The Future of T-shirt Printing – Magic Crystal 8 Ball Says Digital

Recently I had a conversation with someone regarding the future of the t-shirt printing industry during a shop tour of Visual Impressions.  The whole digital vs. traditional for t-shirt printing is good fodder for an article to explore where the future of this great industry is headed.  Here goes:

Digital Printing is the future, it’s that simple.  Many traditional screen-printers scoff at the idea of using a digital printer as it’s not their craft that they’ve spent years mastering and seems like cheating.  There is a love affair (maybe a love/hate affair would be more accurate) with the craftsmanship of pulling a squeegee and printing something.  Printers look at digital technology and complain that it doesn’t look right, the hand is different, the print speeds are too slow, and that the equipment is too expensive.  They argue that digital printers can’t handle specialty inks, technical fabrics, or some garments such as hoodies.

At one point all that may have been true.  However, as time progresses new technological features with digital printers will address all of these points and more.  Print speeds now are already over 300 per hour and that will increase further as print head technology expands.  Many brands of printers have the pretreatment step built into the printer so the extra pretreatment step outside of the print run will be a thing of the past.  Soon we’ll see Hexachrome ink systems instead of traditional CMYK, so color reproduction will become more accurate.  Also, there’s no reason to think that DTG print manufacturers won’t be able to add another slot for specialty ink either.  They want to sell you ink too.

Walk out into your shop and stand in the back corner.  Survey everything it takes to support printing one t-shirt order with traditional screen-printing.  Your customer service person had to take the order and enter it into the system.  Your art staff had to take (or develop) the art file and separate it into the individual colors for printing.  Each screen had to be specifically made for each color with steps for coating the screen, exposing the screen, washing out the emulsion, quality control & taping.  Production staff had to schedule the job, bring the screens and ink to the press.  If there were Pantone color to match, you may have had to mix the ink and get that to the press.  Set up and register the screens, get approval and print.  The job is checked off against the work order and shipped.  Count all the people that touched that job.  In some shops that might have just been one person (think of the time spent though), but in others it could have been 10-12 or more.

Now let’s think about a digital workflow of the future (or even right now to some degree).  Your customer places an order online.  The artwork is created online via your website and is automatically ripped using software that is instantly queued into the digital printer spool on your shop floor.  The inventory is pulled via electronic text message, and brought to your print station.  The DTG press operator prints the job and the packing list.  The job is checked off against an electronic work order and shipped.  A lot of traditional printing workflow steps are eliminated altogether.  One person could handle this entire order, but for larger shops maybe the number of people touching the order is now three or so.

The interesting thing about a digital print order is that not only does it have the capability of having lower transactional costs, but also lower production and labor costs as well.  The really big challenge currently is in the astronomical costs of the ink, and with more industry players and competition that should eventually fall too.  (At least that’s what me and every other DTG print user hopes)

Also, a direct to garment printer has a lighter footprint in the shop.  There is considerably less infrastructure to support, so more start-ups and other non-traditional printers will acquire them to build their business.  You don’t need the hassles of the screen room, or an art staff trained in high-end simulated process techniques to print amazing looking shirts.  Also, in an industry where customer order turn times are shrinking, the ability to get that order up and running and out the door quickly is a competitive edge.

In any industry, if the innovation makes something easier, more and more people will be drawn to it.  In fact, I can see a day when a traditional retailer that might have once engaged in print buying, decides to go vertical and just print their shirts themselves using DTG technology with an on-demand sales vertical process.  Why stock printed inventory when you can just print it for each order?  In fact, that day is already here with some online retailers.

Direct to garment printing is a different animal.  It prints differently on the shirt.  Feels differently on the shirt.  Sometimes it even smells differently.  However, the power of the DTG process is getting the image on the shirt quicker and more efficiently.  As it becomes more commonplace, consumers will accept the differences.  A good chunk of them just want a cool looking shirt…they don’t care how it was printed.  If your shop hasn’t invested in the future, or you are a traditionalist that still clings to the “old ways” of pulling a squeegee, one day in the near future you just may look up and realize that your customer base has migrated somewhere else.

So what do you think?  Agree with this?  Disagree?  I’d love to hear from you!!  Leave your thoughts in the comment section!

