Complaints from a customer’s perspective.

It’s not what you promised!

Customer complaints are part and parcel of running a print shop. You already know this. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t frustrated by complaints when they occur, even when you ought to know better — when you know that the complaint is justified.

I recently saw a business writer identify the cause of most customer complaints (ignoring for now the habitual complainers you can’t do much about) as a disconnect between the customer’s expectation and reality. I like this because it gives me, from a customer’s perspective, simple guidelines by which to convey to you, a textile shop owner, how to avoid my complaints.

So first the “expectation” part. Be absolutely transparent with me about what I might expect from the product. Don’t exaggerate its pros and don’t hide its cons. Give me accurate information of when I might expect delivery. If my expectations as to quality and delivery are not met I’m going to be disappointed and possibly mad. And then you’re going to get a complaint. And you’d better hope I complain so that you can try to keep me as a customer because a high number of customers don’t complain — they just go away and never do business with you again.

Now for the “reality” part. Unfortunately, stuff happens and sometimes, even with the best will in the world, you’ll fail to match reality with my expectations. Then you should hope that I’ll complain so that you can deal with it and retain my business. The secret is to realize that I want a solution, and I want it fast. And assuming that I’m not one of those “nut-job” habitual complainers, you should throw resources at meeting my expectation of a quick solution.

Follow this and we can keep doing business (assuming you want to), but fail to and I’ll probably end up with one of your competitors.

There, that’s a customer’s perspective. But you probably already knew this because you’re a customer too — you just have to keep it in mind when you’re wearing your print shop owner’s hat.


A tip for you

Remember it’s supposed to be fun . . .




From Richard Branson . . . “Fun is one of the most important — and underrated — ingredients in any successful venture. If you’re not having fun, then it’s probably time to try something else”. Textile screen printing has many fun elements — creativity, art, and humour, for starters. Ask yourself — are you having fun?

Does your website suck? You may be turning customers away.

Is this customer on your website?

There are a few things you need to know about your site and its functionality as it affects one of its main user groups — your customers and potential customers.

Thinking of your website as a digital storefront is a good way to understand why you just can’t afford to have a website that sucks. While most businesses wouldn’t dream of having a messy, disorganized, confusing, hard-to-find storefront, many have websites that are exactly like that.

And just as walk-up potential customers may decline to enter a neglected storefront  — and don’t think it doesn’t happen because I turned away at the door of a messy restaurant in Nanton, Alberta recently even though I was really hungry — online customers will click off a web site that sucks in an instant.

So ask yourself (better still, ask someone who’ll give you an honest answer): “Does my website suck?”


  • Is it user friendly or is it hard to navigate?
  • Is it clean and organized? Is it mobile-responsive?
  • Do we understand that nearly one third of smartphone users will immediately navigate away if the site takes too long to load or is not instantly responsive?
  • Are we allowing for the fact that more than half of all Google searches are now happening on smartphones and tablets.
  • Are we aware that 40% of customers will abandon a website if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load?
  • Have we avoided frustrating customers by including our hours of operation, location, phone number, email address, and our social media links where they can easily find them?

You probably have work to do on your site. Don’t delay. You may be turning customers away.

One tried and tested way to find out what to offer your fashion customers

Consulting the fashion experts.

If you’re a textile screen printer you can sit and wait for your customers to approach you or you can approach them. For instance, if you have fashion retail customers you can be proactive by showing them samples of fashion trends which may then translate into orders for your shop.

But as a Canadian printer how do you do this? How do you gain insight into what is coming down the T-shirt fashion pike? Here’s one idea that a shop used successfully year after year . . .

Round up a couple of people from your target market, say teenage relatives, and take them to California or some other fashion-leading market and tour the cool stores. Turn them loose and take note of what they flip over. If they declare something to be, “like amazing!”, buy it.

Naturally choose your “consultants” carefully. Your computer-nerd niece isn’t going to be much help pointing out cool stuff. You need fashion-aware kids who represent the broader fashion market — remember this exercise is about clothing, not calculus.

