Prepare and Build for the Future of Your Shop

As this pandemic drags on, more changes are headed our way in the decorated apparel industry. A few shifts that are happening in the marketplace probably won’t stick, but others will certainly have longer legs.

This article is about those differences and what you should be doing now to prepare for what’s around the corner. As we all know, standing still in times like these will certainly mean that something coming is simply going to run you over.

We need to keep moving.

The Shift To Online

This is going to be a permanent change in buyer behaviors. Frankly, it was headed that way anyway, but the COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated this movement.

I know I have written about this before, and maybe you are tired of reading about it, but your website and online stores that you own will need a major upgrade and overhaul.

Like yesterday.

Have you started to prepare? Every day that you wait, means that someone else that has something built that is easier to use and set up, means you are more than likely going to be losing customers.

You need to prepare:

  • Better aesthetics – Does your website look modern and up to date? Yes, buyers completely judge your book by the cover. If you are supposed to be a creative genius and graphic professional, why does your website suck?
  • Faster load speeds. Nobody has any patience anymore. If that website loading icon pops up, zero people wait around. Get that fixed.
  • Better call to action. What do you want your customer to do?
  • More clarity. When someone goes to your website or online store they need to know instantly what to do. It should be simple. Nobody digs for information or clicks through multiple pages to find answers.
  • Better tools. “People also ordered” accounts for 1/3 of Amazon sales. Is that on your page? Why not? While you are at it, please add the abandoned cart reminder tool too. Get prepared.
  • More follow up. Everyone that orders from you now, in the past, or in the future needs to be on your drip marketing list. Start sending them information on an automatic and constant basis.
  • Your website has to work on a phone at a minimum. Coming down the pike is the need to work by voice, without hitting any buttons.
  • Unless you have some relevant skills, I’d look into hiring a professional to get your website or online store updated. Personally, I find it almost laughable that some shops will drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on production equipment, but skimp and try to find the cheapest nerdy neighbor kid to build out the functionality of their website. Remember this, you get what you pay for.

Prepare for Growth Opportunities

For many shops, their previous best customers are virtually non-existent now because of the pandemic. Sales growth is going to happen for this industry by uncovering new opportunities that you would never have considered six months ago.

You know, back in the good ol’ days when everything still worked.

Your next new customer is absolutely not going to come banging on your door and want to give you fist fulls of money to decorate shirts for them. It’s not going to be that obvious.

You need to develop your new customers by reaching out to them with a problem-solving solution that only you can deliver. That’s what you need to prepare.

They may not have even considered working with you in the past. The shops that I’m talking to that are doing well are the ones that are proactively in the marketplace hustling. The ones that are folding are the ones that are stuck in the mud in their thinking and are waiting for “this thing to blow over.”

Bankruptcy List

I don’t know if you have been keeping up with the list of apparel brands, or have ties to apparel, that are in bankruptcy, but here’s a partial list that is shocking.

  • True Religion Apparel
  • J. Crew
  • ALDO Group
  • John Varvatos
  • J. Hillburn
  • Gold’s Gym
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Beall’s
  • Goody’s
  • JC Penny
  • Lucky Brand
  • Brooks Brothers
  • Ascena Retail Group – they own Ann Taylor, LOFT, Lane Bryant, Lou & Grey, and Justice
  • Lord & Taylor
  • Tailored Brands – they own Jos. A Bank and Men’s Wearhouse
  • Stein Mart

What’s the common denominator here? Brick and mortar retail locations. When everything is tied up in a mall leasing, or inventory in a particular store that customers are not traveling to, you are going to have to make some changes.

Hence the previous section regarding online sales.

While bankruptcy does not mean that these firms will be out of business, it does mean that they are restructuring their companies to shift to a new future. That’s what they are preparing for with the Chapter 11 filing.

Prepare for Print-on-Demand

Which takes us to the next idea here. For a good chunk of the apparel that is being decorated out in the world, it is being manufactured to go into some sort of store.

The shift to print-on-demand printing is exactly where this industry is heading. Like it or not, everything is moving to the unit of one for the decoration.

Are you ready for that and are prepared? How does that idea fit with what you do in your shop?

Technology Based

Print-on-demand is based on a foundation of technology. Imagine a web or online store platform with designs and offerings. Customers choose what they want, and orders are routed to the decorator and fulfillment services center. Garments are picked, the shirt is digitally decorated, and it’s shipped.

Often on the same or the next business day. Certainly within a few business days at most.

However, these days many print-on-demand fulfillment centers are over maximum capacity and can’t keep up. Currently, there is room for new players in the marketplace to gain traction and market share while these companies struggle.

Is This What You Need To Do?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But you need to understand where the industry and market is heading. This is how you prepare.

What is around the corner is business savvy salespeople with a great website and customer experience. They woo your customers and outsource the decoration to a fulfillment house. Their technology, customer service, and ease of use are why your customers make the leap.

Probably without even telling you.

Sorry, but the days of having “customer loyalty” be a real thing may be in the past.

Why would a customer order 500 shirts they hope to sell or use when they can hook up an online interface with their design, offer it to their group, and have all of the shirts delivered to each person in the group? With no risk, print-on-demand works for many traditional situations for our industry.

Let’s Talk Labels

What do you call yourself?

Do you introduce yourself as a “screen printer?”

An “embroiderer?”

The words we use to describe ourselves matter. How often in the past year or so have you said that you were a “business owner” or “entrepreneur” to someone? What about “problem solver?”

The reason I bring this up is that when there is a shift in how businesses is being transacted, and you think about yourself with the “older” label, you may miss the opportunity as you don’t want to change what you call yourself.

What opportunities might you be missing out on right now due to what your self-imposed label describes?


“The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill

“Opportunity often comes disguised in the form of misfortune, or temporary defeat.” – Napoleon Hill

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” – Milton Berle


You Need To Listen To This

COVID-19 has shifted a lot more business online recently and with great uncertainty ahead, you’ll need to make sure people can find you online. In this episode of Success Stories, we’ll help you get ahead of the competition and make sure you’re set up to drive new business to your website.

Shelby Craig with Rocket Shirts will be sharing his knowledge of what you’ll need to get optimized, and how it’s helped his business. We’ll be touching on web design, search engine optimization, and tools that you can use to bring out your best results.

Shelby is a serial entrepreneur, marketing junkie, home chef, coffee connoisseur, and girl dad times three. He’s also a t-shirt snob and is the founder of Rocket Shirts in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Join us on this podcast as we explore ways to make your website work for you and drive more sales to your door.