any print shop owners don’t love the idea of narrowing down their customer base. They think that if they do this, they’ll be limiting their business, since every paying customer is a “good” customer. Instead, narrowing your customer pool by focusing on a specific demographic, actually increases your bottom line and improves sales.
“One of the toughest things to do for a business or sales is to walk away from a deal or to professionally tell a prospective client or partner that the relationship isn’t a good fit,” says Lucas Guariglia, co-founder and CEO at Rowboat Creative.
“We’ve always operated with the mentality that all clients are partners. If it isn’t an equally beneficial and respectful two-way street, we’ve learned that it’s best for us to move on.”
- Lucas Guariglia, co-founder and CEO at Rowboat Creative
However, Guariglia remembers that in Rowboat’s early years, even as his staff made the screen-printing magic happen and did backflips for customers, some took these efforts for granted. “They spun the relationship as if we were lucky to have their business,” he says. “Now, my position is to protect the house at all times. This means watching our bottom and top lines, and making sure our staff and teams know they come first. Our clients and partners are a crucial part of the team. However, there’s plenty of opportunity out there, so if the relationship doesn’t satisfy both sides, there’s more power in walking away, than in trudging through an abusive business relationship.”
Setting your shop’s tone is a huge part of establishing strong relationships with your ideal customers. The way you set expectations and communicate to customers will make or break how they feel about your company. This starts with knowing exactly who your customer base is and what their expectations are. That way, you can establish trust and respect from them right at the start, while also increasing your sales and loyalty.
Why Do I Need to Identify My Ideal Customer?
At Say It In Stitches, President Alex Fernandez, believes one of the keys to running a healthy, profitable business is to get the highest return on your finite resources, like money, time, capacity for work and so on. “Related to that, you need to realize that not all revenue is created equal,” he says.
“The customers who average small transactions often have some negative things in common. They require a lot of administrative resources before and after you decorate. They bring in a high percentage of rush orders that disrupt your production flow, and they often pay late.”
- Alex Fernandez, President of Say It In Stitches
Fernandez operates his shop from the vantage point of knowing that there are profitable and less-profitable sales dollars. “We have an informal client classification system that helps us prioritize finite shop resources against the highest-quality revenue,” he says, “whether it’s with existing customers or in evaluating prospective new customers.”
That’s why it makes sense to narrow your customer pool by focusing on a specific customer base, market or industry. Doing so, has actually shown that it could increase your bottom line and improve sales. “The old saying goes, ‘The riches are in the niches,’ for a reason,” says Tom Rauen, CEO of Envision Tees. “When you narrow down and focus your customer base to a specific niche or a couple niches, it allows you to focus your marketing message and product offerings to that audience.”
For example, Tanya Doyscher, owner and graphic designer at The Visual Identity Vault, used to try being a one-stop shop for too many markets. However, she decided to narrow down that focus to businesses, schools and crafters. “We’re more successful when we have fewer targets,” she says. “The other biggest help has been eliminating one-off designs. They often take up the most time, and we don’t end up making any money from these customers.”
Here are some reasons why you should choose your customers wisely:
- You can put all of your focus onto serving those who can grow your business.
- You can then begin tailoring your customer experience and marketing to just those buyers.
- You don’t have to spend as much time trying to convince customers to shop with you or to buy upsold items. Instead, you can focus on what they need as a customer and how you can help them.
- You’ll eventually become more of an expert in that area of focus, which will help you cultivate an exclusive clientele, and charge higher rates for those services.
- You can spend a greater time building a connection with your ideal customers, while also learning about them. This will help you to ultimately develop more loyalty and gain a higher lifetime value from that customer base in the long run.
- You’ll also have more of a chance to be more creative and do your best work.
Besides knowing which customers you’ll want to serve, it’s also important to understand which customers you don’t want. “Falling victim to serving every single person’s needs is a bad idea,” Doyscher says. “Now, we refer them to other vendors who may better suit their needs, and both parties are far happier.”
How to Determine Your Target Customer
Every decorating shop owner wants to be successful. But if you want to really excel, you need to focus all your marketing and sales energy and budget on those customers who are the best fit for your products and services. One way to do this is to define your best customer.
“Ask yourself, ‘Who do I like to do business with the most?’” Rauen says.
“At the base level, your ideal customer is someone you enjoy working with, and has the same values and interests you do. Your ideal customer may also be passionate about the same hobbies and things outside of business.”
- Tom Rauen, CEO of Envision Tees
Take the time to answer the following questions about your ideal customer:
- What types of products do they want to buy?
- When do they tend to buy your products?
- What do they use your decorated products for?
- How much do they know about the decorating process?
- Do they value your product and efforts as part of their marketing strategy?
- What’s their average order size? One piece? 500? 5,000?
- How much do they spend on decorated products per order? Per year?
- Are they willing to pay your full price upfront? What’s your profit margin on the work?
- Where do they live in the real world?
- Where do they spend most of their time online?
- What do they like to do in their off-work time?
At Say It In Stitches, Fernandez knows his team works more effectively with promo products distributors, who understand the basics of apparel decoration. “Since we’re highly process oriented, the customers who come to us with an innate understanding of the apparel-decoration lifecycle are the easiest to onboard,” he says. “In addition, since 92% of our capacity is made up of 15-head machines, our business model is geared toward higher-than-single-digit transaction sizes.”
