The thumbnail version:
- COVID-19 has forced Imprint’s show to go virtual
- Interest from buyers and exhibitors is enthusiastic
- The show is offering a number of interesting features
The full version:
Attending a show without leaving your desk
In under a month on September 9th and 10th, The Virtual Imprint Canada Show will take place—a first for Canada (if you don’t count the trial run in July).
According to a notice from the organizers, there are already 1,100 registered buyers and 60+ exhibitors. The focus is on the latest product introductions for Fall 2020.
This virtual show will feature the following:
- Industry-wide group text chat “Cappuccino bar”
- Individual exhibitor sales “Welcome to Our Booth” sales video
- Exhibitor booth live text chat
- Seminars/buyer education
- Exclusive show specials
- Hundreds of new products
- Unlimited videos
You can find out more at: http://imprintcanada.com/
“Likes” or sales?
The thumbnail version:
- There are pros and cons to consider before marketing on social media
- There are two very important metrics to keep in mind
- You could be wasting time and money by following the herd
The full version:
Nowadays there seems to be an article every other day with headlines like this: “Social Media Marketing Strategies during COVID-19.” That’s one point of view. Then there’s another such as expressed in the book by BJ Mendelson, Social Media Is Bullshit.
Somewhere between the position that all small businesses should be marketing via social media and the position that they shouldn’t, potentially lies a middle position. That position holds that social media marketing may be somewhat successful for some types of businesses. The key is to establish whether yours is one of those types of businesses; establish whether the cost and time justifies the sales it generates. This is not easy to establish, but establish it you must or your business could end up proving Medelson’s premise.
Social media advocates like to talk about “awareness”, “profile”, and “relationships” in a way that implies they’re good for business, but can seldom demonstrate that they do actually turn into business in sufficient volume to justify the effort. You can’t take “awareness” to the bank. This is a modern-day digital version of the old conundrum in traditional advertising—how does a small business measure the cost/benefit ratio of an advertising campaign? Does “awareness” turn into cash?
When assessing the social media platforms as potential marketing resources for your shop, there are a couple of metrics to keep in mind:
- Numbers of “likes”, “links”, “friends” or “followers” seldom correlate with sales made—they’re for the most part vanity metrics.
- As Mendelson writes: “The only metric that matters for small businesses, artists and entrepreneurs is sales. If you’re not making money, you can’t keep on doing what you’re doing.”
It’s tempting and easy to get caught up in the stampede into social media marketing, but depending upon the nature and circumstances of your business, you may want to take a different and more carefully considered path from the herd.
The thumbnail version:
- Nobody seems to know when post-COVID will be
- Signs point to a longer haul than we all anticipated and hoped for
- There are measures to take as part of planning
- “Change” is beginning to look like an essential planning ingredient
The full version:
The problem with trying to build your business plan for a post-COVID is that nobody seems to know when post-COVID will be or what it will look like. On the plus side New Zealand seems to have it under control and returning to “normal” (have you seen the packed rugby stadiums?) whereas, on the minus side, our neighbours to the south don’t seem to be even close to coping. And also worrisome is that parts of Europe are seeing an uptick in cases again.
Even here in Canada (with the exception of the Maritime provinces) we’re still seeing a few hundred cases and some deaths a day. So how the heck do you build a business plan with such uncertainty? Well, it’s hard and the best you can expect to do is keep your plan fluid and:
- Stay on top of developments by listening to informed opinions
- Stay in touch with your customers so that you know where they stand
- Stay in touch with suppliers to know where they stand
- Look for opportunities resulting from the virus (there are some, such as masks)
- Look for cost-saving opportunities (but don’t compromise your product quality)
- Keep a close eye on overhead expenses and cut where you can
- Keep a close eye on cash flow
- Be aware that your staff are having a hard time too so do what you can to help them
- Consult with experts such as your accountant, financial planners etc.
- Take care of your health (more about this in an upcoming post)
There’s no magic solution and the signs are that the pandemic is far from over (despite what some overly-optimistic writers, ‘experts’, and politicians may be saying), so plan accordingly.
