What is the Voice of the Customer for T-shirt Shops?

Let’s pretend that you have some sort of science fiction mental telepathy mind meld with your customers. (Uh, you mean you don’t already?)  You can see and understand their every thought, just like reading a book.  It’s all right there.  What do you think they are saying about your company?

Based on my personal experience, here are some top ideas to get you more connected with your own customers.  (Sales gurus everywhere call this understanding the “Voice of the Customer”)

  1. Price.  For a lot of customers, incredibly it’s not always about price.  People are willing to pay more if they like the sales experience, or see that you are providing value.  The apparel industry has somewhat of a reputation of companies undercutting each other and eating the dead.  Here’s a fact: There’s always someone that’s willing to do it cheaper.  However, not many companies are willing to do it better.  The guy that does it better is the one that typically has larger margins, and is more successful.  Add value to your sales proposition, and don’t give away the shop.  Charge for your work.  “Price shopper” type clients will never be loyal, but the customer that sees and understands your value and trusts you with their relationship will always be there.  That’s who you want.
  2. Expertise.  Position yourself as the expert in the field.  Build your shop reputation with demonstrating your vast industry knowledge.  Customers want and need someone to solve their problems for them.  Is that something you can offer?  Do they know to turn to you for guidance?  Get the reputation as a problems solver and watch your client base grow.  Demonstrate that expertise by doing things other printers can’t, including keeping your quality up and hitting deadlines.
  3. Partner.  Long term clients are seeking a solid foundation to expand their business.  You are not selling printed t-shirts, you are selling trust.  Your customers want you to be integral to their success by constantly hitting home runs for them.  Make that relationship easy.  A few times, you may have to help them with something without getting anything in return.  Earn that trust by being a good partner and provide the value your customers are seeking.  Missing deadlines, quality issues, making excuses, being hard to deal with, or other challenges erode that trust.  It’s hard, but not impossible to earn it back.
  4. Listen.  Trust me, it’s not about you.  Your customer wants you to listen to them.  Close your mouth and open your ears.  What are their problems?  What are their challenges?  Remember the old Stephen Covey rule from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.  This is profoundly true in your customer relationships.  Don’t just sell them a box of printed shirts – solve a problem for them.  Stop “selling”.
  5. Make It Easy.  Make your buying process easy for the customer to do business with you.  Regardless if you are a brick and mortar shop or online, the more hurdles people have to jump over to hand you their money, the less likely they are to do so.  Make the check out or buying process smoother by thinking it through.  Provide accurate and timely information for them.  Help with artwork or digitizing.  Discuss creative solutions for problems.  Suggest different ways a client could structure their order to save time or money.
  6. Avoid Problems.  Customers see you as the expert.  Help them understand situations by explaining ways they can avoid problems by doing something proactively.  Anybody can “sell” them something.  Not everyone can walk them through the process and provide them with good information to proactively avoid a challenge.
  7. Be Creative.  Let’s face it, not everyone is loaded with creative talent.  Customers will often turn to you for help with their art.  If your art department rocks, then so will your sales.  If you are somewhat lacking in this area, think about how beefing this up can help strengthen your business.  Don’t have the money for a full-time staff?  There are tons of freelancers out there.  It’s no secret that the top shops around the country have the best art departments.
  8. Professional.  Have you ever looked at your company through the eyes of your customer?  When they walk in the front door are they greeted by someone warm and friendly?  Is your shop clean and orderly?  Is everyone on your staff courteous and helpful?  Do you have preprinted information handy that is branded and well-designed?  If your customer experience is somewhat lacking, or your staff has the social skills of a doorknob, put some thought and effort into revamping this area.  You wouldn’t expect any less from stores or companies that you use, so why do you put up with it in your shop?  If your customers aren’t raving to you about your staff and how awesome they are, you aren’t doing this right yet.
  9. Connect Personally.  It seems that the larger the shop grows, the less likely they will personally connect with the people behind their orders.  Purchase orders come in, are routed through your system, invoices are paid.  There might be little face to face or human interaction.  Get out from behind your desk every once in a while and go say thank you.  Personally deliver the next order.  Be sincerely appreciative.  Don’t have time for all that?  How about a five minute phone call.  Don’t talk business, just say thank you and ask about them.
  10. Value.  Yep, #1 was about value too.  It made the list twice as it’s that important.  Trust me on this…everyone can print or embroider a shirt.  You have a lot of competition.  Like other industries, your competition is moving online.  It’s a commodity.  Do you know what your value proposition is for your company?  What do you offer that can’t be matched?  Artwork?  Quality printing?  Customer service?  Turn-around time? Your customers want value for their money.  This is what you develop and market.   Brand this idea, and constantly talk about it.
  11. Bonus – The UnexpectedFor each order, your customers come to you for whatever they are ordering.  What can you do to make the experience so over the top that they rave about it to everyone?  “Because you are such a great customer”…  Throw in a few extra embroidered polos or printed sweatshirts with the next order for free.  Maybe some coozies with their logo printed on them.  Deliver it a day or two early.  Waive the screen fees.  Have it delivered with a box of doughnuts or a pizza.  Be creative.  Your goal is to wow the customer to the point that all competitors fail in comparison, and they will brag about you to everyone they know.

