No Sale, Just Low Prices

If you’re anything like me,  you’ve probably gotten roughly one million Black Friday e-mails by now.   First it was teasers.  Then it was doorbusters.   Somehow Black Friday the day became Black Friday the week (or several weeks),  and it seems that everyone wants to offer you a deal or a special or a once in a lifetime can’t miss opportunity.

One of the things we get asked quite often is why EnMart doesn’t offer free shipping or do more sales.   There are a lot of reasons why we don’t,  but the most basic one is this – we don’t because everyone else does.   It’s not that we’re contrarian,  it’s more that our goal is to offer our products at prices that produce a profit for us while still being budget friendly for our customers.  Also,  when there’s a blizzard of offers already out there,  standing out from the crowd can be tough.

Still,  we get that free shipping and sales are expected and desired by a lot of our customers,  so I wanted to address in more detail the reasons why we don’t offer either of those things on a regular basis.  One reason we don’t tend to offer free shipping more often is the fact that,  in our experience,  when we have offered it,  orders have not increased.   If we offer a free shipping coupon for orders past a current price threshold,  customers often neglect to use it,  even if they meet the threshold.  Order size also doesn’t tend to increase when we offer free shipping.   Since the whole goal of offering something for free is to encourage more people to buy,  when that doesn’t appear to motivate the behavior we want,  we try something else.

EnMart also does a lot of work to keep shipping costs and product prices budget friendly for our customers.   We offer a variety of shipping options,  including allowing customers to ship via the U.S. Postal Service or on their own accounts.  Our shipping costs are also based on the shipping rates offered to our parent company.  Since that company ships a large number of packages daily,  EnMart customers benefit from rates that are lower than they might otherwise be.

As for sales,  we like sales as much as the next company,  and have tried,  over the years,  to come up with some fun sales that offered good deals.  Still, as with the free shipping scenario,  we find that sales don’t tend to increase the volume or size of orders we get.   They also don’t seem to be a prime motivator for those who are placing orders.  So,  we end up back at our basic premise,  that good service,  good products and budget friendly prices are a larger motivator for our customers.

Please keep in mind that we do offer sales and specials when the mood strikes us.   The best way to keep up to date on what sales and specials are available is to follow us on Twitter or Facebook,  or to sign up for our mailing list.   If we have a special offer running,  we will send out an e-mail and announce it on social media.

Also,  if you have any comments or suggestion for a sale you’d like to see us offer,  or a thought about our current policy,  we’d love to hear from you.   Feel free to comment on this blog post,  leave us a comment or a message on social media,  or contact us through any of the available methods.

Sales Tax Rules Change

To Our Customers:

Most of you, if you follow the news at all, have probably heard of the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of South Dakota vs. Wayfair.   This decision has altered the rules about when and why sales tax must be collected.

Currently, EnMart and Ensign Emblem collect sales tax in the states where we have a presence, MI, GA, IL, CA, NV and NJ, as was required by previous tax law.   With the advent of the new decision, we will also begin collecting sales tax on all orders that ship to AL, IN, KY, MO, WA and WI.     It is likely there will be additional states added to this list in the near future.

If you are currently in one of the states listed above, you can establish your tax-exempt status with EnMart/Ensign by completing the relevant state sales tax exemption form and submitting it to us.    This form should be completed in your legal business name.   We will begin charging sales tax in the additional six states listed above on October 1, 2018.    If we do not have a completed form on file by that date, your account will be charged sales tax until such time as the completed form is on file.

Please be aware that,  even though we are currently only adding six additional states,  most states will probably be requiring sales tax collection in the near future.   Even if you are not in one of the states in which we currently charge tax,  it still might be worthwhile to complete a sales tax exemption form for your state and send it to us.  All forms are kept on file,  and once an account is set to exempt status it will remain so.

For a current list of taxable states, links to their respective exemption forms, and for submission of your completed forms, please visit our Sales Tax Exemption Forms and Links page.

As always, our goal is to remain compliant with all applicable laws and regulations.

Thank you for your assistance and cooperation.

The Art of Setting Price – Part 3

In part 2 of this series, we talked about finalizing the prices you will charge based on the data you’d collected,  and how to communicate those prices to your customers.   There are some customers who will accept the prices you give them without an issue, thinking they’re fair,  there will be some customers who think they’re getting a bargain,  and there will be some who will always want to argue the price or who will press for something extra.  How you deal with the latter group may be the difference between a business that makes a profit and one that soon sinks out of sight.

