Author Archives: Michael Best - Stanley's blog editor

Jumbo prints . . . worth the hassles?

The thumbnail version:

  • Some customer may ask for Jumbo prints
  • Appropriately-sized garments are essential.
  • It’s okay to decline work if it’s “not your thing”

The full version:

If you have printed jumbo prints with success then you might want to skip this post and move onto the next one. However, if you have been asked or have been considering jumbo prints and have never printed them before or, particularly, if you’re new to textile screen printing, then we have some things for you to consider.

It makes business sense to be able to say no to orders you’re not comfortable doing or that carry a risk you’d rather not take. For instance, some shops refuse to print on nylon jackets, particularly if they have been water-proofed. The extra work required to remove the water-proofing, the special nylon ink required, a ink additive often required, the curing temperature issues, and so forth, adds up to more than some shops are willing to handle.

So too do jumbo prints have their issues, in this case, with certain garments other than regular unisex Tees. . .

  • V-neck garments: The V will often intrude into the intended print area. Obviously their are just two options: (1) reduce the size of the print; or (2) decline the order. Both ways the customer is not going to get a jumbo print on a V-neck garment.
  • Tank tops: Same problem as with the V-necks, only worse.
  • Girls’ tees: usually these are smaller sizes and won’t fit onto jumbo pallets. If they’re stretched to make them fit you run the risk of distorted images and perhaps even damaged garments.

We all like to please our customers, but sometimes you have to draw a line. Jumbo prints might not be for your shop. However, if you want to have a stab at it, just make sure the garments are able to handle it.

What’s your T-shirt thing? Printing or selling?

The thumbnail version:

  • Print-on-demand is a growing phenomenon in the textile imprinting industry
  • You can embrace it regardless of whether you prefer printing or selling

The full version:

We’ve dealt with this topic before but it’s worth revisiting because it continues to attract a lot of attention in industry publications and on social media.

If your prime interest lies in selling Tees and other imprinted garments and you’re printing them primarily in order to be able to sell them, there is an alternative that is becoming popular—print-on-demand.

Whereas a print shop involves risk and a considerable investment in equipment and materials, a print-on-demand business model involves no risk and requires very little investment. You sell via your online store and the print-on-demand company does all the custom printing and  shipping to your customers. For dong all the work, they charge a percentage of each sale you make from your online store.

Print-on-demand has worked well in the book printing industry for some time. For instance, I’ve delivered copies of my book, Characters Who Can Make or Break Your Small Business, within days of taking orders on my website from Australia, the UK, the US, and Canada, by print-on-demand. Tees and other imprinted garments are ideally suited to print-on-demand as well.

On the other hand, if printing is your real joy and you are currently a contract printer, including print-on-demand in your business model would add a new revenue-generating dimension to your business.

Keep the equipment clean.

The thumbnail version:

  • Well maintained equipment means a better return for longer

The full version:

You don’t need to be Einstein to understand this . . . it makes business and operational sense to keep the equipment clean and maintained

How many times have we urged that shop equipment should be kept clean and maintained regularly? The answer is many, many times because, aside from pride of ownership,  the business benefits are so obvious that it’s worth repeating from time to time.

And we aren’t alone in urging this. Tony Palmer of Palmprint Consultants in the UK recently had the same message accompanied by a short video on LinkedIn of a press that’s cleaned every day. And, not surprisingly, it looks brand new, even though it is eighteen months old and prints thousands of garments daily.

As he points out: “The machine cost a great deal of money. The machine can earn a great deal of money. Look after the press and it will earn you good money for decades to come.”

This would include all equipment, big or small, automatic or manual—the principle applies equally,

Kindness in the workplace as a productivity tool

The thumbnail version:

  • Kindness costs nothing
  • The benefits make business sense

The full version:

Great job! Thanks.

It costs nothing and is easy to do—practicing kindness. And the best part is that it creates a much happier atmosphere, which in turn creates a more productive workplace. This is the message in an article by Ovul Sezer, Kelly Nault, and Nadav Klein.

To quote them: “A commitment to be kind can bring many important benefits. First, and perhaps most obviously, practicing kindness will be immensely helpful to our colleagues. Being recognized at work helps reduce employee burnout and absenteeism, and improves employee well-being, Gallup finds year after year in its survey of workers . . . ”

They also note that: “Organizations benefit from actively fostering kindness. In workplaces where acts of kindness become the norm, the spillover effects can multiply fast.”

So, consider the question . . . Is kindness the norm in your shop? If not, why not? It only makes sense.

