Whether you’re new to business, or have been running your custom apparel business for any length of time, the one thing you’re constantly striving for is how to increase your customer base and your profits. Often times what happens, if there are other custom apparel businesses in the area that do the same thing as you, is that you try to compete with them via price point. Or you feel that may be your only option to attract customers to your business instead of the competition.
Competing on price point is not the way to go, and in fact will only hurt your business. Think about the type of customer who is constantly seeking a deal. For one, they’re not going to be loyal customers. As soon as a better deal comes around, they’ll switch sides. So you’re not getting really any lifetime value from them. Plus, they’ll only recommend you if you have the best price, so referrals are as iffy as their continued business. Secondly, these types of customers are often the most difficult to deal with. They’ll try to bargain with you again and again, trying to get an even lower price, or more stuff added for free. The cost of your time to deal with them, could be better spent elsewhere.
Another thing to consider is that people often equate a cheap price to a cheap product. You might go to Walmart and spend $10 on a t-shirt, but you know it’s only going to last you the year. Is that the reputation you want associated with your business? Especially if you want to start going after the contracts for sports teams, or a big local business.
What you need to define for yourself is your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). What is it about your business that is unique to you? Something that no one else can or does offer. As a small, independent, local business there are a number of things that set you apart from everyone else, that make you unique.
Sometimes it’s as simple as having amazing customer experience. One thing we’ve noticed in business is that while a brand may have some sway in customer’s opinions, that customer’s experience with the brand holds heavy sway over whether they will continue to do business with you, especially among millennials. Millennials care about how they are treated as customers, as people (as well as a number of other factors such as treatment of staff, environmental stance, etc.). As millennials are starting to age up, and become business owners, managers, etc. they are going to be decision makers as to where that business spends its money.
What is your customer experience? It the ordering process easy and enjoyable for customers? When a customer calls or emails, how long does it take you to follow up with them? Are you meeting expectations and deadlines that you set out and defined with your customers?
To build off this idea of customer expectations, customers will understand that you’re busy. That you’re a one-person operation. Or that this is a part-time gig for you and so you’re only working it evenings and weekends. But you have to establish that upfront, and provide them with the expectation that you will follow up with them in a timely manner. One of the easiest ways to do this is to set up an auto-responder on your email and a voicemail message. These messages can let customers know when you’re typically in your workshop and when you typically respond to calls and emails. For example: “Thanks for emailing, I’m away from the computer right now either working at the embroidery machine or out making deliveries. I typically respond to emails between 10-11am and again 4-5pm, and will respond to your email as soon as I can.” There are so many businesses who don’t do something like this and when a customer has a question about their order or needs to make an urgent change, etc. it can make them anxious that they don’t know when they’ll hear from you. Or if a customer needs a rush order, they may contact another business, because there is no guarantee that you’ll get back to them soon enough.
In general, ensure you have a great customer experience flow, from initial contact all the way through to delivery and follow-up. It could be very small things that ensure a customer comes back to you.
Another thing that you want to focus on is part of your customer experience, but we want to highlight it separately. That is how you are handling customer quotes. Even if you’re the only person working in the business, you want to have a professional looking form for your quotes. Not only does it help help your customers feel confident spending their money at your business, it provides them with a detailed and clear understanding of their order what they are paying for. You want your customers to feel comfortable with their purchase, and understanding what they’re paying for will help with that.
As part of the details you need to include in the quote, make sure you write out the number of shirts they’re ordering, each section that’s being embroidered (front lapel logo, shoulder, back, etc.), whether there is any digitizing fee, the different taxes, delivery charges, etc.
Having your customers sign off on the quote, will help prevent misunderstandings, plus will provide you a reference if that customer wants to make the same or similar order in the future. Once the customer reads the quote, there is always an opportunity for them to make adjustments – order more shirts, change the shirt brand, remove delivery cost by picking it up in person, etc.
Become an expert at what you do. This could be the one thing that sets you apart from your competition. People come to you, because you know what you’re talking about and always give great advice about blanks, process, etc.
Become an expert on your blanks. Make apparel for yourself using different blanks, test the quality, the wearability, the washability. This way when a customer comes to you asking for polos for their rowing team, you know exactly what blank will work best for what they want. Explain why you’re recommending that blank to them. There are a ton of options out there, why should they go with that particular one?
Another expertise you can provide customers is on design. Take some time to learn about fonts, about logo placement, size, colors. Your customer may come in with a design idea for some fundraising shirts they want to have made, and you can work with them and offer suggestions on how a different font may work better for their team name, if the image could be done a little bigger, or if a different color might help their design pop. They may not go with your option, but your insight might be what wows them.
Having a niche market is a little bit of a must for small businesses. This doesn’t mean you can’t take on contracts outside your niche, but it gives you a focus. You become the expert in custom apparel for dogs, or for MMA apparel. Whatever it may be, you can get recommendations from others in the niche if you’re the expert. It allows you to have samples of products you’ve made for other customers to show off your work. It allows you to focus on the best blanks for that niche.
Your Unique Selling Proposition can be a number of things, it can even be that you’re the local business just down the street. Think about what makes you and your business unique, what you can offer that no one else can. Write it down, and then when you’re doing your marketing or talking to potential customers, you can come from a place of confidence and professional knowledge. Establishing your USP is what will help you get an edge on the competition, without having to compete on price point.
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