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Beat Out Any Competitors
From State of the Industry 2009
May 2009
By Julie Cajigas

We don’t look at anyone as truly a competitor. What we like to do is show people what we can do that they can’t do, and then partner with them," says Gino Ventresca, general manager of National Embroidery & Transfer Services Ltd. (asi/299298). The question is: Are most decorators looking at their competition as an opportunity or as a threat?

As part of Stitches’ survey of readers, we asked decorators to identify their major sources of competition. The number one source of competition was other local decorators, taking more than 25% of the vote. Other competition that ranked high on the list includes large decorators, Web sites offering decorating services and suppliers that sell direct to end-users. We’ve talked to decorators about their competition and their success overcoming it to bring you some tips for beating out the competition.

1. Emphasize quality and service. Ensuring that the quality of your work and service levels are second to none can help any decorator beat out the competition. "Our competition is probably mostly the small home shops," says Don Tillquist, owner of Coastal Embroidery LLC. "I think the home shops, though, are hurting more than anyone else right now, because they tend to react negatively to the market – the first thing they do is lower their prices." While price is important, Tillquist feels that it’s not the determining factor that should differentiate your business. "It doesn’t affect us all that much, because we thrive on our quality and service," he says. "Those are the two most important things in our business."

How do you ensure that your quality sets you apart? "We show our clients our quality up front," Ventresca says. His business created embroidered cardholders that showcase the quality of their work every time they hand out a business card. He also protects the quality of his company’s work by requiring his clients to purchase quality materials. "When someone brings in a contract embroidery job with extremely low-quality shirts, we turn down the job," he says. "If a shirt is low quality, the embroidery will never look good or hold up well." This develops a sense of trust between him and his clients, and builds a reputation of quality. "Our clients know that we won’t take on a job that we feel we won’t get a good result on, and that’s important," he says. By managing his customer expectations and consistently turning out quality embroidery, Ventresca ensures that his clients won’t walk out the door for a lower price.

What about service? "You provide the customer with excellent service by going above and beyond on each order and by giving them a little extra TLC," says Marcia McGinn, owner of Distinctive Togs. "Another way you can provide excellent service is by educating clients about the products and processes of embroidery, or by researching items that they were interested in and providing them additional information."

Excellent service is also about the breadth and depth of products and services you offer your client. "Most of the people in the embroidery business can’t provide a one-source solution," Ventresca says. Being able to offer your client more of a comprehensive solution and being willing to give them information about where to find other services they need will set you apart from the competition.

Finally, excellent service comes down to communication. "The number one thing I look for in a decorator is good communication," says Michael Kaufman, owner of Wear It’s At, an apparel distributorship. "When I call, I need to get a return call."

2. Set your price. Do you set your price lower than your competition to win the sale, or do you rely on the quality of work to win the sale and set your price fairly, but in such a way that you make a profit? Most of the decorators we spoke to agree that trying to win the price war isn’t the best way to beat the competition. "Just because you know your competitor’s prices, you really don’t know if they’re making money," Ventresca says. "They may be losing money and if they go off the road, you go off the road. I don’t spend a lot of time looking at other people’s prices; I spend a lot of time looking at how we can build loyalty and customer satisfaction – that’s worth a lot more than figuring out how I can beat someone’s price."

3. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Jane Cibulskas, owner and president of National Embroidery & Transfer Services Ltd., has developed an interesting way of dealing with the competition over time. "We look for ways that we can partner with our competition," she says. "We’re a 50-machine shop that offers direct-to-garment printing, heat transfers and promotional products, and we sub out screen printing." Instead of trying to beat out small local competitors, Cibulskas fosters relationships with them. "If they get a job for 100 shirts that they aren’t able to produce, we hope they refer the business to us, the same way we refer 1,000-plus jobs to a larger shop," she says. Even decorators of a similar size may have a different niche. Look for ways to partner with your competition to turn a disadvantage into an advantage.

4. Push "Made in the USA." Many decorators reported that overseas companies and online decorators are rapidly becoming a larger part of their competition, especially in the digitizing world. Jay Fishman, owner of Wicked Stitch of the East, a digitizing company, explains that "winning out against overseas suppliers comes down to showing your clients the benefits of working with a local, U.S.-based company." Fishman says that much like beating out any other competition, it comes down to service in the end. "The clients need to understand the benefit of having their digitizer just a phone call away." – JC 

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