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Success Stories with Marshal Atkinson brought to you by S&S Activewear

Episode 13: “It's Time to Hop on the Print-On-Demand Train”

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Episode 13: “It's Time to Hop on the Print-On-Demand Train”
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A Transcript For The Readers:

Marshall Atkinson: 

So Kevin and Shane, welcome to the Success Stories podcast. 

Kevin akley:

Thanks, Marshall. Thanks for having us. 

Shane Snodgrass:

Thanks, Marshall. Happy to be here. 

Marshall Atkinson: 

Great. Thanks, guys. So let's begin with talking about your business, pre-"print on demand.”

You know, what made you consider this as a space that you needed to invest in? So kind of lead us through that kind of origin story of why you're doing this. 

Kevin akley:

Yeah. Sure. So, you know, historically we've been a...just a screen printing and embroidery company, primarily serving the promotional product space with contract printing.

So that was mostly what we were doing. I'd say, about two and a half, three years ago, I was at a conference and ran into another colleague who was in this space already. And it really just seemed like something that seemed too good to be true, especially when you're thinking about how much a product gets wasted and the amount of people that are moving into the space.

We figured it was something we definitely needed to check out.

Marshall Atkinson:

Where did you research? What, what kind of led you to understand the kind of the breadcrumbs that you followed. Do you know what I mean? 

Kevin akley:

Yeah. So, um, you know, first was figuring out DTG. At that time we were not doing any type of direct to garment printing, so that was the first step. We said, “kay, hey, what machine is going to be the best for us?  That's gonna allow us to kind of get into this space without having to sink entirely too much money into it.”

So we looked around at that and then also in conjunction, we looked at, “kay, well, how do you get an order from the internet?” Like an internet store, pair that with a piece of artwork, pair that with a garment, and then get it to the printer.

So that was a pretty long that that was, that was probably the longest stretch and we're still kind of figuring it out, but it was definitely the biggest journey was figuring out that technical logical, uh, logistical side of it. 

Marshall Atkinson:

So thanks, Kevin. So Shane, so you do a lot of the production, that's kind of your role in your partnership there.

So what had you worried about early on and what answers did you find that make you more comfortable and to getting into print on demand? 

Shane Snodgrass:

So to piggyback off of what Kevin had said here, we've been focusing over the last couple of years on internal development to kind of help in automating a lot of this workflow.

So I think some of the hurdles, initially were determining and coming up with some of the parameters and some of the data and how we wanted to see that, how we wanted to digest it into production and into our organization. So looking at step-by-step and kind of looking, what can we automate from an online designer, you know, all the way down to a pallet, as far as, print positioning and image sizing as well as ink consumption based on different types of pieces?

So kind of coming up with that algorithm, we'll say in the front end, was definitely some of the harder work in the initial setup from there. We've been working for again, about two years on internal developments with our software, to be able to kind of automate that experience so that a customer can go on and design a product and start selling immediately. Right? 

nline and, we're taking care of all that fulfillment is kind of a white label experience for them. 

Marshall Atkinson:

And you guys developed your own app. 

Shane Snodgrass:

That that is correct. Yeah. We've developed our own application that integrates with multiple e-commerce platforms as well as a proprietary store builder that customers can utilize.

Marshall Atkinson:

And when you say an online store, you're talking like Shopify or some other thing like that, right? 

Shane Snodgrass:

Yeah, yes. For integrations integrating into preexisting ones like Shopify and Woocommerce, those types of platforms. 

Marshall Atkinson:

Are either one of you guys, an app developer, I mean, how did you do that?

Shane Snodgrass:

No, neither of us come from a development background. So we chose the right team. We have internal developers inside the company now that we work with, obviously closely and, you know, just kind of have built out a good team of developers to really help push that forward.

Marshall Atkinson:

So this has been a two year kind of warm launch. And for all intents and purposes, it's still brand new in your company, correct? 

Shane Snodgrass:

Correct. Yes, it is. 

Marshall Atkinson:

What do you think the biggest problem has been with this development? Is it just because you keep running into a wall and then you have to figure out the solution because it's so new?

Where, where are you finding the answers to this stuff? r do you just have to invent it yourself? 

Shane Snodgrass:

I would say a lot of it is trial by error. Right? Um, a lot of it is just going through it and finding what, what works best. Luckily for us, we have such a background in this industry with decoration that we truly understand that portion of it.

So it's been a lot easier to bring what we're expecting to see from the operations side of it, to the tech side. I think that that kind of really helped us rather than being a tech company that might not understand, the decoration side of it. Right? 

Marshall Atkinson:

That's a good point. And I always say, you know, the decoration part of this sometimes is just the easiest part.

It's all of the other logistics that we really kind of struggle with. But I think in this application, understanding how we need to print, what does our staff need? What information do we need? How do we choose some of the things I think really helps you kind of build what that order looks like from a starting point. so you can push it through production quickly, correct? 

Shane Snodgrass:

That is correct. 

Marshall Atkinson:

kay, awesome. So along the way you faced all these technological hurdles, can you kind of describe those a little bit and how you overcame them? 

Shane Snodgrass:

So to talk on that, I would say some of...most of the hurdles that we've come with is really choosing how we want to develop our applications and then partnering with other applications and kind of creating that communication between all of our systems.

So from the tech side, to succeed in this kind of space, you really want to make sure that you're matching, good WMS with production software that you’ve developed as well as a front experience for the customer.

So really kind of tying in all of the communication between all of those departments and automating the entire experience that's been the largest challenge...setting forth that communication between all the applications.

Marshall Atkinson:

Kevin. So, let's talk about how your understanding of print on demand is evolving from a customer-facing standpoint.

What are the conversations you are having? What problems are you solving from that viewpoint? 

Kevin akley:

Yeah, well, there's, there's quite a few. So first from just a business standpoint, we're always looking to reduce our imprint on the world. There are a few things that we're solving for the customer and internally for us.

Two, we are solving the point of reducing our impact on the world. Because we see that print on demand is going to change the way we look at apparel and the way that we fulfill it. 

ne of those reasons being is we are not printing anything until it's sold. So that also helps the customer because they are no longer dealing with any stock overages or running out of stock.

So first of all, the stock overages, you know, it's really hard to project exactly what people are going to buy. There's still a little bit of a guessing game. Because you don't know if a new design is going to go more towards the extended sizes or maybe it's going to be more on the smaller sizes.

So you're always going to get leftover with something, whether that's 5%, 20%, uh, 15%, we generally hear it's anywhere from 10 to 20% is an average. So that's lost margin because you either have to discount that, or it just sits in a warehouse or in a garage or in a spare bedroom. The second part of it is never being out of stock.

So what does a store look like when you have every single one of your designs and SKUs in stock all the time? 

Well, obviously you're going to convert way more because you're going to allow customers to have more variety and they're never going to be let down. So they're going to come back. So if you always have something in stock, well, then they know, okay, I'm going to come back here to get that other shirt next week.

r, they had everything I needed the next time that they have a drop, we will definitely be coming back. Cause I know they're going to have my size. 

So the conversion rate by print-on-demand is going to dramatically increase how much people can sell online. So many options with apparel, how are we limiting choices or making things more available?

Marshall Atkinson:

Because I mean, you don't want to keep 800 gazillion shirts on the floor. You want to have just enough. So when you get that order for that store, you can pick it and you can print it and you can ship it quickly. Talk about that a little bit, because that seems really confusing. 

Kevin akley:

Yeah. Well, I think this goes back to selling in bulk Generally the general public does not quite understand the difference between some shirts.

So they're coming to you as an expert to say, what is the best shirt for my brand? And as us as experts, when you look at the brand and say, h, well, maybe it's more of a fashion fit, or maybe it's a more of a heavier fit. So it's kind of up to us. 

So what we're doing is we're curating a good list of SKUs that is going to hit every demographic at every price point.

So it's really us coming up with that list and then pitching it to our customers to say, if you are doing this, this is probably the best idea. r the best SKU for you to print your stuff on. kay. And you keep those on the floor or you're just near a warehouse. You can get, bring it in quickly.

What works. Yep. We, every SKU we offer, we have stock on the floor. So, um, some SKUs move faster than others, right? 

Like, uh, a black large is going to move fast. So we go heavier on that versus a purple 3X, but we still have the purple 3X here in stock. So that, when that is ordered, we're able to pick the same day and ship within three days.

Marshall Atkinson:

kay. And so curating the inventory management, that's a service that you guys offer as part of your print on demand program because you're the experts in that. 

Kevin akley:

Yep. Yep. And, just coming from, you know, more of the, I guess like a clothing line, world clothing line companies are very versed on blanks.

Some print on demand stores, people that are using print on demand are not so. Attached to a brand, you know, like Bella Canvas or Gildan, they know of them, but generally, it's more like, okay, what's the good, what's a good fit? 

And what's going to have the deepest stock? They just want to ensure that they're going to be able to fulfill everything.

Marshall Atkinson:

And are you curating your apparel skews? For the print platform because you know, not all shirts, print well DTG, correct? 

Kevin akley:

Yep. That’s another piece of the pie that we take into account. Some colors just don't do well, some blends don't do well, so we take that into account and we don't offer those.

So yeah, we, we have a very curated list that we don't go outside of that list currently. 

Marshall Atkinson:

So Shane with this type of workflow, what is the biggest challenge with getting everything printed, packaged, and shipped out in a timely fashion? I think the logistics in your operation is the hardest part of that.

Shane Snodgrass:

So, there's so many work centers involved in this flow and with print on demand, we need to be hitting our SLA’s (service level agreements), right? 

So we're typically within a three day SLA on our orders. So that's when an order comes in, to shipping it out the door. 

So we obviously have to, uh, pick, um, manage inventory. Do all of the pre-processing as far as, pretreat and so forth, get it on a printer, and then get that product binned or shipped out the door within those three days.

Marshall Atkinson:

So really having the operation...the organization between those work centers, I think is typically the hardest challenge of it. 

You guys are paperless, right? 

Shane Snodgrass:

That's correct. Yeah. In, this, everything is...everything is actually loaded onto a barcode, that we consume. So all of the data for that piece is, is barcoded.

Marshall Atkinson:

So you print a barcode, like a little, like a, you look up the orders, you get the barcode, you print a little sticker and that goes on the shirt. r something like that. So walk us through how that kind of works within your workflow a little bit. 

Shane Snodgrass:

Sure. So, as orders come in from multiple channels, again, we integrate with multiple channels there as orders come in, we are printing barcodes that are assigned to every single piece.

Not necessarily an order because an order might have multiple garments within it. 

ur WMS is then walking us through a stock pick. So it's telling us where in the warehouse to go grab stock and what we need to be grabbed. So that's helping our pullers to be effective and efficient there.

Those barcodes are then applied onto those shirts and that serves as the heart or the brain of that piece at that point...all of the data, as far as artwork and shipping information and any binning information, if we have multiple garments are all associated with that piece and that barcode at that point.

So at every step of the process, whether it be, again, stock picking or whether it be printing or putting the shirt on a dryer, that's all getting a scan so we can see real-time. 

And we're also taking that data and sending it out to all of our customers and their end customers updates on orders as it's happening, real-time on the floor. 

So as that piece is produced that that's sending out a notification that that potentially could make it to the end customer. 

Marshall Atkinson:

kay. And that's a lot of hoops. We got to jump through to get the stuff out the door. And I know from talking with you guys. At peak levels, you guys are doing this 24/7, correct?

Shane Snodgrass:

Correct. Yeah. During peak season, especially around holidays or big events, Q4 as well. Very large. So we are running three shifts. We are running 24 hours a day. 

