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Should Print Shop Owners Ever Offer Discounts to Customers?

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Should Print Shop Owners Ever Offer Discounts to Customers?

ots of consumers love hunting for great discounts and offers. In fact, a recent survey found that 93% of U.S. consumers make repeat purchases from brands with good discounts and 55% have a more positive impression of brands offering discounts. Conversely, 48% of people avoid brands that don’t discount.

In a buying climate like this, though, it can be a challenge for print shops to charge the full value of their branded products and services. "Printers should avoid giving discounts because we’re not selling a commodity like eggs,” says Marshall Atkinson, business consultant at Atkinson Consulting and Shirt Lab Tribe.

“You’re offering custom branded solutions to solve marketing and sales problems. Buyers who align with the value of what you’re selling won’t quibble on price. If your conversation starts with ‘how many t-shirts do you need,’ then you’re just vying to win the race of how cheap you can do the job for the customer.”
Marshall Atkinson, business consultant at Atkinson Consulting and Shirt Lab Tribe

Experienced decorators weigh in on the dangers of discounting and when negotiating on price makes sense. “Your customers need to be in line with your pricing strategy,” Atkinson says, “otherwise, you’ll discount your way right out of business.”

When Not to Discount – and Why

Holding firm on your pricing is crucial for maintaining your shop’s value and profitability, especially in these situations:

When you’re trying to land the order:

Unfortunately, as many decorators learn, when you use discounts to “get the sale” it works against you because you start attracting low-price shoppers or find yourself in a race to become the cheapest printer in town.

“Never discount, because you can never raise your prices again. That customer will always think there’s a better price and that they’re being overcharged. Sell on service, not on price if you believe you’re worth your weight.”
- Brian Bufka, owner of 1st Place Printing

When you’re new or desperate for business:

“If you’re a new shop owner lacking confidence or you’re a drowning man in the ocean who’ll take any work that comes your way, you’re susceptible to dropping your prices,” Atkinson says. “The false assumption is that this low-price shopper will become a long-term profitable client and then you can raise your prices.”

When you don’t know your cost per imprint:

If offering a discount significantly impacts your profit margins, it’s not worth discounting just to get the order. However, many shops don’t have a grasp on these numbers. Case in point: Atkinson worked with a shop that made $1.5 million in annual sales, only to show a $12,000 profit. “You need to know how much it costs you to screen print a shirt,” he says, “so you can price to cover your overhead and make a healthy profit.”

When you’re already busy:

“When demand for our services is consistent, offering discounts isn’t necessary to attract clients, so why do it?” says Artem Ionitsa, president of Logo Unlimited. “Offering a discount risks devaluing our custom products, especially when they’re already priced competitively.”

When you’re dealing with problem customers:

“If a client has a history of consistently paying late or being difficult to work with, offering discounts only reinforces their behavior. Instead, we focus on delivering exceptional quality, value and service to ideal clients, which is more impactful in the long run than temporary price reductions.”
Artem Ionitsa, president of Logo Unlimited

When you’re expecting a specific ROI:

One day, a good client of Cory Beal, production manager at Floodway Print Co., asked for a donation to a local music festival. Floodway donated $2,000 to the event in the hopes they’d pick up more band customers. “After looking at our customer base, we weren’t seeing that increase year over year,” he says. “At a 10% profit, I’d need $20,000 in revenue to make up for the $2,000 donation or ‘discount,’ and it should build each year – but it didn’t.”

Once Beal saw the donation in a new light, it was easy for him to make a decision to put those resources into different marketing channels. “Now, I ask myself whether we’d donate the same amount in cash to whatever the opportunity is,” he says. “That usually makes the decision easy!”

Similarly, Floodway used to offer a standard discount for nonprofit organizations. “I realized this was a mistake,” Beal says. “It’s tough to verify and most of those organizations are way bigger than us and well-funded to be a registered charity. I do like the idea of a shop standardizing it, but there still needs to be a limit and an expected return! You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

What Can ‘Discounting’ Look Like in Your Shop?

Consider alternative strategies to discounting: offering perks like extra items in an order, selling older merchandise at a lower price, supporting nonprofits at your discretion, providing discounts for large orders, using discounts to resolve issues with unhappy customers, and bundling free items as an upsell.

