he team at Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More in Raleigh, NC created a “decoration wall” in their shop to show in-person customers six different techniques at a glance: DTG, DTGW (DTG with a white base), vinyl, heat transfers, screen printing and embroidery. “It’s easy to show customers new techniques, like DTG, and how it works on dark colors without the white base,” says Kyle Perkins, owner and technical director. “Having the ability to feel the textures and hand on the garments is a great benefit. This wall has helped us convince customers to go with one technique over another.”
So ask yourself this: How many times has one of your customers come to you and asked for a last-minute screen-printing order you’d love to fulfill, but can’t, because they needed it yesterday. This is frustrating for a couple reasons. First, your customer’s upset because they don't understand why you can’t put together a large order of logoed T-shirts overnight. Secondly, you’re now exasperated at losing the opportunity to fulfill an order, simply because your customer didn’t give you enough notice to produce it.
This all comes down to one issue: Your customers don’t know what they don’t know. They’re trying to run their own businesses or events, and don’t understand all the steps that go into an embroidery, screen-printing or sublimation order. They think of you as the decorated-apparel expert, which means learning about your job isn’t high on their to-do list.
“Educating customers allows them to understand what can or can't be done using a particular garment decoration technique. Once they know the stand-out options and limitations, they're better equipped to make a decision about what they want.”
- Kristine Shreve, director of marketing and outreach at Applique Getaway
"Understanding how the quality of art impacts the process and the cost of the work is also very valuable. Your customers may be more willing to pay your prices if they understand the time and effort that you put into learning the skills to create the decoration,” Shreve says.
Pulling back the curtain on decorating can actually be a fun way to show clients how the printing magic happens and help make the ordering process go way more smoothly. For example, Contract Impressions ships out sample kits to clients and prospects to educate them. “Every item has a sticker with a description of the decoration method, and the benefits and drawbacks,” says Colette Wilhelm, owner. “It’s very eye-opening for our customers.”
Educating customers on decorated-apparel basics
Most of your clients do want to know more about how their orders are produced—but only up to a point. Hearing a 20-minute lecture about the differences between plastisol and water-based inks isn’t the best way to approach the topic.
Instead, put yourself in your buyer’s shoes. Present basic information in a fun and engaging way on how decorated apparel is created in small, digestible chunks that can be interesting and attention-grabbing to your customers.
“I like to educate my clients so they understand the work that goes into their decorated apparel and why the charges are what they are. That validates their investment with me.”
- Carolyn Cagle, owner of Strikke Knits Embroidery.
So the next time you have a customer setting themselves up for unrealistic expectations, try to educate them on some of these crucial points.
1. Artwork being digitized for embroidery or converted for screen printing:
This is something that can’t be rushed. If the logo or artwork isn’t exactly right, the finished product will look off. You want your customers to give you time to ensure their artwork is created with high-quality precision, prepared for the machine and approved by the client before running the design.
“Your customers need to understand how the quality of their artwork can impact the finished product, and even the speed of the work,” Shreve says. “Often, they also have issues understanding why a particular garment decoration technique will or won't work with the artwork they want to use.”
It’s your job to explain to customers why embroidery doesn't deal as well with gradients or fades, or why sublimation works best on white garments. “I sum up embroidery like this to my client: Your logo is in English and my machine speaks French, so we have to translate your artwork so we can sew the design,” Cagle says. “After I use that analogy, they get it.”
2. Faster or lower-minimum options:
Demonstrate the types of decoration that can be turned around faster (and at lower minimums) such as direct-to-garment printing and using heat transfers. It’s a good idea to show DTG’s photorealistic capabilities and how custom screen-printed transfers look just like the “real” ink. When people see how good these methods are, they may opt for choosing them more often.
3. Checking inventory to fulfill an order:
Create a video or a blog explaining a time when someone called with an order you couldn’t fulfill because you didn’t have all the blanks in-house and couldn’t order it in time. This is a common issue and one that can be easily prevented by having your customers understand they can’t expect you to have everything they want at any given time. The message? A little planning goes a long way.
4. Scheduling time on the machine:
Next time you get an order for embroidery, record a short video about how you schedule the time on your eight-head. This will be very eye-opening for your customer. Show eight hats sewing on the machine and record it in fast mode. This will be fun to watch and will ensure your message gets through that this isn’t an overnight process.