Setting up a small textile screen printing shop — #10 in series

The thumbnail version:

  • Finally in this series, there is the miscellaneous stuff you need

The full version:

Scoop, spatula, and scale

And, finally in this series, there are miscellaneous things you’ll need such as a scoop coater, screen tape, ink spatula, ink scoops, mixing containers, pallet adhesive, a Thermoprobe, squeegees, cleaning chemicals, and scrubbing brushes.

And if you’re going to mix your own ink—because it makes economic and operating sense— you’ll need a scale.

There are decisions to be made for some of the items above that will be influenced by your business model. For instance: aerosol pallet adhesive or water-based adhesive?; disposable wooden spatulas or reusable plastic?; regular squeegees (aluminum or wood) or ergo-friendly squeegees?; fast-acting regular chemicals or sometimes slower-working but more eco-friendly chemicals?

As with all the other stuff you need for setting up a textile shop, the crew at Stanley’s can help.

The environmental challenge for businesses per the BDC — told in percentages

The thumbnail version:

  • BDC surveyed business owners on the environmental challenge
  • It yielded some interesting results.

The full version:

The Development Bank of Canada conducted an extensive survey of Canadian businesses to determine the extent to which they are responding to the environmental challenge.

It’s a 32-page report worth reading but, in the meantime, here’s a story as told by some of the more interesting percentages:

  • 84 percent of entrepreneurs consider it their responsibility to take concrete action to protect the environment.
  • 82 percent of entrepreneurs have implemented concrete measures tp reduce their environmental impact.
  • 31 percent of entrepreneurs are encouraged to reduce their environmental impact as a means of improving their brand image.
  • 91 percent of business leaders state that it is entirely possible for a company to be profitable while reducing its environmental impact.
  • 34 percent of consumers consider the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions.
  • 60 percent of Canadian consumers state that price remains the most important purchasing criterion.

The last two seem contradictory. Consumers seem to be saying “I think the environment is important, but I don’t want protective measures to show up in product prices.”

So while businesses are overwhelmingly willing to reduce their environmental impact, their customers seem to be saying that they’re not willing to pay for it.

Regardless though of how you interpret the results of this survey, as a business owner you still have an inescapable responsibility to reduce the environmental impact of your business.

Boxes recycled to promote your shop

The thumbnail version:

  • It’s ecologically responsible and promotional.
  • It’s also economical.

The full version:

An article in Images Magazine about a clever idea used by a shop in New Orleans is worth taking note of. There’s no reason why your shop couldn’t do this as well, particularly as it’s probably the least expensive ecologically-responsible, promotional idea you’ve probably ever heard about.

Inferno Screen Printing recycles not only the boxes in which it’s shirts and other merchandise arrives but also those of some of its industrial park neighbours. They screen their logo, address etc. onto the boxes with water-based ink containing an air-dry catalyst in a big and bold design large enough to cover the existing printing on the boxes. They print some by hand and others on a press.

Once in a while a good idea worth imitating comes along; this is definitely one of them.

Setting up a small textile screen printing shop — #9 in series

The thumbnail version:

  • You have screen-coating options
  • Selection depends upon a number of factors
  • Stanley’s experts can explain the best options

The full version:

Applying capillary film.

A successful print depends upon the coating of your screens as much as anything else.

But the emulsion or coating method you select will vary depending upon a number of circumstances. These will include the type of exposure unit you have, the ink you’re going to use (water-based or plastisol), and the type of printing you’re going to to do (half tones), to name some.

Screen-coating materials come as either emulsions that are pre-sensitized or are accompanied by a diazo powder that has to be added to sensitize the emulsion, or as capillary film.

The pre-sensitized emulsions are very sensitive to light and are fast-exposing emulsions, which is a downside for newer shops that may not have the darkroom facilities to handle it properly. Initially a diazo emulsion would be a better alternative for new printers.

The diazo emulsions are slower-exposing but this gives you more latitude for exposure timing errors. It’s a better alternative, at least initially. But If you’re sensitizing emulsion you need to do so about twenty-four hours before you use it to coat a screen. The time is needed to allow the diazo to dissolve completely and for the air bubbles accumulated during stirring to escape. If the air bubbles are not given this time to escape, you’ll end up with pin holes on the screen.

Capillary film is essentially an emulsion film that you unroll and apply directly to the screen. It’s obviously light sensitive and must be applied under controlled conditions. The advantage is that the thickness is very precise and can be ordered according to the thickness you require. It is however more expensive per surface area than liquid emulsion.

Any of the experts at Stanley’s four branches can advise you on screen-coating options best for your shop or for any particular job.

