Turn Obstacles into Opportunities in Custom Apparel

Turning Obstacles into Opportunities in Custom Apparel

Every business will face obstacles and challenges they need to overcome. Competition can certainly be one of them. But how do you turn that to your advantage?

image of custom apparel runner beating competition

Starting a new business can be stressful, and one of the biggest concerns that start-ups often face is self-doubt. Questioning whether their business will become successful.

In the custom apparel industry, chances are you started your business because you enjoy creating the apparel. Whether that be DTG, embroidery, bling, vinyl, or spangles.

Perhaps even you’ve been doing it on the side, and at some point decided to turn your side business into full-time work. Maybe you’ve begun to question your potential success?

Often new business owners will look at other successful custom apparel businesses in their area and begin to have doubts.

These concerns are typical, but with practice, you can look at them as learning opportunities instead.

Do You Really Have Competition?

Let’s face it; sometimes we can make a mountain out of a molehill. But is there actually lots of competition in your area, or does it just look like there is?

If you do a little research into the other custom apparel shops in your area, you may be surprised by what you find.

Ask around.  Are your competitors doing the same type of custom apparel as you? Maybe they’re focusing on a different market or clothing style from you.  If so, they may not truly be your competition.

What’s their niche? For instance, they might be focused on apparel for schools, while you may be more interested in automotive & sports shops. If you’re targeting a different market, you likely won’t bid on the same jobs.

What are they offering?

If a business in your area offers $8 t-shirts, and you’re worried about competing on price, take a careful look at what they are actually offering as part of that deal.

They may be offering a lower quality shirt, and they may have a 100 qty. minimum order or the price might exclude the embroidery, the bling, or the DTG work.  They may have hidden charges.

You may find that their deal isn’t as good as it first sounds, or maybe you’re willing to exclude some things from your quotes when you know you’re competing with them.

If a customer asks you to give them the same deal as your competitor, make sure you know what that deal entails so that you can explain the differences to your customer.

Ask for Detailed Quotes

If a client tells you they can get a better deal at another business, ask them to show you an exact quote. Asking them gives you a great opportunity to learn about your competition.

This is your opportunity to educate the customer on your business and products. Let them know that you want to ensure they get a high-quality product.  That you want them to be happy with the result and, because of that, you may have to charge a little bit of a higher price.  But maybe not.

It also gives you an opportunity to work with them to create an end product that will WOW them.  You can also talk about their design and make expert suggestions that will help their image look the best.

If for example, you do both DTG and bling, show them how their design could benefit from a combination of these two mediums. You may not be able to get them a better price, but you may be able to sell them on something they can’t get anywhere else.

Customers Want Better Quality

It may be that you charge more, but you’re offering a better quality shirt that will last longer.  Often customers want the better quality than your competitors are offering.

Don’t assume that your customers are going to ask for the same deal. Guessing what quality and service level they are going to choose by preemptively matching another business’ deal could end up giving away your profits.

You can try out other marketing and promotional ideas, but make sure that you keep your ultimate goal in sight.

There may be no need to start a pricing battle.  Know your competition, and ASK your customer first.

Pricing isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to beating your competition.

Focus on Your Advantages

Instead of worrying about price, focus on the benefits of doing business with you.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Personal connection. You’ve built a strong personal relationship with your existing clients. That one-on-one connection can make all the difference when it comes to who they want to do business with. 

If you treat a customer well, they will come back to you.  If they have their own business, consider supporting them as well.

  • Inventory. Having a well-stocked inventory on hand (thread, backing, rhinestones, etc.) ensures that you deliver the customer’s order promptly.

If you specialize in hats or patches, for example, having those smaller items on hand can also benefit you. Perhaps you could advertise a “same day delivery” policy on a particular hat style that’s extremely popular.

  • Delivery. Product delivery is often one of the most overlooked aspects of the customer experience.  Consider delivering your order in person occasionally instead of having the customer pick up.  It may be difficult for your customers to find time to get their order, offering to deliver it directly to them will keep them buying from you.

When mailing orders to your customers, think of ways to improve their unboxing. Maybe write a handwritten note, throw in some candies, or offer a promotional item of your own when packaging the order.

  • Product diversity and knowledge. Learn as much as you can about your blanks so that you can offer your expert opinion. Consider all the types of blanks your niche market would benefit from.

For example, if you’re in the cheer niche, in addition to having t-shirts and tank tops, you might want to consider jackets, yoga pants, shorts, and other accessories.

What are at least three benefits of doing business with you? Know and embrace your benefits so that you can convey those benefits to your customers.

Sell your customers on you and your business through those benefits. Your business is more than just your end product, and that is what their clients need to buy in to.

Customer Value

Take a look at your customer’s value. Some buyers, due to their lifetime sales volume, may be worth dropping the price a little for a particular order.

Take a look at their order history – how often do they purchase from you? What is their average order size? Have they referred you to other customers? Are they easy to work with? It may be worth losing a dollar or more per shirt to keep that client.  Focus on long term profits.

Finding the Right Customers

When it comes down to it, customers who are always haggling over the price, are not customers you’re going to want long term. They’ll always be haggling over price, shopping you out, and they have a lower long term value. 

They are also often the most difficult to work with.  Spending your time trying to get the order, could be better used elsewhere.

Sometimes it’s even worth taking a look at the niche market you’re in as a whole.  Could you expand or change markets so that you’re not competing with them?

Lastly, understand that you’re not going to win every sale. Price is not the only thing that affects whether a person will choose to do business with you.

As long as you’re actively creating word of mouth, using the phone to follow up with potential customers, and building your email list, there will always be new customers for you to reach.



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