It may be time to remind ourselves what Charles Darwin wrote:
Keisha Greaves was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy which she thought would mean the end of her career in fashion. She’d been a merchandiser for international fashion labels in major department stores. But then, long story short, she plucked up courage and started her own fashion business designing and producing tees and other fashion items.
Her designs reflect her situation and deal with ‘disabled’ and ‘black lives matter’ topics. Now she’s focusing on producing a line of adaptive clothing for disabled people. Greaves’s range and full story can be seen on her website: www.girlschronicallyrock.com
Once in a while a story like this comes along to serve as an inspiration during tough times.
Afraid of COVID-19? Have I got a shirt for you!
An Australian activewear company has been fined $28,000 for incorrectly advertising their garments as “anti-virus activewear.” Implying that a garment can prevent Covid-19 is about as shady as one could get at this time.
We’ve had our share of shady activity in the Canadian industry such as, for instance, printing unlicensed Stanley Cup shirts or unauthorized brand-name garments, but (as far as we know) never have we had something like this that could create a false sense of security. A fake Stanley Cup or Hugo Boss shirt, as inappropriate as it may be, is not going to result in illness or death.
This is a black eye for the Australian industry. Let’s hope nothing like this happens in Canada during this ongoing time of a deadly virus.
Stanley’s customer, Garment Express of Calgary has taken the mask manufacturing and decorating opportunity we’ve been urging for months by producing a 100 percent Canadian-manufactured mask.
And not only that, they’ve also proved effective at spreading the word.
There may well be other Canadian printers making and printing masks but if they don’t have a way of letting the market know . . .
This is when the importance of an emailing list and a platform like Mail Chimp is obvious. It’s never too late to start building an emailing list.
As you probably know by now there’s been a gradual consolidation of ink brands under one roof over the past few years. We’re talking about the fact that all the most prominent brands that were previously competitors: Wiflex; Rutland; Union; QCM; Printop; and Zodiak; have all ended up under the PolyOne umbrella.
Well now there’s been a further development. PolyOne has acquired Clariant’s Masterbatch business for $1.44 billion. Not only that, but the name of the consolidated business has been changed too. PolyOne is no more. The new expanded business is now known as Avient.
It’s reported that Avient is a new word invented to reflect the company’s commitment to: ” . . . inspiring each other and the world to pursue and achieve our fullest potential.”
Avient put out a statement to say that the new company’s priorities include commitments to work place safety, being a great place to work, inclusion and diversity, leading in sustainability, investing in innovation, operating globally and serving locally, leveraging customer service as a differentiator, and promoting shareholder value.
Yes, it’s in the U.S., but it is in our industry and therefore appropriate to point to as an example of why we all need to take local COVID-19 regulations (and just plain common sense) seriously at this time.
On the Los Angeles Apparel’s website you can find this commendable statement: “We are contrarians, deeply focused on sustainability and efficiency in order to advance the interests of our customers, our workers, our shareholders, the community, and the world.”
However, CNN has reported that the Los Angeles County Department of Health shut down Los Angeles Apparel last week and noted that: “Business owners and operators have a corporate, moral and social responsibility to their employees and their families to provide a safe work environment.” In other words, they disagree that Los Angeles Apparel was advancing the interests of its workers.
The problem? Over 300 positive COVID-19 tests and 4 deaths at the factory. Apparently the “non-compliant” cardboard barriers between workers didn’t cut it.
Is your shop complying with the federal, provincial, or local COVID-19 guidelines? Besides being the proper thing to do, you don’t want authorities turning up and shutting your shop down.
Ultimately it’s not what you see at first. . . It’s money.
There was once an occasion when I needed some way of demonstrating why it was important to always be aware of inventory (in this case inks and chemicals) sitting aging on a warehouse shelf. I needed to change a mindset.
This is what I did during a staff meeting . . . I fetched an old gallon container of plastisol ink from the warehouse (where it had been sitting for a couple of years) and placed it in the middle of the meeting room table. I asked if anyone could tell me what they saw. Judging by the puzzled expressions I’m sure some thought I’d lost my marbles. Then someone decided to play along and stated what seemed to be the obvious: “I see a dusty gallon bucket of ink.”
