Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Thriving Industry by Any Other Name… Apparel, Apparel, Wait, What?!

Don’t look now, but the apparel industry is slowly, quietly but distinctly making its way back to the U.S., and some of our apparel friends in the Decorated Apparel Market are doing their best to move things right along. An article in the September/October issue of Textile World magazine highlights the findings of the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO). As countries outside the U.S. began to be hit with rising labor costs, shipping costs and energy bills, textile production began to find its way home. In numbers large enough to export to other countries!

Last year, American-made textiles generated $56.7 billion, a five-year increase of 13.4%. Big Box giant Wal-Mart, a former leader in off-shore strategy to lower prices, committed to increase its spending with American suppliers by $50 billion over the next 10 years. Why? Fast turn-around, high quality, low risk and cost saving! And as textiles become more available here at home, apparel manufacturers are re-thinking their strategy. Take well known Gildan, for example:

Peter Iliopoulos, Gildan’s senior VP of Public & Corporate Affairs points out, “We have invested $350 million in the U.S. in the past three years. Gildan has leveraged the great quality and superior value of USA cotton with a strong base of skilled labor, low energy costs and a stable investment climate.” Drawing their line in the sand, the Gildan official goes on to state, “We believe that U.S. consumers will increasingly position their support behind brands and companies that are investing in the USA.”

And don’t look now, but jobs at Gildan have grown by 60% since 2010, not including the 700 that were added in 2016. And sales? Since 2010, net sales have increased 96%. Kind of reminds me of the good old days. And if this is a trend – and certainly the growth noted in this article that is documented through the last 10 years – what a great bellwether for the embellishment side of the industry!

To read this article in its entirety, click here.
To learn more about the NCTO, click here.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

An Open Letter to My Next Waiter/Waitress, or, Good Customer Service is about Anticipating your Customers’ Needs

An Open Letter to My Next Waiter/Waitress, or,
Good Customer Service is about Anticipating your Customers’ Needs

With 50 years of experience providing service to customers in the business consulting field and decorated apparel industry, I thought a blog on the subject of customer service would be a good idea. The initial step to writing this blog would be to define, just what is Good Customer Service anyway?

In my mind, I differentiate between “Can you match color number X1234 to Madeira Polyneon,”… “Are there any specials,”… “What’s the difference between polyester and rayon,”…“What size needle should I use,”… “I just bought a machine, what do I do now?” etc. These, to me, are examples of marketing Customer Service situations.

“What is the tracking number,”… “I ordered white rayon and got black,” … “One of my cones arrived broken,” etc. to me are problem-solving Customer Service  situations. If they can’t be avoided, they need to be handled. The former circumstances are critical to growing your customer business, while the latter situations are critical to keeping those customers. Both situations require that answers be delivered in a timely, accurate, timely, friendly, timely, professional and timely manner.

Here’s what I mean. I don’t travel as much as I used to, but I still eat in restaurants around 5 or 6 times a week. (When I was your age I ate 15 or more meals in restaurants each week). I don’t like to wait to be seated while the host is watching one of the TV screens. I don’t care what my server’s name is. He or she is a 17 year old high school student who won’t be there the next time I drop in, nor do I care what her 17 year old taste buds find appealing on the menu.

I do want my server to quickly scan the table top to ensure that everything is there that needs to be and that all items are unsoiled. I am interested in what specials they may have but my server ought to know how they are prepared and what they cost without going to check. I do mind when they have to return to the kitchen to find out what green vegetables they have.

Stick a bottle of ketchup in your apron! Anticipate my need! I, for one, put ketchup on everything except corn flakes and I hate to have to wait (while my food gets cold) for the ketchup while my server stops to take an order from that table for six (I know, the ketchup thing is crazy, but my father swore he once saw a guy putting mustard on a banana). I want my food while it’s still hot; if the plate is as hot as my food, it’s probably been sitting under the heat lamp.

I appreciate being asked to cut into my meat or fish to, “Ensure it’s prepared the way I want it.” Don’t ask me if I want more water, just fill the glass! But DO ask if I want more coffee because what’s left in the cup may be at the exact temperature I like it. Don’t hover, but please keep an eye on me in case a need arises. Before you set down the check, make sure it’s the right one and don’t get lost.

I’m going to pay my check quickly and then leave. If the service is good, you get a 20 to 25% tip and a positive comment to the manager on the way out. If the service has been bad, you get a 20% tip (I don’t want to be responsible for you not getting a needed textbook) and a negative comment to the manager on the way out. And I’ll probably think twice before going back, at least in the short term. (I may sound like a Grumpy Old Man, but like I said, I eat out a lot).

So let’s relate my example to your business: Your customer is not calling or stopping by to “shop;” they have specific needs to complete a project, so just attend to their needs quickly and accurately and let them get back to work. If time and opportunity allow, then highlight the specials and do some cross-selling.

Research shows that customers’ impulse to punish bad service plays out dramatically in both phone-based and internet interactions, which are most companies’ largest customer service channels. In those situations, customer loyalty has a lot more to do with how well companies deliver on their basic promise, to deliver quality products, quickly and accurately, rather than how impressive the service experience might be to fix a problem.

There is an observation called The Bad-Service Ripple Effect, which indicates that service failures not only drive existing customers to defect—they also can repel prospective ones. Research shows:

  • 23% of customers who had a positive service interaction told 10 or more people about it, while
  • 48% of customers who had negative experiences told 10 or more others.

So, you need to define for yourself what constitutes Good Customer Service for you and your customers. It might be answering the phone on the first ring, a super-duper website, very knowledgeable order entry people, etc. You should periodically survey your customers to ask them what the key items might be and how you measure up.

In the end; get it right the first time! Know your customers’ needs! And the results will be:
  • Return business – the next time your customer is in need of a solution that matches your products and services, your company will be the one that they call.
  • More business – more than just customer retention, deeper penetration within your existing customers’ organizations is a powerful motivator to provide excellent customer service
  • New business – the reputation of your customer service, combined with excellent products and/or services, creates new customer opportunities.

Thank you to Harvard Business Review for inspiring these thoughts.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Don’t Miss an Opportunity to Shine…in the Eyes of Your Customers! Master Embroidery Techniques for Increasing Visibility


Don’t Miss an Opportunity to Shine…in the Eyes of Your Customers!
Master Embroidery Techniques for Increasing Visibility

On Wednesday, September 28th, Madeira USA will be presenting a webinar at 2:30pm EST (11:30am PCT). Titled “Master Embroidery Techniques for Increasing Visibility: Safety & Special Effects,” this particular webinar promises to cover a lot of ground. Madeira looked through their product portfolio, pulling out anything that shines, sparkles, glitters, and reflects light in any way. They are intent on finding ways to make your customers find more and more reasons to walk in and be intrigued by all that embroidery can do.

With the topic in hand, they then went in search of an appropriate “co-host” who would be able to discuss this topic with experience, lots of knowledge…a fearless embroiderer who could come up with ideas, sell them, and then actually translate to fabric what they say in their imagination. After reading the following description of her work in Jane Swanzy’s bio, they knew they struck gold: “Taking stock embroidery designs, combining them, changing thread colors, and placing them in unusual spots to create unique items for her customers is what she loves to do.”

Calling upon their newest BFF, Madeira USA currently is preparing a webinar that should surely be a breath of (creative) fresh air at a perfect time of year.  The webinar will take a look at both extremes of sewing for safety and special effects: creating maximum visibility for situations that are dangerous and require as much visibility as possible; and special effects that will brighten, shine and otherwise call attention to an embroidered product or garment. On the safety side, 3M™ Scotchlite Silver Reflective Appliqué Fabric will be discussed and demonstrated. This is what you want to look at for the serious side of embroidery. Then there is the fun side, and for this the webinar will cover working with reflectra® Stitchfoil Appliqué Material, Luna glow-in-the-dark embroidery thread, Supertwist #30 Metallic embroidery thread and the polyester threads that glow under black light.

Going back to Jane Swanzy, she has graciously agreed to work with all of these materials, creating fresh, illustrative examples of how to work with these items to produce special effects that will blow away your customers – not all of them, only those who are looking to do something totally unique and never-before-seen! Jane is an award winning decorator who specializes in embroidery and is the owner of Swan Marketing, dba Swan Threads, located in Houston, Texas. She started the business in 2001 as a part time venture that became full time in 2004. She works from home with a single head embroidery machine, a heat press, a vinyl cutter and lots of software. She is assisted by three cats, Samantha, Abby and Sally Ann and occasionally by her husband, Tim Bautsch, who is good at picking thread colors. Her husband, not the cats. Jane also sits on the Advisory Board of Wearables magazine.

To register for the webinar and learn more about mastering visibility with Madeira USA and Jane Swanzy, please click here.To learn more of Jane Swanzy, please click here. And to read more about the industry in Wearables magazine, click here!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Increase Sales by Upselling Your Stitch Count through Customization

Increase Sales by Upselling Your Stitch Count through Customization

Upsell: To work creatively with a customer in order to suggest additional embroidery that adds customization to their design and a unique quality to their embroidered items – enough, perhaps, to evoke compliments and comments. And dare I say it: WOW!

And when it comes to embroidery, where stitch count is your price provider, the more stitches you can talk your customer into paying you for, the better. And so, you’ll want to pay a lot of attention to the person (customer) who stands before you. What kind of car did they drive? Any bumper stickers? Do they have a pet on a leash? Regardless of what they are looking for to be embellished, further customization is nearly always possible.

With your larger customers, who may be having shirts or caps embroidered with a logo, are they celebrating a special event? An anniversary? Do they support a particular charity or local organization? Are they aware that there are more than just left chest or cap fronts to brand? While you are not looking to make a simple job overly complex, it never hurts to suggest a little creative placement of slogans or dates.

