Should You Implement a Decorating Contract?

Contract decoration isn’t the automatic choice for distributors anymore.

Distributors still rely on the traditional model to get the apparel they sell imprinted, using contract screen printers and embroiderers to decorate more than half of their apparel orders. But according to the State of the Decorated Apparel Industry report from Wearables, a quarter of the time they turn to apparel suppliers themselves, and 19% of the time they use their own in-house equipment to get an order out. That seems to jibe with contract decorators’ own experiences, but veterans in the field aren’t necessarily worried about the trend. “There’s lots of business out there for everybody,” says Rob Dubow, owner of Dubow Textile (asi/700107) in St. Cloud, MN. “There’s always competition. That’s good. It keeps you on your toes. And it forces me to continually look for ways that I can outshine the competition.”

Steve Kanney, president and owner of Naperville, IL-based Target Decorated Apparel (asi/90549), has seen a big change during his time in the industry, however. Seven or eight years ago, Kanney says, his business came almost exclusively from promotional products distributors. In recent years, though, the company has had to branch out to other industries. He recalls one very large client who used to do hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of business each year with Target Decorated Apparel. Then, the client decided to buy its own equipment. “Now, they’re doing 25% of what they used to do with us,” he says. “That’s obviously made it tough.”

Distributors that dip their feet into decorating sometimes use in-house equipment for short runs, product sampling or to create quick self-promos. For larger, more-complicated orders, they may still be better served forming a relationship with a well-established contract decorator. Not only do contractors tend to have a wealth of experience and efficiency, Kanney says, they also offer consistency in the finished product, a consistency that could be lost by using suppliers and other decorating sources. Design files, color schemes, sizes and placements are locked down for each client, Kanney says. “That’s the biggest thing in our bag of tricks,” he adds.