Playing Nice With Contract Printers

Business Lessons

For those new to the industry, some might struggle to understand the concept of contract printing. "Why on earth would I have someone else print for me if I can print myself!?" Those experienced in the industry may rely heavily on contract printers using them as a crutch to keep them afloat during a busy season.  For others that don't have the means of mass production, you might solely rely on contract printers.

As a community of decorators, we rely on one another to get through the peaks and valleys of our day-to-day business. Contract Printers are our friends, they are our kind, and often times they have grown to such a scale where they can offer a business-to-business solution.  At a certain point in growth, a regular printing company gets to the point where they begin accepting contract printing as a means to continually keep their presses running. Not far after, if they become established in the space, they may solely turn into a contract printer, exclusively printing for other companies.  Contract printers are our peers and it is important to understand their space to better serve yours. 

Aside, you may be contemplating becoming a contract printer, which has its own hurdles and sets of growing pains. If you are just starting out, be wary of offering contract print prices, because these are highly calculated, with lower margins, and less room for error. 

You will begin to use a contract printer to outsource jobs that are outside of your scope. Every business has a niche, and it is okay to admit that you are not capable of printing every order that comes through your door. That does not mean you have to turn them down. There are shops out there that can gladly take your order, and for a cost, produce your items and send them to your customers, as if it was your own job. You may find great profitability sending jobs out for contract printing, but if you are not careful those costs add up. 

You may also find contractors that offer different decoration methods. if you do not offer DTG there are great solutions coast to coast that offers this service for you. If your niche is not simulated process and high detail jobs, there are shops that specialize in it. If you are not set up for embroidery but have customers that want it, you can easily find several contract shops to handle them. The list is endless. 

Here are the ground rules for working with contract printers:

1. Contract Printers Charge for Everything - Get Used to It

 Contract printers must charge for every step of work required to complete your order. They make money on the time spent to handle these tasks, therefore as solely a service based company, there is a cost for everything. You may offer free setups for your customers. Contract printers will have to charge for things like screens, setups, digitizing, separating,  packaging, amongst other things. That is perfectly normal, and you will need to build it into your cost per item. Contract printers will give you a price sheet that breaks down every cost that you will incur when working with them. The best way to calculate job profitability is to add set up costs, screen fees, printing fees, and shipping fees, and divide that number by the total amount of units to get a true cost of decorating your items.  You will often see a price difference for underbasing or printing difficult garments. They have to allow time for this, as their presses may run at slower speeds to print the goods. 

2. Contract Printers Make No Assumptions - Be Very Clear

When working with a contract printer you may be required to log into their system or send them a detailed purchase order. They do this to ensure that there are no hidden components of the job. Think of a purchase order as a spec sheet. They should be able to look at the sheet and know everything about the job. They should know that the garments are being sent to them from this location, arriving at a certain time and that there are no opportunities for assumptions to be made. To send perfect purchase orders, you should thoroughly understand the requirements of your contract printer. They may have an ink color guide with specific ink names and if you are not clear, they will simply reject the purchase order, and put the order on hold until you approve it. They don't hit go until all their questions are asked, to ensure that there is little risk of error. 

3. Contract Printers Have Strict Timetables

While you may be relaxed with turnaround times, contractors are on a very rudimentary and rigid schedule. They are printing for several other shops around the country with strict deadlines that they may have promised so understand that their turn around times does not bend. Often times they might charge more for faster turns, and that is totally normal in this industry. If you want to bend the rules, you put your contractors at risk of not producing a job on time so understand that every contractor will have timetables they expect you to adhere to. 

4. Spoilage Occurs

If a contract printer is printing on your garments and they charge you $2.00 per print on a garment that costs you $4.00 they take on a higher risk than you.  You might be charging the customer $10.00 per item. If you mess one up, you can order another one, and still be profitable. If they mess up more than their allotted spoilage, they are responsible for replacing the goods. Each contract shop will let you know their spoilage rate that they are not liable for. Mistakes and misprints do happen, and if they had to replace every shirt they misprinted or had to wait for a new garment to come in stock, they would not survive. That means it is not a bad idea to pad your order 2-3% when sending goods to them. If the job comes out perfect, your "insurance" is a few bonus shirts for the customer. If you have a very specific order with specific sizes that the customer requests, that spoilage could hurt you. This is arguably more important if you have smaller runs. Prepare for this, and do not blame your contractor for a few misprints within the allotted spoilage amount.

5. Print Ready Artwork Means It Must Be Print Ready

A contract printer is going to print an order exactly as you send it to them. If your artwork is messy, has several hidden layers, or is not scaled properly, this can delay your job. Artists in a contract shop are simply taking your artwork, making sure it will look okay on a shirt, and sending you a proof of your artwork. They are not responsible for the creative side of things and are surely not responsible for poor artwork. If you struggle with separations and artwork, use a third party service like www.ignitiondrawing.com ahead of time before sending a job off to a contractor. They expect your proof to be approved in a timely fashion and too much back and forth will certainly delay your order. 

Thank you to all the contract printers that help us on a day to day basis. Your dedication to effortlessly handling our complicated orders help us grow as a community!

Image source: South Dakota - Department of Corrections

 


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