oes it feel like, while decorated-apparel orders are still coming in (or are starting to pick back up), the order sizes have decreased? You’re not alone. Here’s a look at the range of experiences we’ve been hearing about from across the country:
- Kris Howard, Urbandale, IA-based, KSH Design Studio: “Our volume has greatly decreased during the last three months, since our gym customers were closed. We also lost orders from canceled run/walk and car club events.”
- Tammy LeMieux, Lake Stevens, WA-based, Ink It Your Way: “With our primary business of spring and summer youth sports coming to an abrupt halt, we started offering sublimated face covers and apparel to essential businesses. We also branched out to signage for reopening businesses. We actually flourished and hopefully will retain some great new customers.”
- Alexa Cary, Frenchtown, NJ-based, In-House Prints: “Fortunately our business is booming! We have a lot of emergency service clients, so they’ve been keeping us busy. We also work with YouTubers who continue to push products online.”
- Jennie Livezey, Shelbyville, IN-based, Z Shirts Custom Printing: “We came to a screeching halt with schools closing and spring sports being canceled. We’ve picked back up but aren’t back to full-time production yet.”
In order to help them avoid succumbing to the ups and downs of the market, some distributors have started upselling, cross-selling, bundling products and providing solutions vs. being just an order-taker. Using these strategies has helped them increase their order sizes and given their business new life, so let’s take a closer look at each.
Upselling Quality and Solutions
Upselling has been a sales mainstay of merchants for decades, but with the downturn in the economy, it’s more important than ever. For example, you might regularly sell employee work shirts to your customers. It makes sense to present three options: a $5 “good” shirt, a better-quality shirt for $10, and a “best” item for $15. When the customer calls in, they may want to order 100 shirts at the lowest possible price. This would be a $500 order for you. But, if you upsell correctly, even just to the “better” garment, you’ve doubled your order total.
A client will invest in the “better” shirt if they realize it’ll save money in the long run: The shirts wash better and hold graphics longer. Plus, better-quality shirts present a more professional image. “Having a lower budget doesn’t mean that a cheaper shirt is the answer,” says Brett Bowden, El Capitan at Keller, TX-based Printed Threads. “Sometimes, the best answer is a lower quantity of great-quality shirts.”
Since a lot of employees are working remotely, many corporate clients don’t need an on-hand supply of apparel and swag. “As a solution, we offer online stores with a print- or embroidery-on-demand model,” says Tom Rauen, CEO at Dubuque, IA-based Envision Tees. Then, Rauen’s team ships directly to the employees, whether they’re working at the office or at home. While this results in lower minimums, Rauen says he benefits from higher margins with less quantity price breaks.
Let’s say that a client tells you she wants to order 200 t-shirts for her event instead of the usual 500, because of decreased attendance. You can mention that other clients with similar events also purchased face masks, water bottles and lanyards with a lip balm, hand sanitizer, or small sunscreen bottle attached to it. This is a little different than bundling (more on that in a minute) since it’s done “on the fly” as you deal with a specific customer’s needs.
“The key is finding out your client’s desired outcome for the event, or what they want their customer or attendee to feel emotionally,” Rauen says. “This takes creative thinking to find the best solution to help your client achieve their goals.”
Lee Romano Sequeira, co-owner of Sparkle Plenty Designs, blings out apparel and accessories for clients—and then recommends other uses for the designs. “We pitch non-sized items like tote bags and caps,” she says. “We also encourage customers to purchase extra heat transfers if they want to iron them onto additional items.”
This may seem like cross-selling, but there’s a difference. If you have a customer who’s ordering shirts for their clients, then you may want to suggest they bundle the product with two shirts, or a shirt and a hoodie, or a shirt with a hat.
Rauen says bundling works well for teams and retail-focused clients. For example, for a brewery client, frame the bundle for them as how much profit they'll make on each, instead of how much it costs them. “This reframes their mindset, from merch being an expense to being a profit center,” he says.
Let’s say a $10 tri-blend T-shirt that retails for $20 can combine with a $2 pint glass, and be sold as a combo for $25. “At a quantity of 144, this increases the brewery’s profits from $1,440 to $1,872,” Rauen says.
You can also bundle products together in special branded or personalized packaging that adds perceived value—and help increase your bottom line.
Imagine how many times this conversation has occurred: A customer calls you with a specific order. You ask, “What color? What sizes? How many?” The result? Your customer views you as an order-taker instead of a pro with years of decorating and marketing experience.
“It’s our job to deliver excellent customer service and a personalized experience,” Bowden says. “We have customers who use us because of who we are and why we exist.”
This means you need to develop rapport with your customers to find out about their needs and then suggest ways to fulfill them. Rauen suggests figuring out exactly how to help your customers—and their customers—win big. “Think two levels deep and sell that solution to your client,” he says. “If you come up with a winning formula of the right message and product to help your customers generate more revenue, you can rinse and repeat with others in the same industry.”
Ryan Moor, CEO of Ryonet, advises decorators to adopt a consultative sales process that dives into questions about a client’s situation and pain points, and what type of solution would deliver the results they want. “When you dive into the pain or real need, it’s easy to create and upsell a creative solution,” he says.
In addition to decorating products, Sequeira asks how the goods will be used and offers promo tips and marketing ideas, since one of her specialties is social media.
Moor advises just asking for the sale. “You can do it on your website with product recommendations or checkout add-ons,” he says. “If you’re on the phone, pitch face masks with every order. That item might change in the future, but always have a relevant product to continue the conversation.”
Another reason why being consultative is a great idea: You’ll upsell, cross-sell and bundle even more successfully. Customers are more likely to listen to your recommendations if they view you as an in-demand expert who can help them achieve their business goals.