Apparel Contract Decorator Partnerships Series, Part 3: Contract Pricing Refresher (and How to Not Annoy Your Decorator)
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 3. Click here for part 1 or here for part 2.
Not all contract decorators work exclusively with promotional products distributors, though there are many that do (Apple Imprints, for example). But, either way, distributors should understand that they earn a discount for the role they play in the transaction. A distributor works directly with a client to determine every detail of the order and relays that to a decorator, who completes the technical aspect of the project. Decorators acknowledge the distributor’s role when creating their contract pricing. And there’s probably no quicker way to degrade that established relationship than paying contract pricing but expecting heightened service.
“Some of these people will be rude and direct, and have expectations,” said Kevin Lipomi, vice president of Apple Imprints. “And we sense that and we immediately say, ‘You probably should pick someone else, because we see problems coming down the road with this particular order.’ ... We will not work with those people. ... The people that really are not knowledgeable—we really try to help them because they care. And we were in that position at one point in our company where we did not have that knowledge, and a few people who reached out during those times were very helpful and very, very kind. We really try to measure who deserves it and who doesn’t.”
In fact, that structure and efficiency of contract decoration is what lured Lipomi to solely work with promotional products distributors.
“We don’t need a lot of hand-holding with our distributors, primarily because they deal with many different promotional product companies, so they know the artwork is required, the PDF and the certain way we need it sent to us,” he said. “They understand all of that. They also understand price points and POs.”
The post-pandemic world has pushed Tim Pipp, owner of Beeze Tees Screen Printing, to be picky with taking on contract customers, like distributors. When he takes on a new distributor, he makes sure all bases are covered: What should he do if apparel arrives damaged? If an overrun is required, are there enough pieces to cover it? Basically, if X happens, how should he handle it? He finds the hardest clients to deal with are the customers who have a small decorating business out of their homes with a single decoration method and come to him for another method. Those smaller accounts, which can also include promo distributors, have been a big boost for his business, but getting them to submit correct POs or at the very least a single email with all specs included has also been a struggle.
“Those are the hardest ones to deal with, because they don’t really have a lot of industry knowledge,” Pipp said. “They’re kind of relying on us. But that’s not really the way our relationship is supposed to work. You should have all the knowledge and then just give us the orders.”
Without hesitation, Pipp cited art as the biggest area where his contract customers are lacking knowledge. While his company doesn’t do pre-production proofs, he can tell when a distributor sends art that won’t work (especially when they just change or add the extension on a file to “.ai” and think it’s magically a vector file).
“If we’re going to call it contract work, and we’re going to do contract pricing, the understanding is that you’re sending me exactly what I need,” Pipp said.
To him, bad artwork means a bad final product. As a result, he works to essentially train his customers to understand the process and importance of quality artwork. Pipp, who has a design background, employs a design staff that can create artwork for an added fee, but many clients still opt for a less expensive alternative that doesn’t achieve the needed result and rely on acquaintances with limited art experience.
“But everybody will tell you it’s about training your customers, your clients, all that,” he said. “And I truly believe that, that’s all we’re doing. Our best customers have learned from us. And they’ve learned how to do things—and [do them] properly.”
No one wants an incorrect order, but figuring out who the error falls on is always difficult. When it comes to apparel, an error could be significantly more costly than with small hard goods with low price points, so it’s important to get it right the first time. To eliminate any gray areas when it comes to liability, Apple Imprints has distributor clients sign off on the PO to confirm the order is exactly what they asked for.
“We try to make them very aware [that] if you’re going to sign off on something, and we decorate it, there’s no turning back and no saying ‘Can we have a discount because it wasn’t printed correctly?’” Lipomi said.
That’s not to say that Apple Imprints won’t own up to any mistakes it might make. But it avoids the common expectation from distributors who request discounts when the error is on them.
“So let’s say we do a job and everything’s fine, and then the end-user gets it and they don’t like it. What does that rep do?” Lipomi said. “They come back and, ‘OK, they don’t like it.’ And I’ll say, ‘We did exactly what you wanted. We’re not in touch with them.’ ‘Well, they want a discount.’ And I’ll say, ‘We did exactly what you asked.’ So what they failed to do is secure the understanding with their client and what was that expectation, so we find that happens a lot. That’s why our verbiage in our sales contracts [is] very careful, because sometimes we have to refer them to it. And no one wants to take a loss.”
There is often a race to the lowest price in the promo world, but this is another area where customers need to be retrained. Crissy Manwaring, business development manager for Austin, Texas-based Boundless, warns there may be competitors willing to do it for less, but they are compromising on quality, customer service or creativity, so focusing only on price should be avoided.
“I don’t care if you’re going to charge me five cents more if you’re going to deliver on time a higher-quality product consistently,” she said. “It will cost me more in the long run to have to have it redone than it will to have it done right the first time. So, I mean, pricing matters, being competitive matters, but it’s not the most important thing. I have never had the ambition of being the lowest-price supplier for any of my customers. I want to be the best partner for my customers. And those that are willing to pay for the best are happy to work with us.”
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.