Bring back the selected items and use them to generate ideas. Produce samples and show them to your retail customers. Get them excited. Make them reliant on your input.

Before you dismiss this idea as too expensive, how about combining it with a trade show attendance, which you should be doing anyway? Think about it.

Textile screen printing suddenly has a well-muscled, dominant force in ink

Suddenly — a dominant force in textile screen printing ink.

On June 8th, PolyOne Corporation (Wilflex Inks) announced the acquisition of Rutland Holding Company Inc. This means that PolyOne now owns the following brands of premier-quality plastisol and water-based inks:

  • Wilflex
  • Rutland
  • QCM
  • Union Ink

PolyOne’s Robert Patterson, chairman, president, and CEO, noted that: “Colour and technology play an increasingly pivotal role for our customers in the apparel industry who have demanding performance expectations for how products look and feel. We have long distinguished ourselves in the industry as more than just a product provider, and we are thrilled to welcome Rutland to the PolyOne family as they share our passion for innovation and customer service.”

According to my sources at Wilfex, we shouldn’t see any changes in the short term but It remains to be seen how this is going to affect the textile screen printing ink market in North America in the longer term. Stay tuned . . .

A tip for you

You must know what your target market values.



This comes from two Generation Z marketers who have been advising Fortune 500 companies for a few years . . .  Generation Z seeks quality. They are cost conscious but they look for great value and place more importance on value than they do on “cool”.

From Denmark — the environmental cost of every Tee

Nice-looking Tees but at a cost of $3.40 to the environment?

If we as an industry are to operate responsibly, we need to keep abreast of the sustainability aspects of what we do. This doesn’t by any means suggest that we should shut down the presses and dryers, send everyone home, lock the doors, and go tree hugging. It just means that we need to be aware and, wherever possible, help to make a difference.

According to Ecouterre, a study out of Denmark by the IC Group (Tiger and Peak Performance brands) and endorsed by the head of the Danish Ministry of the Environment has used a process of “natural capital accounting” to show that the cost to the environment of producing a single cotton Tee is $3.40 (U.S.). It takes into account such things as the impact of fertilizer, water use, and carbon dioxide emissions.

The corporate responsibility manager of the IC Group is quoted as admitting what a lot of people have been telling the textile industry for some years now: “We in the clothing industry are well aware that we have some hefty environmental challenges.”

Collectively the textile screen-printing industry has a role to play in meeting the obvious environmental challenges too. For one thing, we can be mindful of the inks and chemicals we use and how we dispose of them.

We should also stay in touch with developments on the textile sustainability front not only in case it presents business opportunities but also to avoid being left behind as our competitors adapt.

An environmental impact of $3.40 per Tee! To put it in perspective, in a small country like Denmark with a population of under 6 million, the environmental impact of cotton Tees is $510 million every year.

Those &#!!*@! pinholes!

Don’t. Tell. Me. About. Your. Pinholes!

It’s a rush job and the press operator is on your case, the boss is on his case, and the customer is on the boss’s case. “We can’t do the job without screens! Where are they?”

You try to explain that you have pinholes and has anyone seen the bottle of block-out? And isn’t it Murphy’s law that the bottle of block-out was thrown out by the cleaners over the weekend because it looked old and had been sitting around for a long time?

In addition to always having block-out close at hand on the shelf with a “Do not touch my block-out” label on it, there are things to know about preventing pinholes. First of all, it’s almost never the fault of the emulsion — no decent emulsion manufacturer includes pinholes as an ingredient. It’s usually one of these things:

  • mesh contamination
  • poor degreasing techniques
  • poor post-degreasing drying techniques
  • dirty screen-making department
  • improper preparation of emulsion
  • particles in the emulsion or film
  • coating speed
  • trough design
  • incomplete drying of the emulsion
  • improper exposure
  • contaminated exposure unit glass
  • contaminated film positives

Take care of these basics and your &#!!*@! pinhole disasters should be few and far between. Blaming the emulsion is barking up the wrong tree — unless you bought some really cheap rubbish, But you’d never do that, would you?

A tip for you

Don’t take risks with your ink-fabric matches.




If you have any doubt about matching an ink with a fabric (something that’s critical in today’s world of never-before-seen-fabrics), help is available. Stanley’s has access to Wilflex’s laboratory facilities where they can quickly test the fabric and advise on the best ink to use. Don’t risk the job if you’re not certain about the fabric — get expert help.

Final quality control — simple but critical.

Let’s say that you’ve taken care of the three critical elements commonly considered essential for beautiful, lasting, all-round impressive prints to wow your customer:

  1. Artwork: You made sure that the artwork was top notch. No cheap, poorly-rendered, crappy artwork risking come-back prints from the get-go.
  2. Screens: You made sure that the screens had the right mesh count for the job, were properly tensioned, properly coated, and properly exposed. No below-par screens to mess up the top-notch artwork.
  3. Inks: You made sure that you only used a consistently good-quality ink because, as you know, cheaper ink is cheaper for a reason. Any comebacks because of a cheap ink and what might have been a “saving” of a few dollars in ink price becomes a more-than-a-few-dollars cost in re-doing the job and managing the customer’s anger.

So, quality assured? Well, not so fast!

Quality failure at the end can offset all the quality control at the beginning.

There’s also the less-obvious 4th critical element in ensuring that the customer is wowed by your beautiful, lasting, all-round impressive print that will enhance your reputation and bring more business. There’s the final quality control between the Tee emerging at the end of the drier and going into the box. It’s the activity of folding and packing, but it needs to be more than that — it has to be the final step in quality control. Why? Because in spite of having ensured great artwork, screens, and inks, things can go wrong on the press and in the dryer and not be noticed, particularly in high-pressure situations.

If the Tee is not perfectly positioned on the press, the print will not be perfectly positioned. If the dryer malfunctions, prints may not be cured properly. And the way to catch these things is to ensure that the “folding and packing” activity is the “final quality check, folding, and packing” activity. And the way to encourage it to work properly is to pay a reward for every quality failure caught at this final stage. A few bucks spent to prevent quality failures from reaching the customer, could save many bucks later from comebacks.

A tip for you

Use a manual coating stand and don’t have the screen higher than your chest.

If you’re using a coating stand to hold the screen firmly while coating manually (which you should be doing), it’s important to not have the top of the screen positioned any higher than your chest. Why? Because the trough lip angle will change as you reach for the top and you’ll end up with an uneven coat.

Coffee shop meeting? First read this story . . .

Think before you discuss business in coffee shops!

Meeting in coffee shops for business discussions has become an everyday occurrence. Even if you haven’t done it yourself, you’ve probably seen other people do it.

Have you noticed how you can’t help but hear what they’re talking about even if they keep their voices fairly low? And therein lies the problem, particularly because most of them don’t seem to keep their voices low and share business details with at least the adjoining tables.

If you meet to discuss business in a coffee shop how do you know who is listening? It could easily be someone  such as a competitor or an employee’s friend who shouldn’t hear what you’re discussing. Do you really want to share your idea for an exciting new line of Tees with strangers?

In addition to this, a lot of people frequent coffee shops for some private time with their laptop or a book — a loud, animated business discussion can be inconsiderate and annoying. And if you annoy the quiet laptop user at the next table badly enough, who knows what they can do to mess with your business using the information they’ve overheard?

I’ve been telling people for years to be careful about the business they discuss in public places like coffee shops. Now, thanks to a recent report in The London Telegraph, I have a classic example to illustrate my point . . .

A patron was having his coffee shop experience ruined by a group of people loudly discussing a new business venture. His 26-word tweet from the coffee shop tells the story:

Coffee shop.

People next to me are loud and rude. They just found the perfect name for their new business.

I just bought the domain name.

There! You’ve been warned!

A tip for you

A nice, firm, even, but not too high pressure is best when coating screens with a hand-held trough.





When coating screens using a hand-held trough, consistent pressure is better than maximum pressure. In fact, if the pressure is too high you can damage the mesh. But if the pressure is too low, you could end up with an uneven coat. So, a consistent, firm (but not too high), pressure is best for an even coat.

