The Weekly | Printavo Newsletter Archive

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Printavo is simple shop management software. We help you streamline your business, keep jobs moving forward and your team on the same page.

Scheduling, quoting, approvals, payments, customer communication, automation and more. With Printavo, you’ll work smarter–not harder.

The Weekly is Printavo’s weekly newsletter by Printavo’s content creator Luke Gardner.

Focused on the custom apparel industry, The Weekly takes a microscope to the topics that matter: from sales and marketing strategies that work for print shops to analyzing the state of the industry.

Each week we tackle one major topic and share our best resources, ideas, and curated content from dozens of conversations with print shops around the world.

The Weekly is how to get schooled in the print game without paying a dime of tuition.


What you can expect

  • Actionable info. With insights from psychology, business, and print shops – we'll give you concrete takeaways to help you improve your strategies and techniques.
  • Unique perspective. We're the only newsletter with a focus on thoughtful, long-form, informative content aimed at the custom apparel industry.
  • No BS. The Weekly isn't a sales or marketing pitch: it's designed to give you a new angle on an important topic every week.
  • Topics that matter. Pricing, sales, marketing, operations and more – we're diving into the nitty-gritty details that custom apparel shops revisit again and again.

Past newsletters

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Read each newsletter below.


Lower prices are not the answer - here's how to raise them

In case you missed last week’s newsletter about niches, we’re going to build on some themes and ideas in it to discuss why you should raise your prices.

As Bruce discussed in his video on what inflation means for print shops...higher prices are coming.

The bullwhip effect on the economy means that small changes in consumer demand have huge consequences. And the changes in consumer demand have not been small.

Check out this graph of how a really small shift in consumer demand changed everything down the supply chain:

That doesn’t mean that we’re bearish – hardly. But we think it’s time to get serious about regimenting regular price increases.

By the way...don't take our word on the bullwhip effect. 

Even SanMar agrees, as they're struggling with the "stop-start" effect the past 15 months have inflicted. Check out this email they sent:

Takeaways 

  • How to raise prices without customers blinking an eye
  • Why price increases are a way to get rid of bad customers
  • How to make sure you have no easy substitute
  • ...and more!

What makes customers pay more

Economists, entrepreneurs, statisticians, and businesses of all types are obsessed with a fairly simple question: how do you set your prices?

It's one of the most common questions we see at Printavo. Our pricing article drives tons of traffic because it's such a challenging question.

All things considered, most t-shirts will fulfill the same function. 

So why can some shops charge $30+ while others are printing for pennies?

Price elasticity: 6 principles you can use

The answer lies in 6 principles behind price elasticity – a fancy way to discuss how price affects demand.

When the price is elastic, customers are very sensitive to price changes. 

When the price is inelastic, people will pay virtually any price.

So what makes prices inelastic? 

Or, in other words, what makes customers pay more? 

Let’s outline each well-known lever you can pull.

6. Get someone else to pay

This is an amazing pricing trick that companies use all of the time. 

They figure out a way to get "someone else" to pay for the bill.

Ever heard of the "corporate expense account"? 

Maybe the better way to think of it is the slush fund.

Airlines, hotels, restaurants, and yes...print shops...all use this technique to raise their prices without customers blinking an eye.

On average, people will spend more when they're not personally responsible for the bill.

Ok, this seems obvious and like a "so what" sort of insight – but use it to your advantage.

Capitalize on people who are shopping:

  • ...for uniforms they'll use, but don't pay for directly
  • ...for a business or corporation's account
  • ...for something "a little nicer" to impress the boss
  • ...on behalf of a trusted group or organization

These are the ideal candidates for higher-end, higher-priced merchandise, and they're (on average) far less price sensitive.

5. Build a brand (and use others)

Brand loyalty is a huge factor in price considerations.

Consumers will spend more for brands they're familiar with.

They believe the higher price is justified based on their past experiences.

They'll simply be happier if they purchase from a brand they love, because brand loyalty is highly associated to customer satisfaction. 