So,  how do you deal with those people who want to argue or negotiate price?  One way is through education.   A lot of people don’t know what goes into making a shirt or a transfer or a hat.  Show them the process.  Show them the machines you use to do the work.  Talk about the supplies you buy,  the webinars you watch and the seminars you’ve paid to attend.   Let your customers know that you’ve invested a lot of time and effort into being good at what you do.   People are always more comfortable about and more willing to compensate experts for their time and expertise.

Another technique is to try to get to the “why” of their objection to your price.  Are they operating on a budget that may be unrealistic?  Do they not understand what goes into making the goods they want to buy?  Did they find someone down the street that offered to do it for cheaper?   If you can find out why they’re objecting you can address the issue and possibly change their minds.   Or, perhaps,  find out that it isn’t worth changing their mind and the job in question is one that should go to the cheaper guy down the street.   At least if you have all the details,  you can make an informed decision.

“The guy down the street will do it cheaper” tactic (at times it might be the “guy online”, but you get the idea) is often a common method of pursuing a lower price.  When this is used on you,  probably the first question to ask is “why didn’t you go with the guy down the street then?”,  in a non-confrontational way.  Usually,  if a customer is coming to you after having been quoted a lower price elsewhere they either have some reservations about the other shop,  or they’re hoping they can spin you a tale that will make you lower your price.   Getting the details will usually tell you which option it is and point you to the route that may get you the price you want to charge.

Another thing that decoration shops may often encounter is the person or group who wants a print job to be donated,  or who wants to pay for the job in “exposure”.  There are times when jobs of this sort can be beneficial,  but make sure to examine each job of this type carefully before you say yes.  Who will be seeing the work you’re doing,  and is this your customer base?  How many people will be exposed to your work?  What would be the cost of the work if it were paid for, and how does the value of what ever is being offered instead of money measure up?  Will this job generate goodwill among people who could potentially be customers or who could direct customers to you later?  Not all barter or “exposure” jobs are necessarily bad,  but it always pays to do the analysis and be very clear on what you can expect to get before you agree to any such deal.

Finally,  don’t forget your secret weapon when it comes to standing firm in price negotiations,  the absolute rock bottom price you calculated earlier.  If you have that price calculated for every product,  then you know how much room you have to negotiate,  and the floor beyond which you cannot go.

 

The Art of Setting Price – Part 2

In the first part of this series,  we talked about how to gather the data you need to determine what price you should charge.  In the second part we’ll talk about how to finalize your pricing and how to communicate that pricing to your customers.  Although the data collection process, as detailed in part one,  can take time,  it’s actually probably the easier part of setting price.   Now comes the hard part,  setting your prices and sticking to them.

Once you’ve crunched the numbers on what you need to make and assigned tentative prices for your products,  you can compare those with your market research data.  Sometimes you’ll find that you can charge more than you thought you could and still be competitive.   Other times you’ll find that the prices may need to be adjusted downward slightly.  The hope is that the highs and the lows will balance.

After the final adjustments are done,  do one more set of calculations.  There are two parts to this final bout of arithmetic.  One part is to figure out if you can afford to and want to do quantity discounts and what those discounts will be.  This set of calculations should also include what your minimum order quantity will be.  For some people,  it’s the minimum number of a product they need to make their minimum profit requirement.   Other people may have very low minimums to try and differentiate themselves. Some shops will have set minimums and quantity discounts that are stated prominently in their pricing literature.   Others may not advertise these minimums and discounts,  but every shop should know what they are. The time to make pricing decisions is not when someone is standing in front of you asking.  Those decisions should be made when there’s no pressure and you can keep your income goals clearly in front of you.

The second set of calculations to be done deals with your absolute lowest price.  This is the rock bottom minimum you can charge and still make at least a small amount of profit.  The hope is you will always be able to charge more than this number,  but you should always know what your lowest price is and stick to it.  Again, the time to make this decision is not when a potential customer is arguing with you,  or when someone offers a huge job that is terribly tempting.  Know your lowest price before you get into these situations,  and make sure you don’t go below that price,  no matter what the incentive.