Do you need a dip tank?

Screen cleaning is possibly the most unpopular job in a textile screen shop performed in possibly the most despised location — the “swamp”. For many years now dip tanks have been promoted as a means of making life easier and more efficient for swamp dwellers, but do dip tanks live up the hype?

A CCI dip tank.

It’s generally assumed that a shop should be “larger” before a dip tank can be justified. This is not necessarily true as dip tanks can be bought in a variety of sizes so that even small textile shops can consider one — which is most of the Canadian textile screen printing industry. The more important consideration is efficiency and labour time. The primary purpose of the tank is to soften up the stencil and ink at the same time so that while screen one is being rinsed, screen two is soaking and will be ready for rinsing when screen one is done. This obviously makes sense and is bound to make screen reclaiming more efficient. But there are other considerations.

Before ordering a tank, weigh the cost of it against the number of screens your shop recycles in, say, a year. Of course you may hate the screen-cleaning process so much that you’d pay a premium to make it easier — it’s your choice but at least be aware of the cost-benefit aspect. Then there are issues such whether the dip tank costs less in chemical consumption, whether the tank chemistry is safe to discharge into the sewer system, and how long the chemicals in the tank remain powerful enough to truly make it an effective dip-soak-and-rinse process (if the tank doesn’t consistently meet this standard then there’s not much point in having it).

Ask for contact information for dip tank users before buying one. Ask the tough questions. A dip tank could be a useful addition to the efficiency of your textile shop, but do your homework before deciding. Any one of Stanley’s branches can help point you in the right direction: Cambridge 1 877 205 9218 ; Calgary 1 877 661 1553; Edmonton 1 888 424 7446; Richmond 604 873 2451.

A tip for you

Don’t leave the screens in your dip tank.

Save some money. If you use a dip tank, don’t leave the screens in for longer than, say, three minutes (until the stencil starts to break away). Take them out and pressure wash. If you leave the screens in until all the ink and emulsion comes off, you’ll be going through a lot of unnecessary top-up chemical.

Drain safe

It may be illegal and almost definitely unconscionable.

This is not a popular topic, but it is a necessary one . . .  What may your textile screen printing shop pour down the drain and what may it not?

We’re talking about chemicals here — the kind of stuff used in the screen reclaiming process in particular. And it doesn’t matter whether your shop uses a dip tank or a bucket and brush, the safety and pollution issues are the same. In fact, some printers erroneously believe that dip tank chemistry is more drain safe than bucket and brush chemistry.

And, most importantly, labels can’t be relied on to keep you on the right side of your conscience and the law. Just because a container is labelled “drain safe” it doesn’t mean that it is flushable in your jurisdiction. It all depends on local laws. It’s therefore your responsibility to find out whether the chemicals you use are allowed to be flushed into the sewer system.

If the chemicals in question are not flushable into your local sewer system, you have decisions to make if you are to stay on the right side of the law (and there’s also the matter of conscience). You will have to either change chemicals or find an alternative method of disposal. This is of course likely to result in additional expenditure, but consider the alternative – – fines, potential forced downtime etc.

Let’s not kid ourselves. While it’s a lot better than it used to be, we all know that the textile screen printing process relies on certain chemicals, some of which can be pretty nasty. To be safe and compliant, it’s best to establish with the local authorities what your shop can and cannot dump into the sewer system.

A tip for you

It’s true! A one-white-fits-all ink is on its way.



It’s on its way! Wilflex is releasing a white that can pretty much serve as your all-purpose, one-white-for-everything, low-cure ink. It’s a response to today’s tri-blend, 100% Polyesters and other challenging fabrics. Stanley’s is expecting to have it soon.

Blogging for your print shop

A lot has been written about why you should blog for your business. The obvious benefits usually include:

  • Being found by search engines;
  • Credibility with your customers, suppliers, and others;
  • Keeping your customers engaged;
  • Positioning your shop as an industry leader;
  • Generating leads.

Blog to engage your customers.

