You did their sign. How about their T-shirts?

By signcraft

Posted on Friday, July 10th, 2020

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Next time you’re in a store, take note of all the printed t-shirts on the people around you, many advertising local businesses. Printed sportswear is a huge market, and sign shops have the ideal opportunity to sell—and make—these products.

You can start offering shirts and caps by simply outsourcing the production to a local sportswear printer. If you prefer to produce them in-house, there are three common options. You can cut heat transfer vinyl and apply it with a heat press. Or you can use a direct-to-garment printer, which is an inkjet printer that uses special inks for fabrics, like Epson’s SureColor F2100. The third option would be to get a screen printing press and the related equipment to screen print them.

Heat transfer vinyl

John Shoffner [Studio36 Graphics, Medford, Oregon] started offering short-run t-shirts a few years ago. It’s grown to be a significant portion of his business. Thanks to vinyl cutters, they are easy to produce.

John cuts the graphics from heat transfer vinyl then uses an inexpensive heat press to bond them to the shirts. This approach is very practical for the quantities his typical sign customer needs. Clients love them—for their staff, to give to their customers, or just for their own use.

“Often they never even thought of having shirts or caps made for their business, “says John. “They really appreciate me suggesting it. I’m surprised how many I sell, and how often they reorder them. It’s grown to be a big part of my business.

“Doing one-, two- or even three-color graphics with the heat press is easy, and the graphics last longer than the shirts. For long runs or multicolor graphics, I subcontract with a screen print shop. That works great, too.”

Printing in-house

David Showalter [David Design, Bryan, Ohio] has offered printed t-shirts and other garments for years. He has a six-color press, and printed sportswear has become a good part of his business. He’s found that many people become repeat customers for printed t-shirts for their business or annual events, like benefits or golf tournaments.

“Offering t-shirts and caps is really a natural for a sign shop,” says David. “The customer is already there for their sign work and often you just need to ask them about shirts. We print them ourselves, but you can easily outsource them to a local t-shirt printer. You just need to find someone who does nice work and is dependable.

“If you do your own printing, you don’t necessarily want to get into the t-shirt business. That’s a very competitive business, and someone is always willing to print for 50 cents less. Some t-shirt shops seem to work for almost nothing. It’s much better as an add-on to your sign business rather than really going into t-shirt printing in a big way.”

Outsourcing it

Randy Howe [, Port Dover, Ontario, Canada] offers screen-printed sportswear and outsources it all. It’s part of his approach of being a one-stop shop for his customers.

“I want the customer to have the opportunity to get all of his graphics products here,” says Randy. “We’re all busy. It’s great to find a single source, rather than having to go somewhere for your logo, somewhere for your business cards, somewhere else for your signs and somewhere else for T-shirts and somewhere else for brochure design.

“I explain that they don’t have to deal with a half-dozen different companies. We can take care of it all. Of course, there are some customers that prefer that and like to shop around, and I’m fine with that. But most prefer working with us to get all of their graphics-related work.

“I have great suppliers for both embroidery and screen printing. I also have backups for each for when those people are too busy to get to something for me. You need people who do a good job and also a fast turnaround. That’s the world we live in—everyone’s in a hurry.

“I don’t concern myself with what others are charging. If someone shops around, they will always be able to find someone to do it for a little less. But my focus is on quality and service, and I have to charge accordingly.”

No matter how you handle the production, screen-printed sportswear is a market sign shops can get into with minimal investment, and without necessarily marketing beyond their existing customer base. Shirts and caps make a great add-on sale for many everyday sign customers. And everyone knows it’s a lot easier to sell additional products to an existing customer than it is to find a new one.

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