We received responses on our industry survey from 170 print shops.
They vary in size and experience from long-time shops to startups.
We asked 7 simple questions:
- How was revenue this year, compared to 2020?
- How were profits this year, compared to 2020?
- Did you sell (or print) face masks this year? (A repeat question from last year)
- Did you use online stores to sell products this year? (A repeat question from last year)
- Which of the challenges did your business encounter this year? (Respondents selected from a list of common challenges or added their own)
- How did you get the majority of your new customers this year?
- What was the best improvement you made this year?
Everyone faced shortages and price increases
The major story of 2021 is the supply chain, pricing, and staffing. These three challenges accounted for a huge proportion of the problems that shops faced. We had an inkling that shortages and price increases were affecting the industry, but we had honestly underestimated the true scale of the problems.
Of 170 respondents, 166 (98%!) told us that they encountered supply chain issues where blank goods weren’t in stock. To put it another way, only 4 shops said they had no supply chain issues. 4!
Shortages and price increases yielded some stunning data this year:
- 80% faced price increases on raw goods
- 76% had to raise their prices
- 74% couldn’t find necessary supplies for printing
But the hidden story involved staffing. Not every print shop faced staffing issues! But the shops that did were severely impacted.
- 59% were short staffed
- 48% couldn’t hire or retain employees
- 31% had to force overtime
- 18% had long-time employees quit
Here’s what’s really interesting: only 1.8% of respondents told us that they increased their turnaround time despite all of these pressures building up in their business. So let’s get this straight! Print shops got more done with fewer products and employees. It’s mind-blowing.
Printavo note: 31% of our respondents told us that they “struggled to effectively schedule jobs.” Thankfully, we’re releasing Power Scheduler to help with this exact problem.
Print shops report higher revenues and profits
Our respondents reported a significant year-over-year increase in revenue and profitability.
- 88% (150) of shops told us that revenue went up.
- 72% (123) of shops told us that profit went up.
Optimism paid off in 2021. In our 2020 survey, only 48% of our survey’s respondents told us that they had a “better” or “busiest ever” year. This year, more than 70% of shops reported higher revenue and profit.
The Bad: 8.2% (14) shops reported that profits went down.
Notable: last year, 9% claimed their business stayed the same year-over-year. This year only 3.5% reported similar year-over-year revenue.
70% of print shops report using online stores
2021 was the year of digital life becoming totally normal.
Last year, 56% of shops told us that they tried a new sales technique. Of the shops that tried a new technique in 2020, 69% of them tried online stores for the first time!
This year, 70% of shops report that online stores helped them sell products. This is a huge increase in the ubiquity of online stores. Online stores are no longer an exception. They’re expected. Normal. Run of the mill, even!
Customers expect e-commerce competency. Shipping, fulfillment, ordering, and even payment become semi-automated processes. We’ve discussed the “Amazonification” of the industry at length: “if you’re in business, you should always have something for sale online.”
Notable! Printavo Merch users raised more than $15M for their causes: everything from fundraisers for local sports teams to support for wounded police officers.
The mask business was less prominent in 2021
In 2020, a whopping 76% of our respondents told us that they printed and sold face masks:
I recall the heady days of spring 2020 when every apparel company started producing face masks. There were lots of ups and downs and it frankly felt a bit like the Wild West, with brokers flying across the country to secure millions of units.
Speculation was rampant. Nobody really knew exactly how to make these things. There was a ton of creative and entrepreneurial energy. You had to sell masks or find some other way to make money.
2021 is a bit of a different story. The mask game has cooled considerably for most print shops, though it’s still part of the arsenal. 55% (93) of our survey respondents told us that they sold and printed face masks.
There are several reasons for this:
- The companies that could make masks began to corner the market. Either by scale, technique, or simple vertically integrated supply chains, several companies began to control the mask market.
- Cloth masks fell out of favor. As Delta and Omicron variants spread, surgical masks and N95 masks became the norm.
- Mask wearing throughout much of the country dropped off. You can’t sell something people won’t use.
More shops aren’t bothering with masks. A remarkable point in the data: last year, only 10% of shops told us they didn’t sell or print masks. In 2021, the “no mask” shops expanded to 33% (57) of our respondents. In other words, a lot more shops didn’t bother with masks this year at all.
Word of mouth dominates marketing for print shops
We’ve always suspected that word of mouth is the primary driver of business for most custom printing businesses.
It makes sense, right? The custom apparel experience is personal. Customers use shops to make their dreams into a reality. The “wow” moment that a customer gets when they receive their fresh custom print on a new garment is hard to beat. The sheer power of personal recommendation!
