A story with a message

Here’s Graham at Stanley’s Calgary branch a few days ago . . .

Keep it clean.

“We had a customer yesterday who desperately needed a repeat of a  gallon of red plastisol ink he’d had before. Usually this is no problem at all. As long as we have the Wilflex colour’s name or the 5-digit code, we can mix the exact match and have it ready in a few minutes. But in this case there was a problem.

He could no longer read the bucket label because of sloppy house-keeping procedures — it had been destroyed by first messing ink all over it and then probably trying to wipe it down with a solvent cleaner, who knows? Anyway, when this happens we have to try to identify which red it is from past records or try to colour match it by eye. This is time-consuming and sometimes difficult depending on the colour.

The lesson? In order to prevent contamination of colours and avoid ending up with buckets of mysterious, unnamed colours, remember that cleanliness is next to godliness when working with plastisol inks.”

Well said.


A tip for you

Select your Polyester ink carefully.


Polyester doesn’t just mean a single type of fabric anymore. There are different types of Polyesters on the market now. Light-weight inners, light and heavy-weight outer garments, single or multiple layers, weatherproof outerwear, suitable for sublimation, and so forth. These different Polyesters along with the usual Polyester bleeding issues, require the right ink. Select your Polyester ink carefully.

Mixed media could give your shop a boost

As we have mentioned here many times before, your textile shop is in a competitive market. Being a “me-too” shop is not the way to gain a competitive advantage. This is why “get-ahead” textile shops are always looking for a way to differentiate themselves from the competition; looking for something different to splash all over social media.

Something that can give your shop an edge is mixed media — printing combined with embroidery, rhinestones and printing, applique, tone-on-tone, to name just a few combinations.

Joint venture with someone to produce mixed media.

One doesn’t see a lot of this and the reason might be that printers assume that they’ll have to acquire equipment and expertise to accommodate the additional mediums. And while it’s appropriately cautious to not invest in equipment for something that’s experimental (at least initially), it doesn’t mean that you can’t experiment with mixed media. All you have to do is sub-contract or joint venture with others who have the equipment needed to produce the aspects of mixed media designs that you don’t have.

Think about it — some in the textile industry are talking about an increasing demand for mixed media decorated garments. This might give you an opportunity to get ahead of the competition and leave it to the “me-too” crowd to catch up.


Re-labeling as a specialty

Re-labelling of Tees and other imprintable  garments is not new. But it requires unpicking, removal of the original label, insertion of the replacement label and re-sewing. This has always been quite the labour-intensive process and demands a compelling reason to remove the original label to justify it. Later when direct-printed or transfer-applied labels came along it made the task a little easier but there was still a lot of unpicking and re-sewing seams involved.

All of this gave rise to specialist re-labelling services.

Then tear-aways came along and made the whole re-labelling process a lot easier. In the UK, embroidery and print shops have been demanding tear-away labels from manufacturers in their stock styles. This allows embroiderers and printers to bypass re-labelers by simply tearing out the original label and direct-printing or transferring a printed label.

But tear-aways have not meant the end of re-labeling specialists because while some only want their label to identify their brand, others at the upper end of the market want it to be an integral part of the aesthetics of the garment. The latter group are keeping labelling specialists in business.

How much does labelling play a part in your shop and brand?


A tip for you

Don’t overdo the squeegee strokes.




If you have a manual press and you’re relatively new to textile screen printing, you may be struggling with the number of strokes of the squeegee you need to get a decent print. You don’t have to “work” the ink into the garment. One stroke should do it but if you need additional coverage you can do a second stroke but do it in the same direction of the first stroke.

The humble Tee can still stir things up

Tees can still pack a powerful message.

CBC reported about ten days ago how a Tee with the simple message “The Future is Female” caused a much bigger stir than it was intended to do.

A student in Guelph, Ontario was told by one of her teachers that the Tee was inappropriate because it might make some boys feel uncomfortable, Yes, I know, poor little snowflakes!

Well, the student was upset enough about it to talk with her parents. Then she wrote a letter to the teacher, gave it to her, and posted it on Facebook. The result was swift and support for the student and her T-shirt took off. Fellow students, including boys, are buying the Tee and the principal told her that she was free to wear the shirt and stand up for her rights.