It gave me the perfect opening to make my point: “I see about $50.” I explained: “If on that spot on the shelf there were two twenties and a ten, would we leave it lying there year after year gathering dust? Of course not, because there are better things to do with money than leave it lying around. So see the bucket as $50, not just as a dusty bucket of ink.”
Take a stroll through your shop or warehouse. See how much “money” is lying around and can be put to better use. Change the mindset.
Online design-and-order sites such as this one from Canva—are they competition that traditional brick-and-mortar textile shops should be concerned about in this “new normal” or a concept to be copied?
“Create your own t-shirts
Bring your designs to life with Canva. Our new t-shirt templates allow you to print on both the front and back, so you can have some fun creating and wearing your design. Perfect for individuals who want unique t-shirts or for bringing teams together.
We’ve also improved the quality of the material, sizes and now use more eco-friendly inks, clothing, and ways of transporting your prints to you. Delivery is free as standard, so once you’ve designed your t-shirt, sit back and wait for your creation to turn up. We’ve made printing simple.”
In this COVID-19 “new normal” any potential business-boosting idea is worth considering. Could the concept grow into something bigger than a one-off shirt service? Is it a way to connect with large customers in the future?
Check it out at the Canva website: Click here.
You might not know this but the receipts printed out at cash registers, ATM machines, boarding passes, and other similar machines contains BPA (bisphenol), a carcinogen best known for being in some plastics and in the lining of some food cans. But this is not about BPA, it’s about how chemicals are handled in your shop.
Read this excerpt from Dr. Neal Barnard’s book, Your Body In Balance, and then answer the question at the end. It could make a difference to the health of everybody working in your shop.
“So the Harvard research team did a new study. They asked volunteers to print and handle cash register receipts over a two-hour period. If they wore gloves, nothing happened. There was no absorption of BPA. But when the volunteers handled receipts without gloves the BPA passed straight through their skin into their bloodstreams. Urine samples showed that BPA levels increased fivefold over the next four to twelve hours.”
Keep ink and chemicals off your skin.
Here’s the question . . . If the skin is that porous and BPA passes into the bloodstream this easily, what is happening when ink and chemicals are handled in your shop without gloves?
It’s tough times now as print shops slowly get going again after the shut-downs and lock-downs. And “tough times” in the end is just a euphemism for “cash flow concerns.” And the first thing we do when faced with cash flow concerns is look for where we can cut costs. And where do we look? At the most visible items such as materials and consumables like inks, chemicals, and emulsions. That’s a mistake.
List everything that can be improved for cost savings. Make the changes.
It’s a mistake because there are not-so-visible items that can bring you greater cost savings without damaging your brand by compromising the quality of your work with cheaper materials.
Look in the print shop for inefficiencies. Are you investing in an inventory of dead ink by buying in quantities in excess of what you need and then never using those colours again? Why don’t you have a mixing system that does away with an inventory of excessive, dead ink? Staff time is expensive, so check to see if the shop is laid out to make the best use of staff time. Are your employees working efficiently and producing the maximum output possible in the time you are paying them for?
What about utilities? For example, are you managing your consumption of electricity? What about consumables such as cleaning chemicals? Are they being used efficiently or wastefully?
And don’t just look in the shop. What about the office? Are your routine processes for ordering, billing, paying, bookkeeping, and record keeping efficient? It’s easy for admin functions to lapse into time-wasting, paper-shuffling exercises. There may be more efficient and less costly ways of getting these tasks done.
The real cost savings don’t come from switching to lower-grade materials; that’s counter-productive. Pennies per print isn’t going to do it. With a little effort you’re bound to unearth significant cost savings when you start looking in the not-so-obvious areas.
List them. Do the math. Start with the most beneficial items. Make the changes.
Face mask . . . probably the most obvious place to have a corporate logo noticed.
Face masks are now being produced by applying logo transfers mostly for the corporate market. With current predictions leaning towards a long fight against Coronavirus, face masks are becoming a must-have item of apparel.
And the corporate market looks promising. It shouldn’t take much to convince a corporate PR department that face masks with their logo not only make sense for their employees but are also a great promotional item.
