By all means market your screen shop on your web site, through social media, and by email, but don’t forget the physical world around you. Use a dual approach — both online and offline — to put your brand in front of could-be customers. And reference each in the other, for example, provide your online information (website, Facebook page, email address etc.) in your physical advertising.
In the previous post I promoted the idea of signing up with a virtual assistant in order to help you cope with those times when the administrative aspects of your screen shop become too much to handle. But let’s not be naïve about it — there is a downside. It’s a manageable downside but to ignore it is risky. I’m talking about the security of data passed between you and your virtual assistant.
I can best alert you to the issue by offering an excerpt from my book (as first published on my web site www.smallbusinesscharacters.com):
“Blind faith is not a good data-management strategy when working with a virtual assistant, particularly when the data may be sensitive. You risk exposure during transmission and after the assistant receives it. Exposure during transmission can be addressed by digital security measures to thwart hackers and other digital miscreants. The greater risk lies in placing your sensitive data in the hands of a recipient you haven’t met working in an environment you haven’t seen. You may have no reason to doubt his or her integrity, just as I had no reason to doubt my virtual assistant, but even then it would still be imprudent to throw caution to the wind.
While your virtual assistant may be the paragon of integrity, what if the person in the next cubicle has a grudge against the agency or your virtual assistant and exercises it by misappropriating your sensitive data? Your pricing or other financial data might turn up in your competitors’ inboxes. Far-fetched, you think? Not unless you’re absolutely confident of the agency’s security measures. And how are you going to know that from thirteen thousand kilometers away?
In addition to covert exposure of your sensitive data, you should be concerned about overt exposure. Haven’t we all accidentally pushed the wrong button at some time or another and sent something to where we shouldn’t have sent it? It’s possible that your virtual assistant may have built-in measures to prevent accidental mishandling of your data, but do you want to take that chance?
So does this mean that security concerns negate the benefits of engaging a virtual assistant? Not at all! If the work involves sensitive data there are precautions you can take.”
It shouldn’t be an issue anymore, but it is. Different plastisols are designed for different substrates. Make sure you have the right ink before you start a job and your prints on Polyester won’t bleed and those on Nylon won’t peel off (to name just a few perils of using the wrong ink).
I’ve used a virtual assistant at times when the administrative workload peaked to where it became too much to cope with. Every screen shop owner– in fact, almost every small business owner– will know what I’m referring to. There are those times when periodic or even routine paperwork and administrative tasks mount up and there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done. And once you fall behind, catching up becomes a big mountain to climb.
This can cause excessive stress. And excessive stress is a huge problem in the small business community. There is of course the option of hiring part-time or even full-time help but its not always the ideal solution for a small business. The payroll budget needs to be kept in check and shouldn’t be burdened with additional (and often excessive expense) if it’s not absolutely necessary.
This is where a virtual assistant can be invaluable to a screen shop owner. For all those peak paperwork times or when there are administrative tasks you cant get to, your virtual assistant can be your stress reliever.
You need to research the topic (Googling “virtual assistant” is a good way to start) but, briefly, here’s how it worked for me. I signed up with Brickwork India, one of the biggest and the best (there are many others, so you have options). The biggest advantage offshore services have is price. I had to have a few thousand line items costed and priced on an Excel spreadsheet (I provided the structure and formulas) and I believe it cost me less than $200. Try getting a job like this done properly and at that cost locally by part-time help.
A virtual assistant can handle Just about anything you don’t have the time for: bookkeeping; data base entries; industry research; and a host of other tasks.
There are however a few precautions to keep in mind. We’ll address them in the next post.
If you like to position your screen shop as a socially-responsible business, here’s an idea to show this and involve your employees in a feel-good exercise . . . give them a day off to work in a homeless shelter or clean up a local park (perhaps in groups if you don’t want to shut down entirely for a day).
Many years ago a friend who owned a successful screen printing equipment supply business explained one of his marketing tactics. He was a great observer of human behaviour and noticed that, given the choice of three items of equipment with slightly different features and priced at three different levels, customers would inevitably choose the middle one.
I was reminded of my friend recently when Shopify published an article on a similar concept. It’s called the “decoy effect.” They used the iPhone to illustrate the concept: ” . . . let’s say you’re buying a new iPhone. Option A is $500 for 30GB and Option B is $400 for 20GB.”
They say that, given these two choices, you would buy A or B depending upon your price and storage priorities. Shopify goes on to say: “But now Apple has released another option, Option C. At $550 it’s more expensive than both A and B but has slightly less storage (25GB) than A.”
Option C is the decoy.
The result is that nobody who thinks about it is going to buy C, but it causes A to be chosen more often than if only A or B were offered. And A is what Apple wants to sell most of.