T-shirt Shops: Reduce Your Misprints – Simple Steps

There’s nothing more frustrating for a shop owner than having to replace a bunch of shirts at the last minute so an order can ship complete.  Earlier in the day, there was some preventable mistake with the print, and now you’ve got a bunch of scrap piled up on the catchers table.  If life had a rewind button, we could press it and zoom backwards to the exact moment that the mistake occurs and yell out “HEY!!” and prevent it from happening.

However, life doesn’t have a rewind button.  But there are a few things we can do to help minimize the mistakes that happen on the shop floor.  Here are my top five:

Have a Huddle.  This is where the entire print crew meets BEFORE the job starts.  Take the work order and read out loud what is expected.  “We are printing 500 Hanes 5280 white t-shirts.  Four colors on the front, 3 colors on the back, one color on the right sleeve.  We are starting on the front side first; then we will print the back.  Press 2 is printing the sleeve, as they have the platens already set up.  After printing the job is going to finishing and will be polybagged.  We’ll need Black, PMS 186, PMS 286, and PMS 414.  We’ll use these colors for the other locations too.”  Here’s a pic from my Pinterest board that shows this: http://pinterest.com/pin/58828338854916177/

Notice that the work order states 500 white Hanes 5280 t-shirts.  If the shirts at the press are anything but these the work on this order stops and a manager should be called over.  The crew should move to the next job while the challenge is sorted out.  If you don’t have enough shirts, or have too many, this is a big problem.  A bigger problem is when the job calls for white shirts, and at the press they are black.  Make sure your receiving team is on top of their game.  See my article in Impressions Magazine: http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/Key-Traits-for-Your–6563.shtml?utm_source=Silverpop&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=41497887&utm_term=5931699&utm_content=

There should be eight screens pulled to the press.  If any are missing, the work on this order stops and a manager should be called over.  Do not start setting up the job until all the screens have been verified.  Nobody from the print crew should ever pull their own screens or ink.  They should be brought to the press and staged in what I call “Kit-Packing”.  http://pinterest.com/pin/58828338852942465/  Tip: Have at least two or three jobs lined up at each press at any given time.  Keep feeding them jobs.  At the end of the day, make sure your hot orders for the following day are staged so when you walk in tomorrow morning, your crews can just start printing.

“We are printing on the front side first” This should tell the catcher how to lay the shirts out so that the image is printed on the correct side of the shirt.  This seems obvious, but if you’ve ever had a crew print on the wrong side of the shirt, you’ll know why I’m listing this.  Tip: This is a training issue, especially during the busy season when you may be using temporary help in your shop.  Make sure everyone understands what they are supposed to do.  Management sets the standard.  People don’t learn from osmosis from just being in the shop.  You have to teach them.  Sometimes several times.

The four different colors of ink should be staged with the shirts and screens.  If not, a manager should be called over to have the ink expedited to the press so they can get started setting it up.  Quantities of common colors such as Black and White should be nearby so it makes getting replenishment easier.  If you do a lot of set ups for clients that use other colors, make those buckets always available too.

The original crew is only printing the front and back.  Another crew will print the sleeve, as they have the sleeve platens set up and the shop can save time by not having to switch the platens out.  When the job is transferred to the next press, the hand-off should include a discussion about quantities (were there any defects or misprints?), what sleeve should be printed, and that the order gets polybagged afterwards.  This communication is vital as it keeps the thinking going and helps comprehend the next step for the order.

Art Approval Forms Are Mandatory.  All art should be signed off by the client before anything is printed by using an Art Approval Form.  This document is crucial to your success.  Ideally your form has your work order information (such as the client’s name, PO#, your order #, shirt color, and all ink colors – listed in the exact print order.  (For extra bonus, include the flash and cooling stations)  If you were building a house, you would use a blueprint to let the carpenter know what to do.  The art approval form works the same way.  Treat it as your “blueprint for success” for the order.

Include size information (e.g. 8” h x 14” w) and also show distance from key landmarks on the shirt – such as that it will print 3” down from the neck collar.  If there are different sets of instructions – 3” down from the collar for adults, 2” down for youth – make sure those are listed too.

Include the artists name or initials so that your print crew knows who designed it if there are questions.

Have your shop agree on your “standard” sizes and locations for most commonly used art terms such as left chest, full front, full back, etc.  Where do these go in relation to the collar or hem?  How big do you make them?  How should it work for a Small versus a XXXL?  Get everyone together and set these expectations so that you can not only agree on them, but you are setting the standards for others to follow later.  Train your staff on this and hold them accountable for varying from the norm.

