7 Hot Markets to Penetrate Now: Break Into the Association Market

Associations and trade groups are a top market for decorators, according to the State of the Industry survey. T-shirts and polos are popular choices among these groups, who are looking not only for quality garments, but also for value.

Tactic 1: Start with referrals.

This is the number-one way successful decorators in this market get new clients. One of the best times to request a referral is after you’ve just orchestrated a successful promotional initiative for another association customer. “When that window opens, you have to take advantage,” says Mark Ziskind, COO of Wisconsin-based Caliendo Savio Enterprises (asi/155807). Ask the person in a conversational way if they know anyone else within their organization or outside of it you might be able to assist.

Tactic 2: Make friends in your target market.

Because associations are about referrals and trusted sources, it pays to get to know people who are part of these groups, or even to volunteer or join. Jacque Lee, chief executive of Minneapolis-based Silva Screenprinting & Distribution Services (asi/326062), says her firm “stumbled into” a deal with an association after a marketing agency she had worked with went out of business. “I had participated in a lot of those meetings, so the client knew who I was,” Lee says.

It also makes sense to woo the gatekeeper. Keego Harbor, MI-based All USA Clothing has landed seven-figure orders with some of the largest trade buyers in the country by becoming friendly with the receptionist as they have power to get you in, says Cary Heller, vice president of sales for All USA Clothing.

Tactic 3: Follow and sell popular trends

This group loves T-shirts, polo shirts and accessories. Send samples associated with whatever is the latest and greatest, Heller recommends. “This accomplishes several key things at once,” he says. “It gives you something other than what you intend to sell to talk about. It lets your customer know that you’re in touch with what’s happening” at the retail and decorating trends level.

Tactic 4: Always stay in touch

Heller says All USA Clothing landed a 6,000-unit jacket order in a conversation with a customer who didn’t think his firm would be interested in the work. Turns out, they were – and they won the bid.

Tactic 5: Be cost-conscious

Most civic and trade groups are nonprofit organizations – which means money is tight. Keeping tight reins over expenses will help shops meet their demands for quality and value. Nearly three years ago, Silva Screenprinting implemented a plan to increase efficiency in its operations, which gave it greater control over costs and allowed it to work with nonprofit clients, Lee says. “We got ourselves to the point where we were optimally efficient in the decoration process,” she says. “That efficiency allowed us to keep our price points controlled through supply and demand issues.” – CB

From the Buyer’s Mouth

Phyllis Kasseb Jeden is a legal analyst and development associate with the Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center & Social Justice. The Detroit, MI, organization campaigns for civil rights through education, advocacy and support to organizations and individuals working for social justice, and uses decorated garments as part of those efforts. “It’s important, whether you’re a for-profit or a nonprofit, to get your name out there, to get your logo recognized. As a nonprofit, it’s important to have gifts to give your donors, to not only have them remember you by, but also to thank them, and make them feel like they’re a part of your family. We want products that we buy and give out to our donors and to our supporters that say, ‘We support American-made products, we support products made by unions, we support products made by those working for a living wage.’ That’s essential. Of course we look for quality, but after quality, those things have to come into it.”

Case Study

How We Scored With a Local Community Group

Heritage Screen Printing (asi/700490) isn’t in the business of making large photo backdrops. But when the Warminster, PA, company learned that a local community group was in need of one – and other shops wouldn’t do it – they filled the order.

The project took days to complete, and was done in pieces using white cloth screen printed with the organization’s logo, says Heritage Owner Steve McKee. He didn’t expect much to come out of the project, but was surprised by the response. “It was all over the Internet,” says McKee, who added that the group made sure credit was awarded to Heritage for the project.

McKee says the backdrop wasn’t a moneymaker for his firm, but it was a strong gesture of goodwill that got plenty of notice. “At first, I didn’t know how to price it,” he says. “At the end, I’m sure I lost money. But it turned into a great thing.” Ever since then, Heritage has worked with the group on T-shirts and other orders. And the backdrop makes an appearance at twice-yearly events, drumming up more support for the firm, McKee says. This is “all because I took a call and said yes, we could do this,” he says.

Associations and Civic Groups

What You Need to Know Now

With more than 90,000 trade groups nationwide, it’s no wonder that the association and civic group market is one of the top markets for decorators. More than half of shops responding to Stitches’State of the Industry survey reported selling to civic groups and associations.

Increase in the number of trade, professional and charitable organizations since 2001 (source:

of shops responding to Stitches’State of the Industry survey do business in the association and civic group field. It’s the third-largest market by revenue, accounting for 10% of the overall industry.
Tip- Almost all organizations within this group are tax-exempt organizations – and that means budgets are tight. Give prospects multiple options and price points to choose from, says Steve McKee, owner of Warminster, PA-based Heritage Screen Printing.

Hot Apparel:Keego Harbor, MI-based All USA Clothing has found success selling to associations and civic groups customers that buy American. Here, one of the shop’s big scores: “The President of The United States” logo on the All USA Clothing (circle 112 on Free Info Card) Moisture-Wicking Short-Sleeve Polo (AUSAMW 453) for President Obama and members of the Council of Economic Advisers. The shop also supplied other promotional items.

Membership associations generated $130 billion in revenue in 2009, up 13.8% from the previous year. The average trade association spent nearly $1.2 million on program activity in 2009 (
Tip: Don’t underestimate the power of good will. “Even if I get no phone calls, I still think the good will is there,” McKee says. “They’ll be loyal.”

Number of people employed by associations in 2009. New York, California, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Texas and Illinois had the highest concentration of association employees (source:
Tip- Start relationships with these individuals, says Cary Heller, vice president of sales for All USA Clothing in Keego Harbor, MI. Heller notes that a casual acquaintance who runs a local large civic group referred his company successfully to the White House, and he snagged a large order.

Number of trade and professional associations nationwide as of 2010, according to the Internal Revenue Service and the American Society of Association Executives.

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