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

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!