Managing Your Shop Floor – First You Need Leaders

This time of year most t-shirt shops around the country are getting tested every day by a higher than normal percentage of new orders arriving.  In our shop, we’re about 20%-30% above our historical norm right now, and it’s good to be that busy.

However, with the volume comes a completely new set of challenges that need to be addressed daily.  Managing these challenges can only be controlled with leadership from the floor.  This means staff making decisions and moving onto the next challenge, without running to you to clarify a detail.  It’s all about leadership.

So how do you grow or find that leadership when you need it?  Here are some tips:

  1. Set clear expectations.  It’s easy to make decisions if your company culture has matured enough that your entire staff knows what’s expected of them, and what won’t be tolerated.  That being said you still have to reinforce, promote and discuss these expectations constantly.  If it’s widely known that “Receiving must check in all goods by 1:00” or “Rush orders are staged and printed first” or “Invoicing for orders occurs one business day after the order ships”, etc., then managing your company is that much easier.  Ambiguity breeds indecisiveness. 
  2. Who stands out on your team?  Regardless of seniority, who is stepping up and getting things done?  That’s the person that you need to mentor on leadership.  Keep giving small projects to them to nurture their growth.  Cross train them in other departments.  Like a shortstop on a baseball team, these folks will quickly become your “go to” people when you need them the most.  Encourage them with praise, training, and yes even more money if you can afford it.
  3. Not all of your leaders are managers.  Look out among your staff, these people easily stand out as they are the ones that come in early, stay late, and are not satisfied until everything that are tasked to do today is complete.  Hold them up as examples for encouragement.
  4. Leaders are dependable.  It won’t do you much good to have someone volunteer to help out with a special project and then not show up.  Learn that some people are all talk and move on.  Find the people that you can count on.  Sometimes this means letting go and hiring new people.  You can train a skill, but you can’t train an attitude.  That comes from within.
  5. Trial by fire.  Got a big project looming?  Who is on your A-Team that you are going to need to get it accomplished?  Everyone on that crew that helps grows a little bit, as they have provided an over the top value to your company.  Publicly recognize these people as leaders, and that they earned their stripes by helping.  Don’t forget that the people you may want on your team may not necessarily work in that area…  If you can get them some training beforehand, you’ll be that much better prepared.
  6. Find the mechanic.  Who in your company wants to fix the problem instead of pointing fingers?  That’s leadership.  Finger pointing and assigning blame is for cowards.  Problem solvers make the attempt, and regardless of the outcome, are showing leadership potential.  Get those people some help.
  7. Leaders understand the value of accountability.  More often than not, they aren’t happy when something happens and want to find a solution so it doesn’t happen again.  One tool to use is your performance review process.  I’m a big believer is using a 360 degree review, with all of the discussion during the review is focused on improving performance and setting goals.  Everyone should get a review every six months.  This includes your management team and owners.

Developing leaders in the apparel industry isn’t something that most shops do naturally.  Most are just focused on getting product out the door on time.  However, if you take a step back and honestly review your company from a 30,000 foot level you can see where you need help.

Got some questions on leadership development with your group?  Contact me and let me help you develop an all-star team that will set you apart from your competition.  matkinson4804@gmail.com

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.

Earning Trust

A lot of companies focus tremendous effort in finding and developing new customers.  You may use a lot of tools, advertising and various schemes to bring them into the fold, and start nurturing a relationship.  However, is that same energy and critical thinking being spend on your existing customers?  When someone does business with you do you make it easy for them, or are there a series of roadblocks that they have to navigate before they hand you their money?  Do they absolutely, with-a-doubt know that you value their business, and would like to ensure that they come back again?

In the past week, I had two experiences with my customers that boiled down to just one simple statement that I said during the conversation – “We aren’t selling t-shirt printing, we are selling trust”  Our customers trust us to get their job handled perfectly, on time, without an issue…every time.  It doesn’t matter if we ship a million orders, if just one goes wrong – that one order is all they are going to remember, as it is crucial to them.

Think about all the energy that you spend every day to ensure that each and every order is handled correctly.  Is it enough?  Do you feel that your customers trust you?  Are you in constant fear that they will go somewhere else for a nickel cheaper price?  Are you adding more value to the relationship than ever before?  Below are some ideas that may help you build better trust with your existing clients.

  1. Spend time with them.  A long time ago I heard the phrase, “People do business with their friends, not their enemies”, and that’s stuck with me all these years.  It’s crucial that you get out from behind your desk and get some face time with your customers.  Sit down and casually chat.  Let them see you and understand you.  It doesn’t have to be about business.  Instead of shipping their next order, personally deliver it.
  2. Be honest.  If you make a mistake, own up to it.  Resolve the problem quickly, eat the cost.  Don’t weasel out of it or try to blame them.
  3. Add value to the relationship.  Introduce them to new potential clients for them.  Share new ideas, books or articles.  Help them with their challenges.  Educate them on new techniques, different things to sell, or industry tricks that can benefit them somewhere down the road.
  4. Make it easy for them to do business with you.  Is your ordering process cumbersome?  Do you require a lot of sign offs and proofing?  Those are certainly necessary as part of the workflow, but is it difficult for your client to handle these?  Are they formatted correctly for your client to even open them?  Is there technology, software or something you could do to make this process simpler?
  5. Do what you say you are going to do.  Keep your promises.  If the order is supposed to ship on the 15th, make sure it does.  Better yet, have it ready to go on the 14th.  Now, multiply that by all the orders in your queue – can you repeat that forever without failing?  If not, what are you going to do about it?  If you don’t have an accurate production schedule, maybe this article will help you: http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/How-to-Build-an-Accu-1469.shtml
  6. Be realistic and know your capabilities.  Under promise and over deliver often fails, as it sets you up to project weak promises to your client to begin with.  Better, be realistic with what you are agreeing to and if you can handle it better or earlier then that’s a big bonus.  Exceeding customer expectations is fantastic, but to get a chance to over deliver you must first excite the customer with your original promise.
  7. Do it better than your competition.  Everyone can print a t-shirt or embroider a polo.  What sets you apart from them?  Chances are your competition is using similar equipment and techniques.  How is your customer service?  Your art department?  Your overall craftsmanship?  Look at your business from the outside in – what do you see?  Where are you weak?  What are you going to do about it?
  8. Listen.  Your customers talk to you all the time.  What are they saying?  What are their needs?  Seek them out on social media – what are they discussing there?  Don’t just cram your agenda or monthly super sale down their throat – maybe that’s not something they are interested in, but are ready to buy something else.
  9. Be Yourself.  Nobody likes a fake.  People admire and cling to sincerity.  Project yourself into the conversation and don’t be afraid to show yourself.  On the company front, does your firm have a company culture?  Does everyone from customer service to the shipping department interact with customers the same way?  There isn’t anything worse than to spend a lot of money marketing your company, and then at the point of customer interaction your employees fail you.  Check out this article I wrote about that – http://atkinsontshirt.blog/2013/02/02/why-customer-service-needs-to-have-a-big-dose-of-empathy/
  10. Empathize with others.  Show genuine concern and understanding of the situation.  If your client hands you something they honestly need help with – try your best to solve the problem for them.  They are coming to you for a reason.  Empathize and understand their situation, listen and comprehend what they need…and then go out and hit a home run for them.