Marshall Atkinson:

For employees and training and finding people...and especially these days with the whole CVID pandemic, craziness, how are you solving that problem? It seems like that would be kind of an interesting challenge to have.

Shane Snodgrass:

Luckily with this workflow, a lot of the work is automated through our systems. So it gives us an advantage because there's less training required to get somebody up to speed to either, you know, ship, maybe they're doing shipping or maybe they're going to be a DTG operator. 

Because everything's automated, there's a lot less training needed there than like a traditional screen print or embroidery operator that could take years of experience to really understand the technicalities of embroidery and screenprint.

Since so much of this is automated through our systems. If you take a lot of that away from the individual operator and they can focus just on being effective and efficient. Right. So in that regard, it's actually been a little bit easier to help scale up the organization in that department, than it probably would be with traditional, uh, other, you know, other decoration types.

Marshall Atkinson:

kay. That's great. And so Kevin, where do you see print on demand in the next 18 to 24 months? Uh, is it just going to get bigger, and they're going to have more players involved or they're just going to be these giant companies that this is all they do...what do you think? 

Kevin akley:

Yeah, so the statistic keeps moving upwards.

So, you know, when we were in July or August, it said that, uh, you know, the CVID pandemic moved e-commerce up five years. Uh, last check it. They say it moved up closer to like eight years. And what that means is that it's now people who are adopting e-commerce faster in three months, then they thought it was going to take eight years.

So what that means is that people who were first may be apprehensive to sell online, or didn't think that they saw the value or now online selling. 

So you need to not look any further than Shopify. So Shopify is the biggest e-commerce platform for individual sellers. So what they offer is an online store builder platform.

But that's very robust and very powerful, and gigantic companies, you know, some multi-hundred million dollar companies are running their stores through Shopify. 

So if you look at their earnings for the last two quarters, they've doubled their business over 2019. So where I think in 18 months is that trend is going to continue, um, and even ramp up.

Where that comes to print on demand, I think that it's going to become more popular with even a little bit more smaller shops. 

However, I think big players are just going to get bigger and become more well-known and more of like a household name, especially in our industry, because as Shane said earlier in this conversation right now, we're kind of coming from a perspective of printers becoming a technology company.

Where historically in the print on demand space, it's been almost all technology companies being printing companies. 

So there's a lot of people now learning names like Printify or Printful and those types of things because they're, they're becoming gigantic. I think at last glance, you know, Printful is going to be doing $200 million and I think they started in 2015.

So you could just see the exponential growth, because right now, where we're just doing mostly apparel, but print on demand is, can be, can be scaled to almost any product eventually. 

So whether you're selling a phone case, a USB, or a custom all-over suitcase...all those things can all be tailored to print on demand.

It's just going to be a little bit more expensive in the interim.

But within five to 10 years, you're going to start seeing those costs come down as the technology comes, becomes better for you. 

Marshall Atkinson:

You guys, who is your ideal customer that you're building all this stuff for? Cause I'm sure they're listening right now with their ears up, right?

Kevin akley:

Yeah. So, plugging into an existing e-commerce platform, we're looking at small to medium-sized direct to consumer businesses. So whether they're selling apparel or maybe they're selling, you know, drinks or other things, and they can then now add apparel on top of that, because what we're starting to see is that people are becoming very brand-centric. 

So whether they really like beer or they really like coffee or uh, insert whatever, they're going to wear their shirt, you know, if it's a nice shirt. 

Having, being able to plug in and adding that to their catalog, um, we're looking at that. Um, as far as our own proprietary store builder, we're looking more towards, for people who are only going to be selling five to 10 shirts, maybe a month.

But there's going to be no upfront expense. So that's going to be great for local small businesses. 

That's going to be great for fundraising groups and for schools. 

And honestly, for other screen printing shops and embroidery shops, they can easily use this and now sell to their customers a print on demand experience without having to invest in all this.

Marshall Atkinson:

It seems like that would be great for a promo distributor too. 