Five mistakes to avoid in any negotiation

The thumbnail version:

  • Negotiating is part of doing business
  • There are some thing you must not do when negotiating

The full version:

This is the post that was intended for the previous date on the 20th before I was reminded of a story about a lease negotiation and decide to tell it.

So here they are now, the five things you must avoid when negotiating because landlords are not the only characters you’re likely to negotiate with; there are vendors, customers, contractors, partners, and even prospective employees.

  1. Do not rush to a conclusion. It’s a back-and-forth process that should include time to reflect. The party rushed into a conclusion is likely to come out second best. In fact, rushing the other party is a tactic.
  2. Do not say anything that doesn’t ultimately benefit you. Letting down your defenses, being self-deprecating, and answering questions that could harm your position (you don’t have to answer every question just because it has been asked), may create a friendly atmosphere but could position you as vulnerable.
  3. Do not fail to plan ahead. Know what you want and strategize to get it. Remember the fake folder in the previous post?
  4. Do not fail to see the negotiation from the opponent’s position. Knowing what the opponent wants will prepare you better for arriving at a win-win settlement.
  5. Do not show desperation. Showing desperation will put you at a disadvantage; to the other party it will be like “smelling blood”, which will embolden them. This could result in a settlement that disadvantages you and benefits the other party.

This is by no means all you need to know for conducting a successful negotiation, but it’s a start. You have some reading to do before your next negotiation.

Negotiating tactic or manipulation?

The thumbnail version:

  • A post turn into a story
  • Negotiating tactic or manipulation?

The full version:

This started out as a post about five things you must avoid when negotiating. But it reminded me of a lease negotiation I was a party to. So instead, here, by way of entertainment (and possibly education), is the story as I told it in my book Characters Who Can Make or Break Your Small Business:

” I was about to sit down to negotiate the renewal of our main office lease with the property manager of the building. I’d heard that the landlord was aiming for an increase I considered to be higher than the market value, and certainly higher than I anticipated accepting.

A lease negotiation can be like a game of poker, with each party trying to guess the other’s cards before showing its own. I had minimised the guessing by advanced knowledge of the proposed rent increase. I also knew we were regarded as a desirable tenant and guessed that the landlord wouldn’t want to add to the existing unleased bays in the complex.

About ten minutes before he was due to arrive for the meeting, I had an idea that, in retrospect, and in all modesty, was not only fun but a stroke of genius. I found a manila folder and filled it with an assortment of colourful brochures, price lists, and sundry promotional material we had lying about the office. I then wrote ‘PREMISES SEARCH’ on the cover of the folder in a black marker pen and placed it on the far end of the meeting room table, where it was out of reach but close enough for the title to be read.

By the end of the meeting during which there were many furtive glances at the manila folder, we had agreed on a very modest rent increase in line with what I regarded as fair. In addition, my request for new carpeting at no charge was agreed to.”

Negotiating tactic or manipulation? You decide.

Anyway, the five things you must avoid in a negotiation will be discussed in the next post.

Going online — you need a plan

The thumbnail version:

  • E-commerce business is growing
  • It’s an avenue your shop should be pursuing.
  • But you must plan it properly.

The full version:

I love my e-commerce site!

Online business is still on the rise.  We’ve been pointing that out on this blog for some time. And recently FedEx ran a webinar for small businesses on the topic. After the webinar they issued a summary of the top ten considerations for making the shift to e-commerce.

One of those is particularly important and worthy of further exploration . . . Creating a plan for getting online. You must have a plan.

Setting a development budget, choosing a developer, choosing a dedicated employee as the liaison with the developer, must all be done. This requires a plan.

And it’s not just about the technology. In fact, once that is in place, it’s all about management of processes and administration. The process of taking and shipping orders will likely change and the people involved need to be trained and managed accordingly. This needs a plan.

And finally, but most importantly, you must identify who will manage the day-to-day e-commerce operations—a job that will include daily management of the website to keep it fresh and current.

All of this requires a plan.

Increasing sales — something to think about

The thumbnail version:

  • Increasing sales is a challenge for most shops.
  • Here are three ideas to consider.

The full version:

How can I increase my sales?

I don’t know of a single textile garment-decorator shop that doesn’t want to increase its sales. The perennial problem is, how? Well, Nigel Green, a contributor writing for Entrepreneur Leadership Network, offers three ideas for how it can be done.

The first idea is to raise your prices.

In the Tee-printing world this has been a bugbear for decades. Among textile screen printing shops lowering prices has traditionally been the key to competing. Its has been like a race to the bottom in which nobody but the consumer wins (and unfairly so). On the other hand, some shops have been successful by focusing on the quality and service-conscious areas of the market. So whether or not you can raise prices will depend where your shop has chosen to compete in the market.

