Featured Friday, Information, Inspiration, Instruction 10/19/18

Because Autumn is winding down (in some places),  Winter is closing in (not quite yet, please), and it’s the end of another work week,  I thought I’d share some of the things that have amused me, inspired me or educated me recently.

First on the docket,  a cool way to create a hand embroidered look with machine embroidery.  Many people like the timeless look of cross stitch,  but don’t want to count the stitches.   This post from Creative Machine Embroidery Magazine discusses how to create the look of cross stitch on your embroidery machine.  It’s a pretty extensive tutorial.

Second on the list,  the news that there is now a way to create sublimated items without a sublimation system.   Our own Tom Chambers tells you all about how to sublimate without a sublimation system in a terrific blog post on the SubliStuff blog.  Tom has been writing a couple of posts a month about various sublimation topics for that blog,  so if you do sublimation or are interested in learning more about sublimation,  it would be a good idea to bookmark the SubliStuff blog so you can come back to it later.

Third at bat,   a post from Erich Campbell,  part of his Ghost and the Embroidery Machine series for the Mr X Stitch blog.   In this post,  he’s talking about how to make machine embroidery and digitizing accessible for everyone.   He gives some great ideas for how people on limited budgets can learn the skills they need to start their own machine embroidery businesses.  It’s a terrific post that outlines many of the options available to those who are interested in embroidery.

Fourth in line,  although I don’t usually plug posts I write myself when I do these round-ups,  I’m going to make an exception this time.   I did a series on pricing for this blog and I think,  if I do say so myself,  it’s worth a read.   Part 1 talks about gathering data.  Part 2 talks about actually setting prices and how to communicate pricing info to your customers.   Part 3 talks about dealing with customers who want to argue or negotiate price.

Finally,  I need to point out this video of the 2RegularGuys podcast today.  The guests were Carolyn Cagle from Strikke Embroidery and Luiz Vitor Neto Mendes from Vitor Digitizing.   It was a fantastic and fascinating interview with a lot of food for thought in it.  Definitely worth a watch,  and I’m not just saying that because Carolyn called me one of her favorite people in the world at the end of the interview.  The link takes you to the video on Facebook.   When it’s available on their site as well,  I’ll update the post.

Time Travel Tuesday: Four Benefits of a General Store

Once upon a time,  when America was young and expansion was moving westward,  most newly created towns had a general store or a mercantile.   Most of the towns were small,  and the cost of getting goods to the town was usually high,  so the general store tried to carry all the merchandise a person might need.   From guns to nails to pans to dresses and boots,  the general store was often the one place in town to buy goods and it sold everything.

As time went on,  the general store became less relevant.  Goods were less costly to move and easier to get,  so stores started specializing.  People went one place to buy dress shoes and another place to buy athletic shoes and yet another place to buy boots.   Sure it was more trips, and wasn’t always convenient,  but the selection was better,  or the costs of an individual purchase were less, or so it seemed,  so people convinced themselves it was worth the extra time and effort.

It is true that,  in some cases,  it is worth to move from store to store.  A store that specializes in one particular kind of item might have more brands or styles available.   Stores that specialize will hopefully have employees that have a more in depth knowledge of the brands and products sold.  A single product  store may have better prices because they’re buying more of that product from fewer suppliers.  There are advantages to specialty stores but,  in our opinion,  a general store, like EnMart, still offers more benefits.   Here’s a few of the reasons why we hold that opinion.

Benefit 1:  Time is precious – A lot of people who decorate are people who are running their own businesses,  who are tasked with management, production and many other things in addition to ordering.  Shopping with a supplier that offers products for a variety of decoration disciplines means you can get everything you need in one place,  in one visit.  Time spent visiting multiple stores or sites may save you a few pennies,  but it will cost you in productive hours lost.

Benefit 2: Merchandise that sells – Every store has space constraints,  whether it’s the physical constraints of a building,  or the monetary restraints of the cost of inventory.  When you shop at a general store, the items in every category are items that sell,  because they have to be.   Just like the general stores of days gone by,  the current one stop shops have to offer inventory that produces,  they don’t have space for items that are so-so.  The product offerings in a particular category may be narrower,  but they’ll be ones that sell because they get their particular jobs done.