Now that you’ve done this last set of calculations,  you should have a final price for each product you offer,  along with quantity discounts,  if you intend to offer those,  and a rock bottom minimum price below which you will not go.  All this information now needs to be communicated to your customers.  If you’re selling online, pricing information can be communicated in each product listing.   If you’re running a brick and mortar shop,  printed pricing can be offered with order forms.   As a general rule,  it’s a good idea not to make any mention of your rock bottom minimums in the pricing you release to the public.   After all,  it’s never a good sales tactic to let your customer know the minimum payment you’re prepared to accept.

Your pricing is now set, and you’re on to the really difficult part,  holding firm on those prices.  We’ll discuss that in part 3. 

The Art of Setting Price – Part 1

Setting prices on your work is hard,  particularly if it’s creative work, anyone who has ever had to price something out knows that.  It’s tough to figure out what’s fair,  and what’s necessary,  and what’s going to make the product sell.  Sometimes it’s seems like it would be easier to allow the customer to tell you what they want to pay,  but that method can often lead to a nice home in a box under a bridge.  Often people set prices lower than they should because they think their work is “only a hobby” or “I couldn’t possibly charge that much!”.  There are a ton of reasons why setting prices is complicated,  and sometimes frustrating and occasionally scary.   There are also some things you can do to make the whole process a little bit easier.

The first thing you need to do is the math,  which isn’t always fun,  but is a necessary first step.  What you’re figuring out is how much you need to make, so there are lots of numbers to gather and compute.  Take into account the following:

  • What do you need to live – this means what do you need for food, shelter, clothing, transportation,  various insurances like auto and health.  How much do you want to have in the bank to cover emergencies? In other words,  what sort of wage do you need to pay yourself in order to live with at least a basic level of comfort and security?
  • What do you need to keep your business running – What’s the cost of your rent or mortgage? What about electricity and heat?  What will you need to pay for business insurance? How much is marketing and sales going to cost you? If you have employees,  they show up here too,  including things like their health insurance. Basically,  what do you need to make your business go?
  • What supplies do you need and how much – How often do you order supplies? What percentage do you keep on hand for unexpected orders and overage or mistakes?  How far out is your production calendar booked,  and what supplies in what amounts are you forecasted to need? Do you have terms?  Do you charge orders to a credit card?  When do your bills come due?

Once you’ve done your calculations break the number down in whatever way you like.   You could come up with a monthly figure,  a weekly figure,  a daily figure or an hourly figure.  What you’re looking for is some number and some period that can be a benchmark for how much your business needs to bring in.

Now that you have a number,  the next thing to do is divide that number by all the products you offer.   Obviously,  different products will have different price points,  and some products will account for more of your revenue than others.   The goal is to put a tentative price on each product you offer,  based on the percentage each product will contribute to the total revenue you need to make.

Once each product has a tentative price,  the next thing to do is the research.  This is where you get online,  talk to friendly competitors,  ask people in Facebook groups or on forums,  and generally gather as much information as you can on pricing in the product categories you’ll be offering.  Obviously, this research should be tailored to your market.   If you have a brick and mortar store and you’ll be selling in one city,  concentrate on pricing there.   If you’ll be selling only online,  look at who your competitors are in that space.   It isn’t enough to gather numbers,  those numbers have to be specific to the products you want to sell and the markets you’ll be selling in.   Be sure to compare apples to apples.

The goal of the research is to gather data on at what prices people in the same sort of business as you are selling the same or similar products.  Again,  it’s necessary to make sure the information you’re gathering is covering the same market and the same products as what you’ll be offering.  It’s no good doing price research on Maserati when you’re actually selling a Pinto.  Be as accurate as possible,  as this research will play a big part in setting the final price you charge.

This is part one of our series on setting pricing.  In part two,  we’ll discuss what happens after the data gathering process.

There’s No Substitute for Stabilizer

I’ve seen the question so many times I just mostly make a resigned sad face when I see it now,  but it still bothers me.   The question usually starts with the words “Can I..” and then goes on to ask whether it’s acceptable to use freezer paper or printer paper or plastic grocery bags as stabilizer for embroidery.  I get the idea behind the inquiry – stabilizer can be expensive,  or at least more expensive than a roll of freezer paper.  Things like printer paper or plastic grocery bags are also usually at hand and don’t need to be purchased specially.  I also suppose,  to some people,  using a common household item might be less intimidating.  There are understandable reasons why people might pursue the option of using something other than the item specifically designed for the purpose,  but there are also several reasons why that’s not usually a good idea.