Ideally you want the art signed off by the client at least two business days before the job needs to print.  This way the artist has time to separate the file, and the screen room can burn the screens.  Everything needs to be ready and waiting for production to stage the job.  Presses should never wait for screens to come out of the screen room.

Ink Don’t Think.  If you’ve mixed the ink correctly and it’s the right color, but your image looks wrong it may not be that bucket of ink.  Before you go run off and mix a new bucket, check to see that all the mechanical parts of the printing process are dialed in correctly.

Are you using tight, properly made screens?  One of the biggest factors in printing on darks is that some colors lighten up when printed over an underbase white.  Make sure that your screens have been properly coated and that you are using a lower enough mesh count to get enough coverage.  If you don’t know what EOM is, you should spend some time learning how this can affect your final print.  (Emulsion Over Mesh)  We coat an extra pass of emulsion on the print side of all of our 110’s so our underbase screens transfer more ink down on the shirt.  This really helps with opacity.

Your choice in mesh count can affect how the color prints as well.  There’s a big difference between the amount of ink deposited through a 110 mesh as opposed to a 305, and all meshes in between.  Learn how this can affect color by printing and using these meshes to control ink deposit.

Your choice in squeegees could also affect the color.  Printing with a softer squeegee blade as opposed to a harder squeegee blade can have different results.  Same with rounded edges versus sharp.

If you are printing on polyester or some technical fabrics – watch your heat when printing white or light ink colors over dark fabrics (especially red).  Too much heat can start reactivating the dye in the fabric and may cause it to migrate up through your ink colors.  What was a nice bright white on a red shirt when you printed it and placed in the box, becomes a pretty shade of pink by the time the garment cools down and your client opens the box.  Disaster.  Tip: Use inks that are formulated for lower cure temperatures (think 280 instead of 320), and watch your flash dwell time on press.  On the catcher table, don’t pile up the shirts in dozens immediately.  Make a few piles and have a fan blow air on them to get them to cool down.  Don’t box up the order until the shirts have cooled.

Remember if you are using an underbase that you don’t necessarily have to use white.  More sophisticated printers will use other colors.  Using a grey instead of white can help with Pantone color matching, when flashing and then printing another color on top.  When using a metallic foil, it’s also common practice to use a hue that matches the foil color to help camouflage any mistakes.

Training.  Despite advances in automation, our industry is still ultra-dependent on staff to make things happen.  How much time do you spend training your crews on all the different facets of printing?  Would you say they are all experts?

Press operators are basically the quarterbacks of the print crews.  They direct traffic, set up and tear down jobs, and keep your shop moving.  Most shops have one or two superstars, and the rest have skills of varying degrees below them.  It’s your responsibility to train and discuss new concepts, techniques and skills to your crew.  Shop pic: http://pinterest.com/pin/58828338853952711/  This won’t happen when you are insanely booked during your busy season, so make sure you set aside some time throughout the year and discuss different points.  Here’s a short article I authored for Impressions about cross training: http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/Why-Cross-Training-I-6026.shtml.

A lot of misprints occur due to alignment on the shirt.  The image can print off-center, at an angle, too low or too high all depending on how the shirt is loaded.  Operators are always judged on their throughput speed – “how many per hour”.  However, that doesn’t really matter when you have to replace 35 shirts at $6 a piece because they were loaded wrong.  Printing fast is nice.  Printing correctly is better.  Remember the old adage “If you have time to do it over, you have time to do it right”.  Slow down and do it right.  Your clients (and bank account) will thank you for it.

Need to exactly position the image on a shirt?  We use lasers to illuminate lines on the shirt for correct loading placement.  You can get these at any hardware store.  Attach them to the press with a magnet.  Here’s a pic from my Pinterest board showing how we correctly line a pocket t-shirt on the platen each and every time for perfect positioning: http://pinterest.com/pin/58828338854777966/

What do you do when something is incorrectly printed?  Do you ever gather your team and discuss what happened?  Ask them what should have been done to prevent the challenge from occurring.  Don’t lecture.  Get your team involved in the process in making things better.  My guess is that they already know the answers.

Equipment.  It’s nice to have good tools to use for printing.  It’s even nicer when they are given some love occasionally and properly maintained.