And this is a huge opportunity for print shops: you can use other large brands or build your own.

Here's what we mean:

  • Sell high-end apparel brands. Use their brands to enhance your own. This is a "perpetual upsell" opportunity: "hey, do you want 
  • Carefully curate the brands you carry. Choose an image and style that suits your shop. Use social proof (like including the logos of the brands) on your website.
  • Know what your customers think "high-end" brands are. We've seen a lot of instances where customers think that a rock-hard Gildan tee is the luxury brand – so know your audience.
  • Start your own brand. It's easier than ever to start a website and build online stores, and great designs are accessible to all. 
  • Use advertising and retargeting. The more you can be seen on the web, the stronger your brand will be.

More: Check out David Kelbaugh at PrintHustlers Conf 2019 on the brand-building topic, and John Amato from Jupmode on SEO for print shops.

4. Don't budge on prices

If you decide to raise your prices, stick to your guns. 

The longer a price increase is in effect, the more people accept it. The era of the $30 custom t-shirt is nigh.

Some consumers will even change their behavior when the price tag goes up, and there's one behavior that you can leverage: stand firm on price increases to shake out the worst customers.

Price sensitive, flighty, and otherwise challenging customers can be turned away (or, for instance, turned into a profit center with high-priced one-off DTG prints) just by bumping up your prices and minimum order quantities.

Price increases are a great way to politely get rid of customers that are a drag on your business.

3. Become a need, not a "nice to have"

They might not identify custom products as foundational to their hierarchy of needs, but the fact is that custom printed goods do often fall into the need category.

Think about it – companies need branded merchandise. It gives everything they do an air of legitimacy and professionalism.

How you orient your services matters.

Make people need merchandise:

  • Keep a calendar of 6 to 10 events that your biggest customers rely on. Hammer home how you can help long before this event and be proactive about reaching out to help.
  • Curate everything with VIP service. From the garments to the ink to fulfillment, provide a top-notch experience that totally removes any thinking, math, or hard work on their part.
  • Predict what they'll actually need. You're the expert: will the restaurant need embroidered aprons with stain guard – but they've totally overlooked it? 
  • Partner up, don't just sell. Don't be another business – be a partner in the success of whatever event, service, or people are involved with the transaction. Go beyond the merchandise and into helping them succeed.

2. Narrow your products and service

We know you're tired of hearing that you need a niche.

But it's true.

A niche lets you charge higher prices and provide better service.

The broader a market you serve, the more competitors you have. 

Worse still? Your customers have more substitutes.

When you think of something commoditized like t-shirts, you know (and customers know) that there are hundreds of options. 

Some dos and don'ts:

  • Do focus on providing one type of service or product. Whether it's a style or a technique, you want to make sure there's no easy substitute.
  • Do choose one customer type to pursue. This generates expertise and narrows efforts.
  • Do provide specific promises you can fulfill with examples. How fast is your turnaround time, what does your packaging look like, how much do customers usually make when they partner with you (for instance). These build trust.
  • Don't try to be an "all-purposes" print shop. This makes it almost impossible to compete on price.
  • Don't just give a customer the SanMar catalog and ask them to choose from hundreds of styles. You're supposed to be the pro.​

Don't just give a customer the SanMar catalog and ask them to choose from hundreds of styles. Curate!

1. No suitable substitute

Make sure there’s no suitable substitute for your shop’s services or product.

This introduces the concept of the switching cost. You want it to be hard for your customers to leave.

When you've nailed this, your shop is the only game in town.

You're not a commodity. You're not just printing t-shirts. You've got something special and your customers (no matter who they are) know it.

The “substitution effect” is when customers have an easily available and more affordable option. Whatever you do, don't be a shop that can be easily substituted.

Swimming in your lane

Differentiating your shop through excellent service is the scalable, lowest-cost way to raise your switching cost.

But there's no limit to how you go about differentiating yourself. 

It can be everything from your winning personality to your super specific design niche. 