Earning trust is usually as simple as being yourself, being honest and doing what you say you are going to do.  Extend that to your company, and that’s how you build your business.  I’d love to hear some examples of how you build trust, or how companies that you deal with have built trust with you.  Feel free to e-mail me at matkinson4804@gmail.com

Don’t Be That Customer

Let’s face it, if you’ve had any sort of longevity in business you’ve probably had your share of really great, and also really bad clients.  When we are sitting at our desk in the morning, with a fresh cup of coffee ready to face the day, we all day dream about the perfect customer.  One that hands us tons of money for an easy job, is great to get along with, and just absolutely loves us.  Unfortunately, that’s not what this article is about.

This article is about the other one.  The mean and nasty one that just leaves you muttering under your breath, or forces you to go take a walk around the block before you strangle someone.  Read below, and if any of these are your traits, you may want to consider making some “small” changes.

  1. Too lazy to fill out a Purchase Order correctly.  If you are someone that just constantly can’t fill out a PO right to save your life, get some help!  To enter an order easily on our end, all of the information needs to be organized, accurate and correct.  Some examples are: the delivery date as 00/00/0000, missing information, wrong information, points to an e-mail that was sent three months ago, or was cloned from a previous order but now some of the information isn’t accurate.  This really could be a longer list, and I’m sure if you are customer service rep reading this you have about five thousand more to add.  However, the point here is that missing information makes it hard for someone to help you.  They have to stop what they are doing, try to contact you and get the information, and then get everything corrected and entered quickly.  Two minutes of work is now twenty.
  2. The Price Shopper.  Sure, everyone wants a bargain, it’s understandable.  However, what can be a big problem is when a customer hands us a laundry list of items to quote, all with big quantities.  When the order comes in, it’s only for two of the items and the quantities are minimal.  The words we don’t want to hear are “Congratulations!  You got the order, but for right now I just need these 50.  You can keep the same price as if I order 5,000, right?”  Uh, no.
  3. The guy that’s always late.  Are you that guy?  Every single order is a rush.  Artwork = last minute.  Shirts show up same day as production.  Freight expedited.  It’s like there’s a fire all the time.  Alarm!  Alarm!  Alarm!  Rush!  Rush!  Rush!
  4. The Diva.  You expect to be catered to like a movie star because you bring in big business.  You are condescending and rude to our staff.  Everything is your way or the highway.  After you leave, some staff members are actually crying.  We all wonder if this is worth it, but we put up with it because frankly we like the business.  The most commonly heard phrase after the door closes after you leave is “Wouldn’t it be great if she was just a little nicer?”
  5. The Perfectionist.  This is the customer that micro-manages everything, and absolutely has to complain about every single minor detail all the time.  No matter what…even things that aren’t related to a job.  Just stop it already.  We like it that you want to point out our weaknesses – and believe me, we’re working on them.  However, it’s not our fault that the UPS guy delivered the shipment twenty-two minutes later than yesterday, or the shirts you chose to use were from two different dye lots and don’t exactly match.
  6. Just Do Something Cool.  Just throwing this in from my days as an art director.  This is the absolute worst way to give a creative person some direction, and it holds true for building an apparel program.  Without some good information from you, our team won’t understand where to start and may end up wasting everyone’s time as our definition of cool might not match yours or your clients.  Before you find yourself saying “just do something cool”, spend five minutes and jot down a few things that you would like to see, and maybe five more with something that you absolutely don’t want to see.  At least we’ll have some direction.  Trust me, we don’t mind doing the work and being creative…we’re good at that.  What we don’t want to do though is invest three hours working on something that isn’t even remotely close to what you want, and we have to start over.  That’s not cool.
  7. The “Do Me A Favor” Guy.  Is this you?  Swooping in at the last minute like a seagull on a dock, and dropping off a present that everyone gets to work on?  Sure, we appreciate the business; but your event is in two days and we’ll really have to hustle to get everything accomplished by then.  Thanks for the over-time!  We all wonder if you have a calendar.  Planning?  What’s that?
  8. We aren’t telepathic.  Yep, you heard it here first.  Mind reading skills aren’t on our job descriptions.  So, when we send you an art approval, and your e-mail back reads “Change it”, we aren’t really sure what to do next.  Change what?  We understand that you are in sales and do a lot of business from your phone, but it would be better for everyone if you included more detail in the response.  This helps everyone!
  9. Professionals aren’t profane.  You aren’t Eddie Murphy.  We don’t need to hear F-bombs every five minutes.  You aren’t funny.  Stop it.
  10. Things sometimes go wrong.  Trust me, we don’t like it either.  We’ll make it right, and we always stand behind our work.  However, what separates a great customer from a bad customer in this area is how we’re working together to solve the problem.  Sometimes, it’s our fault – sometimes not.  Regardless, we want to make it better somehow. There is a lot of stress and anxiety in the air already.  The great customers know that empathy works both ways. The great customers don’t point fingers, but just work to resolve the challenge at hand – make the end user happy, and we’ll talk about the money part of it later.

So there you have it.  Just ten.  As we’re dealing with people, there are probably an incredible number of examples of bad customer definitions.  Am I missing any of yours?  Leave a comment…

20 Biggest T-shirt Shop Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

I have over 25 years in the apparel decorating business, and I’ve seen a lot of challenges come and go.  I’ve also heard my share of horror stories from other decorators from hanging out in trade shows, classes, seminars, webinars, and trolling the various internet forums over the years.  Below is a list of the 20 Biggest Mistakes that I’ve heard of, and a comment or two on how you can avoid them.  These aren’t ranked – I’m writing them as I remember them.  There’s a comment section below if you’d like to add yours…as I’m positive that won’t touch on everything in the industry.

