Hot Niches to Target

As the economy continues to mend, a handful of markets present burgeoning opportunities for decorators. Here are three to target.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: These educational institutions have seen a steady growth over the past decade, accelerating especially in the past couple of years. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment in charter schools has grown from 448,000 for the 2000-2001 school year, to 1.8 million for the 2010-2011 year. And decorators are reaping the benefits of this burgeoning market – if they know how to meet the schools’ needs.

“Charter school clientele is very concerned about keeping costs down for their parents so they usually like to use entry-level polos and fleeces,” says Larry Nardi, president of San Jose, CA-based King’s Embroidery, who says the company has moved aggressively into this market and “has seen great results.”

AUTO PLANTS: Thanks to the U.S. supply of affordable labor and favorable foreign exchange rates, many foreign manufacturers including Toyota, Honda and Nissan, have begun to expand their capacity in the U.S., or put in brand-new plants. This presents new opportunities for decorators.

For example, Jim Kendrick, owner of All-Star Embroidery Inc. (asi/118865) based in Chattanooga, TN, has been getting lots of business from the city’s Volkswagen plant. “The plant got into full production the last couple years, and we’ve been doing embroidered shirts, hats and safety vests for them,” Kendrick says. “In Alabama, there’s another Volkswagen plant and a KIA as well – there are a lot of foreign plants in the South and more coming.”

ONLINE AND E-COMMERCE: When it comes to industry growth, no one’s growing faster than online services. Every single entry on IBISWorld’s 2013 roundup of the 10 fastest-growing industries – from e-book publishing to online shoe sales to fantasy sports services – was digitally based.

The explosive growth of online markets means there are plenty of startups sprouting up for decorators to reach, but also new departments in established online giants. For example, Ken Campbell, owner of Silicon Valley-based Chris’s Stitches Custom Embroidery, has done a fair amount of work for digital companies, including shirts for a Google Kids fundraiser on behalf of the local Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. “It had a skeleton illustration on it that said, ‘We get all the breaks,’ ” Campbell says. “It turned out really cool.”