Back in 2007, I wrote an article for Printwear Magazine that was titled: Hungry for Customers? Quick and Easy Marketing Recipes to Spice up Your Shirt Sales. I happened to run across it in my files and thought I would reprint the submitted article here. The internet and social media notwithstanding, it’s interesting to note that I would still give the same advice to you today. Let me know what you think. Is this information dated or still on point?
Hungry for Customers? (Originally printed in 2007)
One of my favorite questions to ponder is: What makes one company more successful than another? The short answer is hunger—and an appetite for customers. Companies that are hungry for customers and doing everything in their power to find and keep customers, compared to companies that are always focusing on the internal workings of the company, are the ones that thrive. Want a real life example? I know a soccer league in California that orders over $200,000 of custom printed uniforms annually. Their usual supplier was only a 40-minute drive away from league headquarters but never took the time to pay the league purchaser a visit—they just expected the business every year. This year, the league’s business went to a company in Oregon. Why? Because the Oregon company was hungry. A rep flew down to California for a face to face visit, showed the decision makers their new line, bought them pizza and signed the deal. Now I’m not recommending free pizza for all your customers, but if you’re looking for ways to spice up your custom garment sales, try putting some of these proven marketing recipes to work for your business.
While there are some cooks who can throw in a pinch of this and a pinch of that, most of us have better luck with a written recipe. A lot of business owners get overwhelmed at the thought of writing a marketing plan, but it’s easier than you think. You don’t need a computer program or a book on marketing. With an inexpensive 12-month calendar and a piece of paper in front of you, answer the following questions:
- Who are your customers? Who currently buys from you? Schools, teams, coaches, businesses?
- Are these sales seasonal? If yes, make a note in your calendar. For example, if you normally sell to schools in the fall, indicate that you should do a marketing activity in mid to late summer to remind your customers that you do business. If you would like to go after the family reunion market or the summer camp market, make a note to do some kind of marketing activity in the spring. If you already have one season where you are busy for several months, you might want to concentrate on building sales in your not-so-busy season.
- On the calendar you can also make notes about new markets or specific customers you would like to go after and pick a date to do it. For example, if you decide to target construction businesses or landscaping businesses, pick a month that is appropriate to target this niche with a marketing activity. (We’ll go over a variety of activities later in the article—it might be as simple as placing an ad in a church bulletin or sending out a postcard.)
- Think of businesses that wear printed t-shirts—salons, restaurants, delivery services, grocery stores, gas stations, car washes. If you are having trouble coming up with ideas for customers, look in the Yellow Pages and make a list of people you could be doing business with.
- In your calendar, make note of local events that take place in your community. Are any of these events places where you could sell shirts? When does school start? When does Little League season start? When are you going to make time to call your best customers? When are you going to take your last order before the holidays? This date is important, because when you commit to a date, you have given yourself a reason to call customers and let them know that this is the last possible date they can place an order. Are you starting to see the value in the calendar?
The Next Step
Once you have a better idea of who you are selling to and when you are going to approach these customers, it’s time to decide what type of marketing activities you want to try. There is no magic bullet. You might get extremely lucky with one type of activity and another might show no return on investment at first. But it’s a proven fact that consistency and repetition are the key factors in the success of any marketing plan so it’s not as important as what you do, but that you do something on a consistent basis. You have to keep your name out there. I know a lot of people in this industry rely solely on word-of-mouth advertising, which is fantastic. But when you are ready to take your business to the next level, oftentimes you’ll find that resting on your laurels is just not going to bring you the growth you really desire. So, if the calendar was the recipe, here are the ingredients—the marketing activities.
Marketing activities are anything you can think of to do that will attract customers to make a purchase. It can be as simple as handing out a business card at a PTA meeting or as sophisticated as sending out an email blast. Here are some of my favorites:
1) Inexpensive postcards: Direct mail is one of my favorite ways to reach people. There are many printing companies that will design, print and mail cards with your marketing message to your desired audience. You can start by mailing to existing customers. Companies that have a personal relationship with their members do well even on a smaller list, because they have face to face contact. If you want to build your list, you need more names. How do you get names? You can purchase names from companies, but that can get expensive. Start building your own list by keeping a guest book, collecting business cards in a fishbowl with an offer to win something, or gathering names from free sources such as YellowPages.com.