Before I go into the reasons why we think using things like freezer paper is not the ideal option,  I do want to address the one exception,  using freezer paper for applique.   When cutting patterns for applique,  freezer paper is an option for stabilizing the fabric while you cut out the shapes.   It’s also a viable option for fusing to the back of a fabric you are intending to draw or paint on,  as raw fabric tends to wrinkle.  Keep in mind,  both these activities are embroidery adjacent,  not actually embroidery,  so I still stand by that statement that freezer paper is not generally a great option when it comes to stabilizing embroidery.  Now let’s discuss the reasons why we think this is so.

Reason 1:  Many stabilizers are designed specifically for machine embroidery – I’m sure there are stabilizers out there that started life as pocket lining or something,  but there are also several classes of stabilizers that are intended specifically to be used with machine embroidery.   This category includes poly meshfusible,  and adhesive backing.  Something that is designed specifically for the requirements of the job at hand will most likely work better than something used randomly.

Reason 2:  An embroidery stabilizer can help improve the look of embroidery – Stabilizers are sometimes designed with a specific weight or type of fabric in mind.  The proper marriage of backing or topping,  fabric,  thread and digitized design will create the most professional look and the best outcome.  Using a stabilizer designed for the fabric you want to embroider and the type of look you want to create will give you a much better chance of a successful finished product.

Reason 3:  An embroidery stabilizer can speed up production –  Designs tend to sew out better when they’re stabilized properly.  There’s less puckering,  fewer thread breaks and definitely a cleaner and more professional looking finished product.  Removing stabilizer more quickly with a tearaway option or presenting a tidier and more professional finished look with a washaway option are also benefits to using a stabilizer designed for embroidery.

Reason 4: The right tool for the right job – Freezer paper is designed to protect food from freezer burn.   Plastic grocery bags are designed for carrying your produce and pasta home from the store.   Embroidery stabilizer is designed to lend stability to embroidered designs,  to improve stitch-outs and to help provide a professional finished appearance.  Using products as they were designed will generally bring about the most successful outcome.

In a nutshell,  those are the reasons we think embroidery should be stabilized with machine embroidery backings and toppings,  but we’d love to get your take on this topic.   Have you ever stabilized your embroidery with something other than standard stabilizer?   What was the result?  We’d love to know what you think.

Marketing Monday: 4 Lessons From a Month of Blog Posts

Back at the beginning of July,  I issued a challenge to myself.  I wanted to see if regular updates on our blogs,  Threaducate and SubliStuff,  made a difference in our readership.   So I decided to write a blog post for one or the other of the blogs each of the five days of our work week,  for the entire month of July.  The goal was to see if this made a difference in the attention people paid to the blogs,  in the readership of older posts,  and simply to see if I could fit daily blogging into a schedule that always seemed to be packed with things to do.   I won’t lie,  the goal I’d set for myself was challenging,  but I learned a lot as I worked to meet it.   Here are some of the most important things I learned.

Ideas come from everywhere – One of my main worries was coming up with ideas for a new post every day.   Some days,  that was tough.  Gradually,  though,  I learned that a post idea can come from anywhere – someone I follow on social media,  a discussion with a co-worker,  looking back through older posts,  something I read,  something I watched,  something a competitor said.  Anything could be fodder for a post,  I just had to figure out how to frame it to make it applicable to the subjects of our blogs.

I had time,  if I made time – Anyone who has any part in managing or running a company knows that there are always more things to do than there are hours in which to do them.    The things that get done most often are the things you consider priorities.  Prior to the month of blog posts,  blogging had slipped on the priority list,  since there were always other demands on my time.  In July,  I made blogging a priority and rearranged some other things on my schedule to make it happen.  Sometimes that meant I wrote a paragraph a day until I got a post done.  Sometimes it meant I wrote several posts when I had a spare few hours.  I won’t say it was always easy,  because it wasn’t,  but the time was there,  if I made blogging a priority.

