2020 was a transformative year for the custom printing industry.
We received responses on our industry survey from 119 print shops.
They vary in size and experience from large and profitable shops to fledgling startups.
We asked just 5 simple questions:
- Was business better or worse this year?
- Did you sell or print face masks this year?
- Did you use a business model or sales technique this year?
- What marketing channel worked best this year?
- What was the most important improvement or change you’ve made this year?
How was the custom printing business in 2020?
The Good: 48% of our respondents report that business is either better (with some ups and downs) or the busiest year ever.
This is a remarkably positive signal given the dramatic drop in activity that most custom print shops serve. It’s a sign of resilience and creativity in the industry, showing how adaptable it is.
The Bad: 34% of our respondents reported that their business was worse or much worse than 2019.
Virtually all events were cancelled, postponed, or otherwise delayed in the spring, summer, and into the fall and winter (PrintHustlers Conf 2020 was even held entirely online!). Custom apparel relied heavily on event-based sales throughout 2019. We anticipate that reliance will continue during 2020.
Only 9% of respondents reported that their business was about the same as last year.
Others reported that they had just started a business, or had extreme ups and downs.
Did you sell (or print) face masks this year?
Most shops printed and sold face masks, with 76% reporting that they took on the challenge of this new market. Smaller fractions either did contract printing for masks, or did not print on masks but did sell them.
Face masks emerged in March and April as a viable business model.
It’s remarkable to look back on the efforts of companies like Allmade during this period (who developed the Allmask in record time) and Action Engineering (developing face mask palettes), alongside major manufacturers that stepped up to the plate and adjusted their facilities and production schedules on the fly.
10% did not print or sell masks at all.
Two interviews that show industry resilience
Despite COVID-related shutdowns and business disruptions, an overwhelming majority of print shops not only stayed in business but adapted to the times – many thriving under these new circumstances.
We’ve used the PrintHustlers Podcast to stay in touch with shops of all sizes throughout the year. It’s an incredible look at an industry that’s changing and adapting on the fly.
Get It, Got It
We talked to Courtnee Wampole from Get It Got It LLC back in late spring 2020 about how she adapted on the fly. It’s a great look into the mindset and perseverance that shops of all sizes can have – and Courtnee did it while having a baby and working out of her garage!
Jodi Redding from Redding Company sat down to discuss how they pivoted their business in the midst of a pandemic – and what that meant for the family and the team.
Did you use a new business model or sales technique this year?
2020 was a year of adaptation and growth for the majority of our respondents, with 56% reporting that they tried a new technique or sales model this year.
We suspect that, in a “normal” year, that number could be considerably lower.
Online stores emerged as a life raft for print shops early in the coronavirus pandemic, with fundraisers and other community-oriented projects quickly generating more than $1M in proceeds on the Printavo Merch platform alone.
Notable: the #hereforgood campaigns organized by print shops across all 50 states were a remarkable achievement.
The most popular new business models and sales techniques
We also asked respondents which new business models and sales techniques they tried.
- Online stores were the most popular with 69% of respondents using e-commerce for the first time this year.
- Print-on-demand and fulfillment were utilized by 57% of respondents.
- Live printing was also utilized by 9% of respondents, despite limitations on gatherings.
What marketing channel worked best this year?
Marketing remains a challenging and fragmented issue for print shops of all sizes. But it’s obvious that print shops of all sizes rely on word of mouth – their communities – to drive most new business.
Word of mouth: Interestingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly), word-of-mouth remains the most effective marketing channel according to our respondents. 40% said that word-of-mouth was the best marketing they got this year. This signals quite strongly that you should consider making referrals, follow-ups, and asking for reviews a huge element of your marketing play.
Unpaid social media posts: 20% of respondents reported that unpaid social media posts were an effective strategy for marketing their shop during 2020.
Paid social media ads and Google AdWords: Coming in at 20%, paid advertisements on social media and through Google AdWords were effective this year. We suggest that every print shop develop a plan for testing paid advertisements or using retargeted ads – these are powerful tools that will remain relevant for years to come.
Email marketing: Just 5% of respondents told us that email marketing was their most successful channel. We find this surprising – email has no algorithm and is delivered exactly when you want to exactly who you want. It’s free. It requires very little software to execute effectively. Building a solid email list and touching base biweekly seems like a low-hanging fruit for many print shops.
Other marketing channels comprised a significant percentage of the responses. Some of the channels mentioned included:
- Mail marketing
- Organic, SEO-driven traffic
- Radio advertisements
- Cold calls
- BNI referral network
In Their Words: What was the most important improvement or change this year?
We asked what the most important improvement or change was during 2020 – as an open-ended question. We’ve chosen some of the most interesting answers below:
Stopped asking what-if and instead starting actually doing.
Online stores were big for us.
Buying a new auto in middle of pandemic.
Added new MHM presses and Douthitt CTS.
Got rid of a toxic employee and added some more passionate ones.
Didn’t really make many changes, other than scaling back to a skeleton crew to make it through. Worst day of my career so far, having to lay-off my crew.
Physically making our masks.
Saying no when needed so we have time to focus on the bigger jobs!
Implementing our first standard operating procedures.
Making a serious effort to weed out the bullshit and be more organized.
Realizing that I am not tied to the business and that if it goes under I am not defined by it. I’ve also learned that it’s important to put family first before anyone else.
Made strides to better our communication streams to our clients.
We tossed ourselves into networking more with customers we wouldn’t normally print for. Contract customers mostly. Historically, we have been mostly a word of mouth type shop and didn’t focus much on advertising. We found a few awesome partners in our area that were sending ALL of their contracted printing out of state. We are also working on some art departments changes for 2021 with GraphXsource and working some SEO strategies. We’re looking forward to even more growth for 2021!
Focus on businesses and away from sports, schools and community events.
Outsourcing 75+% of production to a trusted contract decorator freed me up to do more sales and am more profitable and more excited about my business.
Actually promoting online stores, have done them in the past, but this year it became necessary.
Changed our store front to Appointment only, raised our minimums and discontinued the awards side of the business. Focusing on apparel and promotional products.
Was able to hire my first full-time employee out of necessity.
And finally, just to toot our own horn a little bit, several shops told us that Printavo was the best thing they did in 2020:
Changing to Printavo.
Changed our shop to Printavo!
Added Printavo to our shop management tasks.
Investing in the right equipment to continue our growth. Printavo a big part of that
Switching to Printavo!
Adapting our business model to shift with COVID times. Online stores including fundraiser stores helped us double our revenue this year and hire employees…during a COVID shutdown and a fourth child! THANK YOU PRINTAVO!
Conclusion: resilience and creativity won the year
2020 was one of the most challenging years PrintHustlers have faced. From a pandemic to rapidly shifting business conditions, it’s a been a year of tumult and change.
What we have learned is that the industry has:
- Considerable resilience
- Despite a pandemic and tremendous ups and downs, the industry at large is healthy and adaptable
- The ability to pivot creatively
- Print shops can offer much more than printed t-shirts, and this experience has proven that – from pivoting to masks and beyond
- A dependence on technology
- Software enabled the boom of online stores, letting many print shops stay in business and keep employees at work
- Community backing
- At the heart, a print shop’s community is how it thrives
We look forward to seeing what the next year brings.