“Breakdowns most often occur when your customer wants to micromanage the process,” Cagle says. “That’s usually your first sign you didn’t fully explain the decorating process or the materials you needed to complete the job. Your customers don’t sew on caps or shirts, so they would have no idea if you didn’t educate them.”
5 ways to show customers around your shop
Here are a few ideas on how you can begin to educate your customers more on the process of decoration:
1. Use Videos
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video should be worth more than a million. The embroidery and screen-printing processes are pretty cool to watch in action, so capitalize on this by making videos of your products in the process of being created.
In two minutes or less you can show your process and explain what the viewer is watching, while you’re creating a sample screen-printed shirt. “Remember, shorter videos are better, and social sites prioritize videos of that length,” Shreve says.
If you’ve never shot a video before, keep these tips in mind:
- First, make sure your videos only cover one topic.
- Keep it short, sweet, and to the point.
- Keep the tone light and personable. Your viewers should get to know your brand personality as well as the information in the video.
- Create your own YouTube channel you can direct your clients to (and link to it on your company website.)
- Finally, regularly post these videos on your social channels so that you can show your decorating expertise to other potential customers.
2. Webinars or Zoom meeting
For your best clients, schedule a video meeting explaining what you’re doing for their current projects or to share ideas for their next orders. Even better, record the webinar so your customers can play it when they have the time to watch it on their schedule. “It’s OK to do a longer-format webinar, but mix up your presenters with slides and visual content,” Shreve says.
This will take more planning than short videos because you’ll need to move briskly through your topics. (Remember, this shouldn’t be a long production. Create a presentation that captures and engages, leaving them wanting to know more.)
Share with your clients that you value their business, and, because of that, you want them to understand the industry best practices you’re using to complete their order. During this webinar, be sure to highlight any eco-friendly measures you’re taking in the creation of their order and how they are helping the environment. Pointing out everything that helps you fill the order to create the best customer experience possible shows them not only how their product is made, but also the time and care that you put into their order.
3. New Client Orientations
Once you have a few videos completed, create a welcome message for new customers that includes links to your videos or pre-recorded webinars. This way, you can educate them on what you need them to understand, so you’ll be able to give the best service and quality decorated apparel.
“Think about how busy you are and then assume most people are in the same boat,” Shreve says.
“Any videos that you record should be on the shorter side and should be housed on a landing page or YouTube channel where your customers can peruse them at their leisure.”
- Kristine Shreve, director of marketing and outreach at Applique Getaway
4. Live Events and Trade Shows
You can attend live or online trade shows that allow you to demonstrate your machinery in action. These demos aren’t just informational, since they have that “wow” factor. “When you screen an event make sure that it’s suited to live printing, and that potential clients will be there,” Shreve says. “Know your goal. Are you selling, or demonstrating what you can do to attract customers? Are you giving away printed products?”
Be sure to record these demonstrations, so you can repurpose the videos by publishing them to social media and sending them directly to your clients.
5. Open Houses
In person or virtually, bring in customers (or potential customers) to walk them through your shop and show them how the process works, from taking their order to producing the final product. “A live open house will get people to your shop, but most events of this type involve a lot of planning, so be aware of that,” Shreve says. “Virtual events can be great, but make sure you have a good streaming option and a good internet connection.”
You can do a variety of interactive presentations such as six different ways to screen print a shirt. When it’s over, give out sample merch to attendees so they can experience the quality of your printed tees.
What does educating your customers do?
It’s important to educate your customers about the process that goes into their orders. By taking this step, you're not just making you're ordering process easier, but also getting an opportunity to demonstrate why your shop is the best for their needs. It gives them an opportunity to appreciate the level of care and concern you put into each project.
“Start when they’re new by explaining the process and the base cost,” Cagle says. “I interview them about how they’ll be using the garments, and I make sure they understand what I need from them, like good artwork, and what they’ll be getting from me.”
And like Applique Getaway, experiment with different ways of educating customers. From website pages to downloadable PDFs to videos, there's lots of ways to get started. “We also use social media, primarily Facebook, where there’s a group and a page where people can ask questions and make suggestions,” Shreve says. “You have so many opportunities to make those educational connections.” Whichever way you chose, you'll quickly see the benefits of helping your customers understand the processes that make their orders look fantastic.