Friday, March 22, 2019Embroidery's Voice and Vision



Expand your understanding and hone your technical skills as veteran award-winning digitizer, e-commerce manager and all-around technophile Erich Campbell explores and explains the intersection of embroidery, technology, creativity and business. He’s the go-to guy for stitches and tech at Black Duck Embroidery and Screen Printing in Albuquerque, NM, one of the Southwest's largest screen-printing and embroidery firms. You can find him on Facebook at, follow him on Twitter at or e-mail him at


Why Small Customers and Small Orders Matter

When your company reaches a certain size, it's easy to fall into the trap of feeling that single-piece or low-run orders aren't important, or worse, are simply annoying. For some companies, keeping the focus on large-run orders makes sense. If you are in contract embroidery, I hardly expect you to take on small-run orders – it just wouldn't make sense for your business. That said, there are many reasons why those orders that my staff calls “onesie-twosie” jobs are worth a second look.

You never know who is behind a small order.

Numerous large-business customers at our shop were won over either by a personal recommendation from a friend for whom we produced a small-run order, or through such an order we did for someone, not knowing that they were involved with a potentially big client. What if the four-piece bowling team order you produce might be for the four most influential CEO's of your local area? It's not true of every order, but it's worth remembering the possibility.

Small orders can promote creativity.

With only a few garments to lose, and thus, minimal risk, it's more palatable to try out new techniques, styles or suppliers on smaller orders. Moreover, small-order clients are often happy that you take enough of an interest to even show them options beyond simple printing and stitching. Though it sometimes means reducing one's profit margin for the individual order, creating a fun project with an engaged customer can really breathe life into your staff and your process. Think of it as subsidizing a test run of new ideas while allowing your employees a chance for creative growth and play; even if you break even on costs, you've gained experience which can pay in the long run. We've had entirely new markets open up because we've taken a risk on producing something new for a small-order client that they then promoted and helped make popular in our community. A couple of low-profit orders may create a new niche for your business.

Sometimes, one-offs are the only option and may lead to unexpected volume.

We create numerous pieces for use in films and television due to the burgeoning New Mexico film industry. Often, especially as it comes to props, only one to ten pieces are needed, and usually on a quick turnaround. Admittedly, we price these pieces in such a way to make the overtime, scheduling conflicts and extra design and digitizing time make sense, but it would be easy for us to write these jobs off as nuisances if we were only focused on large runs. When we started prop production, we found that we were frequently the only shop that the customer visited that would even consider the type of fast, custom work that they required. In the end, we became trusted sources for the people with whom we worked, and though we certainly do many of the quick-turn, single-piece orders, we have also become a source for fairly standard and much larger orders for cast and crew off-screen apparel and wrap gifts as well. Our dedication to creative problem solving on the small orders made us the go-to shop for all of their needs, even when importing or using another contract shop might have been cheaper.

Small orders keep your income diverse.

I worked at a shop that started as a fairly standard screen-print and embroidery shop, but ended up as a full-on large-volume contract shop for several well-known fashion brands and retail stores. Though it's very possible to make money and be successful as such a contract shop, my employer started to ignore our loyal local customers of all sizes and placed all of our focus on some five large national customers. When two of those customers shifted away from us in rapid succession, we were in serious trouble and, sadly, never recovered. Though it makes sense at times to divest yourself of customers that don't make sense for your bottom line, cutting off profitable customers to focus on a scant few large ones is often a prelude to disaster. Everyone knows the well-worn phrase about putting all of one's eggs in a single basket, but there’s a reason that phrase is so often used. Having diverse streams of income means that the collapse of one segment or one customer doesn't mean the end of your business. Maintaining a wide variety of customers is great insurance against downturn in any specific industry. Though one may have certain specialty niches to which one markets or to which one's setup is particularly suited, having a variety of clients, including a variety of client sizes, helps keep an average decorator's income healthy in any climate.

Small order clients care more and praise harder when a job is well done.

This one is a little fluffy, I know, but it's often true. When a single person takes on the expense of a small order to produce mementos or heirlooms of an event in their life, they care more. Though you might see that as a downside as these customers are likely to be selective and quality-focused, if your shop is producing high-quality products and doing what they need to with customer service, it should be look more like opportunity. When someone opens up that box of garments they envisioned and first lays eyes on the real thing, they are overjoyed, and the praise they give is good for your employees to hear. Moreover, with social proof and thus social media gaining more and more marketing clout, the good words that these people share and the loyalty they give are worth a great deal more than their initial monetary contribution. If you did enough of these orders to become well-known as the decoration heroes in your local community, imagine how much more likely it is that the larger customers might hear your name through social channels.

Overall, I can't contest the fact that it's usually easier and more profitable to set up once for a job and run off hundreds of pieces of identical decoration. Though we strive to increase our share and love those big orders when they come through, it does us well to remember both how small orders factor in filling out our schedules and how big businesses start as smaller operations. In the wall of our income, large orders may be the bricks, but small orders are the cement that holds them together and fills in the spaces; put them together and you can create a business that is truly stable and strong for the long haul.


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