A Tacoma industrial company recently called us about embroidery and logo wear. They said they were unhappy with their current embroidery vendor and looking for a change. It seemed like an easy fit because they already had identified from their prior work a variety of clothing options that were available from our suppliers. When we visited to clarify things and make the order official, someone handed us two jackets that “the owner picked up at Costco” and asked, “Can you do these too?” Wanting to please a potentially lucrative client, and figuring we could put our foot down later about our No Customer-Supplied Items policy, we agreed.
Fast forward one week. We successfully embroidered and prepared all of the clothing items this client