2) Flyers: Many suppliers in the industry provide flyer templates that you can customize to promote your services. You can distribute flyers on cars in parking lots, to businesses in strip malls or just have someone hand them out in front of your store to passersby. If you don’t have a store front, you can still hand out flyers to people you meet. Keep a stack in your car. Where else can you hang up or pass out flyers? At the ball park? At a community parade?
3) Outbound phone calls: When was the last time a service business gave you a call to see how you were doing and to inform you of a special? In this day of email blasts, personal communication with customers is a valuable marketing tool. Don’t forget to call your larger accounts at the appropriate time and remind them that it is time to reorder or that you have a great new idea for them to try. Before picking up the phone, take a few moments to write down some speaking points. Try to ask open questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. For example, you could ask: How did your employees like the printed caps you ordered from us last May? This will prompt them into a discussion. If you just say: Do you need more caps? If they say no, the conversation will probably be over.
4) Hold an open house at your store: You can plan to do this on an annual basis. It can be as simple as inviting your customers in for some punch and cookies and an offer to show them your latest, award-winning artwork. Or you can hold an annual contest for the most creative logo, display all the jobs you did that year and have the customers vote for the best shirt. This way, you get to show off the variety of work you do, as well as bring your customers in to your store. Make sure you have a few specials planned that will entice people to place an order while they are there, or for up to two weeks after the event.
5) Offer a seasonal sale or special: You might want to offer the early birds a reason to get their team or school orders in before the rush. This is where your calendar comes in. If you are normally swamped in March, give customers who order in February a slight discount. If you don’t tell your customers that you are going to be busy, they have no reason to do business with you at a different time of year.
6) Announce a new product or service: This is always a great reason to call customers, send a postcard or create a new flyer. Think about the new materials that are available for garment decoration, such as glitter, metallics and reflectives. Let your customers know that their logo would look amazing on a dark shirt in a silver glitter decorating material. Especially if you sell to teens, dance groups, cheerleaders, mom’s groups and other fashion-conscious customers. They won’t know about the possibilities if you don’t tell them.
7) Answer your phone: Your internal production issues should not take precedence over answering incoming phone calls. If you are that busy, hire someone to answer the phone or use a service. If you are a home based business, this really applies to you. It is very typical for home based businesses to not answer the phone during business hours. It is frustrating for customers. If you can’t answer your phone, make sure your answering machine picks up on the first or second ring and has a professional outgoing message. If you are reachable by cell phone, let people know.
8) Create a website: Your website doesn’t need to be fancy or have on-line ordering capabilities. It should cover the basics, such as the services you offer, hours of operation, and contact information. If at all possible, make sure you have an opt-in area on your site, where website visitors can enter their email address so that you can send them future information on specials or an e-newsletter if you can do that.
9) Network with other businesses in the area: Think about partnering with businesses that come in contact with people who could be potential customers. You could place your business information in their store and you can promote their business in your own way. You can never over do it!
10) Out-of-the-box classified ads: Newspaper advertising can get expensive and may not achieve any measurable results. What about an ad in a church bulletin, school directory, sports program or other small community publication?
How Can You Get More Word-of-Mouth?
When friends refer friends to your business, that’s considered word of mouth advertising. There are things you can and should do to encourage or promote this type of “free” marketing. First of all, determine what can you give back when someone gives you a referral. A slight discount on a future order, a free t-shirt? In many cases, simply acknowledging the referral with a written or verbal thank you is enough. You just have to do it.
Feed Your Database—Always Gather Information
Whenever possible, gather as much information as you can about your customers. Create a customer survey that they can fill out and offer them something of value for doing so. If they fill out a card, they will receive a gift or a card on their birthday. Offer exclusive specials to people who complete a survey. It’s up to you. Create something of value that they wouldn’t receive if they aren’t on your mailing list.
Start Cooking Today
Satisfy your hunger for more sales by getting started today. Choose at least two of the ideas mentioned in this article and put them into action as soon as possible. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to cook up more sales—and build better relationships with your customers at the same time.