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A Look Ahead
From Stitches' State of the Industry 2010
May 2010
By Shane Dale

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We asked the Stitches Editorial Advisory Board for some of the top marketing, decorating and capital investment trends they see in the decorating industry for this year and beyond.

#1 Social Networking Will Continue to Soar

The number of decorators who’ve started (and plan to start) using Facebook and Twitter to connect with clients will keep rising. “I use Facebook to update my clients about our specials or to show off our new custom bling designs for clients – if a customer sends in a photo of herself in her Sparkle Plenty wear, I’ll post it to our page and give her a link, too,” says Lee Romano Sequeira, owner of Philadelphia-based Sparkle Plenty Designs (asi/88444). She also knows how to keep it light, posting an inspirational quote, a comment about Project Runway or a picture of her shop’s terrier mascots, Elton and Sophie, to show off her more personal side.

And, ignoring social networking isn’t going to make it go away – or make it any less important to overall marketing efforts this year and going forward. “There are decorator-business owners who’ll refuse to add social networking to their marketing schedules, just as many did a decade ago about using the Internet or getting a Web site,” says Bonnie Landsberger, owner of Cannon Falls, MN-based Moonlight Design. “Today, it would be considered foolish for a business to not have at least an e-mail address. Some decorators feel they have to follow and post on all the social networks, but just choose at least one and really work that site.”

#2 Multimedia and Higher-End Decoration Are Where It’s At

Despite the fact that buyers are still being cautious by purchasing lower item counts per order, they’re increasingly asking for higher-end, fashion-forward decoration. “Appliqué, reverse and distressed appliqué, and mixed media decoration that look like retail are all very hot,” says Andy Shuman, general manager of Topton, PA-based Rockland Embroidery Inc. (asi/734150). He’s noticed that the gap between the decorated apparel industry and retail fashion has been closing more and more. “Now, we have customers who want us to put a crazy spin on their logo from something they saw at the latest runway show, and we do,” he says. “Or, they want an apparel item that they saw at retail that we can order from an industry supplier.”

#3 Invest in a Heat Press, Just for Starters

Thirty-five percent of decorators decided to invest in heat presses and single-head embroidery machines in 2009 – and for good reason. “Adding a heat press is a smart, economical move for decorators,” says Joyce Jagger, owner of The Embroidery Coach.

Plus, the short learning curve is an attractive feature. “It’s much easier to learn how to work a heat press than an embroidery machine,” says Pat Baldes, owner of Fair Haven, MI-based Personalization Solutions Inc. “A heat press is a great choice for a new business owner, or one who wants to add new product lines to an existing business.”

In addition, decorators who want to add new services – direct-to-garment printing, vinyl, sublimation, laser work, engraving, digitizing and artwork creation – should survey existing clients to see if they’d be interested in using you as their go-to person for additional decoration techniques. “Try to get more business from those who know and like the quality of your products and services,” says Anna Johnson, president of Phoenix-based Super Embroidery & Screenprinting (asi/339634).

Whenever customers come in to pick up an order, Johnson shows them a sample of a different application and gives a quick rundown of its advantages. For instance, with garment printing, she mentions that it breathes better because of the water-based ink, that it’s inexpensive to set up and that it has high DPI-printing possibilities. Then she offers to print a shirt on the spot that the customer can take home.

#4 Keep Working New Niches

The Stitches State of the Industry survey showed that no one market made up more than 15% of the total markets buying decorated apparel last year. The moral of the story? Keep working your way into new niches. For example, an up-and-coming niche market is nonprofit organizations, whose number one goal in terms of decorated apparel is to add a bit of flair, according to Sequiera. “We’ve found that nonprofit and fundraising organizations love to highlight their event or cause with a bit of sparkle to stand out in the crowd and bring something a bit different and fun to the table,” she says.

This is especially true for women-focused events, such as Pink Ribbon walks for breast cancer research, Sequiera says. “We’ve noticed a growing demand for one-size-fits-all items, like custom baseball caps and visors, tote bags or bandanas,” she says. “This approach is especially fantastic in event goody bags, since the audience won’t be selecting their size garment, so a one-size approach keeps everyone happy.”
One of Sequiera’s top sellers is her pink breast cancer ribbon cap with shimmering crystals. Not only is it great for breast cancer awareness events, but Sparkle Plenty sells the caps on a retail and wholesale basis to boutiques, spas and gift shops.

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