9 Ways to Grow Your Screen-Printing Shop
Whether you opened a screen-printing shop for the sheer love of the art or because you’re a fearless entrepreneur (or both), you need a clear growth plan.
Five decorating industry pros share their secrets of success from the screen-printing trenches. From creating an amazing customer experience, to cultivating the best crew, to investing in technology to streamline processes, it’s time to get in the CEO mindset.
1. Create a seamless customer experience
“If you look at the e-commerce giants we use every day, the reason that we shop with them is that they make it easy,” says Steve Farag, co-owner of Champaign, IL-based Campus Ink, which decorates apparel for fraternities and sororities. “The printing industry needs to adapt in the same way and offer that simple, seamless experience.” For example, at Campus Ink, Farag now offers a link to an easy-to-use personalized store for group orders. “In the past, there would be one person in a fraternity who ordered the shirts, and they’d have to find out everyone’s sizes, collect money and then distribute them,” Farag says. “Now, all they need to do is share a link with the rest of the fraternity. We handle sizing and payments—and then ship the finished shirts to each individual.”
2. Forge meaningful interactions with your customers
Farag says there’s no way you can build a brand overnight, but if you work organically to build relationships with your customers, that’s the strong foundation you need. “You can do that through email marketing or social media or just great customer service,” he says. “Try to find opportunities to deliver happiness to your customers, when they least expect it. For example, if we’re printing T-shirts for a sorority, we might also throw in a bunch of stickers that they weren’t expecting. People really appreciate little extras.”
Tip: Consider adding an on-trend sweatshirt like the Bella+Canvas Unisex Sponge Fleece DTM Hoodie (3729) to your print run and gifting it to your customer. They’ll love the unexpected piece, and it may just score you their next order.
3. Create a business plan to help you scale
If you’re hoping to scale your business at some point, Scott Valancy, COO at Miami Gardens, FL-based Tee Shirt Central, recommends taking time each day to plan. At his shop, Valancy works in one-year plans, setting a full year’s worth of goals prior to January 1. Then, he reviews his goals quarterly to ensure they’re on track. “We also do two- and three-year strategic plans for some longer-term objectives we might want to get to—just to have them on the burner,” he adds, highlighting the value of also having more aspirational goals. A word of caution: Valancy discourages shop owners from creating anything longer than a five-year plan, since the decorating industry moves and changes very quickly.
Tip: Reach out to your wholesale apparel distributor rep (at Golden State, we do this all the time) to set up a “hot trends and best sellers” meeting to explore new products and ideas to drum up more business. This is a great thing to do at least twice a year. For example, you might want to update your showroom with some of your distributor’s best new products to interest your customers. You can also ask them to share their marketing tools and technology like customizable catalogs and websites.
4. Attract, engage and keep the best employees
Anthony Corsano, president and COO of Brookfield, CT-based Bolt Printing, emphasizes how important it is to strengthen the relationship with your shop staff using a more empathetic management approach. That could include offering flexible working hours, and special incentives like Pizza Fridays, financial bonuses, and a rewards program. Corsano, who likes to act as a mentor to his staff, makes it a priority to cross-train his employees so everyone on staff knows at least two or three skills. By acquiring new skill sets, employees usually become more engaged with the whole decorating process—and Corsano makes it clear that they have the opportunity to grow and get promoted. “At the end of the day, you’re spending more time with the people at work than your own family,” Corsano says. “Getting the right team together and keeping people happy is the key to success.”
Tip: Don’t be shy about asking your wholesale apparel supplier for help here. At Golden State, we’re only too happy to visit our customers’ shops to show your staff new products, marketing resources to help you sell more and even technology that can make your jobs easier.
5. Switch from film to direct-to-screen
Zachary Traxler of Columbus, OH-based Traxler Custom Printing is a big proponent of embracing technologies that streamline his shop. That’s why switching from film to direct-to-screen was one of the best investments he ever made. “While it was an average of $7 to $10 per screen to shoot on film,” he says, “with direct-to-screen, the cost went down to less than $3—and took less than a quarter of the time. It’ll pay itself off, very, very quickly.”
He also mentions how much shop owners will save on maintenance costs with this switch. Film often requires climate-controlled storage, maintenance costs for the film and the printer, and a large inventory of inks and supplies. “With direct-to-screen, you just need to maintain one machine and its inks,” Traxler says. “With direct-to-screen printers becoming more readily available at lower prices, it’s a great time to invest in one to level up your business.”
6. Check out color-separation software
Traxler recommends that shop owners use different software to automate manual tasks. For one, he uses color-separation software like Spot Process Separation Studio. “Within three clicks, you’ve got your 10-color separation done in seconds vs. spending an hour,” he says. In addition, speeding up color separation helps boost your designers’ and artists’ morale. “By spending less time spent on a tedious task like separating, they can concentrate on treating client artwork and being more creative,” he says.
7. Consider investing in production management software
Traxler recommends ERP or production management software. “Helping you oversee and streamline your whole manufacturing process, programs like InkSoft and Printavo allow you to get lots of data about how efficiently your business is running and where it can improve,” he says. “In short, they can help you manage your workplace, giving you one less thing to track.” Although it can take a little bit of training and time to get used to it, Traxler believes ERP systems have revolutionized the way he tracks his business performance every single day.
8. Learn to step away from the press
Even as the CEO of your decorating business, it’s easy to get stuck printing or constantly doing art, but as your business grows you need to move from being within it to on top of it. “This means taking more of a leadership role and learning how to delegate,” says Bruce Ackerman, founder of Printavo. “It doesn’t mean that you aren’t creative anymore; it’s just that your creativity needs to be focused on shaping your brand, not on individual prints.”
Golden State co-founder Laurie Prestine agrees. “When you spend time on ‘CEO tasks’ that move your business forward and make your customers happy, you experience true entrepreneurial success—plus, you enjoy your out-of-office time with your family even more,” she says.
Tip: If you want to bounce some business-building ideas around with a knowledgeable person, look no further than your wholesale apparel distributor. At Golden State, we love meeting and chatting with our customers to plan and brainstorm ways they can sell even more apparel in creative ways. Plus, these one-on-one relationships help us personalize our service, so our customers grow even faster.
9. Practice extreme optimism
Ackerman posits that if you’ve started a screen-printing business, you’ve probably taken the kind of risks that makes you an extreme optimist. “The important thing is to retain this sense of extreme optimism in your work culture, even when things aren’t going smoothly,” he says. “A positive, problem-solving attitude will filter down to your staff and create a more effective business environment.”
The key to success in any decorating shop is embracing your CEO role so that you oversee your growth from all angles. Translation: You’re tending to every aspect of your shop simultaneously. Armed with these insider tips from industry pros, we know you’re on track to grow a superstar screen-printing shop.
We sourced the content from this blog from Gildan’s Board of Directors blog.