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Adding new customers, increasing business with current ones and adding new products cap decorators´ list of most lucrative business strategies.

Dec 1, 2007


Successful Decorators Apply Top Business Tactics


Adding new customers, increasing business with current ones and adding new products cap decorators´ list of most lucrative business strategies.
Dec 1, 2007
Approximately 86% of full-time decorators surveyed for the 2007 Impressions Decorated Apparel Universe Study report that they experienced revenue growth from 2006. But in an uncertain economy, how is it that so many are able to report that they are doing so well? Just what are apparel decorators doing to keep posting positive annual sales growth?

When it comes down to it, the most effective method for growing your business is as obvious as the nose on your face. Your committed customers may not know it, but they are the most powerful weapons you have in the competitive market of decorated apparel. It doesn´t take a master´s degree in business administration to know that word-of-mouth marketing is a highly successful and cost-efficient way to build a bottom line. The better your customer service is, the better reputation you build. It´s simple; when consumers search out a service or product to buy — be it a haircut, new car or an order of 800 imprinted T-shirts — more than likely the first thing they´ll do is turn to a friend, family member or colleague for recommendations.



With 82% of last year´s respondents to the Impressions Decorated Apparel Universe Study ranking referrals and word-of-mouth marketing as the most influential ways to pull in more business, it was no surprise when the screen printers and embroiderers we interviewed pointed to this as the most effective method to attract new clients. And adding new customers to your loyal client base was ranked in this year´s study as the top tactic for increasing business. "Word-of-mouth referrals and my networking group are my best [business-building] strategies," says Lisa Klassa of Klassic Creations, Dearborn, Mich. 

According to The Nielsen Company´s April 2007 Online Global Consumer Study, 78% of respondents surveyed place their highest levels of trust in other consumers when it comes to buying products and services. Coming in second, newspaper advertising ranked high in credibility to 63% of the online participants. If shelling out for newspaper ads is too expensive for your shop´s budget, there´s a way to score free face time in local publications. "We try to send out press releases, which gets us free news placement," says Tom Scholz, who is heading into his fourth year as owner of an EmbroidMe franchise located in Sara-Tee, Fla. Scholz says he also invests in Yellow Pages advertising and places ads in magazines and on local radio stations.

If you think online advertising is the best way to increase your client base, Nielsen´s study shows otherwise. New media advertising methods such as search engine ads and online banner ads ranked toward the bottom of the list of trusted advertising forms, according to Nielsen´s online study. On the other hand, consumer opinions posted online are trusted by 61% of those surveyed, and are especially reliable in the eyes of North American residents, with 66% showing that they consider blogs and other forms of consumer-generated media as dependable sources of information.

Nevertheless, adding new customers ranked as the top strategy of decorators looking to improve their business, according to the 2007 Impressions Decorated Apparel Universe Study. Following on its heels is increasing business with current customers. A distant third: adding new products.

According to the 2007 Impressions Decorated Apparel Universe Study, 63% of all full-time respondents report that finding new customers is the most effective strategy for building profits. Falling in at second place, with 48% response, is increasing business with current customers. But how exactly are decorators juggling the task of finding new customers while encouraging the old ones to order more products more often?

For many, it´s through an updated version of word-of-mouth marketing that they seek out new customers: professional networking groups. These groups are an increasingly common way that many decorators make contacts to build their bottom lines.

Klassa is a strong supporter of networking opportunities, saying that her Business Networking International (BNI) group brings in a lot of referrals for her home-based business. BNI, founded in 1985, has multiple chapters in every state and in nearly 40 countries. What it and other professional networking organizations offer to members is verified reputable contacts across all industries. Members congregate during scheduled meetings, stock up on each other´s business cards and pass on the information to customers or friends as they see necessary. According to BNI´s Web site, members passed 4.9 million referrals last year alone, which generated nearly $2 billion in economic activity.

Scholz backs up Klassa´s belief in networking organizations. "Networking groups are the best way to bring in business," he says. "I´m involved with our local Chamber of Commerce and also affiliate with some service groups and men´s clubs." Klassa also is a member of her Chamber of Commerce, and participates in expos and craft shows to drive her bottom line. "The churches and schools in my area do a lot of Christmas craft shows that usually start in October and go through Christmas," she says. "[These shows] are great places to come to find one-of-a-kind Christmas items and [to spread the word about my business] by passing out fliers."

Still, Scholz knows the importance of putting his current customers first in line and his marketing attempts on the backburner when he´s short for time. "Right now, we´re just making sure that everything and everyone is taken care of," he explains.

He does, however, know how to mix his old customers in with possible new ones. "We hold open houses pretty regularly, about once a quarter," he says. "We had slacked off a bit [with open houses] due to how busy we´ve been, as we´re trying to keep up customer service. The open houses are more of a thank you to my current customers, but we´re always inviting prospects and probably pick up one or two new people [with each event]."

Adding new products came in third as a successful business strategy for decorators who work full time, with 33% of respondents reporting it as a winning way to drive revenue. For Josh Batz, owner and president of high-volume business Impact Design, Kansas City, Mo., it´s all about operating a one-stop shop that offers anything a customer requires to drive business. The company´s services run the gamut, including embroidery, screen printing and heat-applied graphics.

Although Impact Design has been in business for 11 years, Batz says that it´s only been in the last two that his company has experienced much growth. "My partners and I bought Impact in mid-2005," he explains. "Business had been flat prior to then since it was just a decoration house." The company started stocking blank apparel, and now prides itself on being a single-source decorated apparel business. "We thought that a high-tech solution was needed for this business," he adds. "So now we provide wholesale apparel decorated — the days are numbered of [customers] buying blanks, then hiring out for decoration. Dealing with multiple invoices and tracking multiple issues really doubles your customers´ efforts. And that makes it hard to do business."

Since re-launching Impact Design as a one-stop source for decorated apparel, Batz says customers have been magnetized to the company. And Impact is no longer experiencing flat growth — Batz notes that profits grew in 2006 over 2005, and that he definitely expects to be more profitable in 2007 over 2006.

Though Impact Design´s recent transformation to a one-stop shop is helping to attract and retain clients, Batz also attributes the expansion of branded apparel offerings to his company´s growing success. Among other brand names, Impact Design offers apparel from Tehama, Adidas, Columbia Sportswear and Nike Golf.

"A real market trend is that everyone wants recognizable brands," Batz notes. "We´ve noticed that our [distributor] customers that do nothing more than move along industry brands aren´t growing as fast as those pushing recognizable retail brands. If your client is Mercedes, will they put their logo on a branded item or generic item? I think they´d want their name on the branded garment."

For Klassa, adding chenille to her decorating repertoire is her next move to increase revenue. "The schools in my town asked me to take over chenille work because the individual who usually completes these orders was retiring," she says. "I´ve talked to a lot of my competitors and found that they´re outsourcing chenille [requests]." She hopes that once she settles into her new storefront other decorators nearby will start outsourcing their chenille orders to her.

To comment on this article, please contact assistant editor Susie McManus at [email protected].





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