Keep your work area clean.  I know this is a tough one.  We’re all so focused on getting product out the door that we let things go a bit.  The problem is that when the top of your press looks the backside of sheep right before shearing season, you’ve got problems.  Dust balls and stray pieces of lint can filter down into the print causing small areas in your image to not print.  Keeping your equipment tidy is professional.  Everything has its place, and it’s neat and orderly.  If it helps, paint lines on your floor where inventory is to be staged.  Clean on Friday’s so when you come in to work on Monday everything is ready to go.  Shop pic: http://pinterest.com/pin/58828338854916157/

If you don’t have a Preventative Maintenance Schedule on your equipment please start one today.  Ideally you want a log sheet for each piece of equipment.  Log the equipment model and serial numbers.  Use the manual to review the servicing needs and schedule them on your calendar.  Order your most commonly used spare parts and keep them available.  Murphy’s law is going to dictate that the exact moment you need to get that crucial job out for a client is the time that something breaks down because you haven’t lubricated your press in six months.  Shop pic: http://pinterest.com/pin/58828338854237667/

Keep good care of your squeegees and flood bars.  Squeegees should be sharp.  Flood bars should be free of nicks or burrs.  Want a giant mess on your hands?  Wait until that screen rips due to a nicked up flood bar.  You’ll think twice about throwing these on the concrete floor, or leaving them in a big pile.

Make sure your platens are centered on your press.  Keep getting complaints that your prints are off center?  Could be your platens aren’t lined up exactly with your screens.  The shirts are loaded right, but because of the relative positional relationship between platen and screen, the print becomes off-center.  This may be true of only one or two boards on your press.  Do yourself a favor and make this examination part of your weekly preventative maintenance routine.

So there you have it.  Five basic ideas that could help your shop save you tons of money in the long run with misprints.  It usually comes down to one or two basic things when something goes wrong.  When you have a problem, back-track the challenge and find out the root cause of the situation.  Even though the issue occurred on the press, most misprints can be tracked down to a management issue.  Don’t just start blaming the printer for your misprints either, make sure they are set up for continual success by having a good management team supporting them.  If your shop is having problems in these areas and you need some help sorting it out, shoot me an e-mail at matkinson4804@gmail.com and let’s set up some time to talk about it!

10 Creativity Tips for T-shirt Designers

The problem with a lot of t-shirt designers is that they get into a rut of churning out the same basic set of designs over, and over and over again.  It’s an easy trap to get into, as we often don’t get the luxury of time to come up with an idea that will blow the pants off your client.  So besides a bottle of whiskey, where do you look for inspiration?  Below are some tips that just might dislodge a creative nugget the next time someone hands you a set of instructions that only read “do something cool”.

  1. Asymmetrical Balance.  Take all your elements and don’t use the align tool.  Challenge yourself to make the image balance by the visual mass of the elements instead.  Nothing is centered vertically or horizontally – but it all looks correct.  It’s harder than it seems – but can lead to some wonderful and playful layouts.  One trick to tie everything together could be to use a subtle background texture or shape to tie it all together.
  2. Restrict Yourself.  Just because you can use 12 screens on a press doesn’t mean you have to.  Try to design with as few colors as possible for a change.  Or, don’t add that extra rule, star or other visual gizmo to the design – delete it!  Go minimalistic.  Or make the design smaller.
  3. Think Like Someone Else.  Instead of YOU designing the idea – what if you pretended to be someone else.  How would they think about it?  Be an “Actor” and put yourself into someone else’s shoes.  What design choices would they make?  Pretend you are a fat plumber, or a ballet dancer, or a lion tamer…anyone but yourself.  What personality traits of these people could influence the design?
  4. Use Textures.  Before you start your project, think about how a texture might influence your design.  Maybe a rough texture would work – or maybe the opposite and its silky smooth.  High tech could mean using a carbon fiber look or a grid.  Think about how the texture of the design is going to influence your design choices.  Don’t have any textures?  Make some!  They are simple to construct just using a pic from your camera phone, or scanning in a bag of macaroni or a crumpled up piece of paper.  Take a picture of the concrete floor out in your warehouse, or the carpet under your feet.  Let the “feel” of the design guide your creative choices.
  5. Think About Being Absurd.  Combine crazy elements together like some weirdo Kafka movie.  Have a goldfish riding a bicycle, or a gorilla cooking pancakes.  The nuttier the better!  If you make yourself laugh while designing, it will be a hit.
  6. Opposite Direction.  Whatever you normally do, do something the polar opposite.  For example, let’s say you always use big fat sans serif gothic style type…  Try using delicate script or something with an elegant ligature.  White becomes black.  Hard becomes soft.  Peanut butter becomes jelly.
  7. Start With The Ink.  Think about how using a discharge underbase, high density or metallic ink could be used for the project and design around that concept.  Use the technical choices of what you need to do to print build your design choices in how the image is conceived.
  8. Collaborate.  Have someone doodle up a design, but you are forced to construct it.  This works best with someone that has different design aesthetics than you.  (and in fact is how a lot of art directors work – here’s my idea now go build it)  The end result has the germ of the original idea, but the design and creativity choices of someone else.  Sometimes this produces striking results that are much stronger than if the original person had created it.
  9. Temperature.  When designing think in visual terms of temperature.  “Hot” means using warm colors like reds, while “Cold” could mean using cooler blues.  Take this another level by using some different thought words to start such as “Steamy” or “Tepid” or “Flash frozen”.
  10. Juxtapose Elements.  Create visual tension by pairing round and pointy, straight and curved, fat and skinny…etc.  Pair elements that wouldn’t normally go together or fit.  Think about what visual energy is created by balancing a lot of the mass of the design on one small focal point.  Use crazy amounts of white space to focus attention on one small, but critical element.
  11. Bonus.  If all else fails, go and have a sandwich or a cup of coffee and quit thinking about it.  When you return to your desk the answer will magically appear.  Or not.

Is Your Shop Stagnant? Why Innovation is the Road to Success

Let me ask you some simple questions.  Be honest to yourself while you think about your answer.  Are you a shop that constantly seeks to reinvent itself, improve and get better?  Or are you the shop that sits there enviously and wonders “how do those guys do it?”  This is important, as I see all too many shops closing these days because they can’t compete.  The used equipment resellers are loaded for bear, and their inventory has never been more stocked.  Why is that do you think?

It’s not just the smaller shops either.  Bigger ones are going down in droves as different market forces and other factors affect their business.  So how are some shops not only staying in business, but actually growing?  Innovation.

Stronger, healthier companies are constantly seeking new avenues for continuous improvement.  They are looking toward the future, taking some calculated risks, experimenting, and driving change in their shop.  Professionals practice and develop their game.  It’s the ones with their heads down that just take orders and print, never looking up or facing the market that are going to be left wondering where their business went.  Below are a few ideas that I’ve been working on lately.  Think about how these might affect your shop a year or two down the road.

Innovation for Better Margins.  The margin is simply the difference between what it costs you to decorate the garment and what you are charging.  There’s always enormous price pressure in the apparel decoration industry, regardless of the market niche you are serving.  Yet, few shops really do anything to help build their margins.  Some can’t even tell you realistically what their actual margin even is.

  1. Sustainability.  Sure it’s good karma being “green”, but building a sustainability program in your shop forces you to review all of your processes, materials, and wasted motions to see if they really matter.  It’s hard work, and takes a good foundation of solidly trained staff members to pull off, but you can add thousands of dollars to of your bottom line by implementing a sustainability program.  For a more detailed answer check out this article I wrote for Impressions Magazine – http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/Why-a-Sustainability-2110.shtml
  2. New Products to Try.  Your vendors come out with new products constantly.  In fact, I’ll bet you have some unused samples sitting in the same box they were delivered to you in from six months ago.  You never opened it for whatever reason.  Too busy, didn’t ask for it, loyal to a competitive product, etc.  That, my friend, is foolish.  You should always be looking for the newer, better, cheaper product.  When was the last time you went to a trade show?  I try stuff constantly, and let the staff using the product gauge whether it works for them before deciding about it.  Some are instant hits, some are ok, and some are complete dogs.  You will never know unless you open the box and find out.
  3. Training.  Innovation by Training?  Sure…as unless your staff actually knows how to do something, how would they have a concept on how to improve it?  Taking someone from customer service and teaching them how to ship, or taking someone from the screen room and instructing them on how to set up a job….those just may be the next people on your staff to have the epiphany on how to do something better.  Here’s how you can effectively build a Cross Training Program in your shop: http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/Why-Cross-Training-I-6026.shtml
  4. Automation.  When was the last time you looked at the labor steps needed to do anything in your shop?  From typing in an order, all the way through production, to invoicing.  Many hands touch that job.  How much time would you save if you reduced the steps necessary for each task along the way?  Have you conducted any time studies?  Technology, software and help is out there and early adopters seize a competitive advantage when they understand their numbers so well that they can spend the capital it takes to acquire new technology.  Are you doing anything to innovate in these areas?  Why not?  Your competitors are.

