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Being an Order Taker for Schools Is a Huge Mistake

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Being an Order Taker for Schools Is a Huge Mistake

oo many decorators and distributors simply “take orders” from schools and populate their webstores with products they choose and use year in and year out. If you passively let your school clients drive the sales conversation, you’re missing a lucrative opportunity to be a problem solver—and increase your overall sales. Even worse, you’re leaving the door open to your competitors who come in with fresh, exciting ideas, leaving you in the dust.

“If you don’t show up with new design or apparel ideas, they’ll think you just take orders. Over time, sales will drop, and another shop will take over your customer’s store. That’s why you need to make suggestions on what’s selling and what’s not to keep the store exciting and active."
Howard Potter, CEO of A&P Master Images

We asked the experts to share 11 ways you can keep making the grade and become a proactive problem solver for all your school clients. 

1. Use last year’s orders as a jumping-off point.

Often, schools and teams want new and different items, but don’t know where or what those options would be. “That’s why the easiest fallback is ordering the same as last year,” says Ryan Moulding, inside sales manager at S&S Activewear. “You’d be surprised how many schools don’t know what they want until you tell them what they want.”

In this case, don’t wait for your contact to call you. Analyze the apparel and hard goods you provided last season or last year. Show them something new, different or on trend compared to the last order, that will also appeal to their buyers.

“Proactively engaging your school clients can lead to higher margin sales with a more premium product mix.”
Ryan Moulding, Inside Sales Manager at S&S Activewear

“You can also create product bundles, like a t-shirt, hat and water bottle, which people love to order,” Moulding says.

2. Show good, better, best products.

Ali Banholzer, owner of Wear Your Spirit Warehouse, has noticed that many schools choose the least expensive t-shirt available, thinking it’ll allow people of all economic levels to purchase them. “It doesn’t work out that way, since they miss out on sales and profits from higher-end t-shirts,” she says.

“We recommend selecting good, better and best options at three different price points."
Ali Banholzer, owner of Wear Your Spirit Warehouse

Sell like a pro: Start your “Good, Better, Best” pitch with a basic item that has a lower price-point. Add in a “better’ option that’s made with upgraded materials like soft combed-ringspun cotton, and also has more of a fashion fit. Then, wow them with a premium retail brand like adas their “best” option. That gives them a wide range to choose from and they may surprise you with their pick once they see the premium options.

3. Offer webstores to all your educational clients.

Lots of shops, like A&P Master Images, manage dozens, if not hundreds, of online stores for customers. Some schools use these e-stores as a fundraising tool, where they receive a commission from each order and you take home the rest of the profit. If you’re not doing this already for your school and team clients, offer to set up a store for them. You can say, “We’ll set up a website just for you, branded with your school name and colors. Your students, parents, teachers, supporters and fans can purchase directly from the website without you having to do anything at all. We’ll decorate and ship the goods directly to their homes or to your school. Your choice!”

Sell like a pro: There are several apparel industry-specific e-commerce vendors you can reach out to if you want to set up your own store or offer them to clients. Be sure to check out: InkSoft, Printavo, OrderMyGear, DecoNetwork and Spirit Sale

4. Make it simple for schools to order from your webstore. 

Schools and teachers are busy, so Banholzer’s shop cuts down the amount of work they have to do when ordering. For example, her shop creates two custom order checkout fields in the store. The first is “Deliver to: Student Name.” If a parent has a different last name than the student, then the school wastes time pairing the item with the right student.

"Schools tell us they’re willing to pay higher prices to have us do all the sorting and packaging. They just don’t have time to sort 500 shirts.” 
Ali Banholzer, owner of Wear Your Spirit Warehouse

“Student Homeroom” is the second field. “We sort and pack orders in clear bags so the packing slip with the student name is visible,” Banholzer says. “Then, we sort the orders by homeroom or any other method the school requests. We label the boxes on the outside with the delivery location. That way, when we deliver the order to the school, they simply distribute the orders to the correct rooms. The teacher opens the box and can see exactly which student gets the order."

5. Personalize spiritwear at games or school events. 

If your shop can do mobile decoration, offering to bring your heat press or DTG machine to a football game, pep rally or back to school night might put you in the lead. For example, if you bring your heat press, you might customize apparel with text like “Mom,” “Dad,” “Brother,” “Grandma” and so on. People love buying spiritwear at events, and getting it personalized is even more fun.

6. Know how to create a great product portfolio.

There are lots of great opportunities for you to pitch apparel and other products to schools. Here’s a short list to give you an idea of how wide your options actually are: 


  • Club t-shirts: Every school has after-school clubs (chess club, science club, drama club, computer club and so on) that use T-shirts for their proud participants.
  • Uniforms: Many private schools (and some public) require uniforms, so you can provide polo shirts, woven shirts, sweaters, ties, gym attire and more for these educational buyers.
  • Sports teams: Of course, sports teams need uniforms, traveling attire, jackets, hats, bags and more. You can also outfit coaches and staff.
  • Spirit wear: Everyone loves to support their favorite team from the stands and out and about, wearing t-shirts, hoodies, hats, joggers and more. 
  • Special events t-shirts: Lots of schools encourage students to purchase t-shirts for events like class trips, field day and graduation. 
  • Proud parent/supporter shirts: Include a selection of “proud parent, grandparent, sibling” and more t-shirts or hoodies, so they can show off their school spirit too.
  • Patches and decals: You can sell patches for people to attach to personal items, like backpacks. Car decals are also big hits with supporters and kids love stickers. 
  • Yard signs: For graduating seniors especially, yard signs are big sellers. 
  • Drinkware: Water bottles and coffee tumblers are items everyone can use, toting the school name and mascot everywhere. 

7. Show how your product recommendations fit into people’s school lives.

You’ve built a book of trendy and useful apparel and merchandise. However, if you just hang hoodies on a physical (or virtual) rack or stack water bottles on a shelf, you’re doing exactly what everyone else is doing. To stand out, take lifestyle photos of people wearing or using the logoed products in school or in the stands, and write short descriptions explaining when to wear or use the items.

Sell like a pro: Consider surveying your school buyers (and even students and parents!) to get a sense of what types of apparel or products they’d love to see their school or team logo on.

8. Incorporate retail trends into your pitch lineup. 

“Recognize and follow trends,” says Amanda Potter, co-CEO at A&P Master Images. “We review what’s new on all apparel wholesalers’ sites, and cross-check those with current retail trends. Then we share those products with our school customers. Right now, in fact, tie-dye is still a big trend, especially on joggers, bucket hats and trucker hats.”

Sell like a pro: To get you started, we have style guides released throughout the year, filled with new styles and trend apparel. You can also take a look at Google Trends or “Think with Google” to see their Shopping Insights Tool, with trending products, styles and colors.

9. Don’t forget to show your buyers brand-name apparel and accessories.

Brands are very important to certain schools, so pitch those according to their tastes. Again, look at what’s trending at retail. Moulding points out that adidas gear is huge, and you can find their branded polos, performance tees, quarter-zip pullovers, fleece hoodies and sweatpants . Well-known brands like Badger, Augusta, Holloway, Alleson Athletic and C2 Sport are also perfect for sports teams, and especially their uniforms­­­­. “These brands offer comprehensive school and team colorways, along with a wide variety of on- and off-the-field style offerings,” he says.

For accessories, Moulding sees that it’s headwear and bags decorators and distributors often overlook for schools. “These are perfect add-ons to discuss when you’re bundling products,” he says. From Richardson, Flexfit, YP Classics and many more brands, S&S Activewear has the largest headwear offering in the wholesale market. Plus, you’ll find a variety of bag brands like Oakley, Puma, adidas, Champion and more that fit perfectly into school programs and orders.

10. Educate your clients on bundling options. 

“If the customer wants 100 hoodies, but there’s room in their budget, can you sell them 100 hoodies and 100 t-shirts as a bundle? “ Moulding says. Buyers often love bundles, if they can score a t-shirt, hoodie and hat together, maybe at a slight discount.  ­­­ 

11. Make it easy for schools to advertise their webstores.

Banholzer’s shop creates social media graphics that each school can easily use to advertise their stores online. “Doing this gets them to post more often, and therefore drive more sales,” Banholzer says. 

Schools want a partner.

Ultimately, the more ideas and solutions you bring to your school clients, the more you'll become their trusted resource for all their decoration needs. Anybody can fulfill orders. But, helping them learn about trends, pitching unique fundraising ideas, and providing them with services that allow them to keep their focus on teaching students and training athletes will make you stand out above the competition.

Jul 31, 2022