Author Archives: Michael Best - Stanley's blog editor

Customer credit — a pain in the neck.

Don’t let slow or non-paying customers put you in this position.

A few years ago I heard of a screen shop in Canada that did not offer credit. Sounds improbable doesn’t it? It did to me too so I spoke to the owner about the no-credit policy. What he told me made perfect sense, provided you can make it work in your own particular marketplace, as he did. The challenge of course is overcoming a deeply entrenched expectation of at least 30 days credit in the industry.

His point was that credit, while an expected practice, has many hidden snags. First you put yourself through the agony of weighing up the sale against the loss of a customer for the sake of waiting 30 days for your money. And almost always the drive to make sales prevails and one crosses fingers and grants the credit. But, as he said, for one thing, 30 days hardly ever means 30 days; it always seems to drag on for more. Then there is the hidden administrative burden of calling (often more than a few times) for one’s money  and as time passes with no cheque in sight, there is the rising anxiety that perhaps it will never arrive. And what a lot of shop owners don’t seem to realise is that an unpaid debt is much worse than an unmade sale because not only have you not made the expected margin, but you’ve given away inventory for nothing. And to add insult to injury, you’ve spent additional time and money trying to collect.

So if a cash-only policy is impossible in your marketplace (and only if it’s really, really not feasible), what to do? Well, for one thing, a strictly-enforced credit policy should be documented and made known to your customers. Those who will not or cannot comply may be worth dumping because chances are that they’re going to take you for a bad debt, sooner or later. In the meantime, they’re going to put you through the cash-flow wringer because your suppliers and service providers are going to want their money on time, and if it’s not flowing in, how can it flow out?

Time to give credit strategy and management some thought?

 

 

 

Direct-to-garment update.

How do you like your DTG printer?

I’ve just run across a series of interviews conducted with DTG machine users in the U.K. late last year. Their responses provide an interesting update of this relatively new technology.

You will remember some of the knocks against DTG technology when it first started showing  its face at the trade shows a little over a decade ago. It was much slower than screen printing, the equipment was expensive, it couldn’t print on darks, the “furry” nature of T-shirts caused the print heads to clog up, the machines seemed to perform quite well in a show environment but when they had to work in a typical shop environment there were issues, it was not production friendly, and so forth.

There is no doubt that the technology has come a long way and, as is typical of new technology, even as the quality improves, the price declines. This is true of DTG but, it seems from the feedback from the users interviewed, some of the initial cautions still remain.

For instance, cleaning and maintenance is important. The heads can still clog up. They can also dry up if the machine in not used continuously. One respondent suggested that a DTG machine is like an aircraft — if it’s not working all the time it develops issues and can become a questionable investment. The prevailing opinion still seems to be that it is not production friendly and, as one person noted, if an order is for more than 100 prints, they revert to screen printing.

On the plus side, the issue of printing on darks has largely been solved and some respondents mentioned that they really  liked the detailed prints they could achieve.

This all seems more positive than it once was, but keep in mind that DTG still can’t do special effects.

So, would an investment in a DTG printer make sense for your shop? That depends of course on the nature of your shop and its workload. The same caution applies as much now as it did when the technology first hit the market — do your homework on the technology and the numbers.

Time to automate? The toughest questions . . .

Need an automatic? There’s much to think about.

An article in a recent Images magazine addressed the question of whether or not to automate. The author, Dave Roper, must be credited for offering some good information to assist in the decision. However, there was one glaring omission that may be the most important consideration, but more of that later. First, the good stuff.

To start with, Roper listed 6 questions that might suggest that the time was right for switching from a manual press to an automatic:

  1. Is manual printing fatiguing you?
  2. Are you letting customers down on delivery times?
  3. Has your customer base grown?
  4. Do you have a need for quicker turnaround?
  5. Do you want more output for less input?
  6. Do you need more consistent prints?

The article then offers a monetary comparison between printing manually and automatically. it shows that with the added speed and capacity of  an automatic, the shop’s earnings can go from about £300,000 to just over £1,100,000.