Benefit 3: Easy Expansion – Say you’re an embroiderer and you want to add sublimation.  Or you’re a quilt shop owner that’s interested in adding craft kits.  If you’re working with a one stop shop,  like EnMart,  you can find what you need, get your questions answered and purchase your supplies easily.  As an extra, added bonus,  you’ll be dealing with a company you already know and trust.

Benefit 4:  Easy to Remember – It seems, nowadays,  that shopping is about remembering passwords, and where your credit card numbers are stored and where they aren’t,  and keeping straight which information matches with which store.  If you’re working with a general store,  you only have to remember one set of information.  There’s no stress about forgetting or confusing a password,  no worries about what thing gets purchased from what store.  It’s all in one place.

Obviously,  EnMart doesn’t yet carry the supplies for every decoration discipline,  we’ve always focused on decoration techniques like machine embroidery and sublimation in which we have an expertise.   Our goal is to give you the benefit of our knowledge, experience and connections,  so you can get quality products at reasonable prices while also receiving knowledgeable support and fast shipping.  We may not wear white aprons and sweep the front porch of the store in the morning,  but we follow in the footsteps of those men and women who once operated the general stores.  Our goal is to get you what you need, with a maximum of value and a minimum of stress.

Trendy Thursday: 6 Industry Trends That Need To Die

For whatever the reason,  I seem to be having a “you kids get off my lawn!” sort of day,  in which I’m finding everything a little annoying.   Given my state of mind,  it seemed like a good day to write about a few trends within our industry that I think need to end,  immediately.   Some of these are social media related, and some deal with the industry as a whole.

Trend #1:  Posting multiple pictures in a row of the same design/your work  – This drives me nuts,  mostly because it tends to reduce the impact of the work,  which may be great,  but isn’t going to hold people’s attention if they have to scroll past 13 pictures of the same or similar things.  Don’t flood people’s feed with images of your work.  Choose one picture that you think represents your best work, and provide a link where people can see more examples if they’re interested.

Trend #2: Under charging – This is a particularly insidious trend for new business owners.  Often people don’t really know what they should be earning per job or what they need to be earning per job.  Some decorators (women seem to have a particular problem with this) also undervalue their work because it’s “sewing” or “a hobby”.  If you’ve invested time and money in equipment and learning your craft, you’re a professional.  Set your rates accordingly.

Trend #3: Changing artwork to avoid copyright infringement – There is a long-standing myth that changing copyrighted artwork by a certain percentage will negate the possibility of copyright infringement,  but that’s not so.  There is no such rule.  The best way to avoid copyright infringement is to get permission to use artwork that you did not create,  or to create your own original works.

Trend #4: Video because you can – Facebook Live,  Snapchat, smartphones and sites offering video creation tools mean that almost anyone can be a star.  That’s great,  up to a point.   The thing, however, to ask yourself before making a video is whether or not you should.  Do you have a plan for content?  Do you know what you want to say?  Are you comfortable on camera?  Particularly for businesses who are talking to customers,  videos need to have a reason to exist.  Just because you can is not that reason.

Trend #5: Hard selling on social media – As I’ve said before in seminars,  the first word in the phrase “social media” is “social” for a reason.  Social media is not about selling,  it’s about creating community.  Despite this,  some decoration companies insist on setting up profiles where all they do is post links to product and pricing.  In order to sell on social media,  you have to build trust and a community.  Social media is about soft selling,  where the sales messages are mixed with value added features.  Doing nothing but a hard sell on your profiles will soon insure that you’re selling to no one.

Trend 6: Complaining about the “guy down the street” – It may literally be the competing shop down the street, or it may be an online site,  but there’s always that one business that seems to inexplicably do well while either using underhanded tactics, or doing shoddy work.  It’s tempting to blame those companies for the state of pricing,  or the fact that you didn’t get the big job,  and it’s equally tempting to complain that those companies should change. The reality is they won’t,  and another reality is that there will always probably be people who will buy from them.  What really matters,  however, is not what the other guy does,  it’s what you do.   If you do your best work,  offer fair pricing, and treat your customers honestly and with respect,  who cares what anyone else is doing?  Focus on how you can be better,  not on stopping these other companies from being worse.

