or Rowboat Creative, kitting’s nothing new. For the last 10 years, the team has offered kitting as a profitable full service to big brands like Nike and adidas—and it involves a lot more than decorating apparel or promotional products. “Our kitting programs include custom-made packaging, branded pieces that are often completely custom-molded, creatively designed insert materials and more,” says Lucas Guariglia, co-founder and CEO. “We see the kits as a full consumer experience.”
Guariglia has definitely seen an uptick in the demand for kitting throughout the pandemic, “but there’s also a natural rise due to the influencer market,” he says. “Brands see the power of social media and the unboxing experience.” However, since COVID-19 hit, many shops have only now started learning how kitting can add a whole new revenue stream to their income, and there’s somewhat of a big learning curve that comes along with it.
“If you’re an organized A-player, you’ll make more money with kitting, than just printing.”
– Marshall Atkinson, Atkinson Consulting and Shirt Lab Tribe
Like other industry experts, Guariglia says kitting is a lucrative service, but shops need to be stellar at it to be successful in the long run. “We strategically put together each kit to elevate our clients’ brands,” he says. “On the logistics side, we assemble each kit step by step in-house, and then drop-shop them to each recipient, ensuring the kits stay presentable during transit.”
To help you navigate this learning curve, we’re exploring the top six questions, we’ve been hearing related to kitting. This way you can decide whether kitting is for you and be a lot more in the know before you dive in. “If you’re an organized A-player, you’ll make more money with kitting, than just printing,” says Marshall Atkinson, business consultant at Atkinson Consulting and Shirt Lab Tribe. “This is a great opportunity for shops.”
1. So what’s kitting, exactly?
“At its most basic, kitting is when you curate a mix of apparel, promo products and even food in a branded package, to create a unique unboxing experience for the person receiving it,” says Tom Rauen, CEO of Envision Tees. “The ideal kit depends on the goals for the recipient’s experience, whether it’s a travel, business, onboarding or fitness kit. But, bottom line: Branding goes a long way in this experience.”
During the pandemic, more companies started sending their employees and customers fun boxes of branded swag—and the recipients loved it. And many people (and influencers) took the kit craze to social media to share their unboxing experience. You might have even already started sending your customers and prospects, kits to stay top of mind.
However, the real shift for shops during the pandemic came when they started fulfilling individual orders for clients, rather than drop-shopping the team uniforms to a school. It’s this more personalized, end-to-end way of shipping that sparked a different new way to sell to and service your customers. “Kitting gets profitable when you combine multiple items and charge to pack and fulfill the bulky mailings,” Rauen says.
Rowboat’s well-oiled, one-off and long-term kitting programs are part of an upgraded service that the shop’s customers and partners have enjoyed for a long time.
“We offer 360-degree programs, so we’re the sole solutions provider, with more competitive pricing. That means our clients don’t need to check in with 34 different vendors. We’re very hands-on and communicative throughout the process."
– Lucas Guariglia, co-founder and CEO of Rowboat Creative
2. Who’s buying kits, and how do I pitch them?
A better question might be: Who’s not buying kits? Here’s a short list of who you might target as you start out:
- Promotional products distributors and marketing agencies. “Whether these companies are sending out kits on their own behalf or for their clients, they can either bring everything into their office and do it themselves, or hire you,” Atkinson says. “Most likely, they want to hire you.”
- HR managers and event planners. Rauen’s shop produces kits for employee and customer onboarding, and virtual welcome events. With almost every company trying to stay top of mind these days, look for these professionals in the industries you serve. Reach out to them about your services, and send them your shop’s prospecting kit of branded items.
- Schools and teams. Envision Tees does a lot of kits for schools, including alumni kits for college homecoming events.
- Lucrative industries, or those that are bouncing back. Rowboat has had a lot of success with the cannabis, food and beverage market. For restaurant, hospitality and travel businesses that are surging back, these buyers might want to reach out in a more meaningful way to new and past customers.
Again, kitting’s a trend that’s gaining traction, particularly with the rise of packages being sent to employees or students. These can be incentives, prizes for meeting a specific goal, or just a much-needed morale booster. It’s also important to pitch these kits to your customers because it gives you lots of opportunities to get your work seen and remembered.
It’s key to communicate with your customers. If one of your clients is a local gym, point out their kit could contain multiple branded items—shirts, hats, water bottles, fitness bands, towels, and even a lanyard for their membership ID. “Ask your customers how they stay top of mind with their employees and customers,” Atkinson says.
“All companies need kitting. If you’re not offering the service now, you’ll lose business to a shop that is.”
– Marshall Atkinson, Atkinson Consulting and Shirt Lab Tribe
You can also pitch kits as recurring income opportunities. Companies can offer these as subscription boxes with different themed kits each month or six times a year.
4. What goes into an ideal kit?
The ideal kit consists of items, packaging and branding that elevate the brand or personify the consumer experience. “The intent is that the same energy and vibe a buyer would feel walking into a brick-and-mortar location for that brand, would be felt through the kit experience,” Guariglia says. “Planning products, colors and branding is very similar to any apparel decoration or branding we do. We always want things to be a cohesive collection and really energize our client’s brand. Shops that are looking to just fill the next PO leads to sub-par production and high client turnover.”
Atkinson advises approaching a kit as a set that makes sense. For a morning Zoom event, you might choose a T-shirt, coffee mug, pen, notepad and stickers. “Choose items that people will naturally use for the event,” he says. “You can call in the same teal color or accent color for each item.”
On the logo or graphic design side, Rauen says it makes sense to tie everything together. “That doesn’t necessarily mean just using the same logo,” he says. “You can use a couple logos, or quotes and keywords that help tie a central message together.
