‘Alexa, Order 10 Shirts For Saturday'


Tech Talk

One day soon someone may place an order by saying, “Hey Alexa, I need 10 shirts by Saturday.” Are you going to be the one who can fulfill that Alexa request? Are you positioning yourself to learn that technology? Or, are you relying on customers to physically walk through the door of your screen-printing or embroidery shop to place an order?

Jeanene Edwards, vice president of activewear marketing and merchandising for Fruit of the Loom/JERZEES, sat down with Marshall Atkinson, founder of Shirt Lab and a success coach with Atkinson Consulting, to talk about how decorated apparel shops can stay relevant in today’s digital world. What follows is her recap from that discussion.

Technology is becoming an integral part of our lives personally and professionally. In our professional lives, technology needs to be present for your shop to stay relevant and noticed. This means shops need to be aware of the digital presence from branding, to purchasing to selling.

As things change, how do you need to adapt your processes? How does selling change? How do your customers change? How do their needs change?

“I think a lot of shops get into trouble with things like scheduling production, lack of quality of their craft, lack of efficiency or employee training isn’t working,” says Atkinson. “These are all skills that people have trouble with these days. Although it looks easy, this industry is really kind of difficult because it’s always evolving. Stay ahead of the game with these tips:

  • Increase efficiency: Atkinson suggests that efficiency needs work in the decorated apparel industry. Instant gratification is an expectation in the digital age.

    “How we did things 10 years ago is completely different from the way we do things now. This is because the fabrics have changed, the equipment has changed and the delivery times have changed,” he says. “You know, we used to have 10 to 14 days to deliver things and now we are compressed to doing things in three days.” He recommends decorated apparel shops ensure their workplace processes are focused on being efficient, not wasting time and adjusting the way they work.

    “A lot of times shops are surprised by what customers are asking for. They say, 'You wouldn’t believe it, they came to me and they want six shirts by tomorrow!' So, guess what? That’s the whole DTG [direct to garment] business model right there.”

  • Quality always wins: Just because your shop may be required to turn products faster, doesn’t mean you should sacrifice quality. With the need for an increase in speed by decorators, the process needs to be stable, well-thought-out and tested.

    “Price is a race to the bottom. We are in business to make money but if you offer quality you’ll be a stronger company,” he says. “Anyone can print things for a nickel cheaper than you but if you have quality, no one can beat that. However you decide to instill quality in your process, do it.”

    Decorators shouldn’t sacrifice price for quality. Price is important to customers but what they really want is something that is worth their money. Quality will differentiate your shop from others that lack that kind of quality. You want to earn a reputation for having quality prints, quality inks, quality shirts and stellar customer service.

  • If you aren’t selling online, start: E-commerce is vital for a decorated apparel shop to grow with the times. Millennials, especially, go straight to the internet when they are looking for decorated apparel. They want easy, fast and simple solutions to everyday needs. Your business can really grow with e-commerce and it’s something you should be ready for.

    “We’re in a transition period right now. We have venture capitalists coming into this industry and backing big companies. We have Amazon and others getting into the business with a lot of funding. We're on the verge of being disrupted and this industry is quickly moving to selling primarily online. That’s where all the money is going to be and if your shop doesn’t have a really good website, isn’t responsive and you can’t sell on a digital device, you’re in trouble.”


Five Minutes With....

Mark Graham of commonsku

Creating memorable customer experiences, not just selling products or services, is a strategic marketing focus that’s been gaining ground within business-to-business and consumer companies for several years, and its popularity continues to rise. When a product or service is marketed through hands-on experiences that engage customers in a positive way it creates an emotional attachment for the brand. It’s also a powerful competitive advantage for the company. Standout examples in the promotional products industry are the education and networking events created by Toronto, Ontario-based business services software provider commonsku. PPB talked with the company’s chief platform officer about its one-day educational event, skucon, and its multi-day conference, skucamp.

 PPB: skucon and skucamp are unique ‘unconference’ industry events. How are they similar, how do they differ and what is your strategy for each?

Graham: skucon is our one-day conference held prior to the PPAI Expo that brings the commonsku community together for a day of inspiration, education and connections. Our singular focus is to ignite entrepreneurial thinking within the promotional products industry. skucon is an offline version of the vibrant online commonsku community, built for inspiring new ideas, in-person collaboration and connecting. 

In comparison, skucamp is a three-day conference that focuses on business planning for the year ahead. It takes place in the fall at a unique location each year. We have hosted skucamp in Palm Springs and New Orleans. A common theme that dominates all our events is creativity and entrepreneurship.