Hope these ideas help you with your shop.  If you’d like to explore some of these points more in depth, please contact me at matkinson4804@gmail.com and let’s set up a time to chat.

Pinterest: Visual Social Marketing for Apparel Decorators

By now you’ve surely read one or two articles about the value of incorporating a social marketing strategy into your business plan.  Connecting with your current and potential customers is an ever-demanding and crucial step in growing your sales and working towards successful sales goals.

You may already have a website, blog, Facebook page, LinkedIn account, and Twitter feed.  Adding another element to that may seem overwhelming and daunting, but if you haven’t heard of Pinterest (www.pintrest.com) you may want to jump on this gigantic growing social media phenomenon.  Pinterest is the hottest social media website on the internet, with millions of users and it’s growing every day.  In a recent study released in April (http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2012/04/09/new-study-pegs-pinterest-as-the-number-3-social-website/), Forbes Magazine reports that Pinterest is the number three social media service, with 105 million users, ranking only behind Facebook and Twitter respectively.  Below, I’ll explain what Pinterest is and how you can use this to your advantage as part of your social media marketing strategy for your business.

Pinterest has been likened to a “Visual Twitter”, and that’s pretty accurate.  Your account is essentially one or more bulletin boards of visual pictures that you want the world to see.  Instead of blasting out a short 140 character message users “Pin” a picture of something that “Interests” them to one of their boards.  Others may find that image likable and can either “Like” or “Repin” the image to one of their boards.  Popular images can go viral and spread across the country in minutes.  The fun of Pinterest is exploring other people’s boards to see their interests and connect socially.  After I created my account a few weeks ago, the business epiphany of using this as a tool for marketing was readily apparent.  I’ve loaded an image and in literally ten seconds, someone I don’t know Repinned or Liked the image.  It’s amazing.

Obtaining and creating a Pinterest account is pretty easy.  You can sign up for an invitation from Pinterest (www.Pinterest.com), or be invited from someone that already is using the service.  After you’ve joined, you can sign in using your Facebook or Twitter account so logging in when you want to poke around is easy.  After you’ve joined you can create your “Boards”.  These will be the landing zones for your visual images that you want to pin.

  1. The easiest way to add a new image is to use the “Pin-It” bookmark, as this is the tool that adds the image to one of your boards.  Go to the Pinterest Goodies section and drag the “Pin-It” bookmarklet to your bookmarks toolbar in your browser.
  2. When you want to share images from the web with others, simply click the “Pin-It” tool and all of the available images from that page will appear.  Move your cursor over the image you want to share and a “Pin This” icon will appear on the image.  Click on the icon, and you can choose one of your boards to pin your image.  Simple.
  3. When you pin the image you can include a description of the image if you want.  You have 500 characters, which is considerably more than the 140 character limit that Twitter imposes, but most people using Pintrest only post a sentence or two at the most.
  4. When you Pin something, the image will be placed on your Board.  Anyone viewing that can click on the image to Repin it to their board, or if they click again it will take them to the original source of the Pin.  This is what’s driving the world-wide craze, as Pinterest is quickly outdistancing other social media referrals.
  5. The enjoyable part of Pinterest is exploring and sharing images.  Warning: It’s addictive.  Once you start, good luck getting anything else done that day.
  6. Pinterest has a free app for iPhone users and they are working on one for Android phones now.  You can still do everything from your phone if you have web access though, so don’t let that discourage you.  I have the iPhone app, and it works great for viewing your pins, but they haven’t worked out the “Pin It” bookmarklet yet for the iPhone – but it’s coming soon.

The downside for Pinterest is that it’s already battling some copywrite infringement challenges.  Webpages that don’t want to allow Pinterest users to capture images can install some short code to their site that will push a disclaimer that reads, “This site doesn’t allow pinning to Pinterest. Please contact the owner with any questions. Thanks for visiting!”  You might want to tread cautiously if you are unsure about an image.  Also, some companies are still waiting for the legal dust to settle before moving forward with any marketing use of Pinterest for their business.  However, a simple rule of thumb to consider is that if it’s your image, it’s yours to post.