  1. Not being honest.  Seriously, this is the biggest mistake you can make, and I know I said I wasn’t going to rank these…but this would be number one if I did.  In any business you have to be honest with people.  Your clients, your employees, your vendors…everybody.  Once you start stretching the truth, it’s hard to get that genie back in the bottle.  Believe it or not, there are people that I know in this industry that are less than honest (you know who you are…) and feel it’s acceptable to conduct business this way.  If you run your business and cover up your challenges (missed ship dates, art issues, inventory counts, shirt defects, employee pay, freight tracking, etc.) with small lies, it’s not too late to stop.  Sooner or later those small lies come out too easily, and larger lies start surfacing too.  Then word gets out, and everyone knows…  Instead, just accept the fact that mistakes happen, things don’t go your way, and be truthful about the situation.  Own up to your shortcomings and do whatever you need to in order to make it right.  It will be ok.  Read this for more info: http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/The-Heartbeat-of-Any-5513.shtml
  2. Not documenting your inventory.  Whether you are purchasing your own stock, or your customers send it in, your receiving team must be 100% accurate with their counts and verify everything as quick as they possibly can.  Accuracy is key, but speed is a factor too as you want to report any discrepancies as soon as possible for resolution.  If possible, get your vendors or customers to send in packing lists with the goods and check against that.  Everything must be counted and checked in by your team.  Don’t take anyone’s word – as if anything comes up “missing” you may have to purchase the deficit to complete the order.  It’s just a better practice to count everything, no matter what, and verify you have what you need.  Otherwise, this could be a very expensive problem.
  3. Hourly employees clocking in late.  Before I instituted a tardiness program a long time ago, I had an employee that would clock in late all the time.  His cavalier attitude made me wonder how much time was he really late.  I had his timesheets pulled for a three month period and he was late a cumulative amount of over 40 hours!  Build a policy, make it fair, put it in your handbook, and stick to it.  This relates to:
  4. Hourly employees clocking in whenever they want.  Overtime is not a right, and should be approved in advance.  Just because someone “wants” to work late doesn’t necessarily mean that this is really needed.  Especially if other members of the same department aren’t getting their full 40 hours.  Make a schedule, divide up the work.  Stress teamwork.  If you are really busy and extra time in a project is warranted, then OT is ok of course.  Keep track of everyone’s hours with a spreadsheet or other reporting tool.
  5. Agreeing to work you can’t do.  Salespeople are notorious for this the world over, and this probably will never change.  They will sell a job – the particulars don’t really matter for this example – that is beyond the capabilities of the shop to produce, it gets dumped in productions lap with the instructions “just make it work”.  Hopefully your shop has a production schedule that’s easily understood by everyone, with comprehension on what can be booked and added to the schedule.  What are the technical limitations of the shop?  How much can you possibly print or embroider in one shift?  What are the costs of overtime?  Do yourself a favor and track the actual costs of some of these gems and compare to what was actually charged.  Are you still making money?  Check out this article to learn more about rush orders: http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/nielsen/impressions_201302/#/46
  6. Putting up with “Deadwood Fred”.  A lot of shops have someone like this – you know this guy.  He has a real lazy attitude, but sometimes has flashes of real skill, so management puts up with him.  He’s a morale killer, and your floor managers talk about him at least once a week.  Nobody has written him up or disciplined him ever, so HR says if you terminate him it could cost the company money.  This is why a robust performance review program will either get Fred to be a solid performer, or if he doesn’t improve either drive him to self-terminate or build enough documentation on his unprofessional work performance that you can defend your decision in court if need be.  Make sure your managers are documenting and disciplining him for any challenge as it comes up.  I’ve always believed that if you have to terminate for performance issues it shouldn’t be a surprise to the employee.  Check out this article to learn more: http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/Build-a-Better-Perfo-2579.shtml
  7. Ink don’t think.  Not very grammatically correct on purpose, but before you start blaming the ink you are using look at all the mechanical processes that go before it.  It may be the ink, but it may also be the art, the screens, the press, the print set up, squeegees, your people….really any number of things.  Volumes of books have been written on the proper ways to screen-print, so I’m not going to get bogged down in them here; but let’s just say that you need to rule out some things first.  Lastly, and very contradictory, maybe it is your ink.  At least that’s what the other sales rep says.
  8. Know your market.  In just about every t-shirt shop across the country, someone comes in about once a week with the “GREATEST T-SHIRT IDEA EVER”.  Very, very few succeed in developing their idea and bringing it to market.  Why?  They just don’t understand it and are lazy.  Pick any day and read comments and questions left by these people on the t-shirt forums and you’ll see the same refrain.  The successful start-ups all do the homework.  They have a written business plan.  They understand their market, their competition, how to sell and at what price.  They go in conservatively and usually with pre-sold inventory; which reduces their out of pocket expenses.  The t-shirt shops don’t really care – it’s a sale.  Get that cash up front though.
  9. Lack of training – When I visit shops all across the country two things immediately stand out.  Shops that are organized and well trained hum like a well-oiled machine.  These shops have a cross-training program, deploy people as needed.  Press operator sick?  No problem as they have three or four people that can fill in for him.  On the other hand, shops that are highly segmented and have the mentality that certain staff members are pigeon-holed in their jobs…or worse, the production management is too lazy or undisciplined to build a training program are rife with problems.  People don’t know what to do; and must always be “told”.  The shop runs like a dictatorship.  These shops have an apathy and morale problem, usually more overtime, and a higher defect rate than most.  Check out this article to learn more: http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/Why-Cross-Training-I-6026.shtml
  10. Lack of Organization – Running a shop by the seat of your pants can work for some folks, but there are probably times where this method becomes a big challenge.  Thoughtful, organized and creative managers know that eliminating clutter, putting the tools next to the work, and planning every single aspect gets them to their goals faster, cheaper, and better than just using the “cross your fingers and pray” method.  If you have to have a daily production meeting with your production and sales staff in order to sort out what’s going to be produced today, you aren’t doing it right.  Be disciplined in your approach and have high levels of communication that everyone in the shop can understand.  For more info on how to build a production schedule that works read this: http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/How-to-Build-an-Accu-1469.shtml
  11. Not understanding cost control.  Larger shops understand the benefit of keeping a tight rein on material costs.  I hear this all the time as smaller shops complain that they can’t understand how a larger shop can undercut their price by such a large margin and still make money.  Chances are that they could be making even more of a percentage profit, as the larger shops filter through more work through their shop and have standardized and automated a lot of the processes.  Better run shops also do their homework and analyze everything.  While one shop may purchase their ink in one gallon buckets, more forward thinking ones won’t think anything of bringing in a 30 or 50 gallon drum of the same ink (usually white or black ink), as they know that they’ll use this ink up over the course of a year.  While a smaller shop can waiver on whether or not to purchase some new equipment; more aggressive and smart shops do the math and determine the ROI (return on investment) of purchasing the equipment as they can calculate the reduction in material, labor, energy or other factors for their shop.  It isn’t a “gut decision”, but one proved with math, which makes it easy.  Also, shops that understand the value in building better margins, also understand the value in building a sustainability program.  Sure, it’s good for the environment and your karma to be green – but the main business value-add is towards your bottom line.  Here’s the link to my article on this: http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/Why-a-Sustainability-2110.shtml