And personalization is so “in” right now! To call it a trend may be too bold, but most folks love to see their name or initials permanently added to a favorite article of clothing. Think of suggesting it to the next person who comes in looking for branded items for their company picnic. By providing something unique and creative to their boss, you make them look like a hero, which almost guarantees their coming back to you the next time a project is on the table.

Personally, I think the promotion of personal branding is the most fun. You just have to find a happy medium between being thought of as A.) a helpful, inquisitive sales professional; B.) a clever individual who is looking for ways for the person standing before you to stand out from the crowd; and C.) a creepy stalker. You’ll want to avoid “C” at all costs. But by noticing personal aspects about the person, suggesting customization in a uniquely personal way can be done in good taste – with very clever results. I work with a fellow who loves golf. Suggesting he add a stock design of clubs or a green or a ball on a tee to shirts that he is having branded might be very appealing. Even winning you a, “hey, I didn’t know I could do that!”

Music to your ears: you have just educated your customer, upped your price and have encouraged the customer’s friends and relatives to remark, “oh, cool, where’d you get that done?!”

To read more on this subject, see Impressions magazine, August issue, page 48. Or click here.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Know Your Caps and Keep A-Head of the Competition!

So, your customer comes into your shop and says, “I need about 150 caps to give out to customers.” And you say, “What kind of caps?” and you get a blank stare. Yikes! You need to give the customer a quick cap tutorial and then steer them in the right direction.

There are four basic types of caps:

FIVE PANEL CAPS:   The most distinctive feature of this cap, besides the very wide front panel, is the relationship of the front panel to the visor. View the cap from the side and you can see that there’s almost a 90-degree angle where the front panel and visor meet.

PRO STYLE SIX PANEL CAPS:   The unique features of these caps are the front middle seam (which makes it a little more challenging to embroider). Viewed from the side, the angle of the front panel to the visor is almost 90 degrees.

UNSTRUCTURED CAPS:  Sometimes called easy riders or skullcaps, they fit close to the head so the angle of the front panels to the visor slopes back towards the head and is greater than 90 degrees.

SLOPE CAPS:  These caps are six panels with a seam in the front and when viewed from the side the front panels, slant back towards the head, creating an angle to the visor greater than 90 degrees.

So now that they understand the 4 basic shapes of caps (of course, you are showing them embroidered examples), briefly explain to them (with your examples) how the caps are constructed.

CROWN this is the top of the cap that consists of 5 or 6 panels, which are sewn together and then the seams are taped over to prevent the material from unraveling. There is usually a “button” on top to finish and protect it.

VISOR is the piece that sticks out on the front of the cap and shades the eyes, unless the cap is worn backwards (which in my opinion looks adorable on children, cute on teenagers and stupid on adults; but that’s just MY OPINION).

Once the customer has made a choice about the type of cap they want, you will need to point them in the direction of the best quality cap for them to distribute (and into which you have sewn your label). Many customers will gravitate toward cheaper caps. This is where you need to (gently) inquire about their budget for this project. Here are some observations about caps (cheap and otherwise), which, if nothing else, will provide some interesting cocktail party chatter:

There are at least 100 million caps sold annually in the US. The population of the US is about 320 million, but not everyone wears caps. The total number of people in the US who wear caps could be about 40 to 50 million. That means for every person who would wear a cap there will be a couple of caps sold each year for every person who wears caps; and this is cumulative, meaning that they collect caps every year. So here is the money question: if each cap wearer has a choice of wearing any of 9 or 10 caps (whether given to them or purchased) WHY would they want to wear the cheapest cap that you or your customer can find?

Most cap wearers have a favorite cap. Suppose your customer buys a cheap give- away cap for $3.95 and has their company's name embroidered on the front and the person they give it to wears it just one time. Their advertising cost per exposure is $3.95. Now suppose they pay $15.00 for a better cap. The recipient likes its looks and when he puts it on, it does not dig into his forehead and rests comfortably and feels good. The recipient likes the cap and wears it maybe 100 times. He gets some compliments – Hey! Nice cap; where’d you get it? This isn’t unusual; if a person likes a cap they wear it non-stop. So the cost per advertising exposure is $.15. The conclusion your customer will come to is pretty apparent: it’s better to pay $.15 for advertising than $3.00. (Even if the numbers and arithmetic are a little shaky – you get the point).

Here’s an idea that may work for you if the budget just isn’t there. Get your customer to split their order between inexpensive (cheap) and higher priced caps. If they want 150 cheap caps you can suggest they get 120 cheap give-a-ways and then 30 custom caps for their best customers or personal friends. Make sure your name is in all the caps but especially in those special caps because they may end up in the hands of decision makers in other companies. By having your customer buy a few custom caps you have them showcase to other people that you can supply something other than a plain giveaway (throw away?) product. This is what can set you apart from the crowd.

Madeira USA and master/digitizer embroiderer Erich Campbell recently produced an hour-long webinar about embroidering on caps. You can see a recorded version here or download a printable version of the slide presentation