Guide to Decorated Apparel Business Issues
Decorated apparel is a unique industry that’s changed significantly with the rise of the online world. Between smaller order sizes, fast turnaround times and the ever-rising number of options you need to offer, keeping your apparel store cutting edge can be a challenge. Other issues that plague the field include difficulty finding and retaining good staff members, maintaining good inventory management and efficiently meeting customer expectations.
Thankfully, there are ways to manage these problems and address them in a way that works for your apparel business. Let’s dive into five of the most prevalent issues across this industry and take a look at some business management tips to help your company overcome them.
Finding and Keeping Employees
This first issue is one that applies to almost every industry, but it is prevalent in decorated apparel businesses. Your company depends on having competent, reliable staff to get the job done. If you can’t find and keep good people around, you’re going to struggle.
Let’s look at finding good employees first. From machine operators to graphic artists and those who pack and ship orders, you need people who are capable and qualified. In today’s job market, you have to treat getting employees like getting customers. Put ads out on job posting websites, and make sure your description is accurate and helpful. Try to fit as much information about the job itself as you can, including responsibilities, qualifications, a pay range and benefits. Speaking of benefits, if you can offer a competitive package for things like health insurance and paid time off, you’ll have an edge over companies that don’t. Many are cutting back in this area, so advertise your offerings. Not only can this help you gain employees, but it could help you keep them, too.
Other ways you can beef up your employee-gathering methods include:
- Attending local job fairs: Many organizations, from the Chamber of Commerce to nearby colleges, will host job fairs that you can join. Grab some business cards and applications and set up a booth.
- Offer referral bonuses: Lean on your existing staff and ask them for referrals. A small payout can be enough to get them talking to their friends.
- Look for good attitudes: You can teach someone a new skill, but you can’t teach a good attitude. Focus less on their existing abilities and more on their behavior. Look for people who are willing to learn and dedicated, as well as possessing any other traits that you find beneficial to the job you’re hiring for. They may be more likely to stick around, too.
Once you’ve found those rockstar employees, keep them around by offering good benefits, creating a positive work environment and keeping them engaged. Make sure management is seen as trustworthy and can show employees that they are valued. They must be good listeners who trust their staff and recognize their hard work.
A thorough understanding of your inventory and product status can make a big difference to your everyday operations and your dealings with clients. If you’re frequently losing track of products, dealing with inaccurate counts or waiting for shipments as your inventory runs out, you could benefit from better inventory management. It can both improve your day-to-day workflow and minimize the number of assets sitting around in storage.
One of the best ways to improve your inventory control is through inventory management software. It can help you streamline the movement of product throughout your facility and keep track of things accurately and in real time. A program designed specifically for decorated apparel offers plenty of benefits unique to that type of work. For instance, FDM4’s robust decoration module can help with:
- Decoration entry and maintenance: Many standard enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications don’t have this feature, which can smooth out the process of adding decoration to your inventory and entering detailed specifications.
- Real-time tracking: Watch your inventory from delivery to shipment, even across multiple warehouses.
- In-house or external design: If you send items out to a third party to complete a job, FDM4 has order management and tracking features to streamline and organize the process.
There is a lot more that inventory management software can help with, but you can see from just the examples above how you can significantly improve your workflow and results with tools specially made for your tasks. Many small- and medium-sized businesses can also make use of software-as-a-service to minimize costs of ERP programs.
Here are a few more pieces of advice for controlling your inventory:
- Use trusted suppliers. Keep track of issues that pop up, like late or inaccurate orders. These cost your business and can impact your clients. Only use suppliers that can meet your business needs and that you have a good relationship with. They may be more lenient or helpful if you stay on good terms with them.
- Implement forecasting measures. Try to get a good idea of your sales by following previous results, promotional spending, growth and market trends, which we’ll go over in a later section. By predicting product movement, you can more accurately order new supplies and fill your inventory as needed.
- Develop a contingency plan. If you have a spike in sales, problems with cash flow or inventory errors, you may need to have a backup plan that will help you manage your inventory.
- Conduct regular audits. You can perform a yearly audit and count all your products, or do spot checks throughout the year. These audits can help ensure that product is accounted for and is where it needs to be.
Meeting Customer Needs
Customer needs have and will continue to grow over the years. You need to be prepared to meet them. With the digital age, consumers expect easy online order processes. You may find yourself with smaller orders and faster turnaround times. While dealing with the challenges of those, you also have to keep up with your standard of quality results. Take proactive steps to reach the evolving needs of your clients.
To meet the demand for fast turnarounds, focus on finding ways to speed up the process:
- If your employees spend a minute per shirt removing excess packaging, it may be time to rethink that. See if you can find a supplier that doesn’t use this extra packaging or can remove it.
- If you perform steps like pretreatment, see if there is a supplier that will do this step before the item gets to you.
Of course, these options can cost more, but maybe not by much. You’ll have to run the numbers and see what works for you.
In terms of balancing costs, let’s talk about quality. Some companies try to cut corners and trade quality for inexpensive items. It may seem like an easy way to increase profits, but customers notice. They’ll pick up on a cheaply made item or low-quality type of material. Over time, they may stop doing business with you and opt for a company that provides better clothing. While you likely don’t need to buy the most expensive items your supplier offers, don’t forget the importance of providing your clients with high-quality items. Part of starting with the right supplies is knowing your audience. Take some time to analyze your clients and see what they value and how you can more appropriately meet their needs.