  12. Lack of Communication – This is crucial.  When I meet other business people in a social setting – chamber of commerce breakfasts, after hours events, or receptions at tradeshows – one of my favorite icebreaker questions I ask is “What is your biggest problem that you work on daily?”  I ask this question to everybody, even people outside the apparel decoration industry.  The most common response is lack of communication.  This can be internally with your staff or externally in dealing with your customers.  How are you handling this common problem?  Do you have a disciplined approach to taking orders?  (Purchase orders or forms must be filled out)  Or do you shoot from the hip and an e-mail is good enough?  Do you send out art approval forms and have the client approve the art before anything gets produced?  Do you have all the notes, instructions and anything that can make the production for the order go smoother in your system, on the work order, and available for your staff to read?  If production has to stop to go ask someone a question before running the order, you aren’t doing this right.  An extra three to five minutes by your sales or customer service staff adding more detail to your order, can save someone in the back shop up to an hour in production time.  You have to insist that this communication happens, and constantly train on it with your staff.
  13. Safety – I’ve been in a lot of t-shirt production shops over the years.  Some are surgical operating room clean, with everything neat, orderly and ready to work.  Some look like a tsunami just hit.  Some are in between.  The apparel industry in general is that is prone to safety challenges if not managed correctly.  About once a year, you read online about a shop that went up in flames, or someone was seriously hurt, because a staff member wasn’t paying attention.  This is 1000% a management challenge.  It doesn’t take much for some hanging lint to catch fire, a can of spray tack to go down the dryer and explode, the forklift driver to run over somebody, or someone to get whacked by a rotating platen on an automatic press.  These things can happen in an instant.  Are you ready?  Better yet – what are you doing to prevent these accidents from happening in the first place?  When was the last time you had a fire drill at your shop?  What about fire extinguisher training?  Do you have written policies and procedures?  Do you even know what PPE’s are and how to use them?  (Personal Protection Equipment such as safety goggles, gloves, or earplugs)  Do you have a training program?  For some thoughts regarding this topic, check this out:  http://impressions.issshows.com/screen-printing-business/How-to-Implement-a-S-4122.shtml
  14. Lack of Strategic Planning – A lot of shops are reactive.  That is to say they just sit there and wait for the business to come to them, or wait until they need or forced to do something to alter their thinking.  Why wait?  Like a chess game, the shops that have a leadership mentality are usually the ones that are ahead of the curve and take a proactive stance on everything…they think three moves ahead.  They research and constantly are looking for an edge.  This could be in how they market their shop and attract new business.  It could also be how they look at decorating by adding new techniques or experimenting with developing new revenue streams that are different than their core business.  Strategic planning is innovating and constantly changing their business to suit what’s going on in the real world.  They take advantage of opportunities.  For example, it’s no surprise that digitally printing a shirt is growing in popularity, speed and techniques.  Eventually, this could surpass traditional screen printing for a lot of shops.  Where are you on this topic have you done any research at all?  How will you adapt to changes in your market sector?  What are you innovating?  For some thoughts on preventing problems when planning check this out: http://atkinsontshirt.blog/2013/02/12/when-you-are-up-to-your-ass-in-alligators/
  15. Being prepared to work – What I’m referring to here is how your shop is laid out, and how you are prepped to get more work through your shop on a daily basis.  In a lot of shops I’ve seen, the press crews have to go looking for stuff – the next order, a new squeegee, their ink, screens or even the shirts to print.  You should have the next job ready to go, with the work order, shirts, inks and screens available.   I call this “kit-packing”.  Management’s role in this is to determine ways to make it easier for their staff to work.  You should have duplicate tools at every press.  If you haven’t done so already, either take a video camera and film your press crew working or make a “spaghetti-diagram” of a press while they work.  Record every step, every motion it takes to get the last job broken down and the next one up and running.  Hopefully the press crew stays around the press and doesn’t have to walk across the shop to get anything.  If they do, you aren’t managing the process efficiently.  What can you change to minimize the downtime?
  16. It’s the way we’ve always done it – Have you ever heard this statement at your shop?  Ten years ago, a production manager instilled a process at your shop.  That guy is long gone now, but his goofy way of doing something is still around.  Every day your staff still does it like he wanted, but nobody ever thinks to change it.  Why is that?  The answer is simple – it’s because they aren’t empowered to think for themselves and nobody has ever asked them their opinion if there is a better way.  You can’t just be so narrowly focused that you miss big picture ideas.  Have an open mind.  Ask your staff daily what their problems are, what they need to succeed and better yet, what ideas they have that they would like to implement.  Worse yet, YOU are the guy that has the goofy way of doing something.  You run the shop with an iron hand and aren’t interested in anybody else’s ideas or new ways of thinking.  That’s not you is it?
  17. That guy is trying to sell me something!  Do you have a good relationship with your vendors?  Are you open to new ideas, new products, and new relationships?  How many times have you not opened an e-mail or taken a phone call because there is a salesperson on the phone and “he’s trying to sell me something”.  A long time ago I remember reading a two panel cartoon that had a great effect on me on this topic.  The first panel was a drawing of an inside of a teepee with an Indian tribal council.  The chief was being stopped by one of his warriors who pointed outside, and the chief says “Not now, can’t you see I’m busy?”  The second panel has the same warrior telling the Gatling gun salesman that the chief wasn’t interested because he didn’t want to waste his time talking to a sales guy.  Ever since then, I’ve always been interested in whoever has something to sell – as you never know.  I always listen, read, or try out the product and evaluate if it’s something that has merit.  Through the years, new products have been the difference on some major projects and innovative ideas.  Not everything is a golden gem, but it often pays to increase your understanding.
  18. OJT – On the Job Training – I’m throwing this in here for all the knuckleheads that I read about on the apparel forums that are always complaining about the rush order they took that centers around a process that they’ve never produced before.  CYMK printing, rhinestones, applique, high density, flocking, etc.  Some aren’t so difficult to learn or master, but they wait around until they sell the job and are forced into a production corner.  This really comes down to the owner or salesperson accepting the job in the first place.  Sure, there’s a chance for success and I’m positive that plenty of people have knocked a home run out of the park with their first try at something.  However, strategy-wise it’s much smarter and less risky to learn how to do a process and then over-promise and under-deliver.  Smarter shop owners would out-source the job to keep the client happy, and then spend the necessary time learning and mastering the technique.
  19. Artwork matters.  I’m sure it’s the ex-Art Director in me, but it’s surprising how few people understand the relationship and difficulty with not only designing a creative image for the shirt, but also being able to technically separate the art so it will print well.  You see this constantly when dealing with folks in the ad agency or fashion world.  They will create art that’s either extremely difficult to print, or virtually impossible due to location, number of colors, or just simply how the pasted the art onto a t-shirt template.  A great piece of art is not only technically sound – meaning it’s created to be able to be mechanically reproduced with minimal challenges on press; but it’s also designed with some creativity and flair.  You know a good t-shirt design when you see it, just as you know a bad one.  Not a lot of t-shirt shops ship blanks shirts, so let’s pay more attention to the art part of the process.
  20. Not pricing jobs correctly.  The key to long term survival in this industry is just basic business sense.  Pricing jobs correctly and understanding all the costs involved with your shop are crucial.  As with any business, labor is your biggest variable and expense.  That’s why the exercise of just throwing more people at a problem to get the order out the door might work in the short term; but if you are constantly doing and the cost isn’t reflected in what is on the invoice you are headed into trouble.  Every year, the cost of freight, supplies, apparel, taxes, etc. all rises slightly.  Are you modifying your price lists?  Undercutting your competition to get the job, may keep you busy but it won’t guarantee that you will be profitable.  A stronger and more viable method is to understand the relationship between all of your costs, how you are building your quotes, and outside market factors.