If you  haven’t increased prices for some time, you may be able to do so now quite comfortably. (I know, you’re reluctant; we all brace ourselves when we have to hike prices, no matter how justified the increase may be, but usually it works out just fine). But do this calculation . . . Your current annual sales hiked by, say, 10 percent. That’s how much you’ll increase sales.

The second idea is to add new customers.

You’re going to lose a percentage of customers every year; it’s normal in most businesses. So, in any case. you have to work at recruiting new customers. The thing about new customers though is that they won’t balk at your increased prices because they don’t know anything different.

The third idea is to sell your customer something else.

It has long been known that it’s easier to sell to existing customers than to non-customers. So for a textile shop with, say, a T-shirt customer, offering caps, bags and other items you produce could work. Anything they buy after being made aware of it by you, would boost your sales. “Something else” could also be something new you’ve diversified into.

To quote Green, “Sometimes the best opportunities are the simple ones. If you implement just one of these tactics you could grow your business . . . “

Setting up a small textile screen printing shop — #8 in series

The thumbnail version:

  • Ink is a critical element in your shop.
  • Better-quality inks result in better quality-prints.
  • There are different ink systems e.g. plastisol vs water-based.

The full version:

The first decision you have to make is whether you’re going to print with plastisol or water-based ink. You have research to do.  However, regardless of the system you choose to print with, just know that the better the ink quality, the better your prints are going to be.

Make any colour with an ink mixing system

And generally “cheap” means poorer quality; don’t be seduced by the per-gallon price. If you calculate the cost per print (which takes into account variables such as rejects, ease of printing, and how much ink you have to put down) you’ll find that the so-called expensive inks are not that much more expensive than the cheaper inks; usually just pennies.

And while you’re considering ink, consider a mixing system. It makes a lot of sense for a small shop. Not only can it ensure accurate, repeatable colours, but you’ll be making only as much of a particular colour as you need for a job, thus not investing in a stock of left-over ink.

There’s a lot to consider about in ink. The crew at all four of Stanley’s branches can help you with advice.

Miss a call — miss a customer.

The thumbnail version:

  • Answer the phone and keep or gain customers.
  • If you can’t answer the phone, make other arrangemets for it to be answered.

The full version:

It keeps happening. you call a small business (textile screen shops included) and you have to leave a voice mail. You get mad because you’re impatient and, based on past experience, you can’t be sure that the voicemail will be returned in a timely manner, if at all. So you call one of their competitors.

A real live human immediately picks up at the other end. And not just that, they’re also friendly and apparently happy to hear from you. And you don’t care if the person you’re talking to is the business owner, an employee, or someone at a call-answering service. What you care about is that you’re getting action. And they’ve probably going to retain or gain a customer.

How does this apply to your shop? Make sure that every call is answered promptly by a real live human being. If it can’t be you or an employee, retain an answering service. You can’t afford to miss a call and miss a customer.

#2 in a series: Water-based vs. plastisol? It’s not that simple!

The thumbnail version:

  • Water-based versus plastisol is a legitimate comparison.
  • Some of the environmental differences raised are not legitimate.

The full version:

As we noted in the first in this post in this series, the water-based ink versus plastisol ink debate is a bit like the old Mac versus PC debate. People take sides and then find every argument they can, fact or fake, to support their position. This is referred to as cognitive bias and is a common human trait.

This is worth keeping in mind when trying to resolve a question about a serious technical or business matter such as whether your shop should print plastisol ink, water-based ink, or both. While conducting your research you have to push through the cognitive bias and get to the facts. Some of those facts concern their respective impacts on the environment.

When discussing the environmental impact of plastisol ink, critics often focus on two of its components, PVC resin and phthalates. What the critics fail to mention is that the better brands of plastisol ink haven’t included phthalates for many years and, in addition, there are now non-PVC plastisol ink options.

That leaves the disposal and chemical clean-up issues that applies to both types of ink. The “water” in water-based doesn’t mean “drinkable” as some of its advocates seem to imply when writing about how “safe” it is. So regardless of whether you’re printing in plastisol or water-based inks, product disposal and clean-up require that you keep the environment and local laws and practices in mind. It’s important.

Should textile screen printing shops be reinventing themselves?

The thumbnail version:

  • Screen printing as a garment-decorating technology is being challenged.
  • Are textile screen printing shops going to have to reinvent themselves?

The full version:

Something to seriously ponder . . .