But before you rush off and start typing, there are some do’s and don’ts you can’t ignore. The do’s are intended to ensure that your blog engages readers, creates curiosity, and expands your business. The don’ts will turn people off and defeat the object of blogging.



Here are the do’s:

  • Incorporate different elements such as graphics, videos, and podcasts.
  • Include images, at least one per post.
  • When appropriate, include a call to action, suggest what your readers should do next.
  • Leverage your blog with other social media platforms.
  • Aim to make your readers (customers) feel that there is a point to every post, something relevant to your relationship (in your case Tees).
  • Link to other relevant content around the web.
  • Be relaxed and informal – avoid stuffy formality (stuffy formality is not a Tee’s thing).

Avoid these don’ts:

  • Negativity – it’s a huge turnoff.
  • Selling – according to conventional blogging wisdom, if readers feel that the blog is only pitching sales, they’ll avoid it.
  • Jargon – keep the language simple and engaging.
  • Misleading headlines – they should truthfully reflect the content of the post.
  • Lack of focus – stick to content relevant to your business and your readership (in your case, matters pertaining to imprinted Tees)
  • Lack of attention to design elements – keep paragraphs short, add interesting and relevant graphics.

Now you’re ready to add a blog to your web site and start engaging your customers with useful information.

A tip for you

Don’t give away chunks of your margins..




Think about this. if you quote on a job to make your normal margin of, say, 30%, but the customer demands a 10% discount, this is what happens . . .  The customer gains 10% of what he or she was going to pay but you give up 33% of what you were going to make. If you do it, please be sure there’s a good reason.

Making it on volume?

Textile screen printing is a tough market place. Per-print prices in the major centres like the GTA are so low sometimes that you wonder whether the printer understands anything at all about costs, mark-ups, margins, and overheads. You wonder why a printer would want to own a print shop, deal with all the responsibilities and hassles ownership involves, and work for less than minimum wage. Yet, it’s happening and, in the process, messing up the market for everyone else.

Look, I have a fair idea of the cost of ink, chemicals, emulsion, screens, artwork, screen preparation labour, printing labour, quality control and packing labour, shipping labour, reclaiming screen labour, face-to-face time with the customer, admin (invoicing, collecting money etc.), accounting, dealing with come-back rejects, and overheads ( rent, equipment leases, utilities etc.). I also know that you have to know what those expenses amount to if you have to know what to charge for your work to cover your expenses and make profit.

Stupid pricing is self-destructive

What I don’t know is how anyone can take all that into account and still think it’s okay to quote 35 cents for a six-colour print even if it’s a “big” run. It reminds me of a book I once read in which the author said that he’d always been fascinated by how the change machines in airport buildings made any money. He’d put in a five-dollar bill and get back five loonies. One day he saw a technician working on one of the machines and asked him how they made any profit if the machine always gave back the same value it received. The answer? “On volume!” That’s about as smart as making no money on a print but banking on making it up on volume!

At least think about it.


A tip for you

Don’t make your high-density stencils too thick.



High-density prints can look really cool and wow customers. But you must avoid the temptation to make the stencil too thick. 200-micron film can give you great high-density prints. Any thicker and it becomes difficult to print sharp edges and fine details because of light scatter during exposure.

New online attempts to scam your business

This is the latest of a few similar emails I’ve received lately via one of my business websites . . . “I just found a $122.66 charge on my credit card originating from I never ordered anything from you so what is happening? Please check the card statement below and let me know what to do to get my money back: (odd-looking link inserted here) Thank you Abraham Eubanks”

Don’t open suspicious emails!

Clearly the object of the exercise with these emails is to get you to click on the link which, according to experts I’ve consulted, will likely plant malware on your computer capable of accessing personal information, passwords etc. It could also try to engage you in a phishing exercise with the objective of asking you to disclose sensitive information.

I mention this because I know of cases where small businesses have lost money responding to this type of email. It’s easy to see how it can happen. If a bookkeeper or other employee receives the email they may think it looks legitimate and, especially if they’re not on top of your bookkeeping, may assume that it is a legitimate charge and pay it to avoid problems. Even if they intend questioning it later, it will be too late.