Ok, so that’s 20 things to think about for how your shop operates.  Are you being as effective and efficient as you can be?  What challenges weren’t on the list?  If you’d like share your experience add your comment below, or shoot me an e-mail at matkinson4804@gmail.com and let’s discuss it.

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!

Why a Sustainability Program Makes Economic Sense for Your Shop

I could easily write an article describing the myriad of ways that every apparel decorator can contribute to the “greening” of the industry.  You can’t pick up a newspaper, magazine or watch a TV show without someone blathering on about Global Warming, Save the Planet or another trendy, talking-head catch-phrase.  Removing the feel good and karma building reasons why a shop sustainability program should be implemented, the purpose of this article is to discuss the real reason why many companies are actually making the effort, and that reason is simple: MONEY.

Many larger corporations are demanding sustainability programs from their supply chain partners.  Go to the corporate sustainability webpages of Wal-Mart (http://walmartstores.com/sustainability/), Coca-Cola (http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/citizenship), Nike (http://nikeinc.com/pages/responsibility) or adidas (http://www.adidas-group.com/en/sustainability/welcome.aspx) and see how they are addressing the issue.  Usually when the big boys latch onto something and start educating consumers, it’s going to have a trickle-down effect eventually and make it to the local marketplace.  If you haven’t noticed this already, there’s tons of press about this issue every day focusing on the triple bottom line in corporate America.  But why are they really doing this?  A good reason is that they understand that they can link aspects of their Lean Manufacturing programs, governmental regulatory responsibilities, tax incentives, and good old-fashioned marketing to make a public stance on sustainability and drive consumer spending their way if they can.

Ok, by now you are saying to yourself “I’m not Wal-Mart, Coke, Nike or adidas – how does this apply to me?”  It’s the same principle, but just on a smaller scale.  Greg Kitson with Mind’s Eye Graphics (http://www.mindseyeg.com/) calls it “finding nickels”.  He has a sustainability program in his shop, as he knows that if he can save money by doing something he’s already tasked to do, his cost for printing that shirt just went down.  If he can save five cents here, or a few pennies there…it eventually adds up to more margin and profit at the end of the year.  Common sense, right?

The three core tenets of any sustainability program are Reduce, Reuse & Recycle.  I’d like to add a fourth, which is ReEconomize.  To elaborate:

                Reduce – means simply that.  Find ways around your shop to reduce the amount of energy, materials, labor, or other ideas to get the same results for the task.  Using less electricity or energy, masking tape, ink, paper, or other commodities often goes overlooked in the desire to get that order printed and out the door.  Finding the discipline to question everything, document what you are doing, finding methods for reduction, setting goals, and then actually doing the work tracking everything is a lot of work, but worth it.  Already doing that?  Great!  That’s a big part of a sustainability program…

                Reuse – means repurposing one thing and using it in a different way.  For example, lots of shops cut down their 30 gallon ink or chemical barrels and use them as trash cans.  Or use defective or misprinted shirts as shop towels.  In your shop, what can you reuse instead of just throwing it away?  When you buy – can you purchase something already made such as a press or office furniture?  Can you repurpose your scrap paper into office notepads?

                Recycle – everyone is familiar with this idea – but do you really have a recycling program?  Paper, cardboard, metal, plastic, electronic devices, hydraulic oil, light bulbs, office furniture, phones, computers, appliances, equipment, even ink – all can be recycled.  How are you managing this in your shop?  Are you in control, or is it a free-for-all?

                ReEconomize, which I freely admit is a word I just made up; means to take everything listed above and document, track or otherwise show how you are either saving money, or making money on your efforts.  This can’t just be a “gut instinct” either – to do this correctly the industry best practice is to document by creating a list or spreadsheet to use for the program.  By continually tracking your efforts, you can quickly understand what’s successful or not, and focus your efforts accordingly.   For example, if you document your energy costs over a period of time you can link your expenditures with the amount of impressions printed.  For the sake of easy numbers, let’s say your shop spends $100,000 a year on energy (electricity, water, natural gas, & propane), a simple 5% annual reduction as a goal could amount to a savings of $5,000 per year.  Every shop is different, but how many shirts would you have to print to make a $5,000 profit?  Do you know what it costs per impression to print per year?  What if you could drop that cost a penny per shirt?

If you don’t already have a program, saving that $5,000+ a year on costs now seems like a good idea, but how do you get started?  First, and I can’t stress this enough, it can’t be a one-man show.  To make any real impact at your company this program can’t just come from the owner or production manager whereby he tells everyone in the shop that “we are saving money so turn off the lights when you leave the room”.  It’s not that simple.  The best industry practice is to build a teamwork culture where everyone shares in the effort and is committed to the success of the program.

Start with organizing a Sustainability Committee consisting of representatives in all facets of your business.  From the shop floor to accounting, the more people invested in the success of the program the better.  Make them responsible and accountable for the program.  They will quickly brainstorm on some ideas and be eager to get going, but may need to have some direction.  SGIA has some great ideas on getting started.  (www.sgia.org)  Based on my experience here are a few must do’s to get started:

  1. Write your Sustainability Policy – this will be the core principle that drives your success, and that people will refer back to if they are trying to make a decision.  It doesn’t have to be overly complex, but it should give direction and demonstrate company responsibility.  The policy should show that you are to be in compliance with environmental, health and safety regulations.  Give direction for continuous improvement, including areas not subject to regulation.  Emphasize pollution prevention from source reduction, reuse and recycling.  And finally, communicate information on your sustainability performance.  In a nutshell, make it work for your business and how you operate.
  2. Get an energy audit.  In your local marketplace this could be a free service that your utility company will provide, or one that you may have to pay a small fee to schedule, but either way it’s going to be a great way to get started and to learn how to save money.  Someone will come out and tour your shop, poke around and measure for energy inefficiencies such as heat or cooling loss, HVAC maintenance recommendations, and other ideas.  An individual report should be written on how you can reduce your consumption and provide you examples of where you are wasting money.  Chalk this up to “getting an expert to help”, similar to getting an annual physical from your doctor.
  3. Engage your staff.  Make the program fun!  Reward their effort and make everyone part of the success.  Publish information, graphs, events, and news in the company newsletter, webpage, or on a bulletin board in the shop.  This program can’t be a secret.  Celebrate your successes as you go.  Give “attaboys” when you catch someone doing something right.  Think long term, and don’t let the initial fire die out.
  4. Engage your vendors.  What are they doing?  How can you partner with them to revamp how you purchase to be a more sustainable effort for everyone?  What are the potential cost savings?  For example, maybe changing the frequency of your purchases can save on shipping or delivery costs.  Review year to date information, and purchase quarterly.  Does the added volume purchases on some items amount to a savings?  Can you negotiate a rebate based on the vendor saving on shipping costs?  You will never know unless you ask.
  5. Engage your customers.  What’s important to them?  Inform them that you are getting started and want to know what they are doing.  Partner with them on strengthening your relationship by trying something new.  Just having this conversation could be a selling opportunity alone.  Can you change their purchasing behavior as part of the program?  What if they sent their PO’s in electronically instead of a fax or mail (yes, people still do that), or can you invoice them with a .pdf attachment instead of mailing them a statement?  Can you set up electronic payment so you don’t have to use traditional paper checks and deposits?  Make sure you annualize the savings and document your efforts so you can see the bigger picture.
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask “Why”.  Why are you doing something?  What if you do something differently?  The statements we’ve all heard before (and unfortunately continue to hear), “We’ve always done it this way”, “I’m too busy”, “I don’t have time”, or “It’s too costly to change” need to be thrown out as lazy thinking.  You are in control of your process, not the process is in control of you.  Don’t accept mediocrity as the status quo, as this is costing you money.

While you are building your program you may also look into if obtaining certification through the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (www.sgppartnership.org/) makes sense for your company.  Depending on your market niche, obtaining this particular certification could be tremendously beneficial as many companies are demanding that their suppliers not only have sustainability programs, but that they are third party documented and certified.  The SGP program encompasses the entire graphic printing community, so it’s larger than just t-shirt printers.  It’s only been around for a few years, but its gaining momentum.  Currently there’s close to 40 printers certified, and a handful of those are apparel decorators with more getting certified every year.  Marci Kinter, chairperson of the SGP Board of Directors, says that sustainability is quickly becoming a bigger requirement in the business world and that “in the new economy companies are looking to reduce waste, use the least harmful products, and find more sustainable print systems.  Companies that obtain certification differentiate themselves in the marketplace, and can drive more business to them by framing their sustainability story by demonstrating accountability and aligning themselves with the values of their customers”.  SGP has prepared a great three part video on building a program, check it out: (http://preview.tinyurl.com/8xq8jb8)

Jumpstart Your Sales with QR Codes

Want to boost your company’s sales with an easy and value-add idea?  Adding a QR code sales program just might be the ticket.  Below I’ll give you a brief explanation of what the heck a QR code is, tips on engaging clients with this new idea, how to create the QR code, how to print, and some tips on checking to make sure your QR code is properly set up and working.

Let’s start with a brief explanation on the definition of a QR code.  You’ve probably seen this in stores, on some packaging, or maybe out somewhere.  A QR code is the boxy maze like barcode that is steadily growing in popularity.  QR is an acronym that stands for “Quick Response”.  The code is set up to be used with scanning devices on dedicated barcode readers and now smart cell phones.  What’s exciting about this technology is the development of an infinite number of creative applications.  Common applications that companies are using this technology include information sharing via a vCard, links to website URL’s, pre-written text displays, e-mails, or to connect to a wireless network.

Don’t think it’s been used for t-shirts?  Do a quick test and Google QR Code T-shirt and check out how other shops are already using this technology.  Jay Berman with Visual Impressions in Milwaukee, WI says, “More of our customers are looking to jumpstart their social media campaigns.  QR codes printed on tees can give our customers traditional billboard t-shirt advertising but allow them to connect on a much larger platform as well.  Recently, Zaffiros Pizza in Milwaukee printed their QR codes on all the staff uniforms at Summerfest (A 10 day Music Festival in Milwaukee).  They use the QR code to link patrons with a site that gives them a chance to win pizza for a year.  It promotes the restaurant by posting to the patron’s Facebook network that they have just enjoyed Zaffiro’s Pizza and signs them up for a chance to win a reward.  It’s a win-win transaction.  QR codes are here to stay and are not just for print advertising and the backs of business cards“.

Selling a QR code program can be pretty easy, but what you need to sell is the idea of how this can be used to add value to the t-shirt print.  (Like Visual Impressions did with Zaffiro’s Pizza)  That is going to drive your sales.  A restaurant or store can use it to link to a coupon or sales offer.  A company can link this to their Facebook page so they can build their “Like” program.  A non-profit or church can use it to link to their donation page.  Bands can use it to link to a YouTube video of them performing.  The list is endless, but you get the drift.  Stop and think about how you can engage your clients with this technology, and how you can help them achieve their goals and selling this program will be a no-brainer.

There are many apps and software that can create the QR code, but we only have space for one – so I’m recommending that you utilize www.delivr.com/qr-code-generator.  This is a free service that not only allows you to generate a QR Code and download the small icon in .eps or .png formats…but allows you to instantly set up and track usage.  You can create reports on where your users are scanning the code, what phone they are using, and the day and time of the usage.  Here’s how you demonstrate the value of the QR code program, as you can deliver a weekly or monthly report on the code’s usage rate.

If you have a modern smart phone you can download free apps that will allow you to interact with QR Codes.  For iPhone users, it’s recommended to use QRafter or Blazerfish.  For Android users (like me) use Blazerfish.  For Blackberry users, download Q Scanner.  All basically work the same and will allow you to scan and use the QR Codes that you find.

Once you’ve set up the code (I would rename the file “Client X QR Code” or something so you can keep track of the file easily) you can apply it to your artwork.  The whitespace around the code is important, so make sure that it’s free from obstruction and works – make sure you test the code before sending the art approval to the client.  The art will print just like any other image, but make sure it prints cleanly and that all parts of the code are correct.  I’d scan the first shirt off the belt to ensure it’s working before running the entire job.

For easier scanning, here are some tips: Keep the phone as level or parallel as possible to the code.  Scan in a well-let area and keep the code in the scanning rectangle, as large as you can.  Move your phone around for best placement…and you can visually see the phone trying to scan as small dots will appear in various areas of the QR code.  Note there are many scanning apps available for different models of phones, and this is new technology that people are just starting to employ.  It may take some time to catch on, but forward thinking companies are already using this technology to their advantage.