And before discussing the various types of automatics you might consider, 6 final considerations are offered:

  1. Do you have enough space for an automatic?
  2. How big is your exposure unit — can it handle two screens at the same time?
  3. What is your power source?
  4. Do you need a compressor?
  5. Will you need a larger dryer?
  6. Can your screen room handle larger screens?

All of this is good advice and the monetary comparison is appealing. But there is something else that needs much more consideration than it gets from the brief question: “Has your customer base grown?” There are some big questions to be answered. Even if your customer base has grown, does your market have enough capacity to grow your customer base to where the expenditure on increased capacity can be justified? Or will another manual and an operator take care of the increased growth more economically? And where will the additional growth come from — new business or from your competitors? Do you have the will, the means, and the marketing program to rope in that additional business?

These are not easy questions and the answers will need some work. But it’s worth the effort because if your market doesn’t have the growth capacity, all the other reasons for switching from a manual to an automatic become redundant and you could end up with an expensive white elephant.

Is a referral program right for your shop?

And let me tell you where to have your next promotional T-shirt order printed . . .

Referral programs are usually associated with retail businesses and services like window cleaners, gardening services, and a host of others. I’ve even seen dentists run referral programs.

The purpose is to encourage your satisfied customers to encourage family, friends, acquaintances, and associates to do business with you. Its kind of like word of mouth but with incentives. If your business is exceptional in some way, word of mouth is bound to work for you but it’s going to work better if people have an incentive to refer customers.

The nature of the incentive will differ from shop to shop depending upon the nature of your customer base and your business. You may offer discounts on future orders for referrals, gift certificates, or even cash incentives. So for instance, if you want to encourage the PR people with whom you deal at your corporate customers to refer your business to other corporate PR people (they all belong to associations, attend lunches, network etc.) then tell them that you have a referral program. Tell them you’re happy to send them and a guest to dinner at their favourite restaurant for any referral that places an order with your shop. Keep in  mind that other options may be more appropriate, depending upon circumstances.

More important than the apparent reward is the fact that you’ve made them aware that you’d appreciate referrals. And more important than the reward to them will be the opportunity to help promote your business. People tend to take pleasure in referring businesses they like; it’s an all round win-win opportunity. The incentive is just a catalyst—the PR person probably doesn’t need a free dinner, but it’s the gesture that counts.

The key of course is that you have something exceptional to offer and your customers have no hesitation in recommending your shop. And, as always, crunch the numbers because it must make economic sense.

Vinegar, honey, and flies.

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Recently I’d had enough of the rude and bossy attitude of the leader of a project and reminded her of the old adage about it being easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar. I had nothing to lose as a volunteer, and for the sake of the project, the point had to be made. She had been rubbing a lot of the volunteers up the wrong way.

As someone who needs the support and input of others to get things done, you may want to ask yourself how you usually go about catching flies, with vinegar or with honey? Perhaps you’ve never thought about it. Perhaps you should. Some people think that a “bossy” attitude is necessary to establish their authority—they’re wrong. They’re trying to catch flies with vinegar. People (employees, co-workers, and customers) don’t like this and, while appearing to be cooperating, may be holding back and only cooperating to the bare minimum.

People prefer to work with and do business with people they like, people who understand how to catch flies with honey. This doesn’t mean being a pushover; it just means being pleasant, reasonable, and understanding. People will cooperate and produce in ways you didn’t even expect if they’re enticed with honey. I think you know what I mean.

Do you know someone who could use this reminder? For the sake of all concerned, but keeping in mind the politics of the situation, find a way to get the message to them

 

 

A tip for you

Use the ink designed for the fabric.

Use an ink designed for your substrate. Sound obvious? Perhaps, but printers still make this mistake every day. Polyester fabrics are prone to dye migration so use a dye-block ink designed for polyester. Some fabrics stretch, so use a stretch ink on them. Not sure what type of ink to use? Ask Stanley’s.

Screens and technology.

I recently saw what claimed to be a training a video for textile screen printers. It was one of those videos that are more harmful than helpful and produced by someone who clearly had no business claiming to be an expert.