An oil industry expert I know has been saying for some time that changing circumstances including the increasing emphasis on climate change, government regulations, public opinion and other elements is forcing the oil companies to reinvent themselves.

He predicts that companies we’ve long regarded as “oil” companies are going to have to reinvent themselves as “energy” companies. This is not hard to understand given technological advancements and the increasing demand to de-emphasize oil as the primary source of energy and to instead look to solar, wind, water, and nuclear for “cleaner” energy. In other words, the big oil companies in particular, are going to have to diversify into other energy products if they are to stay in business as big companies.

Are textile screen printing shops not in the same boat? With a growing demand for customized single prints, shorter runs, and the growing sophistication of direct-to-garment technology, is garment decoration not gradually shifting away from a reliance on screen printing? Major direct-to-garment equipment manufacturer, Kornit, is about to release 3D textile printing technology that will do high density and other special effects prints that until now could only be achieved by screen printing.

How long is it going to be before textile screen printing shops, like oil companies, are going to have to reinvent themselves? Will “garment decorating” shops offering screen printing merely as an option among other technologies become the new norm, replacing strictly textile screen printing shops?

Definitely time to ponder. Perhaps time to act and get ahead of the curve.

Setting up a small textile shop — #7 in series

The thumbnail version:

  • Screens involve frames and mesh
  • In both items you have choices to make

The full version:

Silk screen printing screens stored in a wooden rack ready for printing.

Textile screen printing takes its name from the next item you’re going to need—screens.

Screens are frames across which mesh has been stretched. So, starting with frames, you have choices: wood versus aluminum; and stretch-and-glue versus retensionable. You need to research frames as all have their pros and cons. Any of the Stanley’s branches can help you with advice.

Once you have the frame, you have to select the polyester mesh that will be stretched across it. Here you have more choices to make. It of course all depends upon what you’re going to be printing. This is pretty much a job-by-job decision. Mesh is distinguished on the basis of the fineness of the weave, for instance, a 110 mesh has 110 threads crossing per square inch. So the higher the count (156, 200, 230, 280, and 305 are common mesh counts) the finer the mesh. Then there’s the question of colour, white or yellow mesh?

You’d probably select a 110 white mesh for heavier deposits such as with white underbase or with “heavier” inks such as polyester inks. At the other end of the scale you’d likely use 305 yellow mesh for ultra-fine details, halftones etc. You have research to do. Again, any one of Stanley’s four branches can help with mesh advice and supplies.

Should you attend a training session or two on TikTok?

The thumbnail version:

  • TikTok has become a major retail marketing tool in the U.K.
  • The evidence suggests that Canadian textile screen shops should take this seriously.

The full version:

Images Magazine is reporting that Eventbrite (the ticketing and events platform) took six times as many bookings in 2020 over 2019 for its TikTok-related seminars, training and workshop events in the U.K.

Apparently brand sharing and product recommendations on TikTok are higher than on either Instagram or Facebook. This is significant when you consider that TikTok is said to have a worldwide audience of 689 million.

So the question for your textile screen shop in Canada is whether TikTok should be a major element in its promotion strategy. And this raises a second question about whether you or another person in your shop should attend a TikTok training session or two to not only find out what this marketing tool can do, but also how to use it to best effect.

The evidence from the U.K. says you should.

A reminder from a fire far away

The thumbnail version:

  • Are you disaster-ready?
  • There are measures you should take now.

The full version:

Photo per BBC.

Yesterday,  Sunday, 18th April, a fire on the iconic Table Mountain at the heart of Cape Town was out of control long enough to set light to the main library on the University of Cape Town campus. It destroyed the historic reading room that housed irreplaceable documents and records from South Africa’s past. It also destroyed a plant research unit.

So what does a devastating fire 15,000 kilometers away in the Southern Hemisphere have to do with textile screen printing shops in Canada? There’s likely no direct impact but it’s a reminder that disaster can strike quickly and devastatingly. And that in turn provides an opportunity to remind all shop owners:

  • Your shop insurance should be current and paid up to date.
  • You should assess your shop for fire safety and fire prevention (more than one textile screen printing shop in Canada has gone up in flames)
  • You should have a fire and water-proof safe or similar container to secure important documents, back-up USB sticks, etc.
  • You should have a remote daily back-up service for your shop’s computers.
  • You should have a photographic record of the the equipment, materials, furniture etc. updated regularly and kept off premises such as in a bank safety deposit box.
  • You should have copies (certified or notarized, if necessary) of important documents such as leases, agreements, and other legal documents stored safely off site.
  • You should have records of your various passwords stored safely off site or lodged with a remote service.