When the Say It In Stitches team first talks to a prospective new client, they try to get a sense for their level of industry experience and sophistication, their level of organization and attention to detail, and their transaction characteristics. “We try to be as flexible and as accommodating as possible, but some situations are ‘square pegs in round holes’ and don’t work for us,” Fernandez says.
You can also try the following to help you on your quest to define your ideal customer:
- Figure out the demographics for who buys your products. What’s your ideal customer’s average age, gender, background and job role? What’s his or her life like?
For example, when Doyscher started attending Business Networking International (BNI) meetings, she just asked for generic promo orders. “Now we ask for the names of decision-makers in specific industries, so we can be their one source for branded apparel, promo items and printed products,” she says. “Thinking bigger has opened the door to repeat orders.”
- Look at the product from the customer’s perspective. Why do they want to spend their money on your apparel? What problems do your decorated products solve for them? What are their biggest complaints about competitor shops?
- Define the reasons why your customers shop with you. What is it about your printed product or customer experience that’s unique? What else do you offer outside of the actual product that your customers appreciate?
- Determine how comfortable your ideal customer is with technology. Are they more likely to order your product online or in person? Do they want to use an in-store kiosk or an online designer to customize their apparel?
Ultimately, Guariglia says that at the core, an ideal customer reciprocates the energy and respect his team gives, no matter the situation. “Of course an ideal customer pays on time and provides steady business, but one of the most crucial elements is that they understand the realities of business,” he says. “This is especially true during the constant hurdles we’re still facing as a result of COVID-19. While we all do our best to be flawless, it’s about communication and coming together to solve a problem.”
How to Set Expectations for Customers
When you onboard new customers, you must set expectations (and boundaries) upfront so you develop a good working relationship, and keep bottlenecks out of the process.
“If you open the door from the start to where you’re being pushed around and not establishing mutual respect, you can never get it back”
- Lucas Guariglia co-founder and CEO at Rowboat Creative
If you don’t let new customers know upfront what you expect and what your guidelines are, they’ll try to define things on their terms. And in the decorated-apparel business, you know that some customers come in the door with outrageous expectations, leading to chaos. “That’s why you need to take control and let them know the process from the start,” Rauen says. “That includes what you need to get an order started, the actual steps in completing the order, and what the overall timeline of an average project looks like.”
At Say It In Stitches, besides setting expectations about the onboarding process (which Fernandez openly tells customers may feel like boot camp before it becomes second nature and easy), the team provides short primers or cheat sheets on the kinds of information that they need (and why) at each stage in the order lifecycle, from quote to order execution. They even provide sample work order forms, to illustrate to customers the kinds of information needed to produce the order correctly.
“We’re very communicative in the early stages of a new relationship, explaining the errors or omissions that might occur and why it affects us, them, and potentially the outcome,” he says. “We try to not be dogmatic about these explanations, but rather explain the underlying reasoning for any of our shop requirements or requests.”
Setting proper expectations means letting your new client know six things:
- What will you deliver?
- What do you need from the customer to get started?
- How much will you charge?
- When will you be paid?
- When will you deliver the finished product?
- What will a successful project look like?
- What other policies are in place (like how you charge artwork setup or digitizing fees, or deal with rush orders)?
Let your clients know before you agree to do a project what they can expect along the way. Establishing payment schedules, delivery schedules and defining deliverables will make you and your client much happier throughout the project.
Also, your marketing messaging should work to attract your ideal clients. “If your shop has solid branding, a company personality and a clear vision prospective clients can pick up on, then these should work to attract the right clients,” Guariglia says.
At Say It In Stitches, Fernandez focuses his marketing on promotional products distributors and experienced buyers of contract decorating services. “We specifically provide subtle, but clear messaging to exclude retail customers,” he says. “We organize our communications around the three pillars or tenets of our brand: superb quality, fast and on-time delivery, strong customer service and project management.”
How to Enforce Boundaries with Customers
Once you’ve established some ground rules and expectations, one of the hardest things to do, is actually enforce them. Here’s some things to keep in mind that might help:
- Let your customers know upfront the communication format you use. Of course, you can meet them halfway by embracing whatever their preferred method is, like texting or emailing, but don’t change that constantly.
- Don’t let your customers control your personal time. Sure, you may have to come in early or work late occasionally to finish up a big order. But, if they begin to consistently interrupt your personal life, then it’s time to stop that behavior.
- Don’t let your customers treat you as a doormat. You’re there to be of service to them, not to serve them constantly. Give the customers, who are overstepping their bounds a firm reminder of that and be sure to say “no” when you have to. (And, don’t let them talk you out of it either!)
- Be consistent in your expectations. By defining them early, you let everyone know the ground rules. So don’t change them on a whim
Remember, you don’t have to reach or serve every single potential customer on the planet. If you define your ideal customer and then focus on bringing in more clients similar to that, you’re well on your way to finding success as an apparel-shop owner.
“Protect your shop at all times,” Guariglia says. “You and your team are the ones who make the magic happen. Clients will come and go in this industry, and a ton of them are swooned easy enough by saving a penny. If they play that game, let them go. Eight out of 10 times, they’ll come back and then the ball is in your court to decide if you want to take them back or move on.”