In this instance the person was talking about frames and screens. Real industry experts talk about using tension meters to ensure that you have a suitably tense screen. The pretend expert in the video said that while he had a tension meter somewhere in the shop (he didn’t know where) it was okay to press the mesh and just make sure that it was “good and tight”. He also talked about bouncing a quarter on the mesh—the way the old timers did to test the tension.

Take advice from experts, not clowns posing as experts.

It’s this kind of nonsense that promotes the idea that screen printing is some kind of tee-hee, ha-ha, basement hobby. If you’re going to do screen printing seriously then take screen preparation seriously and use the technology available for the task. It starts with understanding the technology and selecting the best your budget can afford. There’s the frame (wood, fixed aluminum, or re-tensionable aluminum), the right mesh count for the job, the right mesh tension using a tension meter, and the right emulsion for the job.

Bouncing quarters on a screen or just pressing and guessing, might have been fine before we had today’s technology, but it’s not fine now. It’s not fine if you want to run a technologically sound shop producing consistent results in a competitive market.

 

Mount a customer charm offensive.

A charmed customer is a happy customer, is a loyal customer.

What’s the point of a customer charm offensive, and what is a charm offensive? There’s nothing magic or particularly new about it—think about it as nothing more than what should be an instinctive drive to be helpful and useful to your customers beyond just supplying them with product. Customers find this charming—it’s human nature.

In a textile screen shop there are probably a hundred ways in which you can be helpful and useful to your customers beyond just printing their tees, and hence charm them. And a charmed customer is more likely to be a loyal, repeat customer.

If you put your mind to it you can probably think of many ways in which your particular shop can charm its customers. I recently saw something that you might not ordinarily think about passing on to your customers. I’ve always been a fan of attaching tickets to garments with useful information, a little history perhaps, explanations of how to properly care for the garment, explanation of how the garment was produced in an environmentally responsible way, etc. etc.

But how about a ticket that explains how to make a Tee “vintage” soft, as many wearers nowadays like them. Apparently all you have to do is make a brine mixture of a quart of water and half a cup of salt. Soak the Tee in the brine for 3 days, wash it with just a dash of detergent, and then tumble dry. The result is said to be a tee with a soft “vintage” feel.

Customers might find this helpful and useful, and be charmed. And, as we know, a charmed customer . . .

A tip for you

Consider a dual-cure polymer emulsion.

 

 

 

Doesn’t matter if you’re experienced or new to the industry, you may be interested in why a respected industry expert favours a dual-cure polymer emulsion. He says that a single coat on each side of the screen will hold up well, yet reclaim easily. But, as always, experiment for yourself.

If it’s worth running this shop, it’s worth doing properly.

There can be many reasons for wanting to own a textile screen printing business, and it doesn’t matter what your particular reason is, as long as you understand that it’s a business to be taken seriously. This might seem like stating the obvious but it’s not.

Like many other small businesses, there are two necessary skills to owing and running a textile screen shop. There is of course the technical skill but then there is also the management skill. In many screen shops, particularly start-ups, the technical skills are there, and even when they’re not quite up to snuff, the emphasis is on developing and refining the technical skills. But therein lies a potential problem.

The early years in the life of a small business (the first year in particular) can be challenging. In a screen shop it’s when so much time is spent on the technical side of the business that the basic management side can be neglected. By basic management I mean cost control, pricing for profit, cash flow management, marketing and sales, staff hiring and management, and a whole lot of other things that can keep you awake at night. Wearing a lot of different hats is common among small business owners, but it’s particularly hard on a new business owner on a steep learning curve.

The answer? Get help. Find a mentor. Engage an accountant or bookkeeper to look after the financial stuff, get help in those areas you know little about or don’t have time to address. As you get various aspects of your shop under control and operating properly, you can start moving onto the others. Perhaps you can dispense with some of the help then. But don’t start out trying to be a superhero.

By the time your discover that there only 24 hours in a day, that you need sleep to function properly, that out-of-control workaholics have lousy family lives, and that finding help to plug the gaps you can’t handle can save your health and your business, it may be too late.

Don’t neglect the reading.