How can you apply the “decoy effect” in your screen shop?
If you’re wondering about elements of your marketing strategy for the near future, here are two things to know . . . Research says that Generation Z (1996 and younger) will be 40% of all consumers by 2020 and 79 percent of them show symptoms of emotional stress when separated from their personal electronic devices. What’s your online marketing strategy going to look like?
I have no idea what guerrillas and Tees may have in common — and the picture has very little to with this post, even if it features a guerilla and a Tee — but bear with me, I have an idea for you . . .
I was reading a Shopify article on low-cost guerilla marketing for small businesses when my mind wandered to how textile screen shops could use guerilla marketing to expand their customer base. I don’t have to tell you how Textile screen shops are always looking for ways to be busier and more profitable in a competitive market. We know that creating new business is one way to do this. But the question is, how?
The article mentioned strategically-located signs and banners. Not a bad idea but, better still, I thought, what about a billboard? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a billboard promoting a contract textile screen printer. And I have no idea why not. Don’t you think that a well-located billboard of a very simple design can convey to a target audience (corporate types in charge of promotion) that putting their message on a Tee might be a great idea and that yours is the shop to do it? They may never have considered Tees before, and even if they had, they may never have heard of your shop before.
So what about a billboard design with a simple question (drivers-by have to be able to get the message quickly): “Ever thought of putting your corporate message on a t-shirt?” Perhaps add “We’ll do it”. Include your phone number and web site address in big, bold text. With some thought you could probably come up with a great eye-catching design and message (just remember that it must be simple, easy to read in a couple of seconds, and memorable).
There are two outcomes you’d hope for . . . First, it will spur on people who have been thinking about using Tees as part of their promotional programs and they will now know where to have it done. Second, people who may never have thought about it might now do so and know where to get it done.
If you have a textile screen shop with an online store selling direct, or if you’re thinking of launching an online store, here is a tip from CMO.com in a post about Generation Z: “55 percent of those 18 years of age and younger would rather buy clothes online . . . ” Considering that generation Z will apparently account for 40% of all consumers by 2020, this is something to take note of.
Do you have any idea what these are: BACX; CUPRO; ROICA; ECOTEC; and RE.VERSO?
- Mexican-manufactured automatics;
- New Wilflex/Rutland colours by PolyOne to celebrate the merger;
- Lung diseases caused by aerosol adhesives;
- Different mesh weaves;
- Types of eco-friendly fabric; or
- Varieties of organic cotton grown in Egypt?
If you picked “(5) Types of eco-friendly fabric”, you’d be right. And why does this matter? Well, besides the fact that it’s an interesting snippet of information about our industry, you may be called upon soon to print on one or more of these fabrics. If this happens you don’t want to have to admit to your customer that you’ve never heard of the stuff before. You should also know which ink to use. So here are the details of these new fashion fabrics:
BACX: Manufactured in Italy by Centro Seta. It’s a blended silk textile that incorporates Newlife fibres and a silk yarn regenerated from spinning waste.
CUPRO: A Japanese fabric from the silky cotton fibres that stick to the seeds of the cotton plant after it’s been ginned. It handles like Rayon but breathes and regulates body temperature like cotton.
RE.VERSO: Another Italian fabric. It consists of up-cycled wool and Cashmere manufacturing offcuts. Ecologists love RE.VERSO because it uses almost 90 percent less water, uses almost 80 percent less energy, and generates more than 90% fewer carbon emissions than its conventional alternatives.
ECOTEC: Yet another Italian fabric. It’s woven from 100 percent pre-dyed, pre-consumer cotton scraps.
ROICA: Japanese again. Its a stretch fabric made of about 50 percent reclaimed pre-industrial waste. Applications include sportswear, lingerie, underwear, and outerwear.
These fabrics are in the market already from fashion houses to retailers like Marks & Spencer and under labels like Giorgio Armani. They could be on your press soon too.
Accurate product photography is extremely important on your website. If it is in any way misleading you run the risk of product returns and disgruntled customers who may never return.
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.
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?
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.
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.
By 2020, 40% of all consumers will be Generation Z. When dealing with this generation, consistency is important. Generation Z is said to be tough and stubborn and will remember interactions, good and bad. They will make future purchases accordingly. Time to think ahead.
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:
- 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 . . .
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”.
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.
Use the degreaser designed for screen applications. Dish-washing liquid is less effective and also produces a lot of unnecessary foam that only adds to the time of the task. Cheap can be more expensive and less effective.
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?
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.
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:
- Artwork: You made sure that the artwork was top notch. No cheap, poorly-rendered, crappy artwork risking come-back prints from the get-go.
- 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.
- 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!
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.