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10 Ways to Pivot From Being A Printer To A Problem Solver

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10 Ways to Pivot From Being A Printer To A Problem Solver

re you a t-shirt order taker or a solutions provider? Your answer could put your shop in the red or the black. “If you’re ‘just a printer,’ you take the order, fulfill it, and move on to the next order, like an assembly line that doesn’t treat customers as individuals,” says Michael Nova, director of Nova Custom Label Printing.

“A problem-solving printer works with clients to provide solutions for their business problems. If you help them succeed, they’ll place repeat orders with you.”
- Michael Nova, director of Nova Custom Label Printing

In any business, when you pivot from being an order-taker to a problem solver, you build customer relationships for life. We asked pro decorators to weigh in on how you can impress customers with your solutions skills.

So, What’s a Problem-Solver Look Like?

You know the customers who call up and ask for a t-shirt with a two-color screen print for their annual fundraiser event. They place the same order, and you take the same order because “that’s what we’ve always done.” What if you took a different approach?

A problem solver asks the right questions to get the whole story before proposing a solution. “They invest time and thought to make sure the outcome is best for the customer – and most efficient and cost effective for their shop to produce the job,” says Kristine Shreve, director of marketing and outreach at Applique Getaway.

“Problem solvers also aren’t afraid to suggest other things that work within the customer’s parameters.”
- Kristine Shreve, director of marketing and outreach at Applique Getaway

For example, let’s say a prospect asks for an embroidered performance polo with their logo. “The logo has a lot of colors and a small tagline that wouldn’t embroider well on stretchy fabric,” says Brayden Jessen, owner of Zome Design. “Instead, I’d recommend a full-color, direct-to-film transfer that will capture the logo’s fine details, stretch with the garment and more accurately represent the customer’s brand. Our embroidery-only customers are amazed at the quality of DTF (Direct-to-Film) transfers when we take the time to make the suggestion.”  

***If you’ve never used DTF transfers before, you can see them in action on our YouTube series, “Decoration Myths. below”

Before jumping into the quoting process, Jessen recommends asking a series of questions to figure out exactly what your client needs, such as:

  • Who are the recipients of the products?
  • How will they use and wear the garments?
  • What’s the goal of the decorated products? Is it to get more leads? Increase sales? Raise awareness? Recruit, retain or promote employees?
  • What kind of artwork do we need to communicate your message?
  • What type of decoration method works best with the shirt style, material and artwork?

The ‘X Factors’ of Problem-Solvers

Here are nine tips to transform from “just an order taker” to a true solutions provider.

1. Communicate every step of the way.

Nova believes retaining clients is an art. From the moment they take the order, his team communicates with the client each step of the way, to avoid misunderstandings or miscommunications. “Our priority is that each client is 100% happy with the work we do,” he says. “If they aren’t happy, we make it up to them.”

2. Charge for the value you bring.

Jessen always reminds his team, “When people pay, they pay attention.” For example, if you give everything away for free, customers expect more freebies. However, when you charge for artwork, they put more time into the details they give you, which helps you get the artwork right the first time.

“We all know artwork can become a downward spiral really fast with endless revisions. If you’re not charging for art, what’s to stop the clients from nitpicking every detail?”
- Brayden Jessen, owner of Zome Design

Consider this instead: First, charge for artwork or consulting time. Then, see what extra features or benefits you could stack onto your offer that don't cost you much extra.

3. Show them what’s at risk by not hiring you.

You’ll always encounter customer objections. If they mention the cheaper printer down the road, be ready with your response. “Say things like: What if he misses your event deadline?” Jessen says.

“What if he selects a shirt people won’t want to wear? If you’re printing on performance fabrics, does the cheaper guy have the right inks, additives or bleed blocker screens? What if the ink peels, cracks or fades once the shirt is being worn on the job site or at a game, with the fabric and design being tugged on or mashed into the ground? Have you seen the competitor’s reviews vs. our reviews? Will the ‘cheaper guy’ guarantee his work?”
- Brayden Jessen, owner of Zome Design

4. Make your offer so on point it can’t be compared to your competition.

When you act as a solutions provider, customers will begin to see you as the go-to expert for solving their apparel and promotional needs. “Your clients don’t wake up dreaming of becoming a custom swag expert,” Jessen says. “They do wake up every morning wondering how they’re going to find their next employee or sale. They struggle with how to keep employees engaged and retained. They want to know how to get people to attend their next event.” 

5. Always over deliver.

“Meet their deadlines, and exceed them whenever possible,” Nova says. “Once you have a repeat client, give them some kind of perk, discount or bonus to show you appreciate them.” 

6. Create real relationships.

Don’t wait for a client to walk through your doors. Actively research businesses and organizations in your area that you want to work with. Put in the effort to bring in their business and build relationships. If it’s a business, call to congratulate them on an achievement. If it’s a school, send them a message about how great their football team did. Then, you can top this off with a mock-up or sample of a product that can celebrate or amplify these achievements. “Treat them as you’d like to be treated,” Nova says.

“Make time for your prospects and clients, rather than just focusing on the bottom line. Ask them what they need help with. Treat them with respect and become a resource for not only printing, but whatever other help you can give them.” 
- Michael Nova, director of
Nova Custom Label Printing

7. Have outsourcing partners.

Develop a team of contractors and print shop partners to help you in a pinch when you have several customers all at once wanting large projects. This will happen seasonally. You don’t want to turn away business because you don’t think you can handle it. As you grow, you want to be able to seamlessly add clients. This on-demand network will help you do just that.

8. Anticipate your customers’ needs.

For example, seasonally, such as the end of year or holidays, you know companies want to do something nice for their staff. Q4 employee gifting – as well as gifts for thanking their best clients – is something most companies will love not having to think twice about. In advance, wow them with a selection of logoed gifts in a branded custom gift box.

9. Anticipate your customers’ events.

As supply chain issues, higher prices and limited supplies are still a problem, think ahead on their behalf. Take high school graduations. You know they occur in June, so research what inventory’s available. Send the proposal three months ahead of time. That gives your buyer time to have the whole board evaluate and approve. You’re the hero for having it sourced, decorated and ready for the big event!  

10. Stay updated on trends.

A lot of clients won’t be saavy on what’s trending in fashion. That’s why keeping your finger on the pulse of what styles are hot in the market or being worn by influencers, will help you not only give them options they, their customers and recipients will love, but also give you an opportunity to upsell premium products. As time goes on, they’ll know you’re the go-to person to keep their decorated apparel looking fresh. 

***If your looking for some help to stay up on trends, check out our style guides at ssactivewear.com and fashion articles here on The PRES&S. 

Solution Providers Make More Sales

When you become a problem-solver for customers, you begin by asking questions about the goal, audience and intended use of the products. This way, you can help educate clients on what your years of industry experience believe would be the best solution to their problem.

“This is how you stand out in a crowded marketplace of printers and promo peddlers,” Jessen says. “You become a problem solver, and the printed t-shirt is a tool you use to accomplish a goal. In their case, maybe a water bottle, hat or tote bag could be a better option. You’re still getting the sale, but you’re helping them to solve their problem better.”

Oct 2, 2022