Use word of mouth to grow your custom apparel business

Using Word of Mouth to Build Your Business

Word of Mouth is a great way to actively grow your custom apparel business. Customers buy from businesses they know, like, and trust.

Use word of mouth to grow your custom apparel business

How do you grow your business?

Along with the idea of working ON your business, you want to be focusing on growing your business. You should be doing things today, that will help you earn more business next month, and the months after.

As with many small businesses and custom apparel businesses, a lot of your customers you’ve probably gained because of word of mouth. You start by telling your friends and family what you do, they might order from you, but will also help you spread the word about your business. Customers refer other customers to you, and so on.

To help your business from growing stagnate and ensuring you’re constantly bringing in new customers you want to start developing a habit of facilitating word of mouth. How do you do that?

What’s your niche?

To facilitate word of mouth you’re going to want to build yourself a plan – it’ll help you feel more comfortable and will set you goals that you can measure against.

First you you determine whether or not you have a niche market, or there’s a niche market you want to get into. This helps you narrow down what businesses you need to talk to, as well as to better prepare yourself. If you don’t have a niche market and you’ve decided you’re open to all markets, this isn’t better or worse, it just means you have a wider range of potential customers.

Let’s separate the niche market and the general practitioner to help you have more focused advice.

General Practitioner

As a general practitioner, you have a lot of options when it comes to potential customers. This at times can make things tricky, but by narrowing your market at first this can help you target a few prospects at a time, and there’s two ways to go about doing this.

  1. Separate by niche
  2. Separate by location

If you separate prospects by niche, you’re going to be focusing on one group market at a time. For example hair salons. Make a list of all the hair salons in your city, map out where they are located, and come up with a plan to group a number of hair salons together – this way you are visiting a select group of hair salons each day. Depending on your current work load, estimate how much time you can set aside in a day to visit these salons. For example setting aside 3-4 hours once or twice a week. This will help you determine how many places you can visit.

If you separate by location you’re taking on an area with a few block radius – something that you can comfortably walk around in that 3-4 hour block of time you set aside. It’s best to start with businesses close to you, that way you can create a familiarity with other businesses in the area. Find out what businesses in that area are independent, as they are more likely to do their own custom apparel ordering (as opposed to a head office).

Before you go out to any businesses, take some time to come up with a plan. Outline what you need to bring with you (samples, business cards, brochures, etc.), and what you’re going to say to each of these businesses.

To help determine what you’re going to say, first come up with goal(s). What is it that you want to achieve from these visits? Here’s a few examples:

  • I want to build my email list
  • I want to have an order
  • I want to visit X businesses

Let’s say you set your goal at visiting 15 businesses every day you go out. Out of those 15 businesses you want to get one businesses making an order from you (regardless of size), and you want to collect 10 email addresses or phone numbers, so that you can contact those businesses again in the future/follow-up with them.

As you go along you may need to readjust your goals, perhaps you find you’re visiting 20 businesses a day, or that the businesses are too far spread out. Your goals can adjust, just make sure they are realistic, but still offer you a challenge.

As you make contact with these businesses, one of the keys to your success will be in finding out and speaking with the decision maker. Create a script so that when you visit these businesses you’ll be more comfortable, and so that you’re making sure you’re finding out who the decision maker is and/or how to get in contact with them.

“Hello, I’m _____. I run a local embroidery/t-shirt printing business, and create custom apparel/aprons/t-shirts/caps for businesses such as yourselves. I was wondering if the owner/manager was in today, as I’d love to introduce myself.”

Best case scenario is that the decision maker is in and you  can speak with them. If they’re not available, aim to get an email, phone number, or more information on when you can come back. Worst case scenario is that they say no, in these instances, still leave them your business card – you never know when they might need your services in the future.

In looking at the math, if you visit 15 businesses a day, and go out twice a week for 4 weeks, this means you’ve visited 120 businesses. If you reached your goals of getting one new order each time, you’ve got 8 new customers, and have contact information for 80 other potential customers.

Niche Market

If you’re focused on a niche market you already know what type of business you’re going to. You already know how to market to them, and you likely have samples directed at the market as well. There are likely not as many businesses in your niche, so you won’t have to set aside as much time each week to visit each business, but you will likely be doing a bit more driving as the businesses will be spread out. It also means that you have fewer prospects and will need to be better prepared and have higher goals.

As you’re working with a niche market you’ll have a better idea of what those customers want – what designs are most common, what blanks work best for them. This allows you to be one step ahead in terms of having samples that target them (perhaps even something designed with that business’ logo), and a reasonable idea of pricing. Having samples and cost summaries in advance enables you to close sales is faster.

You’re still going to want to make goals for yourself, and in fact they can be the same/similar to those of the general practitioner”

  • I want to build my email list
  • I want to have an order
  • I want to visit X businesses

The goals might change to that out of the 10 businesses you visit (for the whole month), you get 1 business who makes an order, and 8 businesses whom you got contact information from.

When you visit these businesses, because there are fewer of them, you need to make detailed notes after each visit. Because you’re in a niche market and there are fewer prospects, it’s key that you contact these businesses more than once. So, having these notes will ensure that you’re contacting the right person, you’re taking to them about the right things, and you’re not repeating yourself. These notes can also let you know if a prospect isn’t ready to order right away, perhaps there’s an event coming up in a month or two (or in 6 months), that they may need apparel for. They may not have thought about custom apparel yet for the event, and because you reached out to them first, they are more likely to order from you.

Use what you sell

One thing business don’t do enough of is use themselves as walking advertisements. Whether you’re going out to general businesses or a niche market, you should be wearing product that you have made yourself. Whether it’s a polo with your company name embroidered onto it, or a DTG printed t-shirt. Take the time to make and present the best looking product. This may mean you need to make yourself a new shirt every month (or make a few at time, so each time you go out you have a fresh, clean shirt). Just like having the samples it’s important for people to see what you’re capable of making for them – and you never know if you’ll bump into someone while you’re grabbing a coffee in between visiting businesses.


Building your business via word of mouth is going to take time and effort. And you may need to visit a business more than once before they make an order. But keep this in mind – people are more likely to buy from businesses they know, like, and trust, and one of the best ways for people to get to know you and your business is to meet them face-to-face. If you actively make an effort to visit new businesses (and a few repeat prospects) every month, you’re more likely to gain new customers and grow your business. And don’t forget, each customer is worth more than their initial order.



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