Make a point of attending to this now. Disasters arrive without warning.

Adapting to a changing market

The thumbnail version:

  • The market is demanding small orders.
  • Market changes mean adapting.

The full version:

I remember a big textile screen print shop in Calgary back in the nineties that had licenses to print merchandise (mostly Tees and hoodies) for all the major professional sports leagues. I remember too how the production manager was in a constant battle with the sales manager over small orders.

The sales manager, in typical fashion considered a sale to be sale, whereas the production manager, also in typical fashion, considered a small order to be a nuisance. That was then; it’s different now. The licensed merchandise market took a dive, the big orders went away, and this particular big shop disappeared.

It’s a story about adapting to the customer’s circumstances and not expecting the customer to adapt to yours.

What reminded me of this was a recent article by Marshall Atkinson in Images. It is about “hyper-personalization” which he defines as: ” . . .  personalizing the garment to a unique individual. Very small decoration runs. Usually just one piece, but the print edition can be more if there is a unique something about it that is made for someone with a specific change to the garment.”

The article is worth reading in full. If he is right, it will be further evidence that the screen-printed textile market is changing and textile screen printers have to adapt to thrive, if not merely survive.

#1 in a series: Water-based vs plastisol? Good vs bad? It’s not that simple!

The thumbnail version:

  • Water-based versus plastisol is a legitimate comparison
  • Some of the differences raised are not legitimate, for example, the issue of phthalates.

The full version:

The water-based ink versus plastisol ink debate is a bit like the old Mac versus PC debate. People take sides and then find every argument they can, fact or fake, to support their position. This is referred to as cognitive bias and is a common human trait.

This is worth keeping in mind when trying to resolve a question about a serious technical or business matter such as whether your shop should print plastisol ink, water-based ink, or both. While conducting your research you have to push through the cognitive bias and get to the facts. One of those facts concern phthalates.

Phthalates are a family of chemicals used to soften plastics. They are considered to have adverse health effects (including being carcinogenic). Ironically, this health threat is apparently still used in plastic tubes and IV bags in hospitals. It was an ingredient (and may still be in some brands) in plastisol ink. The leading manufacturers such as Wilflex, long ago began producing phthalate-free plastisol ink.

In the water-based ink versus plastisol ink debate phthalates are often raised as a reason to switch to water-based ink. There may be legitimate reasons why your shop should switch, but phthalates is unlikely to be one of them. Don’t be fooled by this argument.

We’ll explore the other differences between water-based ink and plastisol in future posts in this series.

Contribution margin. What is it?

The thumbnail version:

  • Understanding “contribution margin” is a good first step to managing the profitability of your shop.

The full version:

Let’s face it, most textile screen shop owners and managers would rather spend time handling interesting art and reproducing it as a great print on a Tee than concerning themselves with something called a “contribution margin.”

Every job must make an adequate contribution to fixed expenses; this is the “contribution margin”

But, and it’s a BIG but, ignore “contribution margin” and you may no longer have a business to produce great prints. So what is “contribution margin”? Joe Knight of has a good definition: “When you make a product or deliver a service and deduct the variable cost of delivering that product, the leftover revenue is the contribution margin.”

In a textile print shop context that means that if you take the quoted price of a job, deduct the variable costs such as film, emulsion, ink, chemicals (anything you wouldn’t pay for if you didn’t run the job) what you’re left with is the contribution margin. Now, the point of course is that the contribution margin had better be a positive number in order to help pay for fixed expenses such as rent, utilities, and the staff that will be on the clock regardless of whether they’re producing or not.

Admittedly, in calculating “contribution margin” it’s not always obvious which is a variable cost and which is a fixed expense, but you get the idea of the importance and purpose of the “contribution margin” . Every job must have a contribution margin (the bigger, the better) for a shop to survive and thrive.

Understanding “contribution margin” is a good first step to managing the profitability of your shop.

Setting up a small textile shop — #6 in Series

The thumbnail version:

  • You’re going to be making film positives for which a printer will be required.
  • There are various options including having another shop do it for you.
  • Research is required.

The full version:

You are going to be making stencils and for that you’ll need a film printer. There are many types of printers but what’s most commonly used by small shops for producing film is an inkjet printer. Before buying a printer it would be wise to do some research including talking to few screen shop owners to confirm which printer would likely be best for you.

You’ll use inkjet film which has one side coated. The coating is what the ink holds onto. Inks differ—Epson uses UV-blocking ink whereas others use dye ink which is supposed to stop all light. Again, do your research.