There are no old subjects,  only old posts – I’ve been writing about machine embroidery since 2007,  and about sublimation since 2010.  That’s a lot of informative posts with helpful tips and thoughts that are now several years old.  Looking back through the blogs allowed me to reprise subjects that were still relevant,  but had last been touched on in a post several years ago.   It’s a good reminder that old content can often be repurposed and reintroduced to an audience that may not have seen it before.

Not every post will be a home run, and that’s o.k. – A lot of us,  I think,  get focused on making things perfect,  and so we tinker and tweak and do everything but actually put the content out there and let people see it.  We got so focused on what we don’t like about something,  we forget to notice all the stuff that’s really good.  Yes,  I have certain standards for my work.   Yes,  I always want it to be the best it can be.  Yes,  sometimes my best isn’t as good as I’d like it to be and yes,  that’s o.k.   Sometimes the important thing is putting your work out there,  despite what you see as glaring mistakes, or clear imperfections.  The likelihood is that what you see as huge, blaring problems most people won’t even notice,  and that they’ll still benefit from interacting with your work.

In the end, my blogging experiment did seem to have an impact.  We had increased readership,  both of current posts and old posts.   We had new subscribers to the blogs.  Writing every day reminded me that writing is what I do, and I needed to do it more often.   While I don’t expect to,  or really want to continue writing a post a day,  I will be blogging more frequently.  I hope you’ll be reading when I do.

Time Travel Tuesday: How a Business Starts

Once upon a time,  there was a business called EnMart.   Actually,  it originally wasn’t called EnMart,  and went through a series of names before we settled on that one.  Those who have named businesses or products or children or pets know that naming things can be difficult.  Eventually,  EnMart was christened EnMart and we were on our way to what we thought was a future selling embroidery supplies.   Now,  11 years after we started,  EnMart sells embroidery supplies and sublimation supplies and quilting thread and crafting items.   Where we thought we’d be when we started is not really at all where we’ve ended up.

The odds against a business starting up and succeeding can seem daunting.  20% of small business fail in their first year.   50% will fail in five years.  Flip those stats on their head though,  and they don’t seem quite so awful.   If 20% of businesses fail in their first year,  than 80% succeed, and don’t the odds suddenly look better.   Same for the five year stat,  half of the businesses that started five years earlier are gone,  but half are still in business.   Given how optimistic you have to be to even start a business,  isn’t it likely most business owners would choose to believe they’ll be in the half that’s still around in five years?

When EnMart started,  we had no idea if the business would survive.   We had tenuous connections to the embroidery industry,  and hoped that would be enough to let us get our foot in the door.   We worked at building connections,  getting the company name out there,  creating opportunities where we could interact with the community.   As time went on,  we added sublimation,  then quilting thread,  and then craft supplies.  Each addition meant a new market to which we needed to be introduced, and a new set of rules and customers to learn.  We evolved in an effort to stay current and to take advantage of the possibilities that lay before us.

You may wonder why I’m telling you all this,  and the reason is pretty simple,  often in the hustle and bustle of building a business we forget to stop and look at where we started and acknowledge how far we’ve come.   When you started your business,  however that was done,  you probably had a dream for what it would become.   Today,  after however many years in business,  does what you see before you look anything like what you dreamed?

Starting a business is a risk,  and there will always be people who will quote you the statistics of how many businesses will fail in their first year,  or second year,  or any year at all.   The idea that seems like a surefire win may result in a business that never gets off the ground.   The idea that seems so simple you’re sure everyone has already done it might just be so simple that everyone overlooked it,  until you.   Whether your business is thriving or barely surviving,  you took a chance, and gave it a shot.   That’s worth some congratulations and a moment of contemplation.

So,  from us to you,  congratulations on taking a leap many are too scared to make.  Spend at least a moment today thinking about where you began and celebrating that fact that you’ve come as far as you have.   Always know that we’re here to help you in any way we can.   If you add our parent company into the mix,  we’ve been in the 50% that survived for 44 years now,  and we’ve got some stories and wisdom to share, so stay tuned.

 

Why It’s Fun

youth-active-jump-happy-40815Anyone who has had anything to do with running a business knows the pain of the days when nothing about the experience is fun.   Equipment breaks.   Supplies don’t arrive in time or arrive too soon.   The customer doesn’t like the artwork you produced.   The customer has ideas that aren’t really possible unless you had a time machine and an army of shirt decorating robots.  Your price is too high.   You turn time is too long.   Your employees don’t show up.   There’s a lot of reasons why having a business can be tough day to day.   So why do we do it?

