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Stand Out From Other Local Decorators
From Stitches' State of the Industry 2010
May 2010
By Dave Vagnoni

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As a former national pistol champion, Joyce Fletcher knows how to shoot down the competition. Like many decorators, she places a premium on customer service, but she also uses some clever tricks in promoting her shop. “I barter with a local radio station for advertising,” says Fletcher, owner of Exact Design Custom Embroidery in Williamson, NY. “I contribute shirts to local organizations, and that helps. I also offer pickup and delivery.” In recent years, she has also delved into the virtual world, setting up a Web site with SanMar (asi/84863) apparel. “It works like an e-store,” she says.

About 800 miles west, in Marquette Heights, IL, Tom Schneider has his own prosperity secrets to share. His company, Windstar Embroidery Designs, has profited from offering an enticing customer rewards program. “When somebody orders, of course we keep track of it,” he says. “When a customer reaches a certain level, they receive a discount that only goes up.” At the highest level after $500 worth of purchases, customers receive a 50% discount for every subsequent order. “It’s worked out really well and we were shocked at how many people got to that level,” he says. “Even at 50% off, that’s still money in our pockets.”

In addition to offering customer incentives, Windstar also carefully segments e-mail lists, targeting clients based on past purchases and geography. “Let’s say we notice the Northwest is going through a wet winter,” Schneider says. “We’re going to e-mail those customers designs of rainy days. We’re doing something topical. It’s divide and profit.”

Even farther west in Twin Falls, ID, Gary Bartlome touts the importance of visibility. “We used to be out in a remote part of town,” says Bartlome, manager of Threads USA. “We moved to the main thoroughfare here and now we get a lot of walk-in work. It’s really about location.”

Business ThreatsSucceed as a Contract Shop

At the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in the one-traffic-light town of Topton, PA, Rockland Embroidery Inc. (asi/734150) has established a decorating dynasty. Producing several million pieces annually for roughly 1,500 national distributors, Rockland is consistently considered one of the most successful contract shops in the country. “We offer all different kinds of decorating techniques,” says Andy Shuman, Rockland’s general manager. “We win orders because of our service, speed and price.”

Navigating through this uneven economy, Shuman has had to weather a downshift in order volume, forcing periodic adjustments in strategy. “It’s been about finding the balance between cutting some costs and still getting the job done for our clients,” he says. “Sometimes, it’s about juggling day-to-day projects. We have great employees who are flexible with their schedules, and that helps.”

To spur business, Shuman has also ramped up marketing efforts. “We’re trying to get in front of clients and have conversations with them to learn more about them,” he says. “We’re also still going to all the trade shows we can.”

When potential customers have questions, Rockland is responding quicker than ever. “We’re doing a lot of quoting and we’re getting back to people as soon as we can,” Shuman says. “We want to let customers know that we’re going to be personal. We want to build a comfort level and win a client, instead of an order.”

While Rockland is a notable name on the East Coast, Tempe, AZ-based Embroidery Unlimited Inc. remains a leading contract shop on the West Coast – and Owner Bruce Perryman is doing all he can to keep it that way. “We’re planning an open house to show off our new laser-bridge machine,” he says. “The machine can do laser etching, appliqué, reverse appliqué and any kind of cutting so efficiently. There are only a few machines like it in the country. Right now, decorating is about producing the retail look. We can do it better, with quality.”

Perryman admits he used to rely on a small clientele for business, but his strategy is changing. “We’re casting the net and going for even more powerful customers, the heavy hitters,” he says. “You can’t blame the economy. You have to be fleet of foot.”

Become a SubContract Decorator for an Apparel Supplier

We asked Anna Johnson, owner of Phoenix-based Super Embroidery and Screenprinting (asi/339634), for advice on how to acquire potentially lucrative sub-contracting work. Here are her tips:

  1. Send samples. “You have to show these big companies like Nike what you got,” she says. “Ask if you can visit them. Be persistent. You almost have to be a bit pushy.”
  2. Build relationships. “The good ol’ boy or girl system is still at work and it’s about who you know,” she admits. “If you do good work for one large supplier, you can often get a referral out of it. Some of these suppliers will even pay for referrals. Machine manufacturers, for example, will be asked who has the capacity to produce a certain number of pieces with certain colors. Or, maybe somebody changes companies and will take your name with them.”
  3. Focus on events. “Go to companies that have licenses with sports leagues, such as Reebok,” she says. “These companies are looking for decorators for special events, like the Super Bowl or an all-star game.
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