Everyone Is Not Your Customer


One of the greatest things about the decorated apparel industry is the diverse spectrum of customers that we can appeal to for our services.  We literally can do anything for anybody.  This is such a true fact that I think a lot of shops get lost when trying to figure out who they should be marketing to in their area.

I’ve asked plenty of shop owners this question: “What is your perfect order?”  A good chunk of them will come back with the “Oh, we’ll take anything!  We sell to everyone!”

Does that sound like you?

Maybe that’s your marketing plan too.  We’ll take anything.  A shotgun-like approach and just hope that something sticks after it is all said and done.  Which is the problem…because sometimes that something sticks and walks in your door.  Like these yahoos:

Fred is that guy who brings in the “greatest idea ever” for a t-shirt line featuring a rip-off of another person’s idea.  If you’ll help him with the order, you’ll be his “printer for life”.  You can do the art too, right?  You just have to help him blatantly steal someone else’s idea.

No problem right?

Or Susie, who is a soccer Mom, that strolls in on a late Wednesday afternoon wanting “spirit wear for the team, the other parents in the stands, and a cute onesie to match for Carol who just had her fourth baby with her second husband.  They were just married last year you know.  The season starts on Saturday, by the way.  How big of a discount now can I get if my husband promises to do his golf outing trip shirts with you next month?  And, I hate to tell you this, but that shop across town offered me a big discount if they put their logo on the sleeve.  I’d like a big discount from you too, but do you have to put the logo on the sleeve?  I think that’s tacky.  Whoever has the best price is getting this order…so sharpen that pencil!  Can I just bring in checks from everyone that’s getting shirts?  I don’t want to have to pay for the whole thing myself!  Oh, I just had an idea!  You could create an order form for me! Or a website to sell these!  One last thing…I need you to take some money off the price because I did the art for you already!  My oldest daughter created it in PowerPoint.  She printed it out and put some glitter in the type with a gluestick.  Isn’t she talented?”  Can you replicate that on the shirts?

Yes, that searing pain behind your left eye will move to the back of your head unless you take something for it.  Oh boy.

What about Richard that wants two shirts printed by you to prove that you know what you are doing?  There’s nothing better than auditioning for work, is there?  He wants to see your quality and then he’ll place a “big order”.  He sends you his art, and it was generated from one of those huge t-shirt websites.  Sample coming right up!

All you have to do is recreate it for him.  And print two samples.  Can you prove you can do the job?  Do you want to?

Then there’s Rush Order Ramona.  She needs fifty hoodies embroidered by Friday for a big annual event.  The entire time she’s in your office she’s on her phone texting someone.  After you’ve digitized her file, you have to follow up with her twice to get her to approve it.  The shirts come in, but not all at once as your normal distributor is out of mediums.  They don’t show up until Thursday afternoon.  You stay late into the night to finish the job, so they are ready for Friday.  (You can see the punchline coming right?)  Friday rolls around, and Ramona never shows or calls.  In fact, despite numerous attempts in contacting her you can’t get her to respond.  Weeks later, those shirts are still sitting in your pick up area.  The order is unpaid because she wanted to see the shirts before charging her card.  You contact someone at the event, and find out that not only is Ramona not in charge of the program, but another vendor supplied all the merchandise.

Ut oh.

Let’s not forget about Mary.  She’s extremely indecisive.  Should she go with some hoodies or some jackets this year for her big corporate gift program she’s running?  Only the best will do.  She spends hours with you leafing through apparel catalogs, while you check availability.  She wants to see samples of nine different hoodies, and six jackets; could you please order them all in size medium?  She has to “touch and feel them” and try them all on.  For the art, she needs three different choices so she can decide on what to do.  She doesn’t know what she wants, but please “do something cool”.

You don’t mind doing triple the work do you?  For the same price of course.

Golden Egg Orders

I’m sure every shop has similar stories.  Some probably incredibly worse.  I just made these up to illustrate a point.  When you appeal to everyone, that just might work.

Instead, let’s turn that idea on its head.  What is your favorite type of order?  You know, the one you love running, make good money on, has a certain client profile, or just makes you feel good when you produce that job?  We all operate different companies in different markets, so the answer should be tailored to you.   It’s the best order that is a perfect fit for your shop.

Got one in mind?

Let’s call that order the “Golden Egg”.  Just like in Aesop’s fables.  The goose that lays the golden egg was a prized commodity in the tale.  In our story, it is a prized commodity too.  Golden Egg orders are the ones we want to capture more of in our attempt to grow the business.