All you need in addition to your standard printing equipment is a heat press (cap presses apparently work well) and you’re in the mask heat transfer business.
Not many businesses can say that the Coronavirus pandemic has benefited them in any way, but this is one that can help textile decorators recover.
Roger Wambolt writing for Image Magazine discusses the AI-powered features in CorelDraw Graphics Suite 2020.
In addition to the various benefits that AI brings to the suite, Wambolt highlights the solution to one particular problem that plagues garment decorators—turning a low-res image into a high-quality, scalable, vector graphic file. And that’s not all; apparently a number of time-consuming, tedious tasks can now be accomplished much faster.
You can download a free trial of CorelDraw Graphics Suite 2020 for MAC or Windows at www.coredraw.com/images
My 20-year-old Tee still going strong.
Coincidentally, while I’m reading a textile screen printer’s view in Images Magazine on what makes a great Tee and why working with great Tees is important to to him, I’m wearing my favourite Tee—a soft and comfortable grey Roots Tee with a simple (appropriately faded) pocket print that I’ve been wearing for over twenty years.
So naturally I begin to muse about why I instinctively love my old Roots Tee and how it has managed to last this long. The reason of course is that it’s the best-constructed, chunkiest, Tee I’ve ever owned; it’s quite different from the standard Tee nowadays made of fabric that seems thinner than tea bag paper.
Here’s what that printer, Louis Georgia of Essential Embroidery designs in the UK, had to say about his favourite Tee produced by Stanley/Stella Creator Tees: “We get the best quality prints using it. The weave is tight which means that you don’t really get any fibrillation, leaving a silky smooth final print. Plus, it is made from organic cotton and has great eco credentials. Most of our work is in the corporate market and large corporates love this tee because of its eco credentials and sound supply chain, not to mention being a great fashion fit.”
I’ve checked and, unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a supplier of Stanley/Stella Tees in Canada. But this shouldn’t deter you from searching out a similarly high-quality locally-produced garment for your shop as a way of differentiating from the competition.
Matching masks and Tees available from katebeckneworleans.com
As the Coronavirus pandemic rolls on and the battle against it shows some encouraging progress, the end is not yet in sight by any means. In fact, there is talk of a second wave already. All of this suggests that masks are going to be with us for some time. And this, as we’ve been reporting, is providing an opportunity for textile screen printers.
Masks are rapidly morphing from a nuisance item to a popular cousin of the T-shirt for it’s ability to convey a message. Some are going so far as to make a fashion statement by being matched in pattern and colour with outfits. Google “matching masks and T-shirts” for examples.
The point of course is that this is a potential market for Canadian textile decorators hit hard by the impact of Coronavirus over the past three months.
Its a no-brainer for a creative textile shop, particularly now that special pallets are available for mass-printing masks.
Now THAT is a good idea!
At this time of uncertainty as we all slowly emerge from Coronavirus-induced lock downs and shutdowns, keeping overheads and operating expenses under control should be a priority. This is where a virtual assistant or assistants can be cost effective, particularly in the admin aspects of your shop.
This month’s online edition of Images Magazine addresses the topic by publishing an excerpt from Characters Who Can Make or Break Your Small Business. You can see it on page 19 of the magazine by clicking here and scrolling down. It’s an efficient, cost-saving concept worth considering.
Consolidation was probably inevitable after PolyOne, who already owned the Wilflex brand of plastisol ink, acquired Rutland in June 2017.
Recently on May 20th, PloyOne announced that they were closing the Rutland plant in Pineville, NC and moving operations into the Wilflex plant in Kennesaw, GA. Wilflex, Rutland, and QCM (also owned by PolyOne) are all similarly described as “high quality”, “leading”, and “recognizable” brands. For this and economy of scale reasons the announcement probably hasn’t surprised anyone.
All that remains to be seen now is how far consolidation goes. Is one brand name next?
A recent posting on LinkedIn by Darryl De Ciccio included some really good advice that could be put to use in a textile screen shop:
“Feeling mentally chaotic? I sure have been the past few months. Trying to balance work, family life, and personal life. Take the time to sift through the clutter. Take what you have, organize, prioritize, and set goals for the day. Sometimes just knowing what you have, and being able to see it in a clean and clear perspective, you will have the right tools, and make the right decisions to get the job done. What a feeling!”