The answer is to not respond to unexpected emails, trash emails with names and addresses you don’t recognise without opening them, and don’t click on suspicious-looking links in suspicious-looking emails.

Here are seven points from to help you recognise a phishing email:

  1. Legit companies don’t request your sensitive information via email
  2. Legit companies call you by your name
  3. Legit companies have domain emails
  4. Legit companies know how to spell
  5. Legit companies don’t force you to their website
  6. Legit companies don’t send unsolicited attachments
  7. Legit company links match legitimate URLs


The tough issue of fresh leads

Following up on leads.

You own a textile screen print shop. It could use more business. It’s a small shop in which you’re pretty much the chief cook and bottle washer, which means if you don’t find new business, new business will not be found. But you’re not a natural salesperson. Perhaps you’re an introvert and maybe you’re shy too and the thought of pounding the pavement making cold calls sounds like a fate worse than death. So what to do?

Well, first and foremost make sure that your work is technically excellent and that your customer service is brilliant. The combination of these two things serves as a defensive and offensive mechanism. It’s a defense against competitors poaching your customers and it’s an offensive measure if your good reputation spreads and new customers are drawn in by word of mouth. But you also need to promote proactively.

A recent article by Darren Rabie in Scott’s Directories contains some excellent advice for focussing on where to find new leads. For instance, unlike many business writers, he doesn’t insist that you must attend networking events. He recognizes that some people are not suited to this. He writes: “If you are not comfortable cold networking (talking to strangers), this is NOT a forum for you. Don’t waste your night eating veggie and dip in the corner.”

He also points out that while you may be comfortable on LinkedIn and other social media tools, don’t rely on them too much. People tend to spend way too much time on them for minimal results. You need to contact people directly because in the end “people still buy from people.” So find ways to do it comfortably.

Here are suggestions: ask your customers for referrals and then call them; consider exhibiting at trade shows and then follow up on the leads; diarize all leads and check in with them regularly; take the initiative and suggest promotional programs to your leads; and keep your shop in the lead’s mind by regularly feeding useful tips and information about T-shirts and what they can do to promote business.

These are just some alternatives to the dreaded cold call. Use them and others that work for you because doing nothing other than waiting for referrals will not be enough to grow your business to its full potential.

A tip for you

Don’t put those small plastisol ink containers on the flash cure units and dryers.

Avoid placing those small plastisol ink containers on flash cure units or dryers. Take the extra trouble and place them in the coolest place – the floor. It might not always be convenient when you’re really busy but if the ink warms up it’s going to gel and become thick and unusable.

How far does your responsibility extend?

Is it your job to print whatever the customer brings – assuming it’s technically possible of course – even if you have reservations about the job?

Is it your responsibility to shut up and print or explain “inappropriate” to the customer?

In the past we’ve discussed reservations related to designs. What if the print is “inappropriate” in some way. Should you be concerned about your business being associated with something like this? Should you be party to enabling something “inappropriate”? A number of past examples come to mind such as racist messages and images, material offensive to one or other religious group, foul language, and so forth. Is it your responsibility to raise this with the customer or should you just shut up and print the job? And what if it’s a perfectly fine or even a magnificent design but the garment is “inappropriate”?

An “inappropriate” garment? What’s that? Well, how about a garment that contributes to sea pollution? Do you have a responsibility to point out to a customer that the garment they want you to print on is a polluter of oceans? And what are these garments?

A recent Associated Press report points out that yoga pants and various cozy clothes may be major sources of ocean pollution. According to the report, yoga pants, fleece jackets, and sweat-wicking athletic wear are among garments made from synthetic materials that shed microscopic plastic fibres when laundered. These microfibers escape most filtration systems, flush into waterways and eventually end up in the ocean. There they’ve been found to pollute marine life, including the fish we eat. So, the question here too is whether you discuss appropriate fabric types with your customer or simply shut up and print the job.

How far does your responsibility extend as a textile screen printer? I guess only you can decide that. But next time you order fish, think about this question.