It can be a printing technique or a YouTube channel. 

It can be a community, a team, a brand, the way you write emails, events in your shop, the colors you use, even the smell that customers get when they come into your building or open your packages.

That's the beauty of the entrepreneurial market that print shops are in. 

It's your choice and there's infinite ways to do it.

But you have to differentiate.


How to actually get less competition and higher prices (May 2021)

Hello Print Hustlers!

What does a "niche" do for your business anyway?

Niches aren’t magical success-generating boxes.

They’re really a strategy for creating less competition and getting a higher price.

Takeaways from this newsletter

  • You can't be everything to everyone
  • You can be something to someone
  • How to nail your niche
  • Why customers (often) want fewer choices
  • 5 super cool niched print businesses

Looking deeper at niches

First, a story about selling jam at the grocery story. 

In 2000, some researchers from Columbia and Stanford Universities did an experiment on consumer choice at a busy supermarket.

They asked a simple question: does more choice equal more sales?

They had one table that had 24 jams, and another with 6. 

They controlled for time of day and myriad other variables so that they’d get a good representative sample.

At the table with 24 jams, 60% of the people that walked by stopped. 2% went on to make a purchase.

Not bad. A little boost to the store's jam sales.

Over at the table with just 6 jams, 40% of the people that walked by stopped. 

The jam just doesn't attract the same interest.

But a whopping 30% of the visitors bought something.

By comparison, the 2% purchase rate seems abysmal.

Customers with limited choices are more motivated to purchase...and businesses with niches are more motivated to succeed.

The counter-intuitive nature of niche business

Working in the custom print industry without a niche (or several) is a bit like coming up to the table with 24 jars of jam every single day.

When people have too many complex choices, they tend to simply shut down and avoid making choices.

Choosing a niche tends to feel like choosing a jam when you have too many options. 

There are simply so many opportunities for a print shop. Everybody wears t-shirts, right? Anybody could be your customer. You’re at a limitless buffet of potential customers!

But there's a HUGE catch.

Choosing not to have a niche is a recipe for disaster in our industry: you have to differentiate your business in a market as commoditized as custom apparel.

You might agonize over the choice, but it's not like buying jam: you have to pick a flavor. Any flavor.

What print industry niches look like

Yes, everyone wears t-shirts. But print shops tend to cluster around a few specific niches.

Customers: they choose a very specific niche customer base.

Techniques: they are the very best at a specific in-demand technique (like printing on nylon). 

Technology: they have implemented powerful technology at some (or all) parts of their process (like hybrid printing).

Service: they can serve a specific market or customer better than anyone else (due to location, relationships, packaging, etc.). Night Owls have built a super tight-knit relationship.

Marketing: their business is a brand unto itself. Could be everything from educational content to posts and imagery that the brand uses.

The worst thing that could happen? Someone says: "Oh, they just print shirts."

​5 niched-down print businesses

The Yetee in Aurora, IL has capitalized on niche customers in a fascinating way: by using technology and service to connect niche gamers, music lovers, designers, and fans. Cruise their website to get a feel for how they've focused in on an audience that knows exactly what it wants (and uses merchandise to self-identify). We visited them for an interview, too.

Systematic Automation isn't a shop, but they've taken a different approach: find the niche and build for it. From printing on license plates to pens, the spirit of the niche is alive and well at Systematic Automation.

Night Owls in Houston have combined customers, techniques, technology and marketing to create a hard-nosed brand that's bright and impossible to overlook. The "merch logistics" moniker is no exaggeration – they're not just water-based masters, they've shipped everything from massive crates of vinyl to pins.

Oklahoma Shirt Company wears its niche right in its name: they're the shop from Oklahoma. Combining service, customers, and technology, they've grown rapidly. The locale-first attitude focuses all marketing and sales efforts, and keeps the mission contained. If nothing else, be your state's first favorite print shop. (Rockford Art Deli could also write a book about building a shop and brand around a city.)

