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Why New Decorators Should Think About Outsourcing Production

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Why New Decorators Should Think About Outsourcing Production

f he could go back in time, Tom Rauen would outsource 100% of his print shop’s production when he opened his shop. “Production took away my time and focus from sales and marketing,” says Rauen, CEO of Envision

“Some people want to do everything in-house so they have control over the process, quality and timeline. For shops starting out, it’s more cost-effective to outsource production to larger production shops that have the economies of scale and production systems in place.” 
Tom Rauen, CEO of Envision

You can hit that sweet spot of scaling your business a lot faster by outsourcing production, while you focus on growing your customer base. “The cost to outsource production could be cheaper than doing it in-house,” Rauen says. “Once you know your cost per impression or cost per embroidered logo, this helps determine if you should outsource it.”

We picked the brains of veteran shop owners about how to decide what to outsource and of course, choosing the right partners. 

4 Reasons New Apparel Decorators Should Outsource Production

Check out key reasons why outsourcing makes sense when you’re opening your shop.

1. It allows you to be a one-stop shop.

For decorators, both new and experienced, outsourcing’s a smart option when a client asks you for a decorating option you don’t offer (or one you don’t offer yet). For example, if you only do embroidery, and a client wants screen-printed t-shirts and embroidered polos, outsource the screen printing to a partner shop. That way, you’re still the client’s single point of contact.

“Outsourcing can free up your time, allow you to work on other projects at the same time, and increase your overall profit, while taking a smaller cut of jobs. It’s also great for those with health issues who can no longer do the production, or who haven’t gotten the equipment they want or need yet.”
Tanya Doyscher, owner and graphic designer at The Visual Identity Vault

Some shops outsource a decorating service until they can bring the equipment and production in-house. Others outsource processes they never plan to offer. Outsourcing gives you the breathing room to add new imprinting services in-house. It’ll also help you feel more comfortable farming out certain services for the long term, if you have great partners.

2. It’s budget friendlier.

Outsourcing has the potential to save you money, because it keeps you from needing to invest in new equipment, supplies and labor when you’re opening your shop. If you don’t have the capital to buy a press, you’ll be able to retain screen-printing customers until you have the money to buy or lease the equipment yourself.

But it goes beyond that. Sometimes, when you’re starting out, you may not have a firm grip on your overhead costs. Even experienced shop owners have unknown variables that make decorated items more costly to produce than expected. Outsourcing can help as you navigate your costs.

Pro tip: Examine how much it costs to bring a process in-house vs. how much it’ll cost you to outsource it. Base your decision on how much you profit, if you outsource the process. Factor in the variables that show you the range you might make in profit as opposed to the guaranteed profit from outsourcing. If you’re new, it’s a good idea to hire a shop consultant to help you make these calculations and decisions.

3. There’s less equipment maintenance and upkeep. 

Buying equipment for new printing processes is never a one-time investment. You’ll also routinely be paying for upkeep and maintenance. And, if your machines go down, you’ll pay for repairs, while losing money on orders. By outsourcing, you take these expenses and problems off the table.

4. It helps reduce stress.

Once you find the right outsourcing partners, you can feel confident fulfilling orders for lots of imprinting processes. “But the stress level can be a double-edged sword – unless you know the person or company you’re working with and have had in-depth conversations of each party’s expectations – you’re putting your reputation in someone else’s hands,” Doyscher says. “This is a potentially problematic situation for your bottom line and reputation.”

Decide What You Want to Outsource

Here are three tips for choosing what to hand off to another shop.

1. Make a comprehensive list. 

Doyscher recommends making a three-column list, including the following to decide what to outsource: 

- What types of things you don’t enjoy doing or that take too long to complete.

- What services you want to offer, but aren’t not in your budget to purchase equipment for or hire someone to run that equipment. 

- Tasks you may not be proficient at in-house, like graphic design for example.

2. Keep what you’re good at in-house. 

“Make a list of what your shop’s best and most efficient at,” Rauen says. Envision is great at simple spot one-to-three color artwork. Anything above four colors increases the variables of errors or longer setup times. “To minimize those variables, we stick to what we can control and do efficiently in-house, and outsource the jobs that don’t fit the criteria,” he says.

3. Outsource what makes sense for your shop. 

“You can outsource anything,” Doyscher says. “Shops outsource embroidery, sublimation and screen printing. They also outsource administrative tasks to virtual assistants.” For example, The Visual Identity Vault outsources printing direct-to-film transfers.

“We don’t want to invest in the printer, as the technology’s new and evolving. I’d rather support others who’ve taken that time to learn the craft and get my transfers from them.”
- Tanya Doyscher, owner and graphic designer at The Visual Identity Vault

Pro tip: To test out whether your market will buy a new service – like DTF, DTG, sublimation or white toner printing – it makes sense to outsource it before you make a big purchase that might not be right for your buyers.

Choose Your Production Partners

When you’re ready to outsource, it’s time to choose partners you trust. Here’s how to get started.

1. Outsourcing gives you a wider choice in production partners. 

If you hire all your staff for in-house work, you can only capitalize on the local talent pool of operators and artists. But by outsourcing, you’ll have a much larger pool. You’ll have wider access to more technology, talent and equipment without having to spend the money to bring this in-house.

2. When outsourcing a decorating method, such as embroidery or screen printing, the shop you choose should live up to your high standards

If they’re local, visit the shop and examine samples. Give them a test order so you can see how the process works, how long it takes and if you like working with the shop. Choose a person in your shop to manage outsourced orders, including doing quality control checks.

3. Choose the right-sized partner. 

Rauen notes that if the shop is too small, they might not have the systems and processes to handle your orders efficiently and on time. “If the shop’s too big, you could just be another job, and your order won’t get the attention it needs,” he says.

“A medium-sized shop has the systems to give you a great customer experience and also be small enough so your order gets done accurately and on time. When outsourcing, you can grow and scale without worrying about hiring or the high capital investment of equipment or labor.”
Tom Rauen, CEO of Envision

Doyscher watched other shops get burned by drop-ship partners that fell behind on turnaround times. “That leaves your shop in a horrible predicament with how to save face with their customers, who’ll likely leave you,” she says. “It’s also a financial hardship to either fulfill the order in a different manner or refund the customer out of your pocket.”

4. Some shops look for partners in different regions. 

If you’re an East Coast shop getting West Coast screen-printing orders, pick a partner in that region, so your clients get their orders faster with lower shipping costs. Rauen has found great outsourcing partners across the country by attending trade shows and industry education events. “These relationships helped build trust both ways,” he says.

Finally, Focus on Building Relationships

Doyscher recently delivered a puppy (a sibling of her dog) to friends who started out as outsourcing partners. “When we’re on great terms with the people we outsource to, we enjoy much better outcomes,” she says. “I’ve built a network of people I send jobs, and know it’ll get done with the same attention to detail I expect from my own business and staff.” 

Sep 4, 2022