In 2020 and 2021, word of mouth was the most common technique for getting new customers. But we saw a staggering increase in the number of shops reporting word of mouth as their primary driver for new business:
- 2020: 40% report word of mouth is the primary driver
- 2021: 67% report word of mouth is the primary driver
Facebook, Instagram and TikTok weren’t as successful. Only 8% of shops said it was their primary driver for new customers. There’s a big caveat here, though. It’s worth noting that this niche is still very lucrative. These shops get most of their customers through social media! This is an emergent business model (online custom B2C through a social platform) that is going to grow as Instagram and TikTok add shopping features.
There were many pathways to success in 2021. Other notable responses included:
- Opening a brick-and-mortar location
- TV advertising
- Buying another print shop
- Local shops closing
In your words: the biggest improvements
We always ask what the biggest improvement was, and it’s definitely our favorite part of the survey.
It’s a great question with tons of awesome answers, and it’s also a good way to get ideas for improvements in your own business.
Here’s a sample of the replies:
Rules of engagement:
- “Setting rules for how we do business.”
- “Taking payment after APPROVAL, not after work is completed.”
- “Being proactive in allocating inventory before quoting out jobs. Ordering blanks to have here in house.”
Choose your customers:
- “Shifted to bigger clients”
- “Adjusted prices and minimums allowing us to focus on the customers that better fit our shop”
- “Saying NO more to red flag customers new and old”
- “Saying no to jobs that are not profitable.”
- “We increased our minimum from 12 pcs to 36 pcs and it ridiculously helped our profitably and production schedule.”
- “My price is my price. I’d rather watch a movie than do something that’s not worth my time.”
- “Increased prices to work smarter not harder and standing our ground on minimums etc. We have gained respect in doing so and are not afraid to turn down or lose a job.”
- “Adding a Graphic Designer to our team to streamline the art from the front of house back to production.”
- “We paid someone to redesign our website and work on SEO”
- “We were finally able to hire a second printer this fall. Switching to Printavo to manage jobs has also helped streamline our processes.”
- “Hiring a full time experienced Production Manager.”
- “Hired our first employee after four years in business.”
- “Hired 3 more team members.”
Their loss, your gain:
- “Finally able to hire add’l employees when another print shop closed.”
- “Hiring quality employees from other print shops that closed. Building a true A team.”
- “Purchased another auto. Bought out three small local shops destroyed by COVID.”
- “We found the right platform, Printavo, to keep a track of our projects and production.”
- “Got several programs working together – Printavo, DecoFlo, Trello and adding another print machine.”
- “Don’t laugh but Printavo.”
- “Making the decision to switch to Printavo.”
- “The most impactful: We hired a remote employee for PO input, added a tablet in our Darkroom for access to Printavo, and completely changed our receiving/check-in layout and process.”
- “Utilizing software (mainly printavo) to schedule our jobs and track progress.”
Get the gear:
- “Added 3 new presses. One being a Digital Squeegee.”
- “Adding more embroidery equipment.”
- “We got a second auto to try to stay caught up. Got slammed anyways.”
Analysis: a good year is a real challenge
Revenue variability is not a good thing for a business. It has a lot of effects on owner happiness, employee loyalty, and even customer retention.
If your business makes $1M one year and then $2M the next, you’re probably pretty happy. Maybe you invest in a new building with a large mortgage, order a new press, and hire a few new employees. You generally assume that things are going well. You pay a nice Christmas bonus to employees who are thrilled to get some extra cash. Your business acumen continues to grow. Clients like your business. They talk it up.
But what if your business makes $2M one year, and then $1M the next? You’re not going to be very happy with that. And this…kind of bleeds into how the whole thing operates? The big expensive mortgage starts to look, well, very big and expensive. The new press is not running. You have to let employees go. The bonuses turn into a pizza party. Clients walk because you can’t meet deadlines like before. This feels bad. It is bad!
And here’s the kicker: revenue variability is a basic fact of life in the print industry. It’s practically built into the business model. Customers come, customers go, they price shop, they flirt, they order a bunch at once or just a few to see how you do.
A good year in the print industry is something to carefully manage. They’re the exception, not the rule! But there’s a conflict here. If you pay out big bonuses and take on big debts, the next year might be very disappointing. If you don’t pay the bonuses and take on the debts, you might miss out on a huge opportunity in a booming economy. Honestly? There’s no solution that’s one-size-fits-all.
Every owner has to evaluate risk and reward for their team, their business, and ultimately…their gut feeling. We’re all gambling in some sense, whether we want to admit it or not.
Click here to read last year’s results.
Thank you for your help.