Here is one quote: “We at the school board would also like to applaud this student for her message on what this shirt means to her, explaining the intended movement behind the shirt and how it stands for many things, including equality, empowerment, and support for female health and well-being worldwide.”

Besides affirmation that this simple garment we print on every day still carries a punch, there is the business side of it. Find a message that resonates, stir things up a little, and you could have a winner.

A tip for you

You can’t print like this.

This is a particularly good tip if you’re new to screen printing. Keep ink off your hands while printing. Plastisol has a sneaky way of finding it’s way to where you don’t want it to be, particularly when you’re inexperienced. It finds its way onto container sides, lids, work surfaces, squeegee handles, frame edges, and then onto your hands. Once on your hands it’s only a matter of time until unwanted smudges begin to appear on your garments. So, be fanatical about cleanliness.

Creative Tee graphics

A great T-shirt design for book lovers.

As you know, one great T-shirt design idea can lead to another great idea, and then another great idea, and then . . .  So here’s a great idea that you may not want to copy but in an industry always looking for a graphic edge on the competition, it may lead you to another great idea.

I found a 2014 Gizmodo article about this design idea for Tees and bags. It taps into a large market of readers, book clubs, book stores, libraries, and authors.

The Tee or bag depicts a particular book with an all-over print of an excerpt from the book in the background and the image consisting of white space and text.

One way to generate ideas like this one could be to identify a sector of society or an interest group and then think of a design that would appeal to them. People like to be identified with their interest groups and Tees and bags are one way of doing this. There are artists groups, dog clubs, gardening associations, and a host of other interest groups. You already have the technology now all you need is a little research, a little creativity, and some luck to come up with a winner.

A tip for you

Don’t overdo the flashing!


Don’t become a flash cure addict. Almost anyone can get a good print by curing between each colour — it covers up issues like thick ink, poor artwork overlays, etc. But it slows production down. Overcome the flashing habit and speed up production with good artwork, the correct mesh, the right ink viscosity, and only the number of strokes needed (not too many). Only flash when absolutely necessary.


You could be printing on North Korean Tees

Rockets supported by Tees?

The BBC recently reported on what amounts to a T-shirt manufacturing scandal. It seems that while U.N.-backed sanctions prohibit anyone trading with North Korea in commodities like gold, coal, and weapons, T-shirts were overlooked.

According to the BBC report, T-shirt manufacturers in China have been shipping materials over to North Korean factories who produce Tees and then ship them back to China. The North Korean Tees are then exported by the Chinese manufacturers after being labelled ‘made in China.’

Apparently this has helped North Korea maintain a $725-million textile industry.

It seems that this cross-border trade is motivated by the usual suspect — greed. Western consumers are greedy for cheap Tees. Retailers oblige by screwing local manufacturers and source cheap tees in low-wage jurisdictions like China. But the Chinese manufacturers, not to be outdone in the greediness stakes, screw their own garment workers by sending the work to North Korea where it can be manufactured cheaper still.

Now, before you proffer the free-market argument, consider the real losers here — all the garment workers including those who end up with the work in North Korea. One wonders how much of their work translates into basic necessities and how much translates into rockets. But we lose too. In a bizarre way, our greed for cheap tees, could be undermining our security.

The frustrating thing is that there is very little Canadian screen printers can do about it, short of refusing to print on garments manufactured in China. And can you see this happening?


A $23K T-shirt

If you’re in the T-shirt business how could a headline like this not catch your eye?:

“Supreme T-shirt Featuring Image Of Donald Trump Has Sold For $23K.”

I’ll have that Donald Trump T-shirt please!

Let’s face it, the backbone of our industry is a cheap, bottom-of-the-fashion-chain, piece of cotton cloth that serves equally well as a garment as it does a car-cleaning rag or the dog’s bedding. So how does a Tee come to be worth $23K, or even the $1.5K it sold for just nine months before it re-sold for $23K?