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Customer Spotlight: Black Duck Inc.

cs_blackduckincName:  Erich Campbell

Business:   Black Duck Embroidery and Screen Printing

Anyone who knows anything about machine embroidery probably knows about Erich Campbell and Black Duck Inc.  He is the digitizing guru who creates the fabulous works of art for which Black Duck Embroidery and Screen Printing is known, as well a sharing his expertise at www.erichcampbell.com.   He writes for Printwear Magazine and for Mr. X-Stitch.  Erich is a huge advocate for the industry and always willing to share his knowledge and abilities to help others.   I’m honored that he took a bit of time from his busy life to answer some questions about the work he does,  the company for which he does that work, and why he does business with EnMart.

Please describe your work.

EC:  I am primarily an embroidery digitizer,  but our company does everything from small to large scale screen printing on manuals and automatics,  all manner of embroidery,  heat-printing, sign-making, sublimation and digital transfers, all in house and with our own art staff.

What do you like best about what you do?

EC: Creating solutions that delight people; creative problem solving is satisfying in itself,  but being able to do so in a way that allows us to both exercise our love of commercial art and design and supports people in our local community makes our work an absolute joy.  We have customers tell us that we are seen as the shop to seek out if no other shop can handle your work or is willing to try.   We are artists, experimenters, and we work well together.

What is the biggest challenge you face in doing your work?

EC: Doing the work that we want to do and are good at doing and making sure to keep it profitable and responsive;  probably the hardest thing to do is pull away from the work of production to make sure our business is current,  keeping up with technology and promoting itself to the right audience.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing your industry as a whole?

EC: It’s a massive cultural shift that’s causing challenges for all of us – the shift toward individual personalization is difficult, but doable, whereas the continuous pressure to deliver more quickly, almost instantly, and to produce a better product with a high-quality decoration at a commodity price can be tough.

Were you always creative?  Did you make things as a child?

EC: I would say that I come from a long family history of makers – I wasn’t always enamored of the visual arts, though.   I can draw passably well,  but I didn’t while away my time drawing when I was young.  I did, however, carve wood,  build things,  play with construction toys,  work on machine and cars with my mechanic father,  help my mother who at times worked as a seamstress,  and last,  but certainly not least,  I was always a writer.  Language was my first creative venture, and remains a favorite outlet to this day.

What one tip would you give people starting out in your field?

EC:  Be ready to fail and forgive yourself,  then learn to control your variables and test.  You will destroy a garment.   You will have to sample things more than once, and you will make mistakes.  Accept it,  then learn by degrees to let it go.  Analyze your failures and take what you’ve learned to heart; measure everything, and apply what you learn.  You will grow by leaps and bounds once you do; you will be a sponge at first, absorbing everything,  but it’s in the experimentation and doing that it will all solidify and become real.

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If you could travel back to when you started in this industry,  what piece of advice would you give yourself?

EC: Never get comfortable.  Try more, execute faster,  and be less conservative with your ideas.  An idea is nothing until it is executed, and there is rarely a “perfect” time to try.  Get more things to market and give them their season; you never know what might stick.

What is your favorite leisure time activity?

EC: That’s a tough one;  I’m a big movie watcher and reader,  but I also love hiking, drawing and teaching where I can.  When you do what you love,  leisure and work sometimes bleed together,  even when they are tiring or difficult.   In truth,  I do work quite a lot though.  I often joke that there’s just a break between my first shift (work at Black Duck) and my second shift (writing and teaching for the industry).

Why do you buy from/work with EnMart?

EC:  EnMart has tested quality product and the best customer service;  I’ve never had a problem ordering by any method of contact, and I can always trust the products that I ordered will come in,  as ordered,  on time.   EnMart is reliable and saves me time.

What EnMart products do you use most?

EC: Sublimation inks and papers, blank patches, and Q-104/102 water soluble topping and backing.

Why do you use these products?

EC: EnMart has always been our sublimation partner,  and they carry top quality Sawgrass products as well as their own tested brand of transfer paper;  their added service and support is fantastic and makes the difference.   Q-102 is great for making our own in-house custom shaped emblems,  so it’s a natural fit for us as well.

You can find Erich and Black Duck Inc.  on the following social media sites:

Facebook

Twitter

Google+

Pinterest

Instagram

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Marketing Monday: The Sample Dilemma

question-markSamples cause a lot of questions among decorators. Who should receive them? What impact does a sample have on bringing in new business? When should samples be offered? Where should samples be offered,  online,  only in brick and mortar shops,  only if a customer is in front of you and asks? Why should samples even be offered at all?  How should samples be used to increase business?