Innovation for New Techniques.  Do you ever just “try” something to see if you can make it work or figure it out?  Other industries call this Research and Development, or R&D for short.  Stretching your creative muscles once in a while when it doesn’t matter and nobody is looking can reap big benefits as you could master a technique or even invent something new.  Take that new skill and bring it to market.  Make money on it.  Here are some thoughts to get you started:

  1. Listen to Your Customers.  What do they want?  Where are they going?  When was the last time you actually sat down with them over a cup of coffee or a plate of BBQ for lunch and asked them?  Partner with them and solve a problem for them.
  2. Experiment.  When was the last time you tried to foil a DTG print?  Print off the seam of the shirt?  Screen print on an inflatable toy?  Fold shirts differently to get a drop ship set in a smaller (and less costly) polybag?  Eliminate masking tape on screens?  Print eight metallic inks on one shirt, without pick up?  Print over hoodie seams without a special platen?  We’ve done all of those, and more.  The “What If” question is a big one.  How are you handling it?  Here’s a bunch of shots of our shop that I’ve taken and loaded on my Pinterest board “Behind the Curtain at a T-shirt Shop” – http://pinterest.com/atkinsontshirt/behind-the-curtain-at-a-t-shirt-shop/
  3. Ask Your Vendors.  I do this all the time.  I state the challenge that I’m trying to resolve and partner with them to work towards the solution.  Some are easy, as there’s a ready-made product.  A few aren’t really in their wheelhouse, but they may have experience or knowledge that could steer me in the right direction.  How good is your relationship with your vendors?  Do you treat them as partners, or do you put them off and keep them at arms-length?
  4. Adopting or Trying New Technology.  Still using film for screens?  Do you waste time digitizing your own files?  Have you looked into Direct to Garment printing?  Do you have an order entry system?  Do you have an online presence? There’s an old adage that says “The only constant in life is change” – this is true of business.  Either you adapt or you will soon become obsolete.  There is technology, services, equipment and expertise out there that can make your business stronger, faster, leaner, and more profitable.  What was the last thing you tried?

Innovation for Exercising the Creative Mind.  Unless you are a blank apparel distributor you probably don’t sell much undecorated product.    We all have our market that we sell to…but what have you developed lately that is creative and would set yourself apart from your competition?  Or, even worse, what are they doing that is going to take your customers away from you?  Adding value to your sales proposition should be one of your key strategies this year.  Have you even thought about it, or are you just like a lot of apparel decorators and just sit and wait for the orders to come in by themselves?

  1. Look to Other Industries for Inspiration.  Put your thinking cap on and try to see things from another person’s perspective.  How would a technology driven company or an equipment manufacturer look at the challenge?  Would they make the same choices you would?  Any material, training, process, or thinking that you could apply to your situation?  Being creative isn’t all art related, as creative thinkers are problem solvers.  Step outside what you know and see things from another’s viewpoint.  What would you change?
  2. Borrow Ideas from Others.  I like to watch the show “Chopped” on the Food Network.  The show’s premise is that they take four chefs and give them a basket of crazy ingredients to use to compete against each other for three separate dishes.  With each round, one chef is eliminated until there is a winner.  What’s creative about the show is that they are taking diverse elements that might not ever be paired together and forcing the competitors to create something not only new but delicious.  What if you took this idea and used it in your shop?  What list of weirdo things could you combine to make something that would sell?  This is where the “Gee, I never would have thought of that” ideas come from.  If you are only taking and producing orders you will never do this.  Get out of your rut!!
  3. Ask Your Staff.  Maybe you aren’t creative.  But I’ll bet you employ some that are very creative.  What’s the one thing that they have always wanted to try?  Find some time and have a shop contest to develop the wackiest idea to showcase your creative juices.
  4. Take a Field Trip.  This could be just to the mall or a trade show.  Bring a notebook.  Take pics.  What do you see?  Sit around the coffee shop later and debate what was really cool, and what would work for your shop.  The best discussions are the ones that are freely and unconsciously made.  Don’t try to squeeze them into a meeting.  Talk.

Hopefully this article is the catalyst that starts some innovation with your shop.  I would be very interested to know if you developed any ideas after reading this article.  I’m all about sharing ideas, so let’s trade!  E-mail me directly if you don’t want the world to know…  matkinson4804@gmail.com.