Ok, so that takes care of the basics of how the site works.  You should play and explore around a bit to see how others are using the site and the mechanics of doing the steps.  Remember, nothing is permanent and you can edit, delete, rearrange and redo whatever you want, whenever you want.  Make some mistakes and play around.  Have fun!!

For apparel decorators here are some ideas on how you can use Pinterest to your advantage and make this a part of your social media marketing strategy:

  1. Educate your customers about your shop.  What do you do?  Have a board showing different facets of your business so everyone can see all the wonderful things you can print.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, twenty pictures from your shop is an entire article devoted to your business.  Quite often nobody really knows how a shirt is printed or embroidered and pictures of the process are very fascinating to the general public.  Photos of your staff smiling and working are great.  Include some descriptive texts and your company name so your photo is more searchable.  Check out my board “Behind the Scenes at a T-shirt Shop” here – http://pinterest.com/atkinsontshirt/behind-the-curtain-at-a-t-shirt-shop/
  2. One of the coolest features of Pinterest is that you can Pin videos too.  If you have some video shots of your company or an introductory video, here is a great place to include them.  Have a board just for videos and Pin all the ones that you like.  Take some short videos of your presses in action or your embroidery machines humming.  Make a video tour of your shop, or show someone how a high density print is made.
  3. Create a board for blog articles that you read and share your favorites.  If you have a blog, this is a great place to share your blog as well.  I have a blog board and a few times, there weren’t any available photos from the blog that could be pinned so I wasn’t able to link the blog and share it.  Remember, everything on Pinterest is visual so the key for sharing on Pinterest is to make sure your photos can be shared.  Web designers take heed.
  4. If you have an art staff, encourage them to join Pinterest and use the service as a tool to create inspiration boards that they can learn or spark and idea from.  Each board can be categorized by a theme, such as “Elephants”, or “Motorcycles”, or “Distressed Textures” or “Blue”….whatever makes sense to the artist.  As they bump into great looking or inspiring ideas on the web they can Pin that idea to the appropriate board, so when someone wants a shirt with a distressed graphic of an elephant riding a motorcycle on a blue shirt, you have some reference material to start that work already available.  Type in Logos, Design, Type, Graphic, T-shirt, Image or any other key word in the search field and be prepared to be mesmerized by the high volume of insanely great work flowing to you.
  5. If you have a brand or retail line, Pinterest is right up your alley for marketing your designs.  You can simply Pin your collection from your online catalog, and your designs will be in front of a huge mass market instantly…and for free.  The great thing about Pinterest is that once someone discovers one of your images or your boards they can follow you, and have instant access to all of your Pins in the future.  This means for example that if you are promoting a line of t-shirts that feature creative images of a dragonfly, all of the people that like dragonfly t-shirts can immediately be updated with your new designs if they have found you and are following your boards.  If they like a particular design, in two clicks they are on your ordering page and could be buying that shirt!  It’s that easy.
  6. You can create boards to spark ideas for your customers such as “Sale items”, “Things We Love”, “Promotional Ideas”, “Unique Placements”, “Distressed Graphics”, “Mixed Media”, “All-Over Prints”, “Foil”, etc.  The list is probably endless, but you get the idea.  Customers want to know what you do, and by showing your repertoire you can get their creative juices flowing.
  7. Give your customers reasons to follow you by creating boards that are more than just a visual portfolio.  Create contests where they can link back to you, such as “Pin It to Win It” or “Corporate Pin It Challenge” where they show your product and how they use it for a reward of some kind.  Remember, this is a SOCIAL media and it’s all about connecting and sharing.  At my company we are already tossing around ideas on how to develop this strategy, but we haven’t released anything yet.
  8. You can also make a collaborative board, and have others Pin images to the board.  Under Settings you can change the board controls from “Just Me” to “Me+” – this might be an interesting way for your art staff, sales force, or clients to collaborate on an idea.  For example, maybe you can start a board for your local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary group, or networking circle.  Maybe a client oriented board or two that shows of the work that you print for them?  People can share and post their visual Pin to that particular board, driving traffic to your Pinterest account, and maybe while they are there they will check out another one of your boards.  Get creative!

In closing, I think that if you try Pinterest you’ll quickly see that it can become a major part of your social media arsenal.  Remember, you need to include good looking visuals of anything you Pin.  Boring or trite images will get passed over for funny, interesting, or stunning shots every day.  Make your boards fun and informative, and include some personal interests too.  If you’d like to check out my Pinterest boards here’s the link – http://pinterest.com/atkinsontshirt/.  I’m always adding to this page and playing around.  It’s such a new and interesting tool, and like you, I’m still learning how to incorporate this into some big picture ideas. Happy Pinning!