Sales have cratered. Marketing feels impossible. Maybe you’ve even had to lay off some great employees.
There’s almost a sense that it’s time to give up. And make no mistake – the truth is that this is a dire period for screen print shops.
We built Printavo Merch (our online stores platform) because we knew two things: online stores are growing fast, and t-shirts are an amazing e-commerce product.
How fast are online stores growing? E-commerce has grown ~400% over the past 10 years, while traditional retail has stumbled along at a meager 150% during the same period. People are used to shopping online now. And this crisis has accelerated the pace of change.
Watch our live discussion below about how print shops can use online stores to help their community during this crisis.
There are positive uses for online stores during this crisis
The only thing they’ll remember about your business is how you treated them during their time of crisis.
Online commerce is not the future for print shops. It is the present-day reality. As M&R’s CEO Danny Sweem said, “The t-shirt is an ideal e-commerce product. It doesn’t break, it’s customizable, it ships easily, and it’s very low risk.”
If you thought print shops are just “non-essential businesses,” think again. Print shops across the US are using online stores as a lifeline for their community.
FACT: Print shops are already in the brand and community-building niche.
By using online stores to help their communities, print shops aren’t pivoting. They’re using their existing skills. You already know how to use imagery, design, marketing, storytelling, and branding strategies to help your customers!
Your business is a hub for activity right now. Think about it: don’t most of the businesses in your town know about your shop? And if they don’t, isn’t it likely they know someone that’s used your services?
Print shops have an opportunity to “Be the mayor” for their community – a leader, a source of inspiration, and a guide through tough times.
FALSE: It’s not a good time to run an online store. No one is buying anything.
Right now, the rules are thrown out the window. Businesses are doing everything they can to survive.
You simply need the right elements to succeed. Here’s what we’ve seen work for print shops that run online stores right now:
- An emotional appeal. Right now, people need a positive emotional connection. Signal your intent by using language like:
- Some great artwork. Now is the time to lean on your design skills (or designers). Clear, powerful, humble designs win the day.
- A simple pitch. The simpler your appeal to customers, the better. “We donate $10 to a business for every shirt sold,” for instance.
- Local partners to help promote it. People in your city love their bars, restaurants, and small businesses. They want to help. They can use their social media to reach their audience and help promote your stores.
A t-shirt is more than a promotional item right now. It’s a lifeline to our communities.
What the pros are doing: 7 amazing print shops’ fundraisers
The first step in any successful campaign is inspiration. Here’s 7 examples that we’ve seen:
A Small Print Shop
A Small Print Shop in Denver, CO are offering online stores to their customers. “Be good to each other and support where you can.” ASPS has offered up cool imagery for free for people to share, and they’re even offering free shipping. “We love you, we just can’t see you right now. Let us ship you your shirts for free.”
Lucky Prints in Chicago have generated more than $10,000 for local businesses, including some legendary breweries and restaurants. I spoke with Adam from Lucky Prints for about twenty minutes, and he said this campaign “restored some faith in humanity” during a very difficult time.
“You tell a business it’s free, and they’re skeptical. But we wanted a way to support the people that have supported us for the past 8 years. This is personal for us.” They’ve also created an employee relief fundraiser store.
Noreast Apparel in Lowell, MA has stepped up and made their town’s glut of amazing small businesses the focus of their store. Owner Dave Quigley used this opportunity to promote Lowell.
He made a great Instagram post describing his perfect Saturday in Lowell, tagging each business he’d visit on that perfect Saturday. “Have you ever sat back and considered how many local small businesses you interact with on a daily and weekly basis? What’s your ideal Saturday look like?”
Trust Printshop in Ft. Worth, TX has partnered with several local businesses to benefit them through merchandise. Their design is impeccable (like everything else Trust does) and shows every business they’re helping, too! Their message is great: “We’ve decided…to do something we’ve always wanted to do: sell our own garments with our own designs directly to you.” As a mostly-contract shop, that’s a big shift – and hopefully a breath of fresh air.
Rowboat Creative in Chicago has crafted the Creatives Who Care campaign to boost several local businesses. This style of branded campaign allows Rowboat to offer an ongoing service to Chicago’s small business community. It keeps Rowboat’s employees working and helps the dozens of industries impacted by this crisis.
Stoked on Printing
Stoked On Printing in Las Vegas, NV has a super clear pitch: you make $10 per shirt sold with no risk when we run a store for you. “Still finding ways to support your local bands and businesses! We’ll get through this together.”
Barrel Maker Printing
Barrel Maker Printing in Chicago also offers the crystal-clear $10 payout to a small business. “Together we will see this through.”
Tiny Little Monster
Tiny Little Monster from St. Louis, MO has started a campaign called #HereForGood. This is a different approach, as leader Sloan Coleman has developed a systematized way to achieve similar results that other print shops throughout the US are emulating.