To properly create your art you’ll need software such as Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. If you’re new to these programs just know that there is a learning curve and it pays to get some qualified instruction to help flatten the curve. Then after creating the art you’ll need software for printing it and the most common program is AccuRIP. But, like everything else involved in setting up the shop, you need to do your research.

And finally, if initially printing your own film positives is a bit much to handle, you should be able to strike a deal with another local shop to do it for you.

Promoting your shop locally

The thumbnail version:

  • Support for local small business is a growing trend.
  • There are a number of ways to take advantage of this trend.

The full version:

Shopify recently reported that consumer trend data are revealing that half of North American buyers are changing the way they’ll shop in the future. When not buying online the preference is becoming support for small local businesses.

This is leading to an increasing flood of advice on how to promote your business locally. Here are some of the ideas being floated;

  • Google My Business is a free listing tool to manage your presence across Google Search and Google Maps.
  • Attendance at local events that attract an audience from the local market will give you local exposure. Knowing that there is a trend to supporting local small businesses means that you should make sure you cater to that sentiment.
  • Local workshops, demonstrations, shop tours etc. can raise local awareness.
  • Free local delivery is said to rate highly with customers. Shopify says that local online shoppers are likely to spend 23% more when local delivery and pick up are offered.
  • Local press releases or press coverage can spread the word to the local market looking for local small businesses to support.

Those are some ideas for taking advantage of the trend to supporting local businesses. With some effort you can probably come up with few more.

An encouraging eco-friendly story about garments

The thumbnail version:

  • An encouraging eco-friendly clothing story
  • Consider whether your shop could benefit by getting on board

The full version:

Illustration per Regatta Professional

The March edition of Images Magazine has an encouraging eco-friendliness story about a garment manufacturer. I’m not sure that their garments are available in Canada but it’s nevertheless a story that should encourage and inspire those of us looking forward to our industry making better progress in eco-awareness. It’s a global problem that could benefit from innovation in this regard from anywhere on the globe, for instance, in this case, the U.K.

Regatta Professional (check out their website here) are offering an 11-item eco-friendly line of clothing including bodywarmers, fleeces, softshell, and waterproof jackets they’ve called Honestly Made. What’s so eco-friendly about this line? Well, it’s manufactured from recycled plastic bottles. They’re very proud of the fact that since 2019 they’ve saved almost 2.5 million plastic bottles from the landfill.

We’ll let you know when we locate a similar line here but, in the meantime, if you could find such a line of eco-friendly garments it would help differentiate your shop from the competition in a market that is becoming increasingly aware of the bad eco reputation of the current clothing industry.

We sense a trend to eco-friendliness among Canadian consumers.  It could make sense to take account of it in your business model.

Setting up a small textile shop — #5 in a series

The thumbnail version:

  • You will have to be able to wash out and reclaim screens.
  • A separate and properly-equipped facility is best but there are temporary measures you can take.
  • There are things you must know about mixing chemicals and drainage

The full version:

You are going to have to have somewhere to wash out freshly-shot screens and to wash reclaimed screens.

Well-established shops have separate rooms equipped with wash-out tanks, power-washers, racks for chemicals, appropriate drainage, ventilation, and so forth. You can think of it as a bathroom for screens that is more commonly referred to as “the swamp”.

Once you have the necessary equipment (washout tank and pressure washer), the mechanics of the “swamp” are pretty straight forward. A less obvious but important aspect is eco-friendliness. This takes into account the types of chemicals you use and how you dispose of them. In most jurisdictions you can’t just flush the chemicals and ink into the public sewer system. You need to be clear on the applicable local bylaws.

Even if you find that you can flush your “swamp” run-off into the public sewer system (perhaps after processing through a settling tank, filtering, or some other such mechanism) you need to be aware of which materials you can and cannot mix in your wash-out system. For instance, I once saw the results of a print shop ignoring a warning that they couldn’t mix Varsol (used as an ink remover) and an SBQ (Styryl Basolium Quarternary) photopolymer one-part emulsion. The Varsol solidified the emulsion until the drainage pipes were completely clogged and had to be torn out and replaced.

A small washout tank.

When you are starting out and a separate and well-equipped “swamp” is not possible, a small stand-alone unit might be a good initial option. But even if this is not possible then there are temporary alternative ways of washing out and reclaiming screens. However, budgeting for at least a washout tank and pressure washer will make your life and production a whole lot easier. A separate, well-equipped “swamp” would of course be better still.

Talk to any of the Stanley’s folk at one of the four branches about your washout and reclaiming options. They can help with the equipment and chemicals you’ll need.

