Low-Cost Ideas to Increase Business

While the economy is growing (albeit it at a slow pace), distributors and decorators are on the lookout for low-cost ideas to increase promotional apparel sales with minimal investment - a must for small businesses. Here are some tips to help you increase your sales pipeline on the cheap:

Target the education market. Michelle DeHosse, owner of Sparkles by Shell Inc., says parents have a hard time saying “no” to their kids. So when it comes to ideas for new business, she says, “I’ve found marketing to schools and teams has helped me greatly. Especially when you’re going with a fundraiser, it’s easier to target a parent who wants to support her child’s sports team.”

Targeting her athletic apparel toward the ladies is also a winning strategy for DeHosse. “Generally, if you do any type of sports fundraiser, you don’t see anything geared toward women,” she says. “The sales are better because generally, when you go to a sports event, mostly it’s the moms that are there. They’re the ones going to be buying the spirit wear, anyway.”

DeHosse, whose sales are up double digits compared to last year, recently fulfilled an order of women’s cut T-shirts with a shorter sleeve and neckline. She also sells a lot of rhinestone-oriented apparel. “I just packed up a fundraiser in which it was all rhinestone T-shirts and baseball caps with some of the hologram glitter vinyl,” she says. “That has really taken off for me.”

Work the networking angle. Sales have also been solid for Lois Malone, owner of Master Stitch, who has done several things to stay ahead of the game. She recently joined a local women’s small-business organization and is getting involved in local trade shows. She also just began a referral rewards program for her customers. “When they refer somebody to me, they get 20% off their next order,” she says.

Focus on quality. It’s true that some businesses may be scaling back on their apparel orders – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “People are cutting back, but people still need apparel for their businesses,” Malone says. “They’re getting fewer items but they’re getting better-quality items. Instead of the inexpensive shirt, they’re looking to get a real quality shirt.”

Of course, the crème-de-la-crème of the decorated apparel industry is embroidered garments, which made up more than two-thirds (68.7%) of decorators’ profits last year. With this in mind, Stanbridge says decorators should resist the temptation to focus on cheaper decoration methods in an attempt to appeal to more frugal clients. “If you screen print it, it doesn’t have the same look as embroidery,” she says. “If companies are going to put their logo on something, apparel is one of the higher-ticket items that you can logo.”

And just because embroidered garments have a higher perceived value doesn’t mean they’re less practical, according to Stanbridge. “In screen printing, every time you add a color, you add a cost,” she says. “Embroidery is based on stitch count. So, you can have a client that has six colors in their logo, but if it’s still a fairly simple logo, they’re getting a much more vibrant look.”

Don Tillquist, owner of Coastal Embroidery LLC, agrees that quality is always in demand and that going cheap is a bad idea. “We do all our own in-house digitizing, and we truly keep a control over our quality that way,” he says. “I’m not the cheapest person in my area as far as pricing for our apparel. I go against some companies that a lot of times put a bid in that’s cheaper, but our customers know our quality.”