We all know he’s right. And the graphic example he included illustrates his point well:
Says it all.
Open or not?
I recently came across a saved 2015 article by Jamie Dunn titled, “Five reasons not to be an entrepreneur.” One of the reasons that applies at this time is inconsistent income.
At this time of uncertainty, in not just the textile screen printing industry but the small business community at large, what he had to say applies as much now as it did then.
Everywhere small businesses are contemplating resuming activity as restrictions are lifted. It’s a good time to pay some attention to this aspect of business ownership in the unknowable circumstances of the “new normal.”
He mentions how a business owner’s income can be inconsistent and how monthly fluctuations can affect your attitude, belief, and lifestyle. I know this to be true but, in addition, the ongoing experience with the Coronavirus shutdown or slowdown (depending where you are) makes the solution he offers so much more pertinent.
Here’s what he had to say: “This can be combatted by ensuring you have some savings buried away in case you don’t earn a penny. My advice? Work out your bare minimum living costs and have at least six months of these costs saved up before you start up.”
Getting back to printing again!
Stanley’s Cambridge office had to shut down as mandated by the Province of Ontario. Meanwhile, Edmonton, Calgary, and Richmond all remained open for business, as we previously mentioned. Now with Cambridge open again, Stanley’s is able to fully support all its customers through all four branches, albeit with certain Coronavirus precautions in place.
Orders should be called or emailed in for shipping or picking up at an agreed time. In the interest of the safety of all while the possibility of infection exists, if you’re picking up an order it will be set aside and ready for you close to the door. Precautions will be in place during the paying process and please keep in mind the two-meter social distancing recommendation by health officials.
Sure it’s all very inconvenient, but if we take the necessary precautions, the better our chances of being back to “normal” sooner rather than later.
Get used to it. Zoom or Blue Jeans virtual meetings with customers and suppliers (maybe even staff working from home) that were already happening on a limited scale and mostly among larger organizations, have taken off thanks to Coronavirus. Now, in another technology-driven development, we have Canada’s first virtual trade show.
This is a natural progression to the “new normal” we are all going to have to adjust to in the post-virus era. In fact, at this stage, we don’t know when the post-virus era might arrive because we are still mired in uncertainty as the virus slows down in some jurisdictions but is accelerating in others.
Back here in Canada the need for trade shows hasn’t gone away but, what the virus has changed, is the way trade shows will be conducted. So, the Imprint Canada Trade Show will be going live September 8th to 11th, 2020. Prior to that there will be a POP-UP virtual event on July 7th and 8th. It’s all explained at the Imprint Canada website.
You need three key things
All regions of Canada are reopening or are at least anticipating reopening. But these are unusual and challenging times and when we reopen things are going to be different from the pre-virus era when we had to suddenly shut down or at least slow down.
You are going to need three key things to effect a successful reopening:
- Safety (social distancing, hand washing, masks, notices etc.);
- Liquidity (cash to operate); and
- Creativity (adjusting to and taking advantage of a changed way of doing business)
If you’re not sure how to deal with any or all of the above, seek advice. They’re all going to be important for your shops’ survival for at least the foreseeable future.
Just yesterday I heard a story about a textile screen printer. It disappointed and bothered me.
You can’t lie around and wait for the “old normal” to return.
In discussing the downturn in business as a result of the virus, he said that he’d just shipped the last order on his board and now didn’t expect to receive any more orders until September. What bothered me about this is the apparent assumption that he had to wait for the rest of the world to eventually beat a path to his door when they were ready. And there was nothing he could do in the meantime.
The message here is that this is the “new normal” in which things are going to be different from the “old normal.” Printers can’t sit and wait for customers to turn up as they might have done before. Some of those customers might not even be around in the “new normal.” And in the old normal there were no face masks to print but right now they’re a hot new item in demand. I’ll bet too that in the “new normal” virus-themed Tees will be in demand. When you think about it, there are all kinds of possibilities for cleverly-designed artwork, even for during-virus Tees.