Oh, and make part of your relaxation away from work reading about business management and the technical aspects of textile screen printing. Blogs, books, newsletters, technical journals, business magazines—you can learn a lot of useful stuff from them.This might not sound like relaxation but you’re not going to be able to stop your brain thinking about the shop even when you’re not at the shop so you might as well let it absorb information useful to the shop—it will all help.

If a shop is worth running, it’s worth doing it properly.

 

A tip for you

Just because it’s water-based ink doesn’t make it “safe”.

 

 

 

Some people will tell you that water-based ink is safe because, well, it’s water based. Not so. Water based inks can contain “undesirable” elements. Don’t assume anything when it comes to what’s “safe” and what’s not. Investigate!

 

Expose your screen shop!

Listen, any monkey can screen print . . .

The internet is full of posts and videos promoting the idea that screen printing is simple. It’s all about D.I.Y.—any monkey can do it. Want to print your own Tees? No problem, just follow these few simple steps . . . get a wooden frame, some mesh, and a pot of emulsion . . .

I wonder how healthcare professionals would feel about this? Want to do your own colonoscopies? No problem, just follow these few simple steps . . . get a broomstick, a small spy camera, and a pot of grease . . .

And it’s not so much that the D.I.Y. crowd will lure away your customers, it’s more about promoting textile screen printing as a simplistic hobby-like activity. This undermines the industry’s standing as skilled occupation deserving of decent pricing for it’s product. For a long time pricing has been a thorny issue in the industry and it may in part be due to a lack of respect for the product and the skill exercised in producing it.

So how do you address this? One way is by promoting the truth about the skill and equipment it takes to produce a decent print on a Tee. And the best way to do that is to demonstrate to your customers (and anyone else interested) the entire process of producing a print—give them a shop tour. Show off your skills. Help them realize that there’s much more to producing a decent print than the D.I.Y. crowd will have you believe.

Perhaps this could be the first step to putting an end to the prevailing impression that any monkey can screen print so why should you get paid anything but peanuts?

Avoid junk accumulation

Accumulated junk.

Here is a tip for your business and home . . . Don’t accumulate stuff you don’t really need.

Not only is it silly from a financial perspective, bad from an ecological perspective, and a source of clutter stress, but it’s guaranteed be a major headache when you move.

We all move businesses and homes sooner or later and it’s then, during this high stress time, that you want to avoid having to make decisions about shipping or chucking. It’s the very worst time and circumstances in which to have to make these decisions.

The answer is to commit to an ongoing process of acquiring and keeping only what you really need and use. Chuck out, sell or donate the stuff you don’t need. Do this regularly. Do this in your home and your business. When moving day arrives, you’ll be very pleased that you didn’t leave the ship or chuck decisions to the very worst time—right before your move.

And in the meantime, between moves, you’ll live a less cluttered, less stressful, existence at home and at the business.

Customer delight

Delighted customer, happy to pay you!

A recent article by Gregory Ciotti for Shopify, “Customer Delight is About Giving Little Unexpected Extras”, made a point that cannot be repeated often enough. In fact, it’s so important yet still not appreciated by so many small business owners and staff, that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to line everyone up at the beginning of every day and make them chant, “Customer delight is about giving little unexpected extras!”

If, after this morning routine, anyone on staff doesn’t get the message, they should be terminated. And, as Ciotti points out, delight doesn’t necessarily mean falling over yourself to please a customer; it could mean having your business set up in a way that it meets customers’ expectations (and exceeds them whenever possible) without the customer even ever having direct contact with anyone in your business.

This means that customers get to decide what constitutes “delight”; research suggests that customers regard these as delightful experiences (in descending order):

  • Proactive help (teach me how to get more out of your product)
  • Consistently good service
  • Information about new products and services
  • Built personal relationship
  • Fast and friendly interaction
  • No unpleasant surprises
  • Service beyond expectation

How does your business stack up in delighting customers?

 

A tip for you

Think about your online strategy for 2018 and beyond.

Earlier this year a tip indicated 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. This is a reminder that as you approach the new year and think about future online marketing plans, you should be taking this into account.

Taking a break

I’ve seen a number of articles recently encouraging small business owners to schedule a break—as in take that vacation you need. This is an important mental and physical health topic. As a textile shop owner you may not want to admit that you really need a break and you may deny the negative impact on your health; don’t be foolish.