Well, first it has to be deemed collectible by someone apparently with more money than sense. Then to be deemed collectible all it seems to have to do is sport the name of a line of garments known to only produce limited editions and feature someone “famous”. If the image is a design by someone also “famous”, so much the better.

And that’s how this Tee became a $23K collectible — it has all the necessary ingredients. It is a super-rare Tee produced by Supreme (of the famous limited edition reputation and box logo) with a design of a “famous” person by a “famous” artist, in this case the Russian artist and activist, Andrei Molodkin.

If, like me, you still don’t understand why anybody would pay $23K for a Tee-shirt, even a rare one, then perhaps this explanation by a consumer psychologist will help: “We collect articles or resources to survive, but survival doesn’t only rest upon what we need physically. We need, psychologically, to distinguish ourselves. In the past, tribes would decorate themselves with feathers or precious stones to set them apart from other tribe members and attract potential mates. In the same way, collecting Supreme really allows people to build their identities with rare objects.”

I wonder how many “potential mates ” a Donald Trump Tee will attract?

A tip for you

Always stir your ink before using it.



Plastisol gets a little thicker when it sits around in the container. You should be in the habit of always stirring ink before using it — you never know for sure how long it has been sitting idle. Another reason to always stir is that you’ll quickly establish if it needs a thinner before you scoop it into the screen. But be careful about adjusting white inks because additives can change their vital properties.

Penny-pinching is not smart business.

Generosity is good business.

Penny-pinching is bad business. Generosity is good business.

Listen to Jimmy Hickey of hugely successful Findlay Hats: “Lets say we’re running a trade show and we run into someone who’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve been buying your hats from day one. Here’s the hat I bought from you guys the fist month you came out. This is one of the oldest hats in existence.’ As a way to reward that guy for his loyalty, we’ll like, ‘Choose any hat you see here. You can have it.’ That’s going to further dedicate that person to our brand and keep them coming back as a future customer.” Hickey is smart.

Here’s a story about someone not quite as smart as Hickey. I was recently dismayed to discover that my favourite art supply store was no longer offering free cookies. My first stop in the store had always been the cookie plate intended for the pleasure of customers, art class attendees, and staff. Then it disappeared.

As an ardent student of small business management (and a cookie addict), I conducted inquiries. It turned out that the owner had canned the cookie plate because she felt that some people were overdoing it a bit. I should mention that these were not gourmet cookies. At about $3.00 for a pack of 44 cookies they were among the cheapest on the shelf at the nearby grocery store.

But cookie quality is not the point—we liked them regardless. I think I can speak for the customers, art students, and staff alike when I say that it is the gesture we miss, not just the cookies. Something for free (doesn’t matter what it is or how small it is) gives pleasure and creates a feeling of well-being. It says: “Thanks for visiting my store and thanks for doing business with me.” It reflects well on the business and is therefore smart business.

So I think the art store owner, who in every other way is an astute business person, has made a mistake. For no more than $90 a month (less than a dinner out for two) she has backed away from an opportunity to bolster goodwill among her customers, students, and staff. And it’s not about the momentary pleasure of a single cookie; it’s about the lasting impression. It’s about the gesture.

As for the over-doing-it concern, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to control consumption by putting out just one pack a day. For anyone arriving after the cookies for the day were all gone, a plate with a few crumbs still speaks to generosity, whereas, no plate at all, does the opposite.

As Findlay Hats has demonstrated — even a small gesture of generosity is smart business. When last have you given away a few Tees to delight your customers? Why not give every visitor to your shop a gift of a hat or Tee, even if it’s a promotional hat or Tee for your business? Come on, you know it will only cost you a couple of bucks. Try it — you’ll be surprised how much goodwill and business it will return.

Credits: Felix Thea, Shopify and www.findlayhats.com


A tip for you

Thought of discharge printing lately?



Given any thought to discharge printing recently? Why not? A one-colour discharge print can be very appealing graphically and it has no hand at all. It may intrigue some of your customers and give them design ideas that could result in result in printing orders for your shop.

Time to plan for winter shipping

Ha, ha! I’ve ordered my winter supplies!

Winter is just around the corner and, as we all know, the Canadian winter brings with it shipping problems. But, a bit of advanced planning can save a lot of headaches.