Last tip: Use this technology for your company’s marketing and promotions too by developing a QR code program that links to your website or a promotion.  Print the QR code on invoices, hangtags, carton labels, delivery vans, etc.  Get ahead of the curve and drive more sales to your door!

How Do I Do It?

People that know me are aware that I’m blessed/cursed with an insatiable curiosity with learning something new.  I’m always reading a book, a blog, someone’s post or Twitter feed.  Like a worker bee bringing pollen back to the hive, I gather new ideas and try to glean some new edge from the noise.  I’m constantly being asked what app I’m using or blog/book I’m reading.  I thought it might be fun to jot down some of my favorites and explain, from my perspective, the value that I find in them and maybe how I’m using each.  I’m always bumping into something new, so this will be an outdated list probably too soon, but maybe someone can use it as a way to sharpen their own sword.  These are in no particular order…

  1.  LinkedIn.  I’m a big LI freak and I’ll admit it.  I find it constantly intellectually stimulating and encouraging in connecting with other professionals in one online space.  If Facebook is for “friends”, then LinkedIn is for “professional friends”.  If you aren’t connected with me on LinkedIn already, check out my profile here http://www.linkedin.com/in/marshallatkinson.  While most users on LI are just adding connections, or simply posting a profile and forgetting about this tool; I’m actively using it to grow my professional connections, introduce myself, gain business and sales, share ideas, share my ideas and knowledge, and use it as a resource to learn about others.  The best value for me is to keep the “Top of Mind” with the people that I’m connected with, so when they need some t-shirts printed, or a design created they will think of me.  You never know who will be reviewing your profile, or what they are looking for so I have mine chocked full of content.  Here are a few tips on using LinkedIn:
    1. Fully fill out your profile.  The best ones have some information on what that person does for a living and describes somehow how connecting with that person can be a value to another.  You should include how to contact you – both e-mail and phone.  I see so many people not post this information, and it’s vital.  After all, that’s the reason for having a LinkedIn account – for the connections and potential business, right?  I constantly get contacted from someone from LinkedIn because my information is listed, and you should too.
    2. Join some groups and be an active member.  I try to either ask or answer at least one question a week in one of the groups that I’ve joined on LinkedIn.  This has led to some interesting debates on subjects, wonderful working answers to a challenge I’ve posted, and most importantly of all – some business opportunities.
    3. Connect with everyone.  This is a networking group.  I don’t pre-judge anyone, as I’m looking for my next opportunity or referral.  Maybe that person won’t need my services, but his associate might.
    4. Connect your Twitter feed.  This helps keep your presence on the status update, so if anyone is looking at their LinkedIn page, you’ll look productive and as a contributor.  Of course, if you regularly Tweet nonsense about picking up your kids, or how that ref just blew the call you might want to reconsider.  (or have a professional Twitter account, and one for you personally)
    5. Post a picture.  There’s lots of debate about this, but from my perspective I like to see someone’s face on there.  I’ve met a few of my connections in person, long after I’ve connected and it’s great to check their profile before meeting them in person to help find them in a crowd at an event.  This should be a professional looking head shot, not one of you gunning down a shot of tequila.
    6. Use LinkedIn for research.  Shortly after you hand me your business card I’m going to type in your name on LinkedIn and see if you have a profile posted.  I do this for a number of reasons, but the main one is to make sure that I’m solidifying my connection to you and I stay in front of the pack.  I’ve learned some very interesting things along the way in doing this practice, and sometimes I’ve discovered something on a profile that will strengthen this new relationship or close a sale.  Of course if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile as you don’t have an account this will come up empty.  It always seems to me like there’s a hole online for that person…and that is a little disappointing.
    7. Twitter.  (Follow me at @atkinsontshirt)  I’ve only been using Twitter since August of 2011.  I’m late to the party, but I’ve grown to learn and understand its power.  Previously my comprehension of Twitter was that it was only for posting some smarmy attempt at wit; or some other inane comment that probably nobody wanted to read.  After reading multiple business success articles and books, I opened my account and started Tweeting to the world.  It’s been a challenge, and I often hate the 140 character limit, but now it’s an everyday part of my business arsenal.  Why?  Well, for one I like sharing things.  Articles, books, ideas, whatever.  Twitter is a perfect outlet for that.  I don’t care if you read it or not, I’m putting it out there as whatever I’m posting is something I found interesting.  Twitter is also the perfect medium for marketing something about you or your company.  For Twitter, here are some points you should consider:
      1. Be polite.  Give others credit for a post and say Thank You for a re-Tweet.  There are some important social etiquette rules for Twitter, and if you adhere to them you’ll gain followers and influence.  Plus, it’s just the right thing to do.
      2. Make it interesting.  In my opinion the most valuable Tweets are ones that contain something that someone thought interesting or helpful.  Read an article on robots?  Great!  Share it.  Found some inspiring photos of Kenya?  Great!  Share it.  Incredibly hung-over?  Who cares?  Post it on Facebook.  I’m ignoring those.
      3. I have a loose formula of for every twenty or so Tweets I’ll post something about my company or something personal.  The rest is divided up between sharing things I’ve encountered online, and re-Tweeting someone else’s post.  I don’t want my Twitter feed to be all about me, me, me, me…but I do want others to have the opportunity to read something me once in a while.  So far, that’s been working well.
      4. Re-Tweeting, or abbreviated by RT.  If someone posts something that I find relevant, chances are I’ll repost it.  I do it the right way, by using the RT function.  Some people don’t, as they want to be seen as the originators of that thought, but I think this is wrong.  Also, I’ve seen multiple people post the same link with a few RT’ing it, but there’s always one clown that doesn’t.  To me, this makes them look plastic and fake, and lose credibility.
      5. Buffer.  This is my number one Twitter app.  It’s free and I can’t live without it.  This schedules my Twitter feed for multiple days out.  The advantage?  Recently a business associate commented to me that he was impressed by the fact that I’m always posting online and sharing information that he found valuable.  He wondered how I get any work done, since I’m always posting something.  The secret is this Buffer app.  Once or twice a week I fill up my Buffer feed and schedule when my Tweets will be posted.  I can add to the feed at any time, and I always know what’s coming up.  I’m not “always” online – it just appears that way.  My goal for keeping “Top of Mind” works by using this app.
        1. There is also a great analytics tool, where I can see exactly how many people click on any link that I post on Twitter.  In this way, I can see what articles are more popular than others.  I can then tailor my content to post more items that people are interested in, adding to my credibility and usefulness to be connected or following me.
        2. You can also schedule your LinkedIn and Facebook feed with Buffer too.  They just came out with this and I’ve experimented a little bit with this feature.  Since my Twitter feed is connected to LinkedIn already, I mainly don’t use that tool for that.