PPB: Who is your audience for these events and how is it different from other live industry events?

Graham: Our audience for skucon is any member of the commonsku community who wants to learn and grow. The skucamp audience is the business owner, management professional or anyone on the upswing of their career who is looking to think more strategically about their business or sales portfolio. When people describe skucon or skucamp in the context of other industry events, the common themes that usually come up are that our events attract a very entrepreneurial and creative demographic.

PPB: Why do you think skucon and skucamp have been so successful?

Graham: We have approached these as community events first and “traditional conferences” second. commonsku as an organization is extremely community-oriented in terms of how we have built our product, marketing, content and education platforms. When viewed through this lens, I think most people feel they are attending a less traditional conference because of the focus on the community

PPB: How do you create and maintain that cool vibe? 

Graham: Brand is extremely important to us because it ultimately informs the customer experience at events like these. I don’t know that we intentionally try to be “cool” as much as we try being authentic and true to the community we serve. When commonsku started, its roots were deeply embedded in the entrepreneurial and creative segment of the industry, so we have continued to stay true to this community.

PPB: What can attendees at skucon in January look forward to?

Graham: We are moving skucon to a beautiful new venue, the stunning Keep Memory Alive Centre in downtown Las Vegas. In addition to a fabulous gift collection for all attendees (we work closely with our supplier partners to build a unique gift set to showcase their creativity), we are featuring exciting industry entrepreneurs like Ryan Moor; Lauren Borelli-Fitzgerald; Sarah Penn; Larry Cohen, CAS; and Pierre Martichoux among many others who will be sharing inspiring stories and lessons from the stage. skucon takes place on January 13, 2019, and all information about our schedule and speakers can be found at www.skucon.com.



Seven Rules For Fearless Growth

Successful companies are taking these steps to grow faster and smarter.

In today’s era of disruption, companies need to stay agile enough to survive and thrive—yet it’s all too easy to respond to today’s business climate with fear and indecision. Business consultant Amanda Setili insists it takes only a few simple steps to navigate the new economy and achieve fearless growth.

  1. Embrace uncertainty. Companies that grow fearlessly know that predictable markets often create situations in which all competitors look alike and margins are thin—thus, new opportunities to differentiate themselves. They take prudent risks and know how to manage it. In short, they operate confidently in uncertainty. Take a cue from the film industry and try placing multiple small bets. Repeat past successes and keep budgets realistic and proportionate to projects. You can also target niche customer groups that you can uniquely please.

  2. Get in sync with your customers. Stay ready for the future by collaborating with customers, paying attention to outliers and observing how customers customize and use your products. Even top executives are getting involved in customer interaction. This gives you the information you need to innovate new products and services and ways of doing things and stimulate growth.

  3. Partner, borrow and share. In the past, businesses needed to own or take responsibility for every aspect of their value chain, from research to development to operations to sales and marketing. Not anymore. Today, businesses that grow fearlessly crowdsource, outsource and make use of freelancers, bloggers, microbusinesses, individual innovators and myriad partnerships to achieve far more than they could on their own.

  4. Connect and strengthen your ecosystem. When you create the right ecosystem for your company, it will take on a life of its own. Look at Airbnb: before it came along, staying in someone’s home was risky business but Airbnb created a platform for guests and hosts to score each other. Figure out who’s already in your company’s ecosystem and whom you would ideally like to have there. Then determine what value you would like each member to both give and receive. Consider creating a technology platform to enable richer interactions between ecosystem members, and facilitate and nurture real-life relationships.

  5. Open the floodgates of employee creativity. Too often employers squander talent by over-measuring, micromanaging and failing to inspire their employees. Instead, facilitate employees’ natural desire to collaborate with others and to grow their own skills—give them the freedom, knowledge, and network they need, and you will unlock vast power. Allow new ways to work by encouraging collaboration and forming project-based groups, rather than top-down structures.

  6. Learn fast and fearlessly. Keenly observing the business environment, taking action before you feel fully ready and incorporating what you’ve learned immediately into your strategy are all tickets to playing in today’s fast-changing global economy. Constantly experiment, learn from successes and failures, and apply your knowledge.

  7. Build trust into all you do. Trust is the ingredient that enables the growth of relationships with employees, business partners, customers and those in your work community. By trusting that your colleagues will do their part, you can set more aggressive goals, place bigger bets and have a bigger imagination about what may be possible.
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