Plastisol inks are not bothered by even Canada’s coldest temperatures provided they’re given a chance to warm up to room temperature and stirred well before you attempt to use them. And, by the way, impatiently thawing containers on the dryer or by some other heat source is not a good idea. You could trigger a gelling reaction in the bucket, particularly if you get distracted and leave the bucket there for longer than you should.

The products most sensitive to freezing are emulsions, water-based inks, and certain chemicals. Emulsions in particular will separate when thawed after freezing and cannot be reconstituted once that happens. Water-based inks run the same risk. So there are a number of reasons why ordering in a winter stock of emulsions, water-based inks, and chemicals makes sense. At 35 degrees below zero they’ll freeze solid in a short time. I once saw 55- gallon drums of emulsion freeze solid in the course of a direct truck trip from Texas to Calgary — it doesn’t take long.

Some shippers offer heated service but it’s of course quite a bit more expensive than regular shipping. And heated service has been known to fail if a vehicle breaks down or if the shipper is careless about overnight storage. Also, heated shipping is usually only offered between main centres. So if you’re outside a main centre, say, in a rural area, your winter shipments are at risk even if you request heated shipping.

All of this is just not worth the cost and hassle. Call Stanley’s and discuss your winter needs with them: Cambridge – 1 877 205 9218; Calgary – 1 877 661 1553; Edmonton – 1 888 424 7446; Richmond – 604 873 2451

A manual squeegee tip for you

Watch your squeegee angle!



Pulling the squeegee at too sharp an angle fails to move all the ink through the mesh. Generally, you should aim for a 75° angle. As you flatten the angle more, you create a higher transfer of ink by increasing the surface contact. However, when you create a higher transfer of ink you can lose edge definition in the print. So, the angle of the squeegee is important in producing excellent prints.

Hats haven’t evolved for years? Not true . . . (Part II)

An example of a Findlay hat.

In the last post we saw how Findlay Hats came up with a modification to the standard hat that’s capturing the imagination of the market. According to Felix Thea’s report for Shopify, a single Reddit post went viral and resulted in $28,000 in sales.

It turns out that this success story has more to teach than just how innovation can make a ho-hum product exciting enough to catch the attention of a large audience and drive sales.

Findlay Hats is a lesson in online marketing. Backstopping the integrated online marketing drive is the e-commerce website. This is where you go to find out more about the hats, some history, a few entertaining tidbits, and most importantly, it’s where you buy them. Check out the site for a good example of a focussed, single-product site. It’s user-friendly and efficient.

Social media platforms are used to promote Findlay Hats and to drive customers to buy on the website. The product was first tested on the founder’s Instagram account where he showed a design of the hat and asked if people would buy it if he made it. The response was so encouraging that he went ahead. Then, as we already know, a single viral post on Reddit resulted in sales of $28,000. Finlay Hats also has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, and LinkedIn.

This is a tale that should serve as a lesson in integrated online marketing for textile screen printers who plan to succeed long term in this competitive environment.



A fun fact for your shop

Create magic moments for your customers



Disney allows its employees to create “magic moments” for their guests. If an employee spots an opportunity to do something special for a guest, they’re authorised to do it without hesitation. It’s one of the small things that has made Disney a great success. Do you look for opportunities to create magic moments for your customers? Are your employees encouraged to do it too? It’s the small gestures that charm customers and keep them coming back.

Hats haven’t evolved for years? Not true . . .

I once suggested to a textile printer that he should consider diversifying into hats. I explained that I’d just been visiting a rural printer who seemed to be making a killing with hats, embroidering them and applying heat transfers. It seemed a natural companion to T-shirt decorating since the technology is virtually identical. It might require buying a cap press but surely an investment of between $500 and $1,000 is a very small barrier to entry. For an embroiderer it simply means acquiring cap frames.

The printer looked at me in the way you look at people when they’ve just said something so outrageous that you wonder about their sanity: “Do you know how saturated the market is with hats?”

“Yes, but they all look the same,” I said. “Why don’t you look around for an unusual hat design and with some unusual graphics you could perhaps come up with something the market hasn’t seen?”

