Over the years, one of the markets that have been most intriguing was the print on demand market. This market is exciting because it overcomes a natural barrier of purchase by changing the perceived value of a product and can take the cost factor nearly out of the equation. This market can be highly profitable, so here are some tips, tricks, and examples for you.
What is the printing on demand market? The print on demand market is when you travel to an event or specific location to be with potential customers and decorate apparel or other items on the spot. This can be as straightforward as having pre-done transfers so you can heat press the customers chosen transfer onto their chosen shirt size and color. It can also be as intricate as having online design tools and templates with the ability to do onsite photography to then digitally create items like photo panels, cell phone cases and again even apparel. Typically, this market is serviced by a heat press and transfers and/or digital decoration, noting occasionally, screen print garments are done.
Why can it be profitable? The print on demand market can be very profitable because of the perceived value. Instead of creating a t-shirt, a cell phone case or photo panel, you are creating a way to capture a memory that the buyer can take with them nearly instantly. So, someone who might be shopping at a department store (if people even do that anymore…) for a t-shirt and trying to decide between the $10 shirt and the $7 shirt, will have no problem parting with $20 to $30 for a similar shirt because of the memory they will have of that event where they got the shirt. The change in the perceived value of the product can even be greater by adding special touches to these items. So, a basic off the shelf t-shirt can change into a memory that a person will be able to keep for the life of the garment.
Additionally, the print on demand market has the added benefit of potentially requiring less time and energy due to the face paced nature and the short sales window. Some printers that I have spoken to have quit their day job or closed their production facility due to the increased opportunities printing on demand can offer. Some only work two days a week and earn twice as much money as they made when they were working 24/7 it seemed. Those two days typically are a Saturday and Sunday, but hey if you want to make my weekend Monday through Friday and my work week Saturday and Sunday, then sign me up!
Now that you are ready to jump into the print on demand market to increase your profit and reduce work hours, let’s dig into both the most basic print on demand method. Pre-done plastisol transfers are ready to go for the local event of choice to sell some shirts. Some people might think that I’m off my rocker for suggesting transfers and lugging a heat press around, but there are a couple of reason to use transfers. One of the big reasons is that it can help control your printed shirt inventory. Let’s say you are going to be providing shirts to people at a county fair. You have a great design, that you have approved by the fair, that gives the date of the event, the location of the event and any other memory you think people might want to have of the fair. If you were to screen print that design onto shirts in advance, you would have to choose what colors you wanted to offer and make your best guess at what sizes were going to be the hot seller that year. You show up and sell out of the small size shirts that you printed, but are stuck with a bunch of 2XLs and have been getting bombarded with people asking why you only have black and white shirt. To solve this problem, if you are a screen printer, you print those designs in reverse order onto a plastisol transfer sheet you can get from your local screen print supply company. Or even easier, you don’t have to worry about burning screens or even owning screen printing equipment, you just order plastisol transfers from one of the many plastisol transfer providers you will probably see advertising in this wonderful magazine. Now you can take a large assortment of shirt colors, styles and sizes and just press the transfer as the item is purchased. At the end of the event, you have very little cost in the transfers and can just dispose of them and you can take the shirts and have them available for the next event.
Pressing on site is the way to go! The activity of pressing the garment is exciting and giving the customer something that was just made just for them creates a higher perceived value and attracts other potential buyers. They want to see what the beeping or popping open of the heat press is and why people have gathered around. A tip here is to get the loudest press you can find and put the pressing function as close to the front as you can while still maintaining safety for the customer. Please remember, a heat press is hot and the customer will have no idea what it is and try to touch it.
For plastisol transfers, you are going to need a heat press and access to good electrical outlets. Typically, heat presses require at least 15 amps so be prepared to have a backup plan. My suggestion would be to have your own generator, preferably a quiet one, if you are serious about this market. Customers should hear the pressing and conversations about the shirts, not the generator sound.
Another type of print on demand is the personalized digital decoration type of market. There are many different ways of personalizing. It could be as simple as adding a name to a pre-made design or detailed customization like taking photos on site and having customers add their own text or design elements and then printing and pressing. The key to success in this type of decoration is to plan ahead. Remember, customers are not usually designers, probably do not know the processes or limitations, so you want to have everything ready to go to make it as simple as possible. Try to get your customer from point A (deciding what art to pick and what info they want to add) to point B (taking home their brand new memory that is personalized just for them). To achieve this type of print on demand you will need a digital decoration method, like printable heat transfers (preferably commercial grade, not something you get from the office supply store) or direct to garment equipment you can transport. Also, a heat press is necessary and a computer. Depending on your needs, it is possible to have several “design stations.” A tip here is to give these customers lots of ideas, examples and starting points. Please note that due to how quickly you want to be moving customers from point A to point B, errors are going to happen. These errors might be your fault or the customers, just fix the error, reprint the item and move on. Never make the customer feel bad for the error or force them to buy the incorrect item. You should be making enough profit to cover those types of issues.
