verywhere she goes, Dani Diarbakerly, owner of custom merch shop KingPro, talks to people about how she helps her customers with their branding. “Everyone from my hair salon to my realtor, and even my friends and family are my clients,” she says. “I’m not a loud or overly salesy person, but I love sharing info about decorated products. We’re either lucky or smart to work in an industry that applies to literally everyone, so our clients really are unlimited.”
Yes, stats show that loyal customers are worth up to 10x as much as their first purchase. That’s why print shops and distributors work so hard to keep their client base happy. However, the other part of the equation is finding the right clients in the first place. We asked shop owners and industry veterans to weigh in on seven key ways they repeatedly find new customers.
1. Have an actual sales and marketing plan.
If you don’t have a well-defined, comprehensive plan and the people to execute it, you’ll miss out on new client opportunities. “Winning new business requires collaboration between your marketing and sales teams,” says JP Hunt, co-founder and president of InkSoft. If you don’t have a process in place, then you’re literally flying by the seat of your shop’s pants.
In this relationship, Hunt says, your marketing team is responsible for generating marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads (SQLs). “An MQL has moved beyond the initial awareness stage at the top of your marketing funnel and is currently in the interest stage,” Hunt says. “In contrast, a SQL has already gone through the awareness and interest phases and entered the decision-making phase. This is the handoff junction for your sales team to interact with the prospect to convert them to a new client.”
2. Focus on the problems you solve, not prices, to hook new clients.
Yes, there will always be lowest-price shoppers, and it can be tempting to give them what they want to land them. “Price matching tempts all of us,” Diarbakerly says. “We want to earn business from a big client or get a customer from another shop, but the numbers don’t work. We’re quick to ‘match prices’ from our shops, but ultimately that’s a mistake.”
When you talk to prospects or publish social posts, don’t lead with “low prices” or “competitive prices.” Instead, show how your business solves marketing or branding problems with decorated products. Have a quick case study or two at the top of your mind to relay the problem, what you did and the stellar results.
“When you low ball pricing, you throw your business and your costs out the window as you freestyle,” Diarbakerly says. “If you aren't considering your costs and profits at that moment, when you go to produce, you realize the order is harder or not as profitable as you thought. Make sure you cover your labor, blanks, supplies and expenses. With the rising cost of everything, don’t lose money on orders.”
3. Really get to know your ideal clients.
“One big mistake is not knowing who your target market is,” says Kristine Shreve, director of marketing and outreach at Applique Getaway. “Do you know where they hang out online? What types of offers or opportunities resonate with them?” Lots of print shops make the mistake of defaulting to older marketing messages or offers they’ve used before. “You need to change up your marketing, respond to new trends and phrase your messages in different ways to catch people’s attention and create top of mind awareness,” she says. “That takes time, and some companies aren’t willing to spend the effort.”
There are a couple of smart ways to do this that involve talking to current happy, long-term customers. First, invite them to respond to a survey or a feedback session. Ask them how they feel your solutions solve their problems and keep them coming back. Ask what offers or approaches could attract more customers like them. Second, ask for referrals. If you offer your customers an incentive to offer feedback and referrals, they’ll definitely be raising their hands. A final tip is to stay in touch with your customers to share new ideas and ask them if they need help with anything.
4. Use merch to market your business.
“We sell the fact that branded apparel is a great way to market ‘their’ business or brand, so why wouldn’t we market our own shops with custom products?” Diarbakerly says. The PPAI Promotional Products Consumer Study for 2021 reported that 94% of people like to receive promotional products and 75% said they are at least somewhat likely to switch brands if they received a promotional product they liked from a company they haven’t done business with before.
Wear promo shirts and carry promo products that you can hand out to people you meet when you’re out and about. If you want to break into a new market, make a list of potential customers and send them unique mailers that include with an unexpected gift.
5. Try networking with a twist.
Shawn LaFave, president of NGA Promotions, says you need to do something different to capture the attention of new customers. “What if you found like-minded business owners in your community or networking groups and created an introduction event?” he says. You can then put together sample kits with decorated items, maybe even related to the different businesses of each attendee and give those away to show how you can uniquely add value to their decorating needs.
Try networking online as well. Besides joining Zoom networking meetings through your local chamber of commerce, look at local community Facebook groups where business owners hang out. You’ll find lots of people asking questions about branding, so show up as the experienced shop owner with lots of helpful suggestions and images of decorated products you’ve done. Most likely, that person will call you up for their first order. Don’t hesitate to send hotter prospects a printed tee or logoed promo product.
6. Work with clients, groups or influencers.
If you haven’t experienced this before, maybe now is the right time. If you work with a large client or influencer, tap into their audience by asking them to share your merchandise on their website or social media. This is a great time to ask them (or pay them in the case of an influencer collaboration) to talk about the results you achieve.
You can also consider connecting with local advertising, marketing and design agencies. “These agencies serve local customers who have branding, marketing and advertising needs—they want a strong and reliable branded merchandise partner like you,” Hunt says. Offer a revenue-sharing program to incentivize and reward agencies referring business to you. Or, consider a co-marketing partnership program where each party refers business to one another, Hunt says.
7. Build an active social media presence.
It’s true: 76% of consumers look for a company's online presence before visiting in-person, according to a report from Visual Objects. Then, about half of those browsers decide to reach out to learn more or to place an order. It’s key to be on the social media sites your ideal customers use, acting like an actual human who solves problems for other businesspeople.
Share results you’ve gotten for other clients to build excitement and trust. If you can get your clients to share their experience of working with you, especially with a video, others get even more excited to order from your site or call you up. Here are four ideas to try:
Many people searching for branding ideas turn to this site, but many decorators neglect it. “A decorator who has Pinterest boards centered on particular events or themes can be a huge resource for people,” Shreve says. “With the shopping tools Pinterest offers when a company has a business account, you can create a shopping experience on the Pinterest site that allows people to almost buy on impulse.”
Like Pinterest, people search for ideas for a printed tee to promote their business or event. They can contact you or even buy from you from the site. “Use your social media to share what you do,” Diarbakerly says. “Even if a follower doesn’t place an order with you, they can mention you to someone else who’s looking for a great printer or merch provider.”
WhatsApp Business and Broadcast Lists:
“WhatsApp is a great way to network with your clients including posting daily status updates of your work and your specials,” Diarbakerly says. “You can also easily set up a Broadcast list with your clients. Send out a weekly message about what you’ve been up to, along with offers.”
Gather email subscribers from your social media accounts with a subscription form. When you grow your list, you can stay in touch with your prospects and clients on a weekly basis. While someone might not check out your social media account everyday, they will check their email. This is a great way to share limited-time, seasonal or holiday offers before your competitors do.