That’s a lot of questions,  and there are probably just as many answers,  depending on who is supplying them.   Some companies elect to offer no samples at all. In some cases, instead of samples, a company will offer a sketch or a design mock-up.   Other companies will offer a standard sample,  but won’t do custom samples.  Another option is to offer one custom sample for free,  but charge for additional samples.   In some shops the rule is,  if you want a sample,  you pay for it.  The answers tend to depend somewhat on the philosophy of the shop being asked for a sample,  somewhat on what the competition in the market in question is doing and,  often,  on the size and potential profitability of the proposed job.

So,  given all the questions, and all the potential answers,  how do you decided what your company policy should be regarding samples?  The final decision will have to be based on the realities of your business,  but here are some things to consider while making your decision.

How does your competition handle samples? Do a little research and see if you can determine how your competition replies when asked for a sample.   If customers are conditioned to expect a “yes” when they ask for a sample,  it makes business harder for your company if you’re the only “no”. Finding out if and what everyone else charges for samples is useful too.  Knowing the norms for your market can help you decide what your company will do.

Can your shop do samples without sacrificing production? – Smaller shops that are one man bands, which have a single head machine or a manual press may not have the ability to produce samples the way a larger shop would.   If making a sample is getting in the way of work that is producing income,  it’s fairly easy to see what needs to be running.

Do you track the ratio of samples to actual jobs? The purpose of a sample is to convince the customer to give your company the job,  so you want to know how many times that actually happens.   Your tracking can be as simple as a spreadsheet,  but there should be some way to see what samples are going out, and what percentage of those samples are resulting in jobs and money coming in.  If you find you’re making a lot of samples,  but not getting a lot of jobs,  it may be time to reexamine your sample policy.

Standard samples vs. custom samples – Standard samples are samples of a product that are generic or were made simply to allow the customer to see and feel the product in question.  Some companies will have a look book or a design wall that allows customers to see and touch the work so they can understand what their particular job might look like.  For many customers this will be enough.

Custom samples, as the name implies,  are samples created for a specific customer,  generally using that customer’s artwork.  A custom sample takes more time to produce and is generally only done for larger jobs.  While customers may insist on custom samples at first,  often their questions or concerns can be addressed using a standard sample.  Creating custom samples also demands a high level of tracking,  since you want a high ratio of custom samples turning into jobs.   If you find you’re doing a lot of custom sample work and not getting a lot of orders in return,  this is another sign that your sample policy may need some thought.

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Featured Friday 6/10/16

iStock_000012611933MediumIt’s been a while since we’ve had a Featured Friday post,  so I figured today was a good day to do one. I have some new, good information to share with you,  so let’s get to it.

First up is a post from Eileen’s Machine Embroidery Blog about how to handle rush orders.  A rush order can create stress in a shop,  but it can also be profitable, and a great way to build credibility and gratitude with a business owner or event runner,  if you can get their order to them quickly.   The blog post makes good points,  one being this,  make sure to get all information in writing,  not over the phone.   When people are in a hurry, they make mistakes,  so having things in writing protects both parties.

Second on the docket is a post from Retail Minded about the new overtime rule and how it may impact businesses.  The focus of the article is retail stores,  but the advice it gives would apply equally well to decoration businesses.  I think the best advice in the piece is to start dealing with this now,  so your business isn’t blindsided in December.

Third at bat,  although I don’t usually promote my own writing in this series,  is a post I wrote for our sister blog, SubliStuff, about how to sublimate a Cubbie.  We’ve tried the process and know it isn’t that difficult to do.   It also may add another profit center to your business. We are also in the process of having some decorators test rhinestones and vinyl on Cubbies.  We’ll share the results of those tests when we have them.

Fourth on the list is a post from The Bling Blog by Sparkle Plenty which details 10 rules for working with your spouse.  I know of a lot of decoration businesses that are run by families or spouses, and it is a special kind of balancing act.  This post gives some good tips on how to keep work at work,  and how to make sure the business doesn’t take over the entire relationship.