Rowboat Creative doesn’t limit their decoration capabilities for each kit. “This element always varies with each program,” Guariglia says. “We’ve done digitally decorated packaging, pad printing, screen printing, custom molded items, CNC milled, riveted logos to grills and die-cut boxes. We really just keep one-upping ourselves.
5. How does kitting look on the back end?
“Kitting is all about assembling a direct-mail piece that includes different products like a T-shirt, a mug and stickers, and getting it out the door,” Atkinson says. “The process isn’t as easy as people think it is, but you’re offering this streamlined, all-in service. Ultimately, the process is meant to run smoothly so you’ll have a happy customer who wants to order again.”
The phrase “kitting” actually involves all the steps in the process, including:
- Taking your client’s initial order
- Selecting the complementary products
- Creating the artwork for the products and packaging
- Doing any in-house decorating
- Ordering promo products from another vendor
- Ordering boxes or other packaging materials
- Assembling the kits
- Packing and shipping.
Atkinson points out that since time is money, the shops that get really good at kitting develop the most efficient process. “Kitting is labor intensive, so if you can reduce labor costs and time spent, you’ll excel and be able to take on more jobs,” he says. “Before you quote a kit, you need a good idea of how many kits your team can pack in an hour.”
For example, a client might ask you to pack 1,000 different kits, each with different product configurations, and each going to a different address. “Do you have any idea how long that would take your team to assemble, pack and ship?”
That’s only the tip of the kitting iceberg. Since there are a lot of moving parts for kitting, you need to make sure that your shop has the space and resources to handle it. “This process takes a lot more space than what you think, and you need to have a tested system to package everything efficiently,” Rauen says.
If you want to launch this service, Guariglia recommends dialing in your internal processes first. “We’ve been in the kitting game for a long time and moved through countless platforms and online services,” he says. “Ultimately, we run a priority amalgamation of software and hardware that best suits our programs.”
6. How will my workflow change to accommodate kitting?
Implementing kitting means creating new workflow processes. These need to be in place so you can efficiently handle these new type of orders. You’ll need to review your current workflows to track orders coming and going from the shop, and this may mean cross-training or hiring employees to cover multiple points in the creation and distribution chain.
Do you understand product decoration timing?
This is a multi-faceted area. For example, if you need to order decorated products from another supplier or two, how long will it take for those items to arrive in your shop to be packed and shipped? If you receive a rush order, you might need to have a hyper-local provider on speed dial.
For regular orders, a shop might print or embroider the items the same day they’ll be shipped out. However, Atkinson says that for kitting it’s different. “Don’t hamstring yourself by not building in enough time,” he says.
“If you work backwards, it might look like this:
- Kits ship Friday
- Kits get boxed Thursday
- Kit materials get assembled Tuesday and Wednesday
- T-shirts get printed on Monday.”
Don’t forget your packaging materials as well. “There are different options, from basic boxes to a stickered box to a custom printed box, along with printed crinkle paper,” Rauen says. You’ll have a wide range to choose from, so making sure it matches the branding and feel of the kit is key.
Do you understand shipping times?
What happens when the kits are out of your hands and the responsibility of USPS, UPS or FedEx? “If you have a huge national account where you need to ship packages nationwide or internationally all arrive on the same day, you need to understand how to make that happen from a logistics perspective,” Atkinson says. “Plus, you need to have all the addresses verified before you slap shipping labels on the boxes.”
Tip: Start smaller. “Focus on small programs to start to get the rhythm and process down and always be prepared for obstacles with timing,” Guariglia says.
Do you understand your kitting assembly line?
At Rowboat Creative, the team packs kits in a very specific, sequential order. “That keeps our TAKT time down,” Guariglia says. “That’s the amount of time we have per unit to produce enough goods to fulfill customer demand. When you’re working with thousands of items, every second counts to cut down on staff fatigue and logistics.”
Even what sounds like a straightforward kit for 1,000 recipients can quickly become complex. Let’s say the kit includes a T-shirt, baseball cap, coffee mugs and stickers. “Remember that you might have four shirt sizes, as the the only variable per kit,” Atkinson says. “Set up your assembly line so that you first fulfill the kits with size S T-shirts, and then move onto size medium. That sounds easy, but you need to be hyper organized as you build out your line and assign team members.”
Don’t wait to start kitting.
Everyone’s looking for the “great new product” to turn around their shops after the pandemic slump. However, the key may not be so much about developing a new product, but instead, this new way of packaging and selling your products.
NFTs could become a driver for future kitting.
Also, don’t sleep on the NFT craze. We’re now seeing this market evolve into an experience that includes physical objects, being paired alongside the digital assets. This could open up opportunities for decorators to service these NFT releases in the more immediate future.
Beeple, the famous creator of the 69 million dollar NFT, was recently involved in launching a platform called Wenew. Together with partners like Time, Warner Music Group and Universal, Wenew is going to release clips of historic moments in music, sports and history, as NFTs. For a price, those NFTS will come with a well packaged physical artifact to go along with them.
To enhance the experience of owning an NFT, this could evolve into including decorated apparel and promo products, along with a physical object displaying the NFT. As the NFT market expands, it might be beneficial to find ways of getting your shop ready to service this market, if and when those opportunities comes around.
Kitting is an exciting new addition to any decorated-apparel shop that can give a much-needed boost to your business. “We’ve certainly seen our programs to be very lucrative to both Rowboat Creative as a corporation, but also extremely impactful and lucrative for our clients and partners,” Guariglia says. As we’ve seen with places like Amazon, Costco and Walmart, one-stop shops are becoming the norm in our everyday shopping experience. If your shop can become that place for your clients and prospects, it’ll should definitely give you a one-up on the competition.