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Where the Buyers Are
From Stitches' State of the Industry 2010
May 2010
By Shane Dale

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Cash in on these five unique markets that are purchasing decorated apparel now.

  1. Convenience stores. Dennis Funk, co-owner of Proforma Funk Enterprises (asi/300094) in Columbia Station, OH, runs an apparel program for the convenience store chain Circle K and has created uniforms for hundreds of Circle K stores since 2002. “I’ve got a number of businesses that are way down, but this particular customer seems to be increasing its apparel requests,” he says.
    Funk also provides business forms and awards for Circle K. “My business has increased with them over last year by 30%, not including the uniforms,” he says. “I’ve seen my other businesses shrink by 75%.”
  2. Radio-controlled boat shows. Decorators can cash in on rallies for radio-controlled boats. “They’re still very popular because it’s an inexpensive hobby,” says Jenni Cox, co-founder of the National Network of Embroidery Professionals.
    Cox says boat enthusiasts like to promote their events with logoed hats, shirts, jackets and tote bags. “Contact your local fairgrounds and see what events are being held there,” she says. “If they’re hosting a boat show, find out what’s booked throughout the next 12 months, and research into that market.” 
  3. Equestrian. Heather White, daughter of the owners of Sherman, NY-based Triple E Manufacturing, says she and her folks have done quite well in embellishing halters, head stalls, reins, grooming bags and saddle covers for the equestrian market. “We manufacture all the equestrian stuff, so everything is done before we put it together,” she says. “That makes us a little unique.”
    About 40% of Triple E’s sales are in the equine business, which the family decided to take on a few years ago. “At the time, we took a huge risk, but it was a very good chance that we took because it’s paid off,” White says. “We do thousands of halters a year.”
    Triple E embellishes its equestrian items via embroidery, heat transfers and sequins on mostly nylon material instead of leather, as nylon is less expensive. “We really are steady as far as where we were last year,” White says. “People are still buying their horses stuff, which is good.”
  4. Choir robes. New London, OH-based Thomas Creative Apparel has been creating unique and colorful embellishments for polyester choir robes for Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran and other churches for over 35 years. “We sew them here and embroider them and do whatever they want,” says Vickie Hall, president. “We can make a traditional style or blend two styles together, take the sleeve off one and put it on another. Some of them can get pretty elaborate.” Hall most often embroiders the robe’s yoke, sleeve or cuff. 
  5. Masons. Hall’s other business, New London Regalia, also based in New London, OH, creates costumes, hats, banners and aprons for masons. This market has become more profitable for Hall recently since she has been able
    to convince masons to move from
    gold bullion embellishment to the less-expensive alternative of machine embroidery with metallic threads.

Top Markets

Decorators continue to serve very diverse markets, with no single market taking more than 15% of the total industries served.

Here are the top seven markets buying decorating services.

  1. Local athletic teams
  2. Educational institutions
  3. Associations and clubs
  4. Consumer products
  5. Manufacturing
  6. Health care
  7. Retailers

Market Yourself to Your Buyers

The best thing that decorators can do to penetrate a potential niche market is to start writing, says Jenni Cox, co-founder of the National Network of Embroidery Professionals.

Say, for example, that you wanted to sell decorated apparel to dentists. “Write a magazine article for a state dentist association and get it on their Web site,” Cox says. “Talk about how wearing customer-friendly sports apparel, rather than a scary lab coat, will help dentists relate better to their patients. Talk about how user-friendly care creates the right environment for their customers.”

Doing this, along with researching the market’s Web site and trade show events, can give you a leg up on the competition. “If you can dominate one market through their print, Web or live events, you can reach literally thousands of professionals in that market,” Cox says.

Green Thumbs-Up

Break Into the Education Market

he education sector is comprised of several sectors with very different needs, says Erich Campbell, digitizer and e-commerce manager for Albuquerque, NM-based Black Duck Inc. (asi/140730). “You have administrators and educators who, particularly in the public schools, may require you to handle a lot of bureaucratic red tape,” he says. “You have sports where the boosters are really the driving force, and you definitely have to make personal connections with them to get their business reliably. You have clubs, and they’re generally organized by club presidents and reigned in by specific educators.”

The key to breaking into this market, according to Campbell, is to familiarize yourself with products that many decorators don’t regularly create, like letter jackets, sports and school uniforms, and specialty sports and cheer accessories. “To tap this market, you must be willing to put in face time, hunt down elusive leads, occasionally make sacrifices to help groups achieve a price they can afford, and have the willingness to take on difficult deadlines,” he says.

Campbell recently made sacrifices of time and energy to accommodate a special request from a prep school. “They had been asked by the students to create a more retail-styled multimedia polo shirt featuring the school’s mascot, the Sundevil,” he says. “Both ourselves and our customer came to the conclusion that a jersey knit appliqué would be the only solution that would have the right weight and feel.”

After much trial and error, Campbell realized that the pieces would have to be hand-cut on the garment. “I digitized a chain-stitch outline and appliquéd a rectangle of the requisite material on top of a screen-printed image of the Sundevil using an easily found reference mark on the print for placement, and finally cutting out the letters a set distance away from the thick chain-stitch border,” he says. “We have since run further printings of the same image and used the technique and special motifs created in our digitizing software for other orders.”

Top 5 Apparel ProductsSell to the Medical Industry 

“Much like working with the multitude of groups in the education industry, you’ll find that working with health care – particularly large hospitals – often means dealing with various organizers for the different units and floors for particular event-related or otherwise unique-to-the-unit garments and accessories,” says Erich Campbell, digitizer and e-commerce manager for Albuquerque, NM-based Black Duck Inc. (asi/140730).

Also similar to the education industry is the fact that there are many garments and accessories that are specific to the health-care field, according to Campbell. “Scrubs, lab coats and stethoscope covers are just the beginning of the items you’ll be asked to decorate,” he says. “Be aware that you’ll very likely be doing a great deal of customization on the individual level. Name drops are common on garments for the medical industry, and careful attention to detail is needed not to incorrectly handle important abbreviations.”

Campbell recently took on a tricky order from the Trauma Burn and Surgical ICU of the University of New Mexico Hospital. “Having already created T-shirts in previous years, the staff wanted something that was higher-end, and in particular, the nursing staff was interested in some sort of outerwear to combat the well-attested-to cool temperatures maintained on the floor,” he says. “Whatever it was had to be warm, but not sacrifice ease of movement or the ability to be washed thoroughly.”

Campbell went with a standard left-chest embroidery on a polar fleece vest that featured the hospital’s logo. He matched the logo style and added the name of the unit’s floor under the logo. “We had to alter the logo twice to make sure that each discipline and specialty practiced on the floor was represented in the title,” he says. “It’s well worth your time to find out the official designation of the floor.”

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