Nor Cal Screen Print Supply isn't a print shop, but they've made a killer niche for themselves by providing service and marketing that fits in with their target market perfectly. From advice to the hook-up on equipment, it's cool to see a supplier really focus in and love on the print community.


How to choose your niche

If you don't know your niche yet, don't panic.

The "common thread" between print shops with niches is that they have found a consumer base with an unmet need and executed a focused strategy to serve that customer.

If you hear "unmet need" and think that's a daunting, expensive task – stop. 

You don't need to reinvent the wheel. Simply define:

  • What you do
  • Who you serve
  • The unmet need you help with
  • Your strategy

Serving a niche is primarily about being in the right place for your customers, saying and doing the right things for them, and understanding exactly how you can help them – then forming your strategy.

Where are your favorite customers already spending time and money? That's your closest niche opportunity.


How to get more sales (May 2021)

Hello Print Hustlers!

Sales!

An evergreen topic for print shops. This PrintHustlers Newsletter is jam packed. Get ready.

We recently updated our post about 5 ways to sell more.

It's what we've learned from observing the most successful shops.

But what struck us is just how “simple and difficult” the advice is.

Simple and difficult is a great way to think about sales, too.

After all, it’s simple: get someone to buy something.

But that simplicity makes it extremely difficult.

We originally wrote this article some time back in 2018.

In just three short years, life has been transformed. But much of the advice has stayed the same.

Sales is still a tough game even if technology has made it easier than ever. 

Takeaways

  • Make sales hurt less: get off the "hedonic treadmill"
  • Why focusing on your niche is like steroids for your business
  • How to actually think of your customer base
  • How the internet is changing business forever
  • A super simple trick for getting more sales in Printavo

...and a whole lot of interesting connections we made while revisiting this sales article.

Sales: a "hedonic treadmill"?

If you’re not familiar with the idea of the hedonic treadmill, here’s the gist: you will always default to some base level of satisfaction, no matter what you achieve.

People talk a lot about sales requiring a certain personality

Usually, this is a "gritty" person that’s comfortable taking no for an answer and being on the phone a lot. They can ride the hedonic treadmill and have the ups and downs roll right off their back.

People with these characteristics do exist, but it’s a “needle in the haystack” situation. 

How exactly do you test and evaluate someone on grittiness in a short interview, anyway? Besides...work environment and culture can literally change personalities. Sales skills aren't something we're born with.

This isn’t a problem you can tackle head-on. You can't snap your fingers and make sales a smooth ride. It requires some diagonal problem solving and building a culture that actually works.

Riches are in the niches: focus in

Mark Coudray hammered home a profound point in 2019 at our annual Print Hustlers Conference. 

Most print shops get the lion’s share of their revenue from just 20% of their great customers. 

You can probably think of your “20% great customer” off the top of your head: a franchise, a college, or maybe something like a snowboard company? 

They’re the customer you know you can rely on to pay on time, order big, and make your life easy.

It’s the Pareto principle in action. Virtually all businesses have a powerful niche that powers a bunch of their yearly revenue.

The effects of the 80/20 rule are hard to overstate, and even harder to intuitively understand. But the net effect is this: chase your 20% customers hard. They determine your fate.

"It’s troubling if a startup insists that it’s going to make money in many different ways. The power law distribution on revenues says that one source of revenue will dominate everything else." - Peter Thiel, PayPal and Palantir co-founder

Narrowing sales focus to those really impactful revenue sources slows the hedonic treadmill effect significantly.

The Internet Rainforest concept: big, or small?

COVID accelerated a bunch of trends by ten years or so, but internet sales in particular.

There’s this idea called the Internet Rainforest that every entrepreneur should understand. The internet eliminates the middle.

A rainforest has ample water, air, and sunlight. But how does life adapt there? It grows absolutely massive trees – and a host of small, specialized niche species adapted to life on the floor below. 

But there are few “mid-sized” organisms: things are very big, or very small, and the middle is mostly eliminated. Differentiation is survival.

