How to Organize Your Apparel Suppliers

Purchasing can be the most difficult job within any company. You may have one, two or 50 orders in the works at any given time, so you must concentrate on the best way to buy and store not only the garments, but the inks, thread, rhinestones and sundries you’ll need to create the end result.

Colman and Company supplies for apparel decorators. The No. 1 thing an owner-operator or purchasing agent must keep in mind is to never stop production or miss a delivery date. If product isn’t in the shop when it’s needed, the entire process will come to a complete standstill. You must balance company resources with keeping product in-house. Unfortunately, maintaining inventory can be expensive.





In its purest form, inventory brings absolutely no value to your business. It sits there eating up space, resources and money. Unless it’s designated for a specific customer, it’s costing you, but if you don’t have the right mix on hand, it may cost you more through losing a client. After all, we live in a just-in-time world in which clients expect a two or three day turnaround. The key is finding the balance between having too much inventory vs. having too little! It will take some trial and error, but eventually you’ll settle on the proper mix.

It’s not just the amount of current inventory that’s important though, you also need to build and maintain relationships with suppliers. After all, your suppliers will be close partners in your business. You’ll need to find ones that will ship on time, that you can trust to carry quality material and that will respond quickly if you’re in a spot,  all while offering pricing that will keep you in profits.

We recommend you organize your apparel suppliers by Tiers. Get your list of current suppliers and do this now! The worst thing that can happen is that you’re company ends up short and you’re trolling through the internet looking for someone to save your order.

Tier 1:

If you imagine a pyramid, your Tier 1 Suppliers will be few, located at the top. These are vendors that bring the best value to your relationship. Value is a combination of order accuracy, delivery speed and cost – how easily you can get the order processed and delivered. In other words, Tier 1 vendors should have the product you need and the quantities in which you need it when you need it.

And just because a company sells product for the lowest unit price doesn’t move them into Tier 1. Make sure they have good inventory, accept the payment methods you prefer and will ship out when you need it. Also watch for Rebates or Rewards Programs that reward you for loyalty to one supplier, it can add significant value to your relationship. Tier 1 vendors are going to be your business partners!

If you’re large enough, try to spread the ordering wealth among first-tier vendors so each gets significant volume from you. Doing so will help you maintain the best purchasing terms and the best value from all vendors.

Tier 2:

These vendors may only carry your “substitute” or “second choice” products, for example you may typically use Madeira Thread, but have one customer that insists on another. Or you may order Solvy brand topping, but can use XYZ in a pinch and they keep that in stock. They may be a great vendor, but just not able to offer the pricing advantages of a Tier 1.

Having a list of Tier 2 suppliers at hand is like a good insurance policy. You’re much better off taking the time to find them now than when you’re broke down by the side of the road!

Tier 3:

There are times when you need an item immediately and cost is not an issue. Say you’re looking for a rare item or an odd size. Or your first-and second-tier apparel suppliers are out of a particular product. In such instances, you should have a set of vendors that you can rely on to get product to you quickly.

Once again, it’s important to have a Tier of suppliers, and be sure to communicate with your Tier 1 supplier; chances are they will do you a favor in a pinch.


Credit to:

Greg Kitson – Mind’s Eye Graphics, Inc.



BIO- Greg Kitson is the founder & President of Mind’s Eye Graphics, Inc. of Decatur, IN, founded in 1980 as a back room operation of a small town family shoe store.  By 1984 the one-man screenprinting operation had replaced the shoe store and hired its first employee.  Since then Mind’s Eye Graphics has grown to provide custom & contract screenprinting to decorated apparel professionals around the world.  Kitson and Mind’s Eye Graphics offer industry specific technical training & business consulting at their 22,000 sq. ft. Indiana production facility as well as at client locations.  This 34 year industry veteran has been a regular contributor to industry publications and seminar presentations since 1990.


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