In my goofy scenarios above, do those sound like Golden Egg orders to you?  I hope not.  Think about your own tales of misery in your shop.  I’m sure you have yours.  I’ve heard a bunch of these over the years at industry networking events.  We all like to share those painful stories as it connects us magically somehow.  Which is funny in a way, because if we shared the good ones everyone would be thinking we were bragging!

If you don’t want to waste your time and effort on these types of orders you don’t have to take them.  Or you can have policies or procedures in place to minimize the disruption they may cause.  That’s fodder for a different article probably.  Stay tuned.

Target Your Effort

Instead of trying to appeal to everyone, look for ways you can target your efforts to drive more Golden Egg orders coming in the door.  For illustration purposes for this article, let’s say your Golden Egg order is a 500 piece run that is a program order that repeats a few times a year.

So who typically orders those?  That’s who we want to appeal to with any social media or direct marketing.  The trick is to just get out a pad of paper and brainstorm for all the opportunities around you that would place an order similar to that.  Look up past order history.  Starting off, just go about one or two days ground freight from you.  That’s several hundred miles in a circle.  It’s a fairly big net to draw from.

Now that you’ve defined the types of sources for this particular Golden Egg type order, all you have to do is put the legwork in finding the right people there.  The magic of the internet can quickly help with that.

Once you’ve established your definitive list, you can start looking them up on social media.  Follow their Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn accounts.  Like, share or retweet their posts.  Comment about something that strikes you as great or interesting.  Congratulate them when they win an award or do something special.  A good chunk of them will notice you and follow you back.  If you share good content, they may even help spread your social media efforts by liking, sharing or retweeting your posts too.

This becomes an incredible cycle of success, as sooner or later the members of this group will start to ask for help with something or for you to answer a question.  Then you just have to ask for the order.

If you are available to meet them, set up a time and introduce yourself too!  I read once that people don’t do business with their enemies, so you should always try to make friends.  Get out there and shake some hands!  How many new potential customers did you meet today?  What if you made it a goal to try to meet one potential customer a day?

So if your Golden Egg order is a repeatable 500 piece order, stop marketing to the Everyone group that only places orders for 24 pieces and never orders again.  Sure, these will still come in; but less frequently.  You want more of one and less of the other.  This is how you scale.

Adding to the Golden Egg Discussion

Another way of defining your market is to use Peter Drucker’s famous five questions to help focus your efforts.  Yep, just what you need is more homework.  But this is the stuff that helps scale your business, so it might be worth it.  Think about these and maybe jot down your answers or spark a debate in the lunchroom:

  1. What is our mission?
  2. Who is our customer?
  3. What does the customer value?
  4. What are our results?
  5. What is our plan?

Do you think everything you are doing in your company is aligned by those five things?  If your customer values speed, but your schedule is constantly backed up what do you think will happen?  If your mission is to be a business to business provider, are you wasting your efforts trying to market to area school clubs?  If the market you serve values high end artwork on their shirts as the number one reason to buy, are you loaded with exceptionally creative talent in your art department?  If the core group of customers that orders from you starts wanting waterbased ink printing or maybe even silicone, will you stubbornly stick to plastisol because that’s the way you’ve been printing for twenty years?  What if your core customers want to start sourcing their own polos and jacket for embroidery?  Would you let them?

How much time and effort do you put into thinking about what your customer values?  What do they need?  Are you just an order taker without any thought as to what’s going on in the outside world?  What have you changed in the last year to accommodate your customer’s values?  Anything?

The decorated apparel industry is constantly changing.  New fabrics.  New opportunities online.  More technology pressure.  The core demographic for your client base is changing too.  Are you refreshing that constantly with new customers?

Are you looking for more Golden Egg opportunities, or still content to appeal to the faceless Everyone?

Believe it or not, your position on this will define your future success.


  • Outstanding article. A have plead in my shop for years. Finding your niche, what your good at, what you enjoy that also serves your niche. I know I spend a lot of time doing small, profitless jobs and that takes away from your quality of life. It’s great to work hard, but it is not a sin to reap the benefits of your hard work and sometimes that means maximizing your time and shedding yourself of those time wasting jobs that in most cases don’t return the business you wish for or have been promised, as you pointed out. Again, awesome article, Marshall!

  • Awesome job, Marshall !

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