Apparel Contract Decorator Partnerships Series, Part 2: Building Relationships (and How Many Decorators Do You Need?)
While some promo distributors see more dollar signs when they can control the costs and turnaround times on their projects, plenty of others prefer to keep their eyes on their sales and allow the experts to do the technical work of apparel decoration. In this three-part series on partnering with apparel contract decorators, we're covering the benefits of partnering with a decorator, how distributors and decorators are working together on apparel projects, and how to get the most out of your decorator relationships. You're reading part 2. Click here for part 1 or here for part 3.
You can easily find recommendations for just about anything from your close friends or complete strangers online. Finding a contract decorator, it turns out, isn’t much different. Many decorators and distributors cite referrals as the way to go. But don’t think once you find one you’re good to go. Just like you have different promotional suppliers for different products, you’ll need the same for different decoration methods or geographic locations to reduce transit from your preferred supplier warehouse or to the order’s final destination, as Crissy Manwaring, business development manager for Austin, Texas-based Boundless, described.
“Everybody has a go-to decorator,” she said. “You have the guys that you go to, that you’ve been with for a long time, that have taken good care of you.”
But having depth is just as important. Tim Pipp, owner of Beeze Tees Screen Printing, admits he will tell a customer if he can’t handle a job’s desired turnaround. That’s why it’s so vital to have relationships with multiple decorators.
“I really believe that,” he said. “If I’m too busy, I don’t want you to leave me forever, but I want you to get all your stuff done.”
It’s better that a decorator passes than commit to an order they can’t handle. If quality is lacking on a project, that could burn a bridge that can’t be rebuilt. Not only could a mistake hurt a distributor’s reputation, but it’s expensive to fix. Decorator relationships aren’t all that different from your relationships with promo suppliers. Just like you’re responsible to your client for the quality of a decorated pen or cup, you’re responsible to your client for the quality of a decorated tee or hoodie.
“Because the client doesn’t say, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry that we had a bad experience with that decorator.’ They’re, ‘Crissy, you effed this up.’ That’s on me,” Manwaring said. “How many chances are they going to give me? Especially if you’re sending these jackets to an executive group for a corporate retreat and it shows up botched. Well, those executives then look to their internal marketing person, saying, ‘How could you let this happen?’ They blame her, she’s going to call and blame me.”
To prevent quality issues, Manwaring likes to have relationships with decorators who will let her come on-site to see the atmosphere, do an in-person inspection on the first garment for large projects and even take a video of the process to educate the client. Her go-to decorator is in Nevada, where she’s based, and allows her that access, but next in her lineup is a New York-based decorator that provides additional capabilities like patches and hang tags. However, since Manwaring hasn’t yet been able to visit that partner in person, the company sends iPhone videos to her instead.
“And when you’re actually able to show that process, yeah, they’re not going to argue with your five cents a shirt [over a competitor],” she said. “But for the partners that aren’t willing to engage with you and allow you in to then bring the client into the story, I’m less loyal to them because I’m just a number to them.”
Qais Arabo’s No. 1 printer, which is solely a contract printer, approached him with a deal to submit wholesale pricing when he bids for large projects, like city contracts, that tend to be aggressive and go to the lowest bidder.
“If you’re off by a nickel, you lose that order,” Arabo, who owns Classic Print Co., said. “... If I had to negotiate a price, instead of me trying to mark up the price that I have from my vendors, we’ve worked out a thing where, ‘Hey, if we know we’re putting in this serious bid, we would split the profits or work something out to where it would benefit both of us.’”
But sometimes you may need a new decorator unexpectedly. Apple Imprints experienced one such case last month when a referred distributor needed 2,700 embroidered jackets in two weeks, but its normal decorator couldn’t meet the deadline.
“Here’s an opportunity to work with a new distributor within that organization and say, ‘Yes, there will be a premium cost because we have to put all our resources into it,’” Kevin Lipomi, vice president of the Buffalo, New York-based decorator, said. “They said ‘yes’ to the price point and this is how we developed this relationship. Now every time this person calls or contacts us, we’re going to prioritize them because they’re more of a big hitter, somebody that gives us nice volume, so we do prejudice the size of the account and how we attack it based on our bottom line.”
If that was a smaller order, the story may have ended differently depending on the production schedule capacity, which is why it’s important to have those relationships already built. Squeezing in a small order for an existing customer would force Lipomi to weigh the overall volume that client brings.
“Relationship is everything, because if they’re giving you business through the tough times, you want to stay loyal to them through the good times, and they get you through the tough times,” Lipomi said. “So it’s very important that we look at each person’s individual commitment to Apple Imprints and to trust them and be loyal to them.”
And Arabo knows that, since he’s giving his top decorators $200,000 to $300,000 in business each year, they will have his back when time crunches happen.
“If and when someone needs something quicker, I can still get that out because we built that relationship,” he said. “They know that I’m not just sending one order to them. They know that, ‘Hey, all these other orders are on their 10-, 14-day turnaround time—whatever it is. But every now and then we might have to hustle and get this one job out because he’s bringing us X amount of dollars per year.”
Want to learn more about apparel decoration? This year’s PRINTING United Expo is happening Oct. 6 to 8 in Orlando with a new space dedicated to all things apparel. The Apparel Zone will showcase the latest technology and techniques in garment decoration, and the trendiest products in the promo apparel market. Each attendee will also be able to choose one of four shirt designs and watch as it’s decorated on the spot with screen print or direct-to-garment equipment—and then keep the final product. Exhibitors include Delta Apparel, Epson, GSG, Kornit, M&R, Mimaki, Monti Antonio, Nazdar, OmniPrint, Roland, SanMar, Stahls’ and Vastex. Click here for more information or to register.