So, even if you’re in rural area like this Alberta printer, there are things you can do rather than sit and hope that by September things will return to normal. They probably won’t. You’re going to have to adapt to the “new normal” if your shop is to survive.
A recent series of articles in the Globe and Mail about changes we should expect in our personal and business lives used T-shirts as an example while discussing online businesses. So let’s see how the writer, Sean Silcoff, mentioned T-shirts and what his overall message was (one that our industry should heed):
Wow! Look what these guys are offering online.
“Sanagan’s Meat Locker, a butcher shop with two locations in downtown Toronto, has been in business for more than a decade. But only in the past 18 months had it’s owner, Peter Sanagan, begun thinking about an online store. His reluctance to embrace e-commerce had partly to do with his products. Chicken breasts and steaks sourced from local farmers can vary in availability and size, making it harder to figure out pricing than if you’re selling say, t-shirts.”
Long story short, coronavirus drove Sanagan’s online and they now sell “whole chickens, pork butt, and duck liver mousse online for delivery.”
There’s a lesson in this for garment printers. But there’s a challenge too. If you can avoid just being another me-too online T-shirt provider and create a unique market or niche, you could do well in the “new normal.”
Our plans to adjust to whatever ‘normal’ is going to look like must include revisiting our marketing plans. Since we’re going to have to think it all through anyway, we may as well start at the very beginning and remind ourselves what ‘marketing’ actually is.
Here is Allan Dib’s “simplest, most jargon-free definition of marketing you’re ever likely to come across” from his book, The 1-Page Marketing Plan:
“If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying ‘Circus Coming to the Showground Saturday,’ that’s advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that’s promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flower bed and the local newspaper writes a story about it, that’s publicity. And if you get the mayor to laugh about it, that’s public relations. If the town’s citizens go to the circus, you show them the many entertainment booths, explain how much fun they’ll have spending money at the booths, answer their questions and, ultimately they spend a lot at the circus, that’s sales. And if you planned the whole thing, that’s marketing.”
You may have bought into Symplicity Designs “Low Touch Economy” concept and are accordingly planning a transition. Or you may just be thinking ahead to re-opening your shop’s doors and operating as close as possible to the way you operated before. In either case, there are three important considerations. Quoting Symplicity Designs:
- Do you have projections? Will your customers re-engage? Have you asked them? Do you have an offering that is safe and profitable?
- Is your COVID-19 Operational Plan ready? Have you thought about workflow and congested work spaces? Are you ready to train your staff on hygiene and physical distancing? Do you know what PPE you should have? Do you have signage in place that will nudge the right behaviors?
- Are you able to communicate this to your colleagues and customers? Your supply chain is likely decimated. Movement of goods may be slow and expensive. Have you factored that in?”
#1 should be answered and settled before embarking on #’s 2 and 3 because, as Symplicity points out: “No customers, no business. It’s that simple.”
Don’t freeze like a deer in the headlights.
I was in a discussion expressing concern about the fact that while a lot of small business owners were facing uncertain futures the longer this virus situation drags on, they don’t seem to be doing much about it. For instance, they’re registering for helpful (even free) webinars in much smaller numbers than I would have expected.
The response I got was insightful and I want to pass it on (slightly edited): “We talk about the fight or flight options in challenging situations but currently there’s a third option being adopted by small business owners—freeze.” The explanation continued . . . “Most (small business owners) are paralyzed from uncertainty and exhausted by the change. The variables of a fast-spreading pandemic and an economy that was already slowing have collided at dizzying speed. People are also exhausted by the volume of webinars and even if they want to learn, they do not know who to lean on for information. It’s a disorienting time.”
Here are some suggestions for considering your business’s options:
- The freeze option is not an option.
- “Fight” sounds brave and macho but a realistic assessment might suggest “flight”.
- Objective, realistic input by a third party may be what you need.
- An accountant or financial adviser can help you decide between fight or flight.
- Read as much objective material as you can about the economic outlook.
- To understand the virus and its impact, consider the opinions and assessments of scientists.
- Stay in touch with as many trusted and knowledgeable sources as you can about all matters pertaining to the current circumstances.
These are difficult times but, to repeat, freezing in the headlights is not a good option.