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Invest in the Right Equipment
From Stitches' State of the Industry 2010
May 2010
By Shane Dale

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For new or experienced decorators who are looking to expand their businesses, Mike Angel, vice president of marketing and U.S. sales for Melco Industries Inc., breaks down the advantages of buying some of the most popular types of decorating equipment:

  • Single-head machines: “A single-head is a great way to start,” he says. “You can always contract out any large orders, but at least one machine will give you the ability to do samples, help you as a marketing tool and help you produce high-margin orders.”
  • Multi-head machines: “Multi-heads are great for companies doing contract production, such as thousands of one type of job,” he says. “A multi-head is also great if you’re embroidering on straight material to be cut and sewn, or if you’re decorating finished goods and doing logoed work.”
  • Heat-transfer equipment: “Heat transfers offer a printing option that screen printing can’t give you,” he says. “Screen printing is a little more labor-intensive for setup. Heat-transfer equipment is the most economical choice that gives you true image quality at a low cost, and you can offer no-minimum services. Heat transfers and digital garment printers are very similar in terms of business model.”
  • Fabric and vinyl cutters: “You’re going to have businesses that want to get involved in athletics. Cutters are going to serve that type of decorating,” he says, adding that cutters are great for companies “that offer packages and programs that cut vinyl letters and do appliqué."
Top Equipment Investments in 2009

Why a Heat Press? 

Erich Campbell, digitizer and e-commerce manager for Black Duck Inc. (asi/140730) in Albuquerque, NM, suggests that small, embroidery-only shops should purchase at least one quality heat press. “Once you’ve accomplished that, you open yourself up to a world of CAD-cut vinyl, plastisol screen-printed transfers, pre-cut appliqués and more, allowing for the printing of countless styles of garments and for large, low-cost impressions,” he says.

Add New Decorating Methods to Your Offerings

One of the most cost-effective ways to add a new decorating method to your product line is through contracting, according to Anna Johnson, owner of Super Embroidery and Screenprinting (asi/339634) in Phoenix. “You can contract the work out at first and wait to build up a clientele for the new product,” she says. “After you’re doing enough orders to cover your costs, then you can buy the equipment for your own shop and already have built-in business.”

If contracting isn’t a satisfactory option, Johnson suggests doing your homework before buying new equipment. “Really check into the new equipment methods and get on embroidery or garment-printing lists, and find out what equipment people are the happiest with,” she says. “Try not to buy something the moment it’s on the market.”

Once you pick your machine, you can pay it off more quickly by keeping your employees busy. “Trim the garments while the machine runs and pre-hoop for the next run,” she says. “Start threading the machine for the next order that’s coming up if you’re caught up.

Also, adding mixed media that includes a combination of screen printing, direct-to-garment, appliqué, tackle twill or laser cutting will lower your stitch counts and add a “wow factor” to your line, Johnson says.

The Case for Investing in Software Now

Decorating experts explain the advantages of investing in digitizing, business management, and other graphics and artwork software.

Digitizing software

  1. “If your clientele shows a fairly constant pressure for quick turnarounds, a need for quick changes and complete oversight, it’s a good indicator that in-house digitizing might serve you well,” says Erich Campbell, digitizer and e-commerce manager for Black Duck Inc. (asi/140730) in Albuquerque, NM.
  2. “A decorator who’d like to develop high-end, highly artistic digitizing capability – a service for which her clients will pay top dollar – might consider investing in high-quality digitizing software,” says Joanna Grant, vice president of graphic production and support services for Affinity Express.
  3. “If a design requires minor editing, such as a color change added or removed, or if the size needs a slight adjustment, it’ll take less time for this to be done in-house on editing software than if the digitizer is notified and returns the revised file,” says Bonnie Landsberger, owner of Cannon Falls, MN-based Moonlight Design.

Business management software

  1. “If you’re unable to keep track of the mountain of contact information, previous orders, designs and quotes in your shop, then you could use some sort of management software,” Campbell says. 
  2. “The costing detail, order management information and reporting available from business management software make a small or large business even more successful,” Grant says.

Graphics/artwork software

  1. “Decorators who want to develop and produce high-end T-shirt graphics should invest in art software,” Grant says.
  2. “Any decorator who intends to do any custom work should purchase the most basic versions of either CorelDRAW or Adobe Illustrator,” Campbell says.
  3. “Should you want to prepare or alter images for Web sites, social media or e-mail marketing, you’ll need graphics software, Campbell says.
Show Me The Money

Business Investments Fall in 2009

64% – the percentage of decorators who chose not to add equipment in 2009, up 6 percentage points from 58% in 2008
43% – the percentage of decorators who chose not to purchase software in 2009, up 9.4 percentage points from 34% in 2008

Don’t Be Cheap

While decorators are trying to save money by not investing in equipment or software, buying the cheapest equipment on the market can mean trouble, says Kristine Shreve, director of marketing for The Ensign Group. “Think about where you want your business to be six months or a year down the road,” she says. “If you plan to build your business up steadily, you’ll be better off purchasing equipment that can accommodate a larger volume than you plan to be doing at the beginning.”

Top Software Investments in 2009

Build and Diversify Your Product Line

The process of adding new product lines requires an understanding of your target market, says Kristine Shreve, director of marketing for The Ensign Group. “That market will determine what product lines you should offer and which ones you should avoid,” she says. “If you sell mostly to skateboard enthusiasts, you probably won’t need a lot of baby products. Taking the time to do a little research on the front end can save you a lot of money spent on unsold inventory.”

It’s also important to choose the right equipment, according to Shreve. “If you want to add sublimation to your product lines, you’d need a printer, sublimation ink and transfer paper designed for sublimation, polyester garments or poly-coated blanks, and a heat press,” she says. “If you prefer to do direct-to-garment printing, you need a printer designed for that purpose, the proper ink and pretreatment sprays, and a heat press. The ability to use some sort of graphics software is also helpful if you’re thinking of adding sublimation or direct-to-garment to your product lines.”

Business Investments Fall in 2009
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