I’ve addressed the topic in my small business book. Let me quote one passage for those of you who don’t take vacations because you don’t believe that anyone else can be trusted to run your business for even a couple of weeks . . .

“You may want to take a cue from Karen, who needed a break badly while running her retail ceramics gift store in Calgary. She was in a predicament. She was determined to take a rejuvenating trip to Canada’s east coast but had no one to run the store for her. And so, she decided to close the store for three weeks. Closing a small business for a few weeks to take a vacation may not be unusual—but how she did it certainly was.

Driven by a concern that customers would be angry and perhaps wonder if she’d gone out of business, she hired a graffiti artist to paint a cartoon mural in her store window: a graphic depiction of her doing vacation things (sitting on the beach, eating lobster, etc.), along with the dates she planned on doing them. It worked as intended. Far from being angry or concerned, customers were amused and told a rejuvenated Karen so after she returned.”

There are creative solutions to your I-can’t-take-a-vacation dilemma. Your health demands it.

Stanley’s holiday hours

Taking it easy over the holidays.

Stanley’s (all branches) will be closed for the holidays from December 23rd (Saturday) to January 1st (Monday). Normal business will resume on Tuesday, 2nd January 2018.

And as we approach Christmas and the rest of the holiday period with all its frantic shopping and all the other stresses, here’s something from Dr. Seuss to think about . . .

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

  • Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

 

This is distressing . . .

The distressed cap look.

It’s a bit of a paradox — fashionable elegance apparently requires inelegance. I’m referring to the increasingly common sight of jeans abraded, ripped, and torn until, in some cases, there’s more leg than denim on display — the epitome of inelegance, one would have thought.

But this is the distressed trend in fashion. Textile screen printers have been printing “distressed” designs for many years but “distressed” now encompasses garments too, not just prints. As a smaller textile shop accustomed to catering to a local market and willing to do labour-intensive work frowned upon by big production-oriented shops, you may be able to create a niche in your local cap market. Distressed fashion now includes caps.

All you need to distress a cap (a vintage style cap works best) is a Dremel tool with a wire brush attachment, coarse sandpaper, a pair of scissors, and a thread un-picker. You can then do to a cap in a few minutes what regular wear could take years to achieve.

It doesn’t matter why people would pay good money for a new cap that looks like an old cap, but while they do, you may as well take advantage of it.

A compromise in the screen printing versus direct-to-garment debate

The screen printing versus direct-to-garment debate rages on.

The direct-to-garment versus screen printing debate rages on among textile printers. The most common points argued are speed (screen printing is much faster), detail (d-to-g is more detailed), substrate (d-to-g doesn’t cope well with dark substrates), durability (screen printing lasts longer), and so on.

Well, while this debate continued, technology has been has been tackling the issue. The result is a hybrid printer. Images magazine reported on six different hybrid machines on show at Fespa 2017. For example, M&R’s DigitalSqueegee machine appears to take care of all the d-to-g versus screen printing arguments by combining the best of both technologies.

Here’s how it works . . . The garment is adhered to a pallet in the usual screen printing manner. It rotates under a screen where a white “underbase” is screen printed in the usual manner. Then it passes into a chamber where all the other colours are applied digitally on top of the white in one pass of a print head. It rotates out of the chamber and the garment is removed from the pallet and passed through a conveyor dryer in the usual manner. Done!

If you Google “DigitalSqueegee M&R” you’ll find a one-minute video of the process. They claim that it can produce 725 prints an hour.

Will this affect the average Canadian textile printer in the short or even medium term? Probably not. But it’s something to keep an eye on because typically, while new technology is initially only affordable by the bigger players, as time passes the price drops to where it is affordable by others too. This is when it can become a game changer.

A tip for you

Have you considered focussing on a particular customer type?

Continuing with the theme of finding and edge in the market, have you considered focussing on a specific industry or service with your printing? For instance, what about beauty salons? It’s a huge industry that uses uniforms, T-shirts, towels, and robes. Focus in business can be powerful.