s time to redouble your efforts and make it happen.  Maybe you just need some help.  Maybe you just need some information.  Maybe you need to learn how to achieve a goal.

Let’s change your Big Ass Scary Goal to a Big Ass Smart Goal.

Smart being an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.  The best way to achieve a goal is to break it down into chunks that you can understand, make some areas accountable, understand what’s needed, and put some tasks on a calendar.

Specific, means just that.  Write out your goal in a sentence and be as exact as you possibly can be.  Don’t just state, “I want to buy an automatic press”.  Research all of the manufacturer’s models and find the one that suits your needs, price range, size requirements and other considerations.  Also this will mean looking into what other things you might need to go along with the idea.  For instance, if you buy an automatic press will you need a new conveyor dryer as well?  Will you have to upgrade the amount of screens you have on the floor?  Will you have enough trained people to operate the machine?  What is the minimum weekly sales you’ll need to support the new expenditure?  There is a lot of research that goes into being specific.  Don’t skimp.

Measurable, means defining the results.  Can you tell if you are hitting your goal or not?  This could be a yes or a no result…or this could be a numerical value.  You want objectivity.  For example, to achieve a monthly sales goal, you could have this broken down by week or day and then as time passes you’ll know whether or not you are hitting your goal.  The reason you want a measurable goal and not just your gut instinct is that you can hold others (and yourself) accountable.

Achievable, means this is something you can do.  Work out what’s needed to accomplish your goal.  Develop your strategy.  For example, maybe you want to land a big account.  Who in the organization makes the decisions?  Have they ever worked with a company like yours before?  What’s needed to schedule a presentation or meeting?  What do you have to offer that makes your company attractive to them, that is different than their current vendor?  Work out the details.

Realistic, means don’t be ridiculous.  You aren’t going to become a brain surgeon in a week or land a million dollar account working out of your garage.  Given the tangible known factors you have for the challenge, what seems realistic?  For our example of buying a new piece of equipment, let’s say you have researched what you think you need.  Can you afford a new one?  If not, what does a used model list on the market?  Being realistic isn’t insulting, it’s just being honest.  How does that fit in with your goal?

Timely, means you set a date.  Put it on the calendar.  In big bold red letters.  Circle it.  Everything you do works backward from this date.  To achieve the goal, you are going to need to hit some real smaller goals.  What are they?  Schedule those.  Maybe you’ll need to talk to a few people, take a class, or save some money.  Maybe you’ll need one or two things to happen before the final goal can be even considered a reality.  It’s ok.  The main idea here is that you figure all this stuff out, and write it down.  Delegate some of it to your staff.  Use your suppliers.  I’ll bet there is some great information on the internet (at least that’s what Abraham Lincoln says), so do some research.

Any goal worth achieving takes some time.  You just have to put yours in.  Don’t forget that when you are posting that kitten meme on Facebook.

Use your time wisely.



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