Soft Launch

Tech gurus geek out over comfortable and trendy tees.

When your screen-printing shop is in the heart of Silicon Valley – about a mile as the drone flies from Google’s headquarters – it’s probably inevitable that software and tech companies will make up the bulk of your client list. Sure enough, Mountain View, CA-based All Premium Screen Printing and Embroidery gets about 80% of its work from business-to-business tech firms, says Account Executive Robert Young. The key to such clients, he adds, is comfort. “It’s a very laid-back atmosphere,”he says. “You don’t see many collared shirts anymore.” Even in their trade show booths, the T-shirt has become the default uniform. “Because they’re communicating with people in their 20s and 30s,”Young says, “that’s what they all wear, and that’s the vibe they want to give off.”

Tech companies generally request fashion-forward T-shirts, particularly the tri-blends that “feel like a cotton ball,” Young notes. “The first words out of their mouths are, ‘We want the soft ones,’ ”he adds. This matches Kati Jo Barber’s experience. The office manager for software developer Envoc says employees prefer American Apparel (asi/35297) brand tees with a soft hand. Her company has purchased both logoed polos and T-shirts in the past. Last year, Envoc came up with the motto “Every Client, Every Time,” printed it on T-shirts and distributed them to everyone on staff. Though there were no rules about how often or when the shirts should be worn, Barber says, a few employees started the trend of wearing the tees on Fridays. Logoed apparel helps the small company keep its name on people’s minds and is a great way to brand employees when they teach classes or give lectures outside of the office, Barber says. “When they are leading these things, we love for everyone to know where these champs work,”she adds.

For tech workers who interact with the general public or frequently work out in the field, polos are still a popular choice, says Michael Savino, president of Artisan Grafix (asi/530421) in Stephenson, VA. Savino recently helped Frederick County, VA, rebrand its IT department, creating embroidered polo shirts for all the employees. “They absolutely loved them,”he adds. Just as other tech workers like the comfort factor of high-end T-shirts, these workers preferred performance polos that keep them cool and comfy, even under pressure. “These guys are running mini-marathons when they’re out,”Savino says. He adds that polos with brand-name appeal (like OGIO) offer a style and “techy edge”over less-expensive looks.

When you’re dealing with the tech world, as with any client, the important thing is to listen to what the customer is actually saying, rather than try to push certain garments or processes, says Sara Zschernitz of Minneapolis-based T-shirt shop Coed Monkey. “Since these are high-tech companies, they can build whatever they want and often have a pretty good idea for the shirts they would like to order,”she adds. Being an intentional, active listener can help take a decorator to another level when it comes to tech clients.

One challenge, however, is the rush order mentality that many millennial professionals in the tech sphere have. “They think you’re Amazon.com,”Young says. “They expect to be able to order at the very last minute with no fees, receive perfection and be able to return everything if they decide they don’t like it… Everyone expects their shopping experience to be like that.”All Premium makes an effort to educate customers and ensure that they’ve given a firm approval before printing has started. It’s critical to develop such strategies to mitigate unrealistic client expectations, especially for their corporate events, an area where All Premium specializes, Young adds. “If you mess up one time,”he says, “they’ll never use you again because you tarnished their event.”– TH

Product Picks

Performance polos and high-end T-shirts keep techies cooler than the servers and computers they work with.

Minneapolis-based Coed Monkey (circle 76 on Free Info Card) created this design for Google on a 50-50 unisex T-shirt (BB401) from American Apparel (asi/35297); circle 77 on Free Info Card).

Software developers enjoy performance polos like this Nike Golf Dri-Fit textured polo (373749), available from SanMar (asi/84863; circle 78 on Free Info Card).

By the numbers

22%: Projected job growth for software developers by 2022

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov)