25 Guiding Principles for an Apparel Decorator

In the last two weeks, I’ve probably talked to two hundred shop owners or more. Between Shirt Lab Atlanta and ISS Ft. Worth (where I taught eight classes over a three-day span), I’ve been just a tad busy.

During that time I’ve chatted with these folks and have either answered their questions or asked my own. It occurred to me that there were some common nuggets in there that I could probably share.

Here goes:

  1. Get your money upfront. All of it. Cash is king and when you secure one hundred percent of the money for the order, you are in the best financial position for your business.
  2. Have a business plan. A huge percentage of these folks don’t have one. Do you? A business plan allows you to focus your efforts on the best target for your sales.
  3. Use a calendar to plan. Your business-owner brain needs to be six to eight weeks out or more. Christmas marketing and relationships are planned and built in August. January sales are planned in October. The reason why your marketing and sales lag behind is that usually, it is all last minute. and unfocused.
  4. Be a hunter, not an oyster. Hunters purposely track and bag their target. Oysters sit on the bottom of the ocean and wait for their food to drop by. Only hunters have sales growth.
  5. Your next embroidery machine operator, screen-printer or DTG printer is already working for you. Train your staff now to replace these key positions so you are not left in a lurch when that operator decides to go somewhere else. This is called bench strength.
  6. Network with others in the industry. You really should be going to at least one trade show and one other educational event per year. If you go, attend the networking events and introduce yourself. If I’m there, come find me, I want to meet you.
  7. You need a business team outside of your shop. They should include an accountant, a lawyer, and a business coach. I would also have a good electrician and a decent plumber on that list too.
  8. Screen-printers are in the screen making business. If you can’t prepare your screens with craftsmanship, don’t expect good prints.
  9. Invest in the proper tools for this industry. Learn how to use them.
  10. You should be trying scary stuff constantly. This is how you grow.
  11. Always have business cards and a sample promotional kit that shows off your shop with you. Business cards are in your wallet or purse, sample kits are in the trunk of your car. You never know who you are going to meet or when. Be prepared.
  12. Double-check things, especially your processes to see if they are working. One good example is how you quote. Give everyone that quotes two or three example jobs to price out. Does everyone’s math line up with the right answer?
  13. Talk to your customers on an ongoing basis. Ask them questions about their business and industry. You want to understand where they are going and what problems they have. Help them solve those problems.
  14. Don’t be an order taker. Be a problem solver. Order takers are commodity-based. This is a price-sensitive way of looking at something. Problems solving has more value and you can charge more.
  15. Follow up with people. Even if you don’t know the answer fully. Let them know what’s going on and your progress. Radio silence to customers gives the wrong impression.
  16. You have to market your shop for employees, just like you do customers. Why would anyone want to work for you? With your hiring process, what are you signaling to them? Always use a pay range and a well-written job description.
  17. Use video more. It is estimated that over 80% of the traffic on the internet is going to be video by 2021. Are you comfortable with video yet? Learn this medium and start using it to your advantage.
  18. Remember, “It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate”. You can source back to any problem you are having and I’ll bet that somewhere in there you are not drawing the line and holding people accountable as you should. Quit talking about it and insist on excellence.
  19. Engineer your shop so it is really hard to screw something up. Remove friction points. Make things simple to understand. Use pictures, colors or numbers to identify things. When things are built so a three-year-old or a German Shepard can comprehend what to do, you’ve got it.
  20. Your reputation is everything. It’s hard to build, but easy to lose.
  21. The most important part of the information on a Work Order is the ship date. This signals to everyone in the building when that job has to leave the building. It should be ready the day before. Each department works backward from that. There is no excuse for being late on your schedule. Fix it.
  22. Your leadership and management teams’ number one priority is to elevate the performance of the staff working under them. Their goal is to make things easier for their crew, so they can execute their jobs with perfection. With this in mind, look at how you are leading your staff. Are you doing everything you can, on an ongoing basis, to help your workers perform?
  23. You have to know your numbers. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. This is for every aspect of your business. For example, if you don’t absolutely know what it costs you to decorate a shirt, how can you calculate your profit margin?
  24. There are riches in the niches. Don’t try to be all things to all customers. Narrow your focus and excel in a few areas. Go where others have not traveled yet.
  25. Know what your time is worth. As an owner, if you can find someone to do a task that you don’t want to do, don’t know how to do, or don’t have time to do…then that is money well spent. Work on your business, not in your business.

Are there more than twenty-five things you need to know? You bet. But, these are the things I’ve found myself repeating a few times over these last few weeks.

What are you struggling with? Want to chat and discover how coaching can help you? Grab a time here and let’s have a short discussion that focuses on what you need.

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” – Confucious

“The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain

“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.” – Rabindranath Tagore

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