There are a lot of reasons, but,  sometimes,  it’s just because of the days when it’s fun.

Because of the days when a blogger tries a string art kit you created and likes it.    Or the day when a crafting guru does a video demo of the new Color Your Own Mug Kit that is just perfect (and positive).   It could be the day when one of your many lovely Facebook friends, unprompted,  speaks up and recommends your company or your products to another who is asking for a recommendation.

Perhaps it’s the day when someone takes some products of yours and does something totally new and awesome with them.    Or you get a note or an e-mail in which you’re told that a product you carry inspired someone to do something they’d never tried before, and the result was better than they’d ever dreamed.   It’s definitely fun the day a you get to solve a problem;  recommending a product that helps someone out of a jam and makes their life easier.

Fun is always in the mix in when new products and possibilities arrive on the dock.   Maybe you come up with a kit that could help quilt shop owners sell remnants of fabric in a fun (and adorable) way.   Or perhaps you add some markers that extend the possibility and creativity of sublimation to a new customer base.    Maybe, one day, some cuddly rag dolls show up on your dock,  and suddenly there’s a whole new range of cute with which to play.    The almost best part,  when something new shows up,  is wondering what your amazing customers will do with these new products.   The best part is finding out.

It’s certainly a good day when you can solve a problem and help someone out.   Maybe you’re at a craft or trade show answering questions for someone who is just starting out.   Perhaps you share your knowledge and expertise in Facebook groups or on Twitter.  Maybe you write a blog, or two,  where you share knowledge and information gained from years of experience.   Some days it’s just taking a minute to encourage someone who is experiencing one of the tougher aspects of being in this industry.

So,  yeah,  running a business can be tough,  and there are days when you’re going to wonder why you’re doing it and if it’s worth it.   Those days aren’t the ones that matter though.   The days that will stick in your memory are those days  when everything goes well and you feel like you’ve done good work and made a difference.  That’s when it’s fun,  and worthwhile.

We’ve told you about some of the days when running EnMart has been fun,  but we’re more interested in hearing about your best days.   What has made running your business the most fun?   Share your answer in the comments.    We look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Core Colors

Let’s face it,  most embroiderers do about 80% of their embroidery with a few core colors.   Black, white,  maybe a red and a blue,  maybe some colors specific to logos in their area,  but most embroidery is done with a fairly consistent palette.  The rest of the thread embroiderers buy is for one offs,  jobs that may only happen once,  which are special requests from a customer,  or which may be small jobs which won’t use an entire cone of thread.  That thread may never get used again,  and generally forms what we call the “thread museum”,  the colors that are always on display,  but rarely,  if ever, used.    With care and proper storage,  that thread can last forever,  which is nice,  but not vital.  What really matters is the thread that accounts for the most expenditure of budget and stitches per garment.

We know that, for many embroiderers,  converting from one thread manufacturer to another is like going to the dentist.  No one really likes doing it,  and you may not do it at all unless you’re in pain.  Our parent company has gone through a conversion process a few times,  so we understand it can be a big undertaking.  We also know it can be very worth the time and effort.  Because we understand what conversion involves,  we’ve also developed some tools to help make the process easier.

One tool is our online thread cross reference converter.  We’ve already done the conversions for a lot of the popular thread brands in both polyester and rayon.   All you have to do is access the converter and search for the brand and number you want to convert.   If we have an acceptable match,  you’ll find the number you need and can click it to see the Iris Thread match.

Another option for conversion is to contact us directly and ask for our help.  We have decades of experience in color matching and can easily help you convert your colors.  All you would need to do is get us a list of the core colors you currently use and want to convert, and we would do the rest.  We even understand digitizing and setting up colors for embroidery machines,  so we may be able to offer advice and support in that area too.

Remember,  too,  that converting your core colors is less work than converting your entire thread museum.  Since your core colors account for roughly 80% of your embroidery work,  those are the colors that will turn most frequently.  If you are interested in obtaining a sample of Iris Thread to try or in converting your current thread inventory to Iris,  talk to your account executive or our customer service staff about what programs may be available.