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Creative Ways to Find New Customers
From Stitches' State of the Industry 2010
May 2010
By Robert Carey

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Not surprisingly, technology is at the top of the experts’ list of tips for finding new sales. Joanna Grant, director of sales for Affinity Express, says every decorator should have a Facebook account and use it to post photos of applications and testimonials you’ve received from your best customers. Time-sensitive discounts and specials should also be up there to move people to action. And the most popular keywords in your decorating niche should be used at least a few times on your Facebook page and company Web site, so that search engines move your company name upward in the search rankings.

Facebook, Twitter and MySpace are fantastic tools, says Andy Shuman, general manager of Topton, PA-based Rockland Embroidery Inc. (asi/734150). On the other hand, he stresses, "Using these newer tools is leaving some of the time-tested sales methods underused." He continues to see significant results "from networking, referrals and in-person sales calls." So he advises decorators to hand-deliver samples along with a new design or marketing idea; send an embroidered thank-you card; or add an eco-friendly product with every order of the basics. 
Colleen Hartigan, vice president of sales for Madeira USA, finds that much of a new-sales strategy will depend on the capacity of a decorator’s operation, its location and its budget. "Keep your presence in the community that you serve the most," she urges. Telephone-directory listings, participating in local events and fairs, joining local business and networking groups, and simply visiting with managers at local restaurants, specialty shops, lumberyards, uniform-supply stores and bridal shops will result in new business. And, "Always wear garments that you make," she adds. – RC

Who's Buying?

Case Study

Naomi Bodway, owner of The Source House in Osseo, WI, procures and decorates items for eight departments within a local architectural and engineering firm. But it was an initial coffee-mug order from one department several years ago that taught her how to interest the firm’s other divisions.
Bodway’s original contact was having trouble getting a logo imprint resembling the firm’s Pantone color match. She was able to find a solution the client liked – and in the process, "I realized this firm is clearly very image- and detail-oriented," she says. "I learned I had to show other managers there that using me would be a logistical time-saver, and that it also would bring coherence and harmony to all of their messaging and image-building." And, once people saw that Bodway knew so much about the firm and their preferences and guidelines for applying the brand name, "They realized they wouldn’t have to spend another second explaining things to me," she says. "Then the work really started coming."

How To Apologize To A Good Client

Don’t Quarrel. Instead, Take Action
Tammy Shaw, vice president of Oswald Communications (asi/288335) in Evansville, IN, says her personal brand promise includes being honest and reliable."
Shaw proved this on the day she woke at 4 a.m. to drive to a regional UPS warehouse in search of boxes containing promotional apparel that had to be at a client’s office by 7:30 a.m. Shaw’s client initially told her the event would take place in the afternoon – but then called the day before to ask where the goods were for his early-morning event. "I didn’t tell him it wasn’t my fault," she says. "I decided I was going to get those boxes where they had to be. I had to beg UPS to let me come in before dawn and look at hundreds of boxes. But I got them, drove to the office, set up a really nice table display, and the guests got their gifts."

Lose the Battle to Win the War
Sherrie Davis-Perlman, owner of Lee Davis Associates in Philadelphia, says that a client once ordered a lower-quality item that, when it arrived, clearly wasn’t acceptable for the program’s objective. So, "I had the client’s artwork reprinted on a higher-quality item at the best price I could get, and offered to take back the original ones," she says. The client took the original items at cost and used them for another purpose – one that Davis-Perlman thought of.

Form Alliances

One smart tactic to building your customer base is one you might have overlooked: Forming alliances with decorators who do applications that you don’t offer. The reason: Clients who use one type of application are already sold on the benefits of decorated apparel, and are more likely to branch out in their use of decorating and also show it or recommend it to colleagues. The result: Referrals are passed back and forth between decorators.

Joanna Grant, director of sales for Affinity Express, also suggests that if you like the quality of their work, "Align yourself with a busy digitizing agent to boost your business, because digitizers are often asked if they know a good embroiderer." 

Who’s Buying?

Nearly one-half of decorators’ overall sales were with local businesses (49%) in 2009, very similar to 2008 (47%). The same goes for jobs for individuals (non-business): 36% in 2009 and 2008.

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