Let me give you a couple of examples of this to help explain how this might work.
The first print on demand business we will call Bob’s Gymnastics Shirts (names changed to protect the company). Bob is a guy who quit his 9 to 5 job. He jumped in his motorhome and headed out on the road touring with the gymnastic circuits that he had toured with his daughter who was a star gymnast. He had spent the $25 on the poorly printed black lettering on a neon green shirt for the Midwest Regional Meet and happened to find information online about the latest and greatest direct to garment machine. After reviewing the information on the machine he bought it, a heat press, generator, the latest laptop computer with graphics software, high-end digital camera, scanner, cases of shirts, and several colors of sharpies and a ream of copy paper. On the road, he went with all his supplies. He would pay for the booth at each of the gymnastic events and set up all his equipment. He would start snapping photos of the teams and told them to come over to his booth when they were done and the coach would get a FREE t-shirt. He would give them his business card that had their team’s specific identifying number on it to redeem the FREE T-Shirt. Once they stopped by with the card, he would pull up their pictures and let them pick out the one they liked best. At the same time, he gave the team their choice of 3 or 4 colors of sharpie and a sheet of paper for them to all sign their names on. While they did that he took their picture and dropped it into the template he had ready to go and started adding their details like team name and what city and state they were from. When that was done he would print it to his direct to garment printer. In the meantime, he would scan in the team’s signature to the computer and then give the coach her free shirt along with information for the team’s parents. The gymnasts or parents could buy the same shirt the coach had for $25 each in any size they wanted, and for ONLY $5 more he would print the team’s signatures on the back of the shirt. Then they would get shirts and start asking for the sweatshirts too, the only cost $60 with that same $5 upsell. Bob made enough money working two days a week that he retired on only four years of touring.
The next on-demand business, we will call Tommie’s Hot Rod Memories. Tommie ran a semi-successful awards and engraving business for the past 10 years. Things were starting to go downhill for her business until she went to an NBM show and saw this decorating process for awards call sub-lim-i-nation (actually it is called sublimation but she was new…). Tommie took home her custom cell phone case she got at the show and decided this was going to save her business. She purchased a sublimation printer, a heat press, a mug press, a wide assortment of blanks, some light colored polyester shirts, and a few accessories. She also happened to be a hot rod aficionado with a passion for photography and after playing around with her new sublimation toy the light bulb went off. She was getting out of the awards business and marrying her two passions together by creating personalized memories at car shows. She then invested in a nice travel trailer, two design stations (touch screen computers), a wifi network and an online design tool. She packed up the trailer and off to the local auto show she went. At the auto show, she would like Bob to go on a field trip first. She went from car to car snapping photos and tagging the photo with the car number that the judges will use later to determine best in show. She also handed out flyers that showed all of the different items she offered from comfortable moisture wicking athletic apparel to high-end photo panels, cell phone cases, wall mountable plaques and coffee mugs. After the cars were judged and people started mingling and interacting, she would turn up her music a little louder, get the popcorn corn popping and people would start coming to her trailer. Once they arrive they would tell her what car number was theirs and she would pull up the photos on the design station. From there she would work with the customers to show them on the design station all the different product they could have their car pictures put on along with all of the design features they could add themselves or with her help. Some ended up just wanting the picture of the car on a single item and others took time exploring the designing and trying out the look of their creation on several different items. Then those people would buy 3 to 5 different items with the pictures of their cars on it and Tommie would print out the designs in templates to the back where her staff would start quickly sublimating many items. Tommie would invite them to sit tight, enjoy some free popcorn and refreshments and others wanted to see why all those people were at that trailer eating popcorn. Once the items were ready people would love them and have to get an extra one made and also wanted to know if Tommie could print other things besides cars on these items. They wanted family pictures, car club logos and personal things to them made and were willing to pay whatever it took. She would more casually take on those jobs during the week as she wanted to and quickly turned her Friday night hobby into a multi-trailer statewide business.
I could go on and on with other examples of great ideas that all became successful because they decided that were going to get out of their office/basement/garage and print on demand to make more profits.