Finally,  we have a post from the UnMarketing Blog about the fact that anything you put on social media,  whether you say it is personal and not in any way connected to your company or not,  reflects on your company.   That certainly is true for anyone who owns a company,  and often applies to employees as well.  It’s lovely to think that a small disclaimer can make personal and business separate,  but it can’t and it won’t.   The best way to handle this is to assume everything you say reflects on the business you work for,  and speak accordingly.   If you don’t choose to do that,  then be prepared for the consequences if you say something you shouldn’t, because there will be some.

Last but not least,  another plug for EnMart,  but it involves a really good sale,  so you don’t want to miss it.   We’re currently running a special on our sublimation systems for the month of June.  We’re offering free ink,  a sale on bypass trays and more.   If you’re thinking of buying a sublimation system it’s definitely worth check out.

Time Travel Tuesday: “That’s Your Price?”

piggy bank.jpg

I’ve been mulling over writing a post about pricing creative work for a while,  but it seemed especially appropriate to write it on “Time Travel Tuesday” since the problem with prices,  for most people anyway,  probably started back when their business started.   When you’re first starting out as a business owner, it can be tough to sit down and compose a price list.   First,  you may not have any idea of how long a job will take.   Second,  you may not be conversant with the prices your competitors are charging,  or the costs of purchasing supplies.  Most likely,  you haven’t yet heard the tired tropes of “do this small order for cheap and I’ll bring you a huge order”,  or “if you do this cheaply for me,  my husband, club president,  soccer league etc. will give you tons of work”.  Finally,  when you’re just starting,  you may be so unsure of your work’s value,  and so eager to bring in business,  that you’ll do work at almost any price,  simply to be doing the work.

Doing the work is important,  but even more important is doing the work at a price that makes you a profit.   If your shop is constantly busy,  but you’re struggling to keep the lights on and the bills paid,  then your pricing structure is not doing you any favors.   There are always going to be people who will tell you your prices are too high,  who will ask for a favor,  who will trot out the tired “do this for me and I’ll bring you orders bigger than you ever dreamed”,  who will expect a friends and family discount,  something they would never ask for at the grocery or the hardware store.  There will always be people who say decoration is a hobby,  not a business,  who will think that the time and effort you put in to making their shirt or bag or quilt shouldn’t cost them anything.   There will always be people,  and that’s the important thing.   The trick is to find the people who understand what you do and are willing to pay for the investment of skill and effort and time you make to do it.

So,  if you’re new to the business,  or even if you’ve been in the business a while,  but have realized your pricing structure isn’t where it should be,  here are some things to consider when setting new pricing.

  1. Calculate what you need to bring in not only to keep the business open,  but to pay yourself a decent salary.   Make sure you calculate all your costs,  business expenses like machine leases and maintenance,  electric,  supplies,  education,  as well as personal expenses like mortgages,  food, clothing,  car payments, entertainment etc.  Don’t forget to set a value on your time as well. Get a clear picture of what you need to make to have the sort of lifestyle and business you want.
  2. Do some research on what your competition charges.   Some of that can be done on social media,  following your competition can be a marvelous source of intel.  Don’t rely on what your customers say your competitors charge,  try to get info from as close to the original source as possible.   Customers may sometimes embellish the truth to try and gain an advantage.
  3. Next, spend some time figuring out what makes your shop special.  What skills do you have that your competitors can’t match?  Do you offer superior customer service or exceedingly fast turn around times?  What makes it worth doing business with you and why will customers be willing to pay the prices you’re going to set?  Make sure you preserve this list in writing,  because you will,  at some point,  most likely use it to explain why you charge what you charge.
  4. Finally,  set your prices.   Keep in mind you want to find a balance between fairly compensating yourself and pricing yourself out of the market.   Make sure you’re clear on why your setting your prices at the levels you’re choosing,  and make sure you also set a rock bottom price beyond which you won’t go.   Once you have your prices set,  sit down with a friend or family member and explain why your prices are what they are.   Do a little role play, and have the other participant in the discussion throw some common pricing objections at you.  The idea is to be able to concisely,  clearly and smoothly explain what your price structure is and why,  without hesitation.

Setting pricing is as much a matter of belief,  in yourself and in the work that you do,  as much as it is a function of supply and demand,  or the marketplace.   If you take the time to figure out what you need and want,  and take the time to understand why your work has worth and what that worth is,  you’ll be prepared the next time a customer asks incredulously “That’s your price”?

You’ll know why your price is your price,  and that there’s really only one answer to that question.

Yes.