We use cookies on this site to enhance your user experience.
For a complete overview of all cookies used, please see our privacy policy.

10 Print-on-Demand Do’s and Dont's

Home  /  The PRES&S  /  
Decorating Tips
10 Print-on-Demand Do’s and Dont's

ant to dominate the print-on-demand game? Avoid these common mistakes and unlock the secrets to thriving with this offering.

From matching your offerings to solve customer problems to choosing the perfect ecommerce platform and maximizing your product pages, learn how to navigate the POD landscape with confidence and catapult your print shop to success.

Mistake #1: Not matching your POD offering to what your customers want or need

Before you launch your POD business, do market research to learn what your customers actually want and need to solve their pain points.

“Shops have the field-of-dreams mentality, that if they build a POD operation, customers will just show up,” says Marshall Atkinson, business consultant at Atkinson Consulting and Shirt Lab Tribe.

“You must start by researching, asking questions and gathering data to figure out how to align your offering to solve your target customer’s problem. For example, if you’re providing spirit wear to a high school, maybe you also need to do personalized names and numbers for the team.”
Marshall Atkinson, business consultant at Atkinson Consulting and Shirt Lab Tribe

Mistake #2: Choosing the “wrong” ecommerce platform

The platform you choose is home to your print-on-demand store. If you don’t do enough due diligence when you’re looking at solutions, you might pick one that doesn’t totally cover your needs or limits you in some ways.

“Make a checklist of what you need the site to do for yourself and customers you build sites for, like being able to order directly from suppliers via the platform,” Atkinson says.

“You don’t want to Frankenstein together multiple platforms if you could just use one, especially if the systems don’t talk to each other. The solution you choose should make everything easy with automation for your employees.”

There are several industry-specific e-commerce vendors you can reach out to if you want to set up your own POD store or offer them to clients. Check out InkSoft, OrderMyGear, DecoNetwork, Spirit Sale, and Chipply. For added support, take a look at production management platform Printavo and graphics platform GraphicsFlow.

Atkinson cautions against trying to build the site yourself or staying tied to an older, less effective system because you already sunk money into it.

“Don’t get tied to a platform that doesn’t work anymore because you don’t want to spend more. This is your business, and sometimes you need to invest money before you make it. A better system with better tools may cost more, but it’ll let you do more with less. That adds up over time.”
- Marshall Atkinson, business consultant at Atkinson Consulting and Shirt Lab Tribe

Another aspect of successfully competing in the POD space is investing in other business systems and processes to streamline and automate your efforts. “I’ve seen a common mistake of investing in POD hardware and not augmenting business systems to complement and optimize the benefits of POD,” says JP Hunt, head of partnerships at Inktavo.

“That’s why it’s best to design and construct business systems before investing in hardware. It’s the typical chicken-before-the-egg dilemma. Software and business process planning and engineering are the two components needed to optimize POD.”
JP Hunt, head of partnerships at Inktavo

Mistake #3: Not making the site easy to use with self-service options

“POD’s greatest capability and business value is the ability to effectively and efficiently fulfill direct-to-consumer small order runs,” Hunt says.

“To process a high volume of these short-run orders, you must have ecommerce order automation to reduce labor and processing costs in order to preserve margins. POD hardware capabilities must be paired with frontend customer-facing capabilities to create a full stack POD solution.”

Here are some basic considerations for a user-friendly site:

●     Simplify the navigation so a new user can quickly orient themselves on the site.

●     Include all the information a buyer needs to take action, including sizing charts, policies (shipping, returns, exchanges, etc.) and FAQs.

●     Set up a checkout process with as few steps as possible. Almost 90% of buyers will abandon their carts if the checkout process takes too long.

●     Check your store’s mobile-friendliness, since nearly three-quarters of all online sales happen from a mobile device vs. a desktop.

Mistake #4: Not choosing the right decoration options that your staff and equipment can support

At A&P Master Images, CEO Howard Potter trains his reps on what processes work best for which products for their POD operations, so there’s never a snag with an order. The key is matching the imprinting technique, printing frequency and product to the customer’s needs.

You may choose to print orders every day and get them out the door, or you might print a lot of spiritwear t-shirts in advance, if you know students will order them within a certain time frame.

“If you know there’s going to be a crush, you can print the t-shirts en masse. Demand also drives the decoration type and how often you print.”
Marshall Atkinson, business consultant at Atkinson Consulting and Shirt Lab Tribe

When you start out with POD, you might fall into this trap:

If you primarily screen print, your first reaction might be to screen print a three-shirt POD order. “However, choosing the technique you’re most comfortable with might not be the right answer,” Atkinson says. “Embroidery or custom heat transfers might be better. You need to work through the scenarios to decide how you can get the order to your customer in the fastest, most efficient way, whether it’s using your own equipment or outsourcing it.”  

Mistake #5: Not creating designs that sell well

You can divide your customers into two primary groups based on their preferences for printable art content and graphics:

  • Those with established branding and identity.
  • Those seeking custom art content tailored to their specific requirements.

