Mike Chong is back with a super helpful video tutorial about how he manages the mission critical task of ordering the right t-shirts and garments from wholesalers like SanMar, AlphaBroder, TSC Apparel, S&S Activewear, and more.
We'll provide you with a "vendor cheat sheet" listing around 200 common t-shirt and garment brands combined with the wholesale distributors that sell those brands. This makes it really easy to find a new vendor when your favorite t-shirt is backordered or unavailable.
You'll also learn how Mike relies on Printavo to make sense of his orders and intake process.
This is an easy and no-cost way to start taking more profit: cut down on receiving time, reduce ordering errors, and lower your shipping costs with a better ordering process for t-shirts and garments from your wholesale vendors.
This article focuses on step 2: ordering t-shirts and garments from the vendor.
We utilize statuses in Printavo to determine whether we can print our jobs. This is the simplest way I’ve found to keep track of jobs and garments at the same time. The statuses we use for tracking t-shirts and garments are:
We'll talk more about Printavo statuses shortly.
Shit in, shit out.
Your orders to wholesalers and distributors are only as good as the data you give them. If you mess up, it’s going to cost you time and money.
Always double check your work for accuracy. Be sure all of the info you’re entering into the vendor’s ordering system is 100% accurate.
What happens when you screw up orders? Two really nasty things:
It’s essential that you consider your receiving department when you place orders. What do I mean? Place your orders in a way that makes it easy to take them in once they hit your loading dock.
Here’s how to make this process much easier:
Another way to think about this: make your orders foolproof. One job, one shipment, brain on autopilot! You won't always be able to orchestrate perfect orders, but even a small improvement in your intake process will yield big results.
Who can get you the shirts on time? Price matters. But time is more important.
Big distributors like SanMar and AlphaBroder have multiple warehouses across the United States. Sometimes, the item you need is not in stock at the closest warehouse. In that case, it’s time to check with other vendors that have nearby warehouses.
How to estimate shipping times: it’s really important to know which warehouse and vendor is your “home warehouse.” This is the vendor that can reliably provide 1-day shipping. How do you know who this vendor and warehouse are? You can get a rough estimate by utilizing UPS' online calculator and checking for ground shipping from the warehouse’s location.
Why you need to know who the right vendor is: ordering from the wrong warehouse can mean missing your deadlines and ruining a customer’s event, project, or campaign. It can put unnecessary pressure on your team’s production schedule (garments show up late and create a cascading disruption in your workflow).
Plan your orders a little easier with this garment procurement worksheet we use at Merch Monster (pictured above).
First things first. Before ordering, I go to the Invoices screen and filter out everything except the jobs that need to be ordered.
Some things to notice here:
To order the way I do, you’ll want a big monitor. I can place 5 different browser windows on my large desktop monitor.
Step 1: Open every invoice in Printavo that needs to be ordered. Tip: garment line items in Printavo can contain a link to the required products and the vendor’s website. Easiest to do this when you're writing the quote!
Step 2: Group the invoices by vendor in separate browser windows.
Step 3: In the middle of your screen, open the vendor websites you’ll be ordering from.
Orders with garments from multiple vendors are an edge case. Most orders have one garment type and one vendor. For the more complex jobs, keep them in their own window – or group them with the vendor that has the most garments for that job. Take notes on these jobs – they add road bumps to the ordering process.
As you start the ordering process, check the available stock on the vendor websites to ensure everything you need to print is available in your local warehouse. You can start keying in orders as you check availability in order to jumpstart ordering. But what should you do when a vendor doesn't have the brand you're looking for?
I’ve supplied a master list of vendors and brands so you can quickly look up which vendors carry which brands of t-shirts and garments. If a vendor has supply and availability issues, then you can easily check for alternate vendors. There's a great chance that the same garment – or a comparable one – is available nearby from a different vendor.
This is really handy because you can simply reference this list – and update it as needed – so you don't have to search through vendor websites to see if they have the brand you're looking for.
This process of continuous contact with vendors is a great way to ensure you’re paying the best price for your bulk garments. You’ll quickly see whether other vendors are offering discounts, promotions, or simply sell the shirts at a lower price.