Kevin akley:

Yep. Absolutely. 

Marshall Atkinson:

Let's just pretend, you know, I'm not Marshall Atkinson. I'm somebody out there that has a need for this. How do I sell that? I mean, I don't know how to sell print on demand. What do I need to know? Right. Do you offer, you know, is there something I can read or a video or something you could help me with that?  Is that something you guys have? 

Kevin akley:

Yeah, we have a lot of, uh, white-labeled material to use for selling this to customers. So, uh, giving all the benefits. Uh, you know, there's, there are some drawbacks, so, you know, making sure that that's being conveyed to the customer. Um, but there's just such a huge list of benefits that we'll be listing out, making videos, making PDFs, and all those things that people can use to sell to their customers.

Well, and so it's really about the first chunk is really about educating your customer. So why can hook up all the tools and make it frictionless seamless, possible? Right. Exactly. Yep. And, and as I said previously with, uh, you know, companies like Printful or Printfly becoming bigger, um, they are, they're pushing the message out there.

So people are getting, it's getting out there as far as the word of print on demand. So they are helping us as an industry move that forward. Um, it's just up to us to now, uh, convey that in our own message to our customers. 

Marshall Atkinson:

And so compared to them, you're just a little guy. So how do you see developing your business in comparison to them?

Kevin akley:

Yeah, I think the market is just so new that there is a lot of ground to be covered, whether you're talking about even going within the existing e-commerce platforms, but now looking at how does this change fundraising? How does it change when you can now say instead of having an online store in two weeks, You can now have a store open for the entire year and update with fresh new designs every month, every couple of weeks.

And now change fundraising from a two week time period to a year-round project. 

You know, what does that, how does those transform organizations like school, uh, school, sports or profits? 

You know, it now builds them as a brand too. Instead of just being that school. So you're going to be able to, uh, be a lot more flexible, a lot more creative.

And ultimately raise more money, make more money for your customers 

Shane Snodgrass:

To piggyback off of that. Kevin, um, also I think, um, something that will really be developed within that, you know, kind of within the next couple of years, as, as more people are utilizing e-commerce as well is you have, you have now a new thought process around the ability to create like a, a unique product and, you know, a, a customized product that is really tailored to an individual now. 

So kind of the same logic of why people are watching YouTube more so than, you know, the traditional cable is the expression of the individual, right. They really want to express themselves as an individual. 

So when you tie in print on demand to existing brands and you allow the consumer to connect more with the brand or the organization, by allowing them, you know, customization or different color options and things like that within the brand's guidelines, you really give the just-in-time model to the end consumer to allow them to really do make a, a unique and, um, you know, custom piece that really, I think, expresses their personality more so, and I think that's something that you're, you don't have in your traditional selling models, uh, prior to. 

So I think once that kind of evolves a little bit more as well, you're really going to see a lot more, uh, activity in the space.

Marshall Atkinson:

Thank you so much guys, for sharing your Success Story with us today. 

So if someone wanted to learn more about what you do or your app or how you can help them build their print on demand platform, what's the best way to contact you and get that. 

Kevin akley:

Yeah. So visit our site at merchloop.com. So that's merch and then loop. No space.com. 

And that is going to lead you to a wealth of information regarding our store builder, as well as, uh, connecting into existing e-commerce platforms. And then you can always reach out to us on our Instagram, which is just @stokedonprinting. 

And you could get, uh, just direct messages. And we get hooked you up with our emails and our phone numbers so we can talk further.

Marshall Atkinson:

Awesome. Hey, thanks, guys. 

Kevin akley:

Thank you. 

Shane Snodgrass:

Thanks, Marshall. 

Marshall Atkinson:

Well, that's our show today. Thanks for listening. And don't forget to subscribe so you can stay up to date on the latest success stories, episodes. 

Have any suggestions for future guests for topics? Send them my way at marshall@marshallatkinson.com.

And we'll see you next time. 

Jan 29, 2021