“For customers relying on you for custom graphics, you must have efficient, low-cost solutions (like transfers) to quickly develop concepts to present to the customer to drive purchase commitment,” Hunt says. “Stock editable design templates and graphics are a perfect way to quickly personalize starting points to then present for customer collaboration. The alternative is to charge expensive art service fees that are generally unattractive to customers.”

Atkinson suggests consistently looking at the sales data from your own online store and those you manage for customers. “Say three out of 20 designs are selling well and others are slow moving and obsolete,” he says. “It’s on you to take what’s not selling and replace them with designs that match what customers want.”

Mistake #6: Using sparse or ineffective product descriptions

Potter makes sure his team pulls in all of the product information for his 100+ customer POD sites from the manufacturer, so browsing customers can make an informed decision. This info includes sizing, color options, materials and care instructions. You should also include information about the design, as well as average production and shipping times.

Once you’ve got the basic information and SEO keywords down, you can inject fun, personable and conversational language to make it more engaging. “Now that you’ve got a base to work with, connect the copy to the audience,” Atkinson says. “If a shirt is for kids’ summer activities, start the post with, ‘Hey campers, you’ll live in this soft shirt all summer long!’’’

Mistake #7: Not including product reviews

Today, buyers are influenced by product reviews – and about 90% of consumers want to read five to 10 product reviews before trusting a brand.

If you have reviews from customers about certain styles or products, include them where you can to build trust with social proof. “PTO moms care what other moms think,” Atklinson says. “Solicit reviews from your customers and use them, since they can influence other people to purchase.”

Mistake #8: Pricing your products too low or too high

Setting the right pricing is a balancing act, so you make a profit and don’t deter customers. It’s important to know your operating costs so you can clear a profit, as well as knowing the highest threshold of what your prospects will pay.

“The biggest mistake shops new to POD make is pricing too low. POD is optimized for small order runs and should command retail price points as a premium. These higher margins justify the investment in hardware and business systems to deliver POD capabilities to your business and customers.”
JP Hunt, head of partnerships at Inktavo

Atkinson is a big believer in pricing so you make the most profit. “Simply using a formula where you mark a product up 40% might mean you’re leaving money on the table,” he says. “If you’re selling t-shirts to elementary school moms, that’s different from selling an event t-shirt to people attending a classic muscle car event. Doing market research to learn what value a prospect gets from a t-shirt can help you price right.”

Potter’s pricing falls comfortably in the middle of his competitors, so he makes consistent profits and grabs a good share of customers.

Mistake #9: Not managing your t-shirt inventory correctly

“Today’s consumers expect fast turnaround and delivery,” Hunt says. “To develop an additional competitive POD advantage, consider maintaining popular products and styles in the most common sizes to avoid delays in blank product purchasing and receiving. Plus, you could charge a premium markup for fast-tracked orders as a way to justify maintaining and managing on-hand inventory.”

Here are some other tips to maintain the right inventory levels:

1. Track your inventory across all the POD stores you manage using inventory management software or a system (like a spreadsheet) that works for you. That way, you’ll always know how many blanks you have and how often you need to order. Many shops set a reorder point to automatically place an order when your inventory levels hit a certain number. “We order daily and carry some stock in-house,” Potter says.

2. Monitor your sales data. This information helps you know which styles sell well and which don’t. Over a year or more, you can also determine when you experience busier or slower sales times.

3. Consider the turnaround time you promise clients.

“A big issue for a lot of shops is building a schedule to process the orders in a timely manner. We typically have online orders produced and shipped in five business days or less.”
Howard Potter, CEO of A&P Master Images

Atkinson suggests not advertising the brand of shirt online to have inventory flexibility. “If your product description says ‘4.5 oz., 50/50 cotton/poly black shirt,’ you can stock quality shirts from different manufacturers so you can fulfill orders faster,” he says. “You can also get shirts with tearaway labels and then rebrand them with your brand or webstore name tag with a QR code to the online store.”

Mistake #10: Not marketing your POD services effectively to current and new customers

This goes back to the build-it-and-they’ll-come mentality. “Before you even create POD sites for customers, have you figured out how to get eyeballs to the site,” Atkinson says. “Is it PPC or a special offer you promote on social media? It’s key to help your school, band or restaurant customer market the store by giving them a set marketing plan with graphics, copy, links, and posters and flyers with QR codes to advertise. The easier you make it for customers to make sales, the more valuable you are the more you can charge.”

Remember also that POD is a perfect solution for lower order quantities, so make that a key selling point in your marketing. “Most branded merchandise businesses lack the complete POD capabilities and forgo these profitable retail price pointed order opportunities,” Hunt says.

“To be successful with a direct-to-consumer POD approach you’ll need to create awareness and attract customers seeking small orders. Ensure your marketing messaging is clear and consistent about your low or no minimums.”
JP Hunt, head of partnerships at Inktavo

Get Ready to Thrive as POD Provider  

To thrive as a go-to POD shop, it's crucial to avoid these 11 common mistakes and embrace effective strategies. From understanding customer needs and choosing the right ecommerce platform to streamlining processes and implementing strong marketing tactics, taking a proactive approach will position your print POD business for success.

Aug 13, 2023