Another common problem that decorated apparel businesses create is a mismatch in customer expectations. They might overdeliver to get a sale or promise something without knowing their inventory limitations. The corresponding failure to meet the client’s needs can be detrimental to your reputation, especially for small businesses. Knowing your capabilities before commiting to a project is vital. One way to address this problem is to make more information immediately available. An ERP is an excellent way to do this if it can show you accurate inventory counts and configuration options. It can also help meet customer needs for shipping and help you select the best options that can save you money and reach them in a timely manner.
Finding New Business
Finding new customers is another issue that affects small and medium-sized businesses across industries — decorated apparel companies included. Whether a company has been around for a few years or since the last century, this problem seems to be a common one.
Before you launch into any new marketing tactics, stop and analyze your business plan. Ensure your marketing plan, customer analysis and value propositions are airtight. With plenty of competition, you need to target your customers and offer unique value that separates your company from the competition. If you can boast faster-than-average turnarounds or exceptional warranties, let your customers know about it.
One way to do that is to take a look at your advertising methods. Here are a few apparel marketing ideas that may help you nab more customers:
- Social media: Getting targeted social media posts out on sites like Facebook and Twitter are relatively inexpensive. They make it easy to target your potential customers with content that appeals to them. You can get your brand in front of more people and show them your value proposition.
- Collaboration: You can also try to partner with organizations that you think could use your services. Get in touch with someone and let them know what you have to offer.
- Referrals: Use your existing clients to your advantage. Assuming you maintain good relationships with them, ask customers to send their friends and colleagues your way.
Another way to drum up some business is to look for novelty. If you have a unique approach to production or some new technology, talk it up. It may be enough to get you some new customers. Keep up with the trends as well, which we’ll talk about next.
Keeping up With Trends in the Decorated Apparel Industry
Growth and development are a significant part of any business, and keeping up with the trends can net you more customers and better productivity. Stay abreast of the latest market research within the industry and try to adapt your business strategy to match it. That means advertising for certain popular products and adopting new business strategies.
Some trends that have hit the decorated apparel industry in recent years include the following.
A Narrower Focus
Decorated apparel, especially when it comes to screenprinting, is a massive field. Customers can find screen printers on every corner and many will even choose to create their apparel themselves, so you have to differentiate yourself. Outpricing everyone is more and more difficult and won’t always be worth it. You could be creating a situation for yourself with diminishing returns.
Instead of outpricing the competition, you can add value in different ways to more specific audiences. Think about what your customers want. Is it durability, quality or low costs? Are you aiming to get projects from sports teams or businesses? Identify their needs and reach out to them. We mentioned advertising on sites like Facebook, and part of the reason this method is effective is because of its high levels of targeting. You can create ads tailored to your clients’ interests and needs. Trying to get more jobs for sports teams? You can make advertisements featuring apparel for that sport and offer it directly to coaches and decision-makers.
The Rise of Embroidery
Embroidery is a growing interest for consumers of decorated apparel and is the service most commonly offered by apparel decorators. If you don’t already offer options for this popular raised-stitch style, it may be time to start looking into it. Customers enjoy the unique look and texture of a well-done piece of custom embroidery. You’ll have to include a strong value proposition, though, because this is another design that some organizations find they can do themselves.
The Importance of Experience
A quality print is great, but sometimes people are interested in a new experience. You can offer these experiences at a higher price than your traditional prints with things like pop-up shops and on-demand printing. On-demand printing is a great way to nab some new customers and reach a more individualized audience. This activity is great for sports events or business expos. Grab a booth, set up a relatively lightweight heat press and bring your supplies. Offer a specific print that is centered around the event and a few different color options.
You could also offer more specific customization options, like sports positions or numbers. People can watch their apparel being printed right in front of them and take it with them that day. It’s a unique experience that gives guests a positive association with your store. Be sure to display plenty of branded materials at your booth.
Direct-to-garment (DTG) and heat printing are on the rise when it comes to modern design methods. Both are good for small order sizes, and DTG is a quick process. More and more people are requesting these methods, so consider offering them if you don’t already. If you already do, make sure these options are highly visible to your clients.
Keep Your Business Running Smoothly With a New ERP
Keeping up with the challenges of the decorated apparel industry is no simple task. You need to always be alert to areas where you can improve your business and watch for new trends and opportunities as they arise. Take advantage of online advertising, new technologies and efficient inventory management methods to keep your apparel store in top shape.
If your existing ERP doesn’t offer solutions to some of the above topics, it may be time to look for a new one. FDM4 offers an all-in-one ERP solution for orders and decoration that helps you streamline the process. This robust apparel business software provides features for order tracking, advanced cost and pricing criteria, art record and proof management and vendor management. The FDM4 integrated decoration module is designed for decorated apparel businesses, with help for tasks like accurately keeping track of inventory and reliably setting the expectations of your clients. If you’re ready to improve those aspects of your business operations, check out our decoration module today.