The internet is a “rainforest for business.” 

Anyone can develop a niche and set up an online store, and more and more people are. If you're in business, you should always have something for sale on the internet now.

But a few big trees (think Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple) control much of the ecosystem. Their niche is being big, and they are very good at it.

The same logic applies when we preach that shops shouldn’t try to compete with Custom Ink. They serve a completely different type of "great customer" than you do.

Even if customers bring you something they sketched up on the Custom Ink designer, a great designer tool is not a replacement for a niche

“Pick one: print the most, print the best, or make the most money.” – Rick Roth from Mirror Image

Sales: service and sweeteners

Capitalizing on your niche is mostly about targeted service, not raw sales talent.

Developing that relationship is essential. We've seen this over and over and over: if you print for a niche that you really love, whether it's motorcycles or cars or skateboarders or local hotspots...and double-down on that community...it pays off.

It's difficult to disentangle sales and service and community building, even if they’re all separate departments: good sales usually facilitate better service. 

Sales, after all, are step one of the custom printing production process. 

And, like a flywheel...good service tends to make sales even easier.

That’s why we’ve always believed that service is really an opportunity for print shops. The majority of print shops run custom jobs that are more akin to what a local barber does than what a company like Amazon does.

Embrace that service-oriented niche: really top-notch service is your most achievable differentiator.

Sweeteners: an easy win

Sweeteners are no or low-cost goodies that you give to customers. That doesn’t mean just stickers or other trinkets. It means giving your customer dollars – or at least seeming like you are.

We love this idea from Jon Ladd at Terminus Tees: add a note to your Printavo Invoices that points out you’ve waived setup fees.

Did you really waive setup fees?

Maybe. That’s up to you.

The point? Provide some sweetener – some value – that’s blatantly obvious.  

Whatever you do, don’t be in the middle

The midwit meme is something you’ll probably see (or have seen already). It looks like this:

While the meme is based on junk IQ science, it's really a joke about the Pareto Principle, power laws, and differentiation. The thing you're mocking goes in the middle, while the "genius" and the "dummy" hold the same opinion. 

There’s some bizarre universal truthiness to this meme, particularly in an environment where joke cryptocurrencies are bringing in billions of dollars. 

Being a couple standard deviations outside of the norm can have tremendous, outsized effects. Just don’t be in the middle. Differentiate. 

This is all a really long way to say:
If you’re trying to be everything to everyone, you get stuck in the inhospitable middle. Your sales predictably become a stressful and unpredictable disaster.

But what if you go to either extreme? Focus in? Build the customer base? Say no more than you say yes? Implement structure and get off the hedonic treadmill?

You get out of the middle. 

A (brief) sales to-do list

There’s a lot to chew on here. 

So let’s just identify a few action items. 

Do one, or do them all. There’s value here.

  • ID your top 20 customers and focus on them hard. They get White Glove Treatment. Here's how.
  • Set up a strong follow-up email sequence.
  • Incentivize word of mouth. It's the most valuable form of marketing.
  • Sponsor an event. Low-cost, uncertain ROI, but huge if you can find the right event. Look at how it propelled The Yetee.
  • Firm up your Quote process. You can do this with Printavo. It's absurdly powerful, and one of the first things we get shops to do when we consult with them.
  • Add a sweetener to your Printavo Invoices. Follow the lead that Jon Ladd at Terminus set. It's a quick and easy change you can do right now.
  • Name your niche. Write it down. Firm it up. Everyone in and out of the business should know it. Make a list of the dream clients in your niche and figure out exactly what you need to do to land them – or serve them better if you already do.

Next Post: Screen Printing Ink | Types of Ink, Who Makes Ink, and Where to Buy Ink

About Printavo

Printavo is simple shop management software. We help you streamline your business, keep jobs moving forward and your team on the same page.

Scheduling, quoting, approvals, payments, customer communication, automation and more. With Printavo, you’ll work smarter–not harder.

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