Strictly Business for PRINTING United Digital Experience Apparel Screen/Decorating Day
Following its worldwide debut, the PRINTING United Digital Experience segued into apparel-focused education and product demos for its second day on Oct. 27. Sponsored by Nazdar SourceOne and specifically geared toward screen printing topics and equipment, software, and consumables, the “Apparel – Screen/Decorating” Insight Day’s sessions featured business-oriented presentations and panels.
Andy Paparozzi, chief economist, PRINTING United Alliance, started the day with a look at key economic trends for the apparel segment, with “Research: Industry Outlook for Screen and Decorating.” Discussing results from PRINTING United Alliance’s latest COVID-19 Print Business Indicators Report, he shared that while decorators’ sales are still declining, the rate of decline compared to the start of the pandemic has moderated considerably.
“More of the apparel decorators we surveyed report that sales are picking up and fewer report that sales are slowing down,” he said. “It’s a significant first step toward recovery.” The research additionally delved into how those surveyed are creating competitive advantage, and how they rated the effectiveness. Becoming a one-stop shop, he noted, was rated very effective far most often.
Paparozzi also spoke to growth products and markets, and where decorators indicated seeing post-COVID opportunity — not when the virus is eradicated, but “when we’ve learned to live with the pandemic,” he noted. The full report is available to PRINTING United Alliance members.
Following Paparozzi’s session was the insightful keynote “Establishing Today’s Successful Screen Printing Business” with Marshall Atkinson, owner, Marshall Atkinson Consulting and ShirtLab. In sharing what makes a successful screen printing operation, the 27-year industry veteran examined all facets of a business: purpose, cash flow and sales, skill, technology, processes, people, and staying on top of change.
When he asks to see the business plans of the struggling businesses that contact him, Atkinson said only 25-30% have actually written one. This is an essential part of identifying the business’s ideal customers and their problems, how the business will help them, and determining the right sales channels.
Identifying the right customer is also a matter of looking at the bottom line and profit. “How can we identify our customers so we can work half as hard for twice as much?” asked Atkinson, adding that this means not doing business with just anyone, but the people who matter, who like what the business does, and will give it what it’s asking for in pricing.
Also among Atkinson’s tips was the importance of continual learning. “You never know what you’re going to find or uncover that’s going to make a big impact on your business,” he said. “Don’t think you’re stuck where you are; you just haven’t learned the answer yet.”
Putting 'Pivot' Into Practice
Providing real-world examples to some of the points covered in Paparozzi’s presentation, three apparel decorators discussed how they’ve pivoted their businesses to overcome the challenges of the pandemic in the panel, “Screen Printing Success Amid COVID-19.” From customer losses and layoffs to mask production and e-commerce, the participants — moderator Justin Lawrence, owner, Oklahoma Shirt Company, and panelists Amy Baker, owner, Threadbare Print House, and Rich Santo, CEO, Culture Studio — covered the good and the bad.
With five employees, Eugene, Ore.-based Threadbare Print House primarily prints for restaurants, breweries, and schools — industries all significantly impacted by the pandemic. Baker shared the three primary areas currently helping her business are masks, online stores — which they have increased from two to 100 during COVID — and the cannabis industry. Baker also credited her community connections and small businesses supporting one another. “We’ve been finding ways to help the restaurants out,” she said. “And the restaurants could get shirts cheaper online, but they want to support us, so they are still placing orders.”
As a large shop, Culture Studio has 120 employees and is located in Chicago. Its primary niche is retail and tour merchandise for music. When COVID hit, Santo said, “It was set to be complete disaster.”
While masks pushed the shop through March and April, Santo said, “I am humbled to report we have actually had growth months in August and September from 2019 because every one of our artists have been able to sell on e-comm or at retail.” He also added the they have invested in $500,000 worth of equipment in the last month.
Oklahoma Shirt Company has 42 employees, with the majority of its business custom screen printing, a third attributed to subscription based-products, and a small amount of retail. While he said the business has bounced back to compensate for its lull in the beginning of the pandemic, it wasn’t an easy road, and when it came to entering the mask market, he learned the hard lesson of “don’t sell something unless it’s in your hand.”
The participants all agreed their successes are a testament to the agility of their staffs in adapting to change, as Lawrence emphasized this is a time for businesses to improve processes, or start a new grind or hustle.
Bringing the day’s educational sessions to a close was “Driving Profitability and Efficiency in Apparel Decoration,” presented by Erin and Justin Moore, the husband-and-wife team that founded Barrel Maker Printing. The two discussed the marketing and sales strategies and efficient screen printing and manufacturing processes that can help businesses improve their bottom line.
The No. 1 thing, Justin said, is creating a solid sales and marketing regimen, pinpointing regular days of the week or month for contacting new companies and current and former customers. “Sales and marketing is not something that you can work on just when you feel like it or when business is slow,” he said.
Noting continually evolving technology, Justin also spoke to how Barrel Maker maximizes CRM, print shop management software, and other tools. “If we’re able to utilize some of these things so that we can work smarter and more efficient, we’re going to have more of that free time to really focus on growing the business, and increasing our revenue,” he said.
When it comes to shop floor efficiency, Erin said it’s not about telling employees to move faster: “What’s going to increase your profit is forming habits of efficiency so employees can maintain that speed consistently.” It starts with observing and analyzing tasks one at a time, such as ink organization, and involving employees to create a powerful buy-in.
“Make sure that in your mental picture of how this is going to play out, you’re building in a frame of time for training, and you’re staying the course and practicing patience,” she added.
Ultimately, Erin said, creating and establishing these methods of efficiency should become the culture of a shop and help create the metrics on which important staffing and resource decisions are based.
While these industry leaders weighed in with information, strategies, and their own experiences for establishing and maintaining successful screen printing businesses, several OEMs and suppliers were on deck throughout the day to showcase the specific products to help make it happen.
In addition to sharing how businesses can evaluate where to integrate automation in their operation, sponsor Nazdar SourceOne hosted product demos for the M&R DS-4000 hybrid printer and COBRA automatic screen presses. Hanes showcased its Beefy-T and NANO T-shirts, while ROQ displayed its NEXT and FIT automatic screen presses, among other products, for attendees.
The education for decorators continues on Nov. 9 with “Apparel – Direct-to-Garment/Direct-to-Substrate”, in addition to other market segments of interest throughout the PRINTING United Digital Experience. Registration is free and still open at digital.printingunited.com. And don't forget to download the companion guide for the day, packed with additional content for this market.