s a distributor or decorator, clients are looking for your expertise on all the latest styles, colors, fabrications, performance features, sustainability stories and basically everything else related to apparel. Because of that, being in the know on all this definitely helps build brand loyalty and bring more money into your business.
“Understanding trends is important to your apparel sales, because it shows you have an understanding of what’s going on at retail and what’s influencing large groups of people,” says Craig Sullivan, manager of Inside Sales here at S&S Activewear. “By knowing what’s trending, you also can open up a new market or sales opportunity to your client they’ve never explored or didn’t know existed. This solidifies you as a true consultant to your customers, rather than just a salesperson.”
However, depending solely on “fashion” trends to lead your sales pitches to clients can actually hurt your apparel sales. For example, it’s just not enough to present the season’s hottest color stories to your customers and say, “Hey, these are the colors of the year. Which one do you want?” You must specifically connect those colors to your client’s brand, campaign or event colors.
“Yes, you must be savvy about current fashions and decoration methods to remain fresh and valuable to your customers, but it’s key to link trends to your customers’ markets to stay relevant.”
– Alison Banholzer, owner of Wear Your Spirit Warehouse
Here are five ways to use—and transcend trends—to make even more apparel sales this year.
1. Get to know your prospect before the sales call.
Part of that process of showing up as an apparel expert (rather than a T-shirt order taker) is what Sullivan calls “pre-call research” or a “pre-meeting brainstorm.” “A good salesperson does extensive research on a client’s website, social media, LinkedIn and any other platform they exist on to find out what’s important to them, what their message is to their clients, and who they work with or provide goods and services to,” he says.
When you get on the phone or Zoom call, this “pre-call research” shows that you’ve invested time and interest in your prospect, which further solidifies your sales relationship. The first two questions Banholzer usually asks her customers two main questions:
- What’s your intended purpose for this decorated-apparel purchase?
- Who’s your audience?
“Every market our industry serves has trends attached to it,” Banholzer says. “You might sell crop tops and ‘wilder’ decorations to cheer or dance teams, but you’ll also notice a trend of wrinkle-free, better-fitting garments for the corporate buyer. One trend doesn’t fit all. If you know the intended purpose and the audience for the purchase, you can still be on trend and meet your customers’ needs.”
2. Talk about sustainability.
“Going green” isn’t a passing trend. In fact, nearly eight in 10 consumers say that sustainability is important for them, according to a recent survey by the IBM Institute for Business Value and the National Retail Federation. For those buyers who say sustainability is “very or extremely important,” more than 70% would pay a premium of 35%, on average, for brands that are sustainable and environmentally responsible. One more stat we think you’ll like: 57% of consumers are willing to change their purchasing habits to help reduce negative environmental impact.
“The sustainability message is so big right now, and it has immense meaning and value to clients,” Sullivan says. “If you’re not educated or don’t show passion about this message, you could lose potential customers.”
As a brand advisor, you can educate your clients on how apparel is manufactured, if it’s been created using fair labor standards, and whether or not it’s made from U.S.-grown organic cotton or recycled materials. This is also a great opportunity to sell your clients on why it makes sense to invest in premium-quality garments, rather than cheaply made tees that get thrown in a landfill.
Before client presentations, also ask your apparel suppliers: Is this garment made sustainably? What’s the manufacturing impact on the environment? Is it made from U.S. grown cotton? Is it made with fair labor? What type of packaging does it come in?
“As the buyer pool includes more and more Millennials and Gen Zers, you should know that the sustainability movement means more to them than price, speed, and even quality at times,” Sullivan says. “This is because that messaging is woven into their brand DNA and company values, and how they present themselves to their prospects.”
3. Pay attention to premium apparel (which may also be more eco-friendly).
It’s important to pitch premium garments more often, rather than just low-priced and cheaply made apparel that ends up in the trash before it’s even worn. This involves educating clients on why spending a little more for a better garment gains them more impressions and keeps clothing out of landfills, where it can stay for as long as 200 years before decomposing.
“Most often, the premium products that are more sustainable also feel better, look better and fit better,” Banholzer says. “Once I’ve shown the apparel product to a customer and they ‘feel and see’ the difference, I also explain how having a better-quality shirt will ensure the end-user keeps it around longer—getting more impressions and a better return on their investment.”
Tip: When educating your customers on premium products and sustainability, ensure this message is carried through all the way. If the packaging of the sustainable garments your client purchased comes in a non-recyclable box wrapped in plastic, this could send a very mixed message and may undermine your integrity as a trusted advisor.
4. Tie trends together for your clients.
As we’ve said earlier, knowing fashion trends is important and even imperative for your shop to make sales. However, creating synergy between your client’s needs and today’s trends will bring you more success. Cropped tees, hoodies and tanks are huge popular and big sellers right now, but probably not ideal if your client is a financial institution or an insurance company.
Luckily, trends are more than just the style of garment and this is where your creative genius comes into play. For the same financial institution client, you may decide to take a trending bright color that’s similar to the organization’s brand colors and create a stylish coordinated T-shirt and mouse pad combo.
Remember, trends also flow into artwork ideas, which can translate into cool statement graphics, for one. (We’ve been in the year of the statement tee since 2020.) With the popularity of athletic and retro fonts, you can delight your customers with unique design ideas on trending styles. Also, tie-dye is hugely popular now. Patterning and colors on these can range from those classic eye-popping rainbow spirals to more subtle tone-on-tone abstract prints. That means at this point, you can pretty much find a match for almost any client in any industry your servicing.
“If you want to be a true partner to your customer, understanding their end-user demographic is just as important as being up to date with market trends,” Sullivan says. “The next evolution is connecting end-users to what’s trending that dovetails with your customer’s brand or event.”
5. Continually educate clients.
Over the course of your relationship, invest time into showing your clients what you know and how they might be interested in playing around with trends. Create quarterly PowerPoint presentations showing on-trend colors, fabrics and silhouettes. Go further and show them apparel program ideas you’ve customized for them that marry their needs with today’s latest trends.
And coming back to sustainability, don’t forget to educate your clients on your own shop’s efforts in this regard. Many companies want to reduce their own carbon footprint and will gladly partner with an apparel-decorating shop like yours that shares these same goals.
Now, You’ve Become Your Client’s Superhero
Your clients look to you to know all the things related to apparel, that is, the things that connect authentically with their brand. By giving them what they want, you’re becoming both a superhero and a trusted brand advisor, which will make it nearly impossible for them to ever want to work with anyone else.
But, don’t stop there. Also consider what Baseball Hall of Famer Tom Seaver says: “In baseball, my theory is to strive for consistency, not to worry about the numbers. If you dwell on statistics, you get shortsighted. If you aim for consistency, the numbers will be there at the end.”
Sales is an elevated sport where you need to lay the foundation of consistently showing up as a knowledgeable provider for your clients. Like Seaver, if you keep your focus on that, you’re sure to keep signing those decorated-apparel deals for a long time.