5 Questions to Ask Before Adding Print-On-Demand to Your Shop
Chances are, you’ve been hearing a lot more about print on demand (or POD) this past year. As printers adapted to fulfilling lots more orders via online stores and shipping decorated goods directly to consumers, the idea of POD suddenly made a lot more sense as a service.
Whether you’re a new shop owner considering POD, or you’re looking to focus more on it as a service, here are five questions you should ask yourself first to see if POD is a viable, long-term and profitable option for you.
1. Are my customers clamoring for POD?
While printing one-off T-shirts and sending them to buyers’ homes was big during COVID-19, do those same people want to continue working with you this way? For example, if you drop-shipped team or club uniforms to a school in the past, do they want to resume that? Or, do they love the convenience of having you ship each uniform to students’ homes? If yes, you’re on the right track to continuing or expanding your POD service.
Whether you send email surveys to your clients or talk to them about what they want going forward, base your decision about POD on what your market wants. You’ll also need to see if you can charge more for POD services if your clients truly value what the service offers them.
2. Are you set up for a longer-term POD offering?
First, you need to know what types of decoration methods work best for your POD service, and if they align with what your clients want. For example, decorators offer a variety of imprint methods for POD, including direct-to-garment (DTG), sublimation, heat transfers, vinyl, heat transfer vinyl (HTV), direct-to-film (DTF), and even embroidery or laser etching.
The best types of decoration for POD are ones that work well for small quantities and minimal setup. Some POD-focused shops even DTG print T-shirts within an hour or “while you wait.” If you survey your customers, you’ll get a clear idea of the most common types of POD requests you get, whether it’s numbers on the backs of jerseys or family reunion tees.
Of course, some shops were already set up to handle POD, but if you’ve been doing it “on the fly” during the past year, now might be a good time to pause. Ask yourself if you have the equipment, staff, resources, and workflows in place to continue offering POD comfortably, or possibly try to do more of it?
If expanding your POD service means investing in new equipment or people, then it’s time to take a look at your business plan and talk with your financial advisor to determine if there’s a promising ROI to your investment. Plus, if you’re adding a DTG machine to your shop, for example, remember there’s always a learning curve. That can include how to print certain products on platens, knowing how to print in different locations, or print on different fabrics (which is key, especially if customers bring in their own products for you to print).
3. Does your POD model prioritize self-service?
Your website should make it easy for customers to order online. For example, some shops add an online designer to their sites and preload it with clipart and fonts, or give the buyer an option to upload their own artwork. Then the customer can select a shirt style and color that’s in-stock, and preview a virtual mock-up of the garment before they approve it and pay.
You can also include a laptop or two at kiosks in your showroom for people to use in your store. That’s where, if you’re set up to produce on demand, you can print the order right then-and -there, or ask them to come back in a couple of hours. This type of on-demand service offers instant gratification on customized items that can keep a segment of your market happy and coming back for more.
However, this is also where you need to potentially dedicate an employee or two just to fulfill POD orders if you want to make that a focused service in your print shop. Does that make sense profit-wise?
4. Do you have your vendor shortlist set up?
This list includes decorating equipment vendors and apparel suppliers. First, if you’re looking to acquire new equipment for POD, you’ll want to talk to vendor reps from equipment companies that have been around for a while and have a national footprint. It’s even better if you can visit a trade show and see the equipment in action (one such show is PRINTING United Expo, to be held in Orlando this fall, Oct. 6-8); if that’s not possible, review online demos or visit another local shop that has the equipment so you can watch how it runs and view the results.
You’ll want to know what kind of a learning curve the machine has, and if there are training resources available to get you up and running even faster.
When you’re choosing a specific equipment vendor, talk to the rep and current users to learn how to maintain the machine and what to do if there’s a problem. Do you have access to a local support team who can help you virtually or even come out to your shop? If you do encounter issues, are those covered under a warranty or support agreement?
As far as your apparel supplier, first remember that too many product options can confuse or frustrate a buyer who wants to place and receive their order quickly. This is another place where research and data can help you see what types of garments and brands your clients request most for POD.
5. How can I maximize my POD profits?
One easy way to promote and fulfill your POD services fast is to offer your customers online stores for new employees or team members. If you can set up a customized online storefront with their logo and designs for purchase, you immediately create a personalized, exclusive experience.
For an online store, you’ll choose the products and designs in advance, so it’s even easier to fulfill and send out the orders as they come in. As you become more familiar with each set of buyers, you’ll get comfortable pre-printing certain items so it’s an even faster grab and ship.
Tip: There are several industry-specific e-commerce vendors you can reach out to if you want to set up your own store or offer them to clients. Check out: InkSoft, Printavo, OrderMyGear, DecoNetwork, and Spirit Sale.
Print-on-demand orders can really give your business a big boost, so it’s worth taking a good look at whether or not it makes sense to offer from a workflow and profit level perspective. POD can differentiate your print team from the competition's, and with the overall increase in POD orders, now’s the time to make your move.