Positive language and irritable customers

The thumbnail version:

  • The language you use with a complaining customer is important
  • Negative language will compound the customer’s frustration
  • It’s a keep-or-lose the customer proposition

The full version:

While we’re railing against sloppy business practices (see previous post about ghosting inquiries via your website) let’s throw in dealing with irritable customers as well.

You decide which route to take if you want to keep the complaining customer.

An irritable customer doesn’t want to listen to explanations about why you cannot do anything for them; they want to hear what you are going to do for them. And the language you use is critical to the reaction you can expect. For instance, using any words or phrases that suggest that the problem is the customer’s fault (even if it is), or that the customer has to solve the problem themselves, or that you’re not able to address their concern for any reason whatsoever, is not a good idea.

So don’t say things like, “You have to . . .” or “I want you to . . .” or “Why don’t you . . .”, and so forth. Say things like, “I’m going to . . .” or “I can do this right now . . .” or “I’m going to work on this until it’s solved, can I call you back shortly?”

There are many aspects to handling customers’ complaints and concerns effectively, but positive language is one of the more important ones.

Now, that being said, you will run across the odd unreasonable, rude customer that cannot be pleased under any circumstances, no matter what you do. These are the ones where you want to take a deep breath, calm down, and politely encourage them to go deal with your competition by “admitting” that you’re obviously not capable of satisfying them.


Don’t ghost your “Contact” page inquirers!

The thumbnail version:

  • If you don’t answer inquiries via your “Contact” page promptly, you’re losing business.

The full version:

What do I have to do to get you to answer my inquiry?

If you think you’ve seen this here before, you’d be right. And you’ll probably see it here again in the not too distant future. This is because businesses just don’t seem willing or able to do this very simple but important thing—promptly answering inquiries made from prospective customers via their website “Contact” pages.

What is the point of the “Contact” page on your website if you don’t pay any attention when people use it? It seems to be a maddeningly common problem regardless of business type and size.

So here’s a simple way to differentiate your shop from the competition . . .  Make it yours or somebody else’s job to check for email inquiries off your website at least twice a day and to answer them right away. A prompt answer from a real person (not an automated response), even if it is just to say that the inquiry has been received and you’ll respond in detail shortly, is way, way better than no answer at all. And waiting a day or two to respond is as good as not responding at all in this impatient society.

“Ghosting” your next potential big-order inquiry is a really dumb way to do business.

Setting up a small textile screen shop — #4 in series

The thumbnail version:

  • A decent exposure unit is an essential item of equipment
  • You have research to do

The full version:

I once heard a screen printer explain how he exposed screens when he started out in a small shop in Hawaii. He said that his dark room was a grass hut and his exposure mechanism was a grass curtain in the ceiling that he drew back with with a cord and  pulley mechanism. The sun was his light source. This was how he burnt images into his coated screens.

Not an ideal dark room

He had figured out the length of time he had to draw back the curtain and “expose” the screen. Obviously unconventional, and definitely not recommended. First of all, Canada is not Hawaii, but secondly, we want to start you off using the right equipment because you can be sure that your competitors are not drawing back a reed curtain to expose their screens!

An exposure unit built by a reputable manufacturer is an essential piece of equipment. Quality matters. Precision matters. You also have to decide between a bulb unit, a UV unit, and an LED unit. LED units are a little more expensive but worth the investment because they last longer than UV bulbs, they use much less power, and the stencils are sharper.

Do your research. Ask the folk at Stanley’s; they can help and advise.

Finally, if the investment is a bit steep when you’re starting out, use a screen-burning service until you’re ready to make the investment in a good exposure unit.

HSBC webinar — the 2021 outlook for small business

The thumbnail version:

  • You need to hear an expert on the outlook for 2021 for small business

The full version:

Today HSBC hosted a webinar for small business owners about the outlook for the rest of 2021.

The key speaker, Ray Kong, highlighted some interesting points. Here are some of them in summary:

  • Contrary to what we’re frequently told, we’re NOT in this together. Some are worse off than others and some are actually thriving. You need to understand where your customers are on this scale of horrible to great.
  • A digital presence is a must. Though it’s not all digital or all brick and mortar, it’s a combination.
  • Surveys are finding that 75% of Canadians favour buying local. You need to make it as easy as possible for your customers to do so.
  • Consumers are looking for businesses who have set about differentiating themselves via socially-responsible and noble causes. he cited a textile company,  Mungo of South Africa, as an example.
  • Sample your business from the outside as a customer would. Fix what wouldn’t please you if you were a customer.

This is all good stuff and well worth taking seriously.