        3. You can schedule your Tweets to post as many times during the day as you want, and at any particular time.  I’ve experimented with one, two, three and four posts a day…and currently I’m doing three.  Morning, lunch and end of the work day times.  The times that I post may vary, see SocialBro below.
        4. SocialBro.  As unbelievably cool as Buffer is, it doesn’t do everything.  SocialBro is a great analytical tool for understanding your Twitter feed and the people you are connected with online.  You can see who’s recently unfollowed you, your influence and some cool stats about your followers.  However, the number one item I use SocialBro for is the tool that allows you to measure the exact times of the day that you should be Tweeting, based on your current followers – when they are using Twitter.  I run this analytic tool once a week and adjust my times accordingly.
        5. HootSuite.  I started using this free app to help me with my Twitter feed before I started using Buffer.  It still works great, but I really only use it now for reviewing my incoming Twitter feed, and then only sparingly.  I find now that HootSuite is too cluttered visually, but I do still like it all one place.  I usually find things I might want to RT using HootSuite.
        6. WordPress.  (http://atkinsontshirt.blog/)  If you are reading this you are using my latest experiment – the WordPress blog.  Granted, folks have been using WordPress for some time now and I’m not breaking any new ground…but this is new for me.  I found building this blog and posting my thoughts incredibly easy.  If you aren’t writing a blog and posting your thoughts on whatever you are passionate about, what are you waiting for?  Trust me, if I can do this you can too.
        7. Klout.  (www.klout.com) This free app measures your social influence on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the best.  I’m not sure how this works, and there’s been plenty of debate over whether measuring social influence not only matters but how it should be measured.  About once a week I check my score and it’s always been going up, so I’m using that as an indication that I must be doing something right.  At the time of this article my score is at 45.26.  Celebrities are somewhere between 60 and 80.  Industry gurus are around there too.  Most of the people I’m connected with are between 10 and 30.  Do they have this wrong?  I don’t know, but it’s interesting.
        8. Pinterest.  (http://pinterest.com/atkinsontshirt/) I wrote a blog article about Pinterest previously (http://atkinsontshirt.blog/2012/02/04/how-your-art-staff-can-use-pintrest-to-an-advantage/) and since then I’ve learned a few other cool things about using Pinterest.
          1. You can collaborate with other people.  This is really fun.  Two or more people can share and Pin things to this board and have a visual conversation about something.  My wife and I are experimenting with a family themed board, but I could see this as a great way for companies to share ideas with their customers, employees to share ideas or thoughts, even teachers and students to share ideas…the possibilities are endless.  What could you share?
          2. I’m posting blog links and videos.  This is a wonderful tool, and has led to actually more exposure for this blog as I’ve posted it on my board and now people are following it through Pinterest (if you are reading this because of this link, I’d like to know!!)
          3. It’s not just women using Pinterest.  More and more guys are posting, so for every Pin that features a new way to paint your nails, bake some muffins, or wear a dress – there’s one for sports, muddy jeeps, women, alcohol, or other man-centric thought.
          4. The incredibly quick re-Pinning or Liking of a Pin is mind-blowing.  My wife Pinned a fun drink recipe and over 500 people re-Pinned it in under an hour.  By the next day it was over 1000.  I haven’t had that level of success yet, but I did Pin a video link on Sustainability at 5:30 am and 14 people either liked it or re-Pinned it in under a minute.  I’m not sure what’s driving this behavior, but the visual content of the Pin is the number one factor for having others to share it.  Boring image?  You’ll get nada.  Visually stimulating and exciting?  Goes viral in seconds.  While this may prove to be the next MySpace…currently it’s so loaded with possibilities and enthusiasm you need to be a part of it.
          5. Information.  I like a bunch of websites, blogs and spaces online to cull out my content.  Here are a few, in no particular order:
            1. Ted.  (www.ted.com)  This is the world-famous video lecture website dedicated to expanding the influence of new ideas.  Every video there is some revolutionary idea on something that will absolutely get your brain going.  I love it.  If you haven’t watched a Ted video before, you are missing out on something unique and worthwhile.  Trust me on this one.
            2. Social Media Examiner.  (http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/)  Want to learn “How to Do It” with social media, this is a great resource for learning.  The experts at this site keep the ideas coming and in no-time you’ll be up to speed with the latest developments with building your online presence.  I’ve learned a lot from these guys and you will too.
            3. Leadership Freak.  (http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/)  Dan Rockwell’s daily blog.  Every day’s post is 300 words or less and always something useful.  I repost his blog articles all the time, and share with my staff constantly.  The man is a genius at distilling down one idea into something that you can create and use as an action plan for change.
            4. John Spence.  (http://johnspence.com/)  John is one of the top business minds in the world, and the author of one of my favorite business books “Awesomely Simple”.  He speaks about continuous improvement and engaging your staff.  He always has great content, and I devour everything he posts immediately.  I’ve recommended his books numerous times and have organized a few staff meeting around some of his ideas.
            5. T-shirt Forums.  (http://www.t-shirtforums.com/)  Hey, I’m in the apparel industry and I’ve gravitated to this site somehow.  Rodney Blackwell does a great job of keeping the posts relevant and organized.  I like to read posts from other people in my industry, and I’ll chime in on a topic or two if I can help.  My online name here is atkinsonconsult, so if you see a post there it’s from me.
            6. Screen Print Group.  (http://screenprint-group.socialgo.com/)  This is industry guru Bill Hood’s forum, and where all the top minds in the apparel industry go to share ideas, tips, and mentor each other in developing successful companies.  If you are a t-shirt printer and not part of this group, you are missing out on a valuable resource.  I’ll admit that I read more than I post…  This should be mandatory for all production managers and owners.
            7. SGIA.  The Specialty Graphic Imaging Association. (www.sgia.org)  This is my number one resource for guidance on legal regulations, HR related issues, webinars, and other methods of developing a successful company culture at an apparel decorating firm.  Want to write a job description?  Learn how to implement a safety program?  What are the facts with the Consumer Product Safety Information Act of 2008?  Here’s where you go.
            8. Twitter.  Yep, Twitter again.  People post links to all kinds of stuff every single minute of the day.  If they are sharing something even remotely interesting I’ll click on the link and read what they think is valuable content.  Sometimes I’ll share it, sometimes not.  I gotta’ keep my edge somehow you know.
            9. LinkedIn.  Since I mentioned Twitter, I have to mention LinkedIn again.  People share information in the groups that I belong to, and I’ll use that post to learn something new.  That’s one of the hidden gems of using LinkedIn, and it keeps me on my toes.  I belong to 50 groups (the maximum) and continually read the feed from each one.  I have a lot of interests, from continuous improvement to sports…so this is a good information feed as people are sharing the content that they find valuable.

Ok, so if you’ve read down to this point on this blog congratulations!  You must be interested in growing and learning.  I love to share information too, so if you have an idea on something that works for you let’s trade or network and grow together.  You can e-mail me at matkinson4804@gmail.com.  Thanks for reading!!