This community-based approach has proven tremendously popular and we applaud the Tiny Little Monster team for spearheading these efforts.
Marketing your stores: tips for social media, email, and cold calling
“We had a flood of people contact us right away. Businesses were interested in joining the platform. People realize, if all these small businesses are gone, what’s that going to feel like? That’s really hitting home. The fear of the thing they love not being there on the other side of this…it’s real.”
Since many of us are limited to the internet and telephone at the moment, the best channels are the simplest: social, email, and cold calling.
Social media is on fire while people are stuck at home.
Luckily, social media campaigns for fundraisers and online stores are super simple. They typically consist of several parts:
- Images that run across different platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, even Snapchat)
- These can be simple text-based images (many ideas and examples below!)
- Be sure the images are the right size for each platform
- A clear call-to-action
- What do you want the customer to do? This should be front-and-center. Use links!
- A clear “WHY” statement
- Why are you running this store? To help a business, employees, the community…?
- Develop a set of hashtags – think locally. Consider creating your own!
- Local businesses to tag
- Be social – if there’s a business it’s appropriate to work with now, do it
Pro: Easy, generates attention, very low risk and potentially high reward.
Con: Have to deal with fickle social media algorithms that may not let your post be seen by many people, difficult to track.
Cost: Time to create posts and manage them.
Email remains one of the most powerful tools for any small business. Particularly for getting the word out about your fundraising and online stores.
You don’t need to re-invent the wheel. Short emails that explain exactly what you’re doing and why you’re doing it – as well as including a way for them to take immediate action – are all that’s required.
Pro: No algorithms to deal with, easy to manage replies, you already have an email list.
Con: People are simply inundated with “COVID-19 Update!” emails.
Cost: Depends on the price of your email service provider (Intercom, MailChimp, etc.)
Direct business outreach (Cold calling)
Cold calling is surprisingly effective right now. Many small business owners are looking for a lifeline – both the chance to chat and an opportunity to bring in any form of revenue.
“Find companies that are like other companies you work with and you know are struggling. Then ask if they need help. Even if they pass on the offer, they’ll probably pass your message along to someone else,” Adam from Lucky Prints told us.
Pro: Quick, makes a real connection, could cure your own boredom, may lead to other opportunities.
Con: Can be discouraging, not for everyone, may turn certain people off.
Cost: The time to place calls and manage them.
Lucky Prints in Chicago: “I was laying in bed and Merch clicked for me”
Practical tips: how to run online stores (and not lose your mind)
Running online stores during a crisis like this isn’t an easy task, particularly if you’re dealing with a government mandated stay-at-home order!
That said, there are several simple ways to make this entire process easier, more profitable, and a lot more fun.
- Be mentally and physically healthy. On airplanes, they tell you to put your oxygen mask on before you help others. The same rule applies here. Be sure you’re mentally and physically ready to help other people!
- Keep the products to a minimum. Instead of 9 products, try starting with 1, 2 or even 3. Printavo Merch purchasing data shows that stores that make more than $10,000 almost always have fewer than 9 products. This makes it easier to fulfill and manage orders.
- Use your online store as a “virtual sales floor.” People are desperate for connection right now. Consider leaving a phone number on your store so people can contact you – and then, use the store like a virtual sales floor on the call.
- Keep your designs simple. Simpler designs (i.e. one or two-color prints) are easier to print and more affordable to produce.
- Keep your deadlines long. Don’t expect to fulfill speedy turnaround promises if your state is still battling with the pandemic. Set reasonable deadlines given what you know.
- Consider this an investment in the future. While the future in uncertain, Adam from Lucky Prints shared a valuable way to think about this moment: “Don’t be fooled by the optimism, we’re taking a hit. But we’re going to adapt and learn from this. We take the losses now, hoping they’ll be offset by the strengths and skills we develop in the meantime.”
- Tag businesses you want to work with on social media. When you do social posts, always tag several businesses you work with (or hope to work with). This keeps you top-of-mind and reminds them to reach out. We’ve seen several shops grow large followings through aggressive tagging on social media!
Printavo’s operations are continuing like normal. The team has moved entirely to remote work – and we’re seeing record usage of Printavo Merch.
Need more tips? Here’s three more helpful articles, chock full of practical advice for running online stores from one of Printavo Merch’s most successful users – Steven Farag from Campus Ink.
- The Ultimate Guide to Online Stores for Screen Print Shops features downloadable content and nearly 30+ pages of practical guidance
- How to Make Viral Online Stores for Screen Printing, Embroidery, and DTG Businesses a first-person tale of how one screen printer got started with a viral online store
- Shop Talk: How I Got to $1M in Online Store Sales how Steven Farag reached a milestone for any print shop: $1M in online store sales