“Listen, dude. A hat is a hat is a hat. Always has been, always will be. There’s nothing you can do to make a hat different from every other hat. You can’t make money selling hats.”

Well, he was wrong on both counts. A hat is not necessarily just a hat. And you can make money selling hats. An Oregon hat manufacturer, Findlay Hats, has proved it.

According to a piece written by Felix Thea for Shopify, the founder of Findlay Hats, Jimmy Hickey, came up with a modification to the standard hat that made it distinctive and unique. He lost his favourite hat rafting on a river when he was barely a teenager. The next time he went rafting he secured his hat on his head with a modification involving shoe laces. It wasn’t until about nine years later that he used the idea to create the Finlay hat.

An example of a Findlay hat.

The Findlay hat has a decorative lace across the front just below where the imprint or badge would usually go. The lace can be untied to fit under the chin to secure the hat when you don’t want it coming off and getting lost. There’s also a hidden pocket to hold cash and cards.

So, even something as basic as a hat can be made exciting and capture the imagination of the market. The Findlay hat certainly did — just one Reddit post that went viral boosted sales by $28,000.

Next post will be about how Findlay Hats uses the internet and social media platforms to drive its success.

Contact info: Findlay Hats

A bright idea! Dissolvable screen tape.

A bright idea . . . dissolvable screen tape!

Geoff McCue, independent inventor, has announced that he has signed an agreement to sell one of his patented inventions, dissolvable screen tape. The buyer is Kiwo, his former employer.

Geoff decided that Kiwo has the R&D and manufacturing expertise to bring the tape to market a lot faster than he could.

This screen tape does not have to be removed from a screen, instead it dissolves along with the stencil during the reclaiming process. It’s bound to be attractive to printers who detest handling the expended tape and removing the adhesive residue left on the frame. It sounds like another labour-saving productivity improvement.

There has been no word from Kiwo yet on when this dissolvable tape will be available but as soon as Stanley’s has it, an announcement will be posted right here on the blog.

Stay tuned.


Eye-opening sales statistics. But just a minute . . .

I was recently going through my collection of business research material when I came across a table of sales statistics published by the National Sales Executive Association.  I believe I first saw it on LinkedIn. See what you think:

  • 48% of sales people never follow up with a prospect
  • 25% of sales people make a second contact and stop
  • 12% of sales people only make three contacts and stop
  • Only 10% of sales people make more than three contacts
  • 2% of sales are made on the first contact
  • 3% of sales are made on the second contact
  • 5% of sales are made on the third contact
  • 10% of sales are made on the forth contact
  • 80% of sales are made on the fifth to twelfth contact

Okay, so what do you think? Sound plausible to you? Think you can take it at face value and use it to gauge the performance of your shop’s sales effort?

Well, not so fast. First, there’s a valuable lesson to be learnt. And that lesson is to not take anything at face value, to consider the source, to do a little research, and to establish the credibility of the source and the material before you embrace it.

What?! It’s all BS?

For instance, check out these red flags . . .  “sales people” should be “salespeople” and “forth” should be “fourth”. But worse than that, there is no National Sales Executive Association. Askthemanager.com investigated the matter and wrote about it under the heading, “92.6% of LinkedIn Users Believe Made Up Statistics.”

The phoney Abraham Lincoln quote the author uses to make his point, does just that: “The problem with internet quotes is that you can’t always depend on their accuracy.” — Abraham Lincoln, 1864.

So, while you certainly should measure your shop’s sales methods and diligence against statistical norms, just consider the source first.

A tip for you

Use a broad-brush approach for your screen shop marketing.

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.

Frazzled running your screen shop? Have you considered a virtual assistant? – Part II

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):

Your virtual assistant working on the other side of the world while you sleep. But is your data secure?

“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.”

A tip for you

Use the right ink!





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).

Frazzled running your screen shop? Have you considered a virtual assistant?

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.

Not enough hours in the day? Consider a virtual assistant.

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.


A tip for you

A socially-responsible exercise involving your employees..



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).

Using the “decoy effect” in your business

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.

Have you tried the ‘decoy effect’ in your business?

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?