Garment Printing: The Next Plan Up Your Sleeve
In an industry rife with convergence, it is getting harder and harder for commercial printers to differentiate themselves. In the SGIA-sponsored study, “Convergence in the Print Industry: Understanding Growth Opportunities and Competition,” 95% of printers across all segments see opportunities for growth by looking at other industry niches. One of those niches beginning to get attention is garment and dye-sublimation printing, with 17% of commercial printers already researching the segment and more likely to follow.
Traditionally, garment printing wasn’t necessarily a service that commercial printers offered. But as more and more brands seek to consolidate print work into a single source where possible, shops that have the capability to say “yes” to anything, from marketing brochures to t-shirts to unusual fabric projects, will have an advantage.
The ability to meet customer requests, no matter how unusual they are or how demanding the project, is a big driving factor for many commercial printers that have already taken the plunge into garment printing successfully.
“If you want a glowing green lizard costume under black light, or a backlit fabric light box that can react to color changing modules, we can do it,” says Jason Ahart, COO of Lympus Group, a 200-person operation with locations in both Milwaukee and Orlando, Fla. “If you want 10,000 custom-designed retail fabric displays that all look the same, whether it is the first one or the 10,000th, no problem!”
Don’t Leap Without Looking
But while garment and dye-sub printing might be exciting and spark a lot of creative ideas, shops not currently offering any soft signage products should take the time to do the research upfront before investing in any equipment or marketing.
Steven McKee, owner of Heritage Screen Printing in Warminster, Pa., notes that getting into this business is about more than just installing a new press and jumping right in. To successfully launch a garment printing service, commercial printers need to make sure they know exactly what they need and how they are going to use it.
“Do your homework, speak with manufacturers of the equipment, and try to see how they work in person before you buy,” McKee says. “Also look at everything else you may need: heat presses, dryers, compressors; it all adds up quickly.”
However, don’t limit that homework to the vendors. It might seem obvious, but too many shops jump into a new market without first checking to see if it is something their current customer base wants and needs. A new service can and should expand a commercial printing establishment’s reach to new clients, but the best place to start is with the brands and print buyers who already use and trust that shop’s services.
“Conduct a survey of local businesses and current customers to find out their needs,” advises Wade Walker, GM of San Francisco-based Ashbury Images. “This will help in the decision making in regards to equipment and overall throughput. It will enable you to be the most cost-efficient as possible right from the beginning.”
Capturing the Opportunity
Organic growth is a strategy that will allow commercial printers to dip their proverbial toes into the water before jumping into a massive marketing and sales effort. Once the equipment is in place, going to current customers and offering additional products is a great way to see a garment printing business get a foothold.
“If you are already talking to a customer doing a banner or sign for an event, [printed garments] can be an easy add-on for that same event,” says Tim Check, product manager, Professional Imaging, Epson. He points out that producing t-shirts for a local event you’re already printing banners for is a great way to cement your shop as a source not only for quality print work, but also for creative ways to make the overall project more successful.
“It’s a great way to get additional business revenue - and you don’t have to go very far,” Check continues. “You are already talking to that customer, and now you can provide more of a one-stop solution, with even more products and offerings.”
Getting into garment printing is also a way to replace revenue lost from other sides of the business. It is no surprise that for some commercial printers, online printers that compete on price have commoditized some products. The challenge has been to find new business opportunities, and garment printing can be one way to replace those lost dollars. This is especially true since many shops’ current customer bases likely need printed garments and are sourcing them elsewhere.
According to Arthur Verwey, senior product marketing manager, Specialty Printer Div., at OKI Data Americas, many clients of commercial printers already need shirts and other fabric items. “It’s [often] the same customer.”
Verwey sat down and did an ROI comparison with one commercial printer, and determined that the shop could average an additional $1,500 a week in revenue producing just 20 shirts. It became an easy add-on item, allowing the commercial printer to capture more business from existing clientele. It also represents a good business model of how to start out small with garment printing, which can then be scaled up as expertise and demand become more complex.
Develop a Plan as a First, Important Step
The business model is just as important as the equipment itself. Commercial printers are no strangers to making sure there is a plan in place to market and sell various print products but, when leaping into a new market like garment printing, it is even more important. Crossing over into new industry segments requires thought and planning to ensure the investment pays off. It doesn’t matter how high the quality of the work is, how charismatic the sales team is or how well-thought-out the equipment purchase is - without a plan, it could end up being a waste of time and money.
“Know who you are going to market it to, and if any of your competitors already offer this service,” advises Ali Banholzer, owner of MOSD LLC, based in Huntingtown, Md. “Without a good business plan, you have just added an expensive hobby.”
One place to start this research - both into the equipment and the business opportunities around garment printing - will be at this fall’s SGIA Expo, which will be held in Las Vegas, Oct. 18-20. It is a chance to talk to multiple vendors, as well as industry peers who have already taken the plunge. And for those who have already invested, the 2018 SGIA Expo serves as a prime source of innovative ideas that commercial printers can bring home and adapt to their own customer bases, providing a jump start to growing a fledgling garment printing business. To register, visit www.sgia.org/expo/2018.
Garment printing has the ability to open up new revenue streams, expand relationships with current customers and give brand owners even more reasons to make their local commercial printer the first stop when any new project comes along. Shops that jump into this space with a solid plan in place and the patience to see it through will be rewarded for their efforts.
Lympus Group’s Ahart summed up the opportunities in garment printing best, noting, “It may mean venturing outside of your comfort zone and trying something that you may not do in your current shop; but it is worth it.”