Substitute perks for lower pricing:

“Instead of ‘discount pricing,’ we prefer to give clients perks like throwing in a few extra shirts in their order, waiving a rush fee or offering free delivery. They actually prefer those perks to discounts!”  
LaTonna Roberson, owner of T-Shirt Shop Dallas and Lady Print Boss

Sell older merch at a lower price:

In some situations, offering a ‘discount’ might benefit your shop and your clients. For example, once a year, Roberson holds a mix-and-match sale where clients can grab discounted garments she’s collected for logoed merch.

“We still make money off printing the items, and customers love it,” she says, “because they get the discount, and they get their logo on different items that we discontinued or didn’t sell. It's a win-win for both of us.”

Support nonprofits or other businesses at your discretion:

Another scenario is when a client is facing tight budget constraints, especially for nonprofit organizations or startups. Offering a discount in such cases can help them afford the services they need, while also building a positive relationship with them. For example, a local nonprofit approached Logo Unlimited to print t-shirts for a charity event.

“They had a limited budget, so we offered them a discount on the printing costs,” Ionitsa says. “Not only were they thrilled with the savings, but they also became loyal clients and referred others to us.”

A client is placing a massive order:

“Giving them a discount can incentivize them to place the order, but also build goodwill and encourage repeat business,” Ionitsa says.

“If they’re a regular or someone you've been working with for a while, offering that ‘discount’ can be a nice way to show appreciation and keep them coming back. It's all about finding that sweet spot between keeping the client happy and not selling yourself short.” - Artem Ionitsa, president of Logo Unlimited

You’re making things right with an unhappy customer:

If your shop messed up an order, offering a discount on that order or the next one can rectify the situation – but make it clear the discount is a one-time thing.

You’re bundling “free items” as an upsell:

For example, if a client orders 144 hoodies, you could throw in a laser-engraved Yeti tumbler and an embroidered adidas hat as a thank you. The idea is that they’ll love the items so much that they’ll order more in the future.

Sell on Value vs. Price

If your shop acts as an order-taker rather than a problem-solving partner, it’s harder to charge appropriately. “Discounting is laziness in sales,” Atkinson says. “It’s easier to sell the closer we get to zero. The further away we get, the harder it is because you’re attempting to solve a problem.” If a client insists on a low-ball offer, simply refuse.

“Remember, you don’t get paid what you’re worth, only what you negotiate,” Atkinson says. “If they keep asking, say, ‘How can I do that, give you the order for free? Work for half-price?’” Let them answer. People push to see how far you’ll go.”

Balancing Perks and Profitability

Balancing profitability with providing client value through discounts is about finding the right balance.

1. Assess each situation carefully.

The Logo Unlimited team considers factors such as client loyalty, order size and their current financial situation. “Our goal is to provide value to clients while ensuring our business remains financially healthy,” Ionitsa says. “It’s about finding that balance where both our clients and our business benefit.”

2. Use discounts very strategically to reward loyalty.

“We’re not in the game of undercutting our value,” Roberson says. “Instead, we use discounts to reward loyalty and as part of larger, mutually beneficial projects. It’s about smart discounting, not just discounting for the sake of it.”

3. Give your staff clear parameters.

Logo Unlimited established clear criteria and policies to guide staff in autonomously determining when discounts are appropriate. “These guidelines consider factors like client relationships, order size, and specific business circumstances,” Ionitsa says. “By providing our team with these criteria, we ensure consistency and empower them to make autonomous decisions while aligning with our shop goals and values.”

4. Focus on the value you offer above all else.

“We firmly believe the real value we offer goes far beyond just the number on a price tag. What sets us apart is the exceptional quality of our printing services and the tangible benefits they bring to our clients’ businesses. It’s about delivering a product that elevates their brand, becomes a walking billboard, and in many cases, an item they can profitably resell.”
LaTonna Roberson, owner of T-Shirt Shop Dallas and Lady Print Boss

Take inspiration from what’s at the heart of Roberson’s business philosophy, which allows her to charge her worth: creating meaningful business friendships with our clients. “We don't just listen,” she says, “we solve their problems by understanding their needs and going above and beyond to meet them. It's a partnership where their success becomes our success.”

Mar 3, 2024