Additionally, if the order is over 500 pieces you should absolutely call the vendor directly. You’ll often be able to negotiate spot pricing or ask for a discount (and will typically get a better price than you would if you ordered online).
Rule #1 when ordering t-shirts for screen printing? Always meet the minimum shipping requirement.
Unless you’re tasked with a challenging rush order or really need the garments in your shop, paying for shipping is not a part of your business model. Every time you make an order with a wholesale vendor, be sure to meet the minimum order requirement for free shipping.
This is the fastest and easiest way to save money in your shop: stop paying to have the garments you print on sent to your shop!
Why? Because shipping costs are a margin killer. Why should you pay 10% on top of what you already paid for garments? Your margins are likely razor thin, and there's an easy solution for getting around shipping costs.
Your best bet is to combine orders until you meet the shipping requirement, combining orders, or even (in an extreme case) delaying jobs until you have enough garments to order to meet the minimum.
Substitutions for t-shirts that are slow to ship or out of stock can help you meet shipping minimums, too: if you need a Gildan 5000, sub in a Fruit of the Loom 3900, Hanes ComfortSoft, or Port and Company PC54 – but be sure that you’ve gotten customer approval first!
Keying errors are the #1 most common error that happens during ordering. It’s a simple mistake – you punch the wrong number in, or enter info in the wrong box when you're placing the order.
You're using codes and moving through a lot of different screens – so errors are inevitable. But you can do a few things to keep the errors to a minimum.
The two most common keying errors I encounter are:
Want to fix keying errors? There’s no magic cure, but you can follow these steps to help reduce the number of errors:
You won’t always be able to meet the minimum shipping requirement and distribute your jobs neatly across shipments. Sometimes you will have to deal with complicated shipments. These may be multiple styles and colors on one invoice, items split up across different vendors because of availability issues, or a job that requires multiple garment types.
The best way I’ve found to handle this is an old-school solution: print out your invoices and check them against printed copies of your vendor checkout pages before you finish checkout.
Step 1: Print Printavo invoices.
Step 2: Print your vendor checkout pages.
Step 3: Physically check the details (use a highlighter to track your progress). Check for garment style number, name, and description. Then check for color and quantity.
Once you’re sure the Printavo invoices match your vendor checkout pages, you can place the order.
Vendors run out of inventory. Shirts get backordered. It happens.
The very first thing you need to do when you discover that the garments you need aren’t available? Contact your customer. Sometimes this is an easy phone call, other times it isn’t. Depending on which segment the customer is in, you may want to drop everything and find a solution immediately (particularly if they're a VIP customer, or in your top 20% of customers).
Your customer service department can proactively address shortages and backorders when they write quotes: don’t sell garments that have known availability issues!
The 5 steps to take once you deal with garment availability issues are:
It may be obvious, but the most important thing is to manage your customers’ expectations. Offer a realistic solution and communicate clearly about what’s happening.
You cannot prevent shortcomings from vendors – but you can control the frustrations and problems your customers face. Come prepared with options!
If you want to successfully complete orders from vendors, do these two things each and every time you reach the checkout stage of an order.
If you’ve found that there are still problems with orders, it’s crucial to do a post-mortem and find out why things went wrong. Typical reasons are short shipments (may be waiting on another package or have entered quantities wrong), and incorrect colors and styles (vendor may have pulled it wrong, or data was entered incorrectly).
"Today, I had a contract printer text me to say he didn't have the garments he needed for my job. I searched Printavo for the job's info – TSC order #1234Z, for instance. Then I just take that info to look up the job's status on the vendor's site."
Once you’ve placed the order, change the Printavo job status to indicate that the order has been placed with the vendor. This moves the invoice off your list of jobs that need ordering.
Ordering from wholesale vendors is a huge part of success in any print shop. How you manage the intake and ordering process for the t-shirts you print on has a direct impact on your profitability. Remember these basic keys for success:
Mike Chong owns Merch Monster in Oakland, CA. He's focused on providing highest-quality custom apparel and merchandise for business leaders across the US.
He's joining Printavo and Profit First author Mike Michalowicz at PrintHustlers Conf 2019, our unique conference for print shops.
Mike regularly produces video content for Printavo, which you can find in our Tips & Tutorials playlist on the Printavo YouTube channel.
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