Shirt Lab Rocks!

Shirt Lab Rocks!

Shirt Lab Rocks!

There. I said it.

I’m a little biased because it was my baby. But about fifteen minutes before the official start time last Saturday I thought I was going to throw up. Those butterflies felt like pterodactyls.

I’ve done a ton of public speaking. Trade show seminars, webinars, I host two podcasts and have given countless presentations. I’ve spoken to hundreds of people at a time. It’s never been a big deal before.


For that brief second there, all of the work trying to plan every detail with my business partner Tom Rauen came rushing into my stomach. I had to take a moment to gather myself. Puking in front of a crowd of people is not a good way to start the day.

However, that’s how I finally knew we were on to something big. A long time ago Muhammad Ali said, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.” I guess that explains the pterodactyls.

Let’s jump back to where this all started.

The Shirt Lab Idea

It’s day two of ThreadX18 and I’m having breakfast with Tom Rauen and some other great decorated apparel industry people. It’s a beautiful Palm Springs morning, and the discussion is lively at the table. Many opinions are shared about “what’s wrong with this industry”, and then it turned to the typical “what we need” discussion that always seems to follow.

That’s what was interesting. Plenty of people started their apparel decorating career by taking a class somewhere and learning how to do it with a hands-on workshop.

But for sales or marketing, there seems to be a gigantic hole.

Bingo! Here’s the opportunity.

I could connect my love of helping people with coaching and a desire to push the envelope with some entrepreneurial spirit. Plus, some inspiration from riCardo Crespo’s “Holy Shit Factor” thrown in for good measure.

After ThreadX was over Tom and I started emailing back and forth with questions and ideas. Lot’s of “what if” statements and off the wall concepts. We had a phone call or two and decided that we should write a business plan to discover if there might be a business idea that would work.

It came out great.

So we both threw $500 into a bank account and started the business. Then, we rolled up our sleeves and went to work.

We built Shirt Lab on a series of Monday phone calls that lasted an hour. (Which we still do) The work was divided up between us on what we do best. When the next Monday rolled around we would compare notes on accomplishments and set out a new set of tasks.

Idea brick by idea brick, Shirt Lab was built that way.

Shirt Lab Recap

Our idea was simply to provide the best sales and marketing training we could for the decorated apparel industry.

The market we wanted to serve is companies in the industry that have had success, but their business needs help with developing a better sales and marketing strategy. At our first event, we had shops ranging in size from under $500,000 per year in sales to ten times that. Their sales results were all unique to their particular journey, but they all had one thing in common.

They wanted to learn.

The proof that we were on to something great was when we sold out in the early part of October with nearly the entire month left before the event. By the way, we didn’t spend a dime on marketing.

There were a few combinations of factors that helped with us with achieving that goal. First, is that we segmented the Shirt Lab education day into a logical sequence of relevant sales and marketing topics. We wanted the day to be something where each idea workshopped, built upon the preceding one. Once that became in focus, we tried to find the absolute best rockstars we could to help.

Shirt Lab Instructors – The Best of the Best

We wanted information that hasn’t really been presented before. This industry is facing a critical moment in our evolution, and we needed a team of people that are on the front lines and had the samurai skills in their areas of expertise. Here’s the line up from our event:

Jay Busselle

Jay was just appointed to be the new marketing director for Equipment Zone. He has a background in this industry that spans probably a lengthier time that he wants to admit. He’s been affiliated with PromoKitchen and has been leading the charge in the weekly #promochat discussions on Twitter every Wednesday at 3:00 EST. Jay is a fireball of energy and passionate about branding and marketing.

He was the perfect person to kick the day off at Shirt Lab. Jay brought the lumber and hit a home run on the first pitch. My favorite part of his workshop was the discussion about what your brand is NOT.

It is your logo? Nope.

What about what you do? Sorry.

Maybe it’s a product? Wrong again.

He then led a great discussion that tied the notion about the emotions behind a brand and how customers feel about that. Jay worked with one of the attendees, Sally Browne with the Ink Deli, on a review of their branding and messaging. We could not have picked a better person to on-ramp the Shirt Lab learning.

Remember, your vibe attracts your tribe.

How do your customers feel about your company?

Dan Carr

Dan runs a very successful media agency, Carr Media, that works with companies on their strategies and tactics behind the scenes with their online stores. He presented a mind-blowing workshop on the “Top Ten Webpage Conversion Tactics”.

Web pages that don’t sell are simply fancy business cards. Is that yours?

For the shops in the crowd, they received expert education with ten different ways they can change their sites to get more impact. What was meaningful to me was to hear that the very next day, a few of the attendees were already working on changing their sites. Dan delivered.

Of the top ten things, my personal favorite was his bit on web page loading speed. It’s a fact. If your webpage can’t load in under 2 seconds, your potential customer will simply quit and abandon your site. Even Google dings you for being slow, so that hampers your SEO. He gave a few tools to help measure webpage speed.

Here’s one you should try.

In his part of the workshop, Dan compared one of our attendee’s website, Daniel Ortega with Blue Cactus Printing, webpage load speed with one from Amazon. Daniel’s didn’t load until 11.6 seconds. When you only focus on that one aspect and look at it with a clear lens, it’s easy to see why a potential customer would click off.

I can vouch for Dan, as he helped my webpage go from about an eleven-second load to 1.49 seconds. Click around my site right now while you are here. We still have a few things left to handle, but I love the changes so far.

Roger Burnett

I’ve known Roger for many years, as he’s a PromoKitchen chef, and even have produced apparel orders for him back in the day. His chunk of Shirt Lab was on Lead Generation strategies. He’s a master at that with Branded Logistics.

I absolutely loved the fact that he opened his discussion with the audience with this general statement that might sound familiar in your shop: “I answer every phone call and return every email.” – Roger says that’s a weak lead-generation strategy.

But what’s true is that so many shops in this industry have what I call the “Field of Dreams” way of doing business. They simply think, “If we can print it, they will come.”, and don’t do much work getting customers in the door. Lead generation is an on-purpose, no accident chunk of work.

We paired up Roger with a shop, Ray Wolfe with Sidemind Creations, and Roger used them and similar shops that he’s worked with over the years as examples for his guided discussion. Roger led a fun and interactive talk on Lead Generation and provided many different methods to build that into a shop’s overall mindset.

It all revolves around listening. Remember, posting on social media is a broadcast channel and not a lead generator.

There’s more to it than that. Engagement and interaction are what you are striving for here.

Ken Seidl

Ken has a lengthy background in this industry as he’s been the VP of sales for both alphabroder and Fruit of the Loom. Currently, he consults, but also teaches at the Johns Hopkins business school. I’ve worked with Ken before, so I thought it would be fun to have him along and get the attendees involved with learning new closing techniques.

After all, what good is getting a lead if you can’t close the deal?

Ken gave a great checklist to review before you speak to a potential customer, and then use four different types of questions to close the sale. For the group discussion, he used one of the Shirt Lab attendees, Adam McCauley and Ryan Dost with Sandlot Sports, shop challenge as the basis for the entire audience to help solve.

Shops need to be better prepared and anticipate questions or concerns your potential customer may have. What do you know about them that you can use to your advantage when closing? Demonstrate your value and capabilities, and don’t forget to ask for the sale.

Ryan Moor

Ryan has a big following online with the videos he produces for his company Ryonet, and his new apparel brand Allmade. If a picture is worth a 1000 words, what do you think a one-minute video might be worth?

Using video is one of the best ways you can connect with your target audience. That ultimately leads to more brand awareness and sales. Ryan broke it all down, and even spent time with one of our Shirt Lab attendees, Joe Sudrovic with Gorilla Joe Printing Company, to help him produce a video that has really impacted his shop.

One of the best moments I think I have from producing Shirt Lab is watching that new Gorilla Joe video when he posted it on Facebook a few days before our event. It’s up around 5,500+ views now and he’s received a good number of new customers from it. It really made me happy that something Shirt Lab built could connect Ryan and Joe to help foster that type of growth. That’s the reason we’re doing this.

Remember, “Real artists ship!” so you can’t be intimidated by creating and posting a video about your company. Just do it.

Bill Petrie

Bill is another PromoKitchen connection and the president of PromoCorner. His workshop was on “How to Out-Amazon Your Competition” with a different strategy for customer interaction and engagement.

This is based on having a different mindset than your competition based on the user’s experience.

Give more information.

Make things simpler.

Be more efficient.

Overall, build your customer service engine for your shop so that you prevent mistakes before they happen.

We hooked up Alison Banholzer with Wear Your Spirit Warehouse with Bill for suggestions. Using the Amazon mindset, Bill talked about how they could add value, and more importantly revenue, to each order by using the strategy of “other customers also bought” like Amazon. Amazon generates 35% of their revenue with this tactic.

Wouldn’t you want that type of extra value-add for your shop?

Chris Bernat

I first heard about the book Blue Ocean Strategy from Chris, as a few years ago we were on a panel at an SGIA Expo and he talked about it answering someone’s question. I immediately purchased it and knew Chris would be the perfect person for this part of Shirt Lab.

He didn’t disappoint.

Chris intertwined his own Blue Ocean strategy for running Vapor Apparel, with the shop we paired him with, Southern Apparel, and also tales from legendary businesses like Apple, Canon, and Ralph Lauren.

If you haven’t read the book, Blue Ocean Strategy is about building your business in a different lane so you don’t have any competition. You singularly stand out.

Think about the differences between a circus and Cirque du Soleil.

His talk was more of a challenge for the audience than anything.

I can’t wait to see who picks up the gauntlet and accepts the quest to do something different.

Shirt Lab Sponsors

Of course, we can’t thank these folks enough. They accepted the challenge of taking a risk with our first event without hesitation.

“Oh, you guys are putting on a show? Let us help!”

I want to take a moment here to thank them for being brave enough to lend us a hand. Shirt Lab would not exist without them, so please give them a huge thank you (and some business too!) for helping us get this event off the ground.


Ryan Moor came all in from the start. Not only did he accept my request to present on social media, but offered his financial backing for the Columbus event and all of the events for 2019. It’s easy to see how Ryonet and Allmade are gaining tremendous support in the industry as he leads without fear. Gigantic thanks for Ryan and his team!


Jay Malanga with Shopworks came on board early too. I’ve used Shopworks for years in two of the shops that I’ve run, so I’m deeply familiar with their powerful software and business. Huge props to Jay and his team!


Matias Rivero and his talented team at Pixel’sHive came on board to sponsor our lunch on Saturday for all of our guests. They are new to the industry, and I’m helping them as an enterprise consulting client too. They offer great creative services from graphic design, InkSoft stores, and an entire suite of services. Thanks, Matias – you would have enjoyed the BBQ!

Screen Printing Magazine

Steve Ducilli is my editor for my column with Screen Printing Magazine, The Marshall Plan. He backed Shirt Lab early and offered to help with ad space in the magazine and some email marketing to readers in the area. Steve also was a good sounding board early as we were trying to focus and build out our idea. Thanks, Steve!


Jerzees came on board by donating all of the giveaway shirts for Shirt Lab, and have elected to step up their sponsorship for next year a few levels up and for all four events too. Very happy that they see the value in what we are doing and are committed to making the industry better. Huge shout out to Janene Edwards and Jeff Traen for their support!


It’s no surprise that InkSoft helped sponsor Shirt Lab as I have a great relationship with them and Tom has several hundred online stores using their platform. JP Hunt and Scott Allen helped us by sponsoring the Friday night networking event at Land Grant brewery. Everyone had a great time and took away not only memories of meeting new people with our Rock, Paper, Scissors championship…but with getting a brand new Shirt Lab / InkSoft pint glass to enjoy at home. Thanks, InkSoft!


Taylor Landesman and Lawson came on board to donate gift certificates to our attendees that partnered with the Shirt Lab instructors for their part in their presentations. We wanted to thank these brave attendees for coming forward and exposing a potential weakness with their shop in front of a group of strangers, and Lawson gave us a huge hand with that. We appreciate everything, Lawson! Thanks!

Sparkle Plenty

Andrew and Lee Sequira with Sparkle Plenty gave us some amazing rhinestone women’s tees with the Shirt Lab logo emblazoned on it. Plus, a free Shirt Lab heat press transfer that shops could take back with them to try out their service. They both were guests on my InkSoft The Big Idea podcast a while back. Awesome help guys, thanks!

Leber Design and Print

Nate Leber with Leber Design and Print, was our man on the ground helping us all along the way with Shirt Lab. We constantly called and asked him questions, and he helped us decide on the venue locations. Neither Tom nor I had ever met Nate in person, so it was really gratifying to meet him a few days before at the hotel when we were putting everything together for the event. Nate not only knows his stuff in the industry, but he is a warm and giving person. He also lined up his pal Carlton Reed with Abercrombie and Fitch to help us with hospitality during the event too. (Thanks, Carlton!)

The Book Company

Tom reached out to Roni Wright with The Book Company for the journals the attendees used for notes. Both Tom and I received many compliments on the notebooks, and they were first class. Our logo was embossed on the cover and looked fantastic, and the style of the book was perfect. Many attendees took 30-40 pages of notes during the day, and they will be referring to these notes and ideas for some time to come. Thanks for your help!

Black Rifle Coffee

Coffee? In the swag bag? I heard that a lot that morning at Shirt Lab. Earlier this year Bryan Hammel with Black Rifle Coffee called me with a shop efficiency question. We talked for about 30-45 minutes and as a thank you, he sent me some samples of their coffee. Holy cow is this stuff great. It’s all I buy now, and in fact, I subscribe to their coffee service and have it shipped to me at regular intervals. I don’t have to do anything. When I was thinking about what could be fun to have in the bag for attendees I remembered Black Rifle Coffee and asked Bryan if they could donate to Shirt Lab. Huge (caffeine-addicted) shout out to Bryan and Black Rifle Coffee for supporting us!


In our attendee’s swag bags were also Shirt Lab patches and lapel pins with our logo on them. The awesome folks at EMT donated these and they turned out great! Who doesn’t love patches and pins?! They truly are “emblems made easy”!

Custom Craft Trophy and Embroidery

Last, but not least is the fine work by Kevin Loose with Custom Craft Trophy and Embroidery. I met Kevin at the InkSoft MaxProft event that I produced last year, and he signed up for Shirt Lab early on. As mentioned before, we had a Rock, Paper, Scissors competition at the Friday night networking event at Land Grant Brewery. Since he was attending Shirt Lab I asked Kevin for a quote for the trophy, and he volunteered to make it for us at no charge. Not only that, but he drove down from Wisconsin to Columbus Ohio to attend the event! Thanks, Kevin, you rock!


While we are thanking people, I want to give a huge Thank You to everyone that came to this first Shirt Lab. A good number of the people that attended I have met previously, but I made some new friends in Columbus too.

Tom made this website, The Ultimate Guest List, to use for our attendees. The idea was for folks to see what everyone does and have some information on them pre-and-post-event. Pictures and bios were submitted by our attendees.

If you journeyed to Columbus for Shirt Lab – Thank You!

Final Thoughts on Shirt Lab Columbus

While it was a great event, and both Tom and I were very happy and proud regarding the results, not everything went according to plan. We made mistakes. Some things slipped through the cracks. But that’s the nature of doing anything right?

With Shirt Lab Columbus under our belt, we know the changes we need to make to ensure the other events next year will be even better.

So what can you expect?

More relevant sales and marketing help that will be tailored to you. We are producing four events in 2019. Each will be in a different city. For those, each city will have a different major theme associated with each Shirt Lab. For 2019, the four themes will be all focused on the sales and marketing aspects of these decorated apparel niches:

Contract decoration.

Athletic markets.

Programs and fulfillment.

Retail and apparel brands.

While dates, venues, and themes haven’t been linked up yet, we have picked the cities for each business quarter for next year.

Q1 will be Atlanta, Georgia

Q2 will be Portland, Oregon

Q3 will be Baltimore, Maryland

Q4 will be St. Louis, Missouri

For the rest of the year, and probably into next, Tom and I will be busy getting everything put together for these events. We would love to hear from you. What’s your biggest challenge? Who would you like to teach a workshop segment?

Interested in sponsoring? Hey, let’s talk!

In the meantime, you can stay linked to Shirt Lab in two ways. One is to subscribe to our information.

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The other is to listen to our weekly podcast, the Shirt Lab Answer Series. With that we take listener posed questions and invite our guest to answer them.

That’s right. Your questions. Our answers. Delivered weekly.

Tune in!


“Always roll up the sleeves on your shirt. It gives the impression you are working, even if you are not.” – Ashton Kutcher

“This shirt is dry clean only. Which means…it’s dirty.” – Mitch Hedberg

“Beware of the naked man that offers you his shirt.” – Navjot Singh Sidhu



Free eBook!

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*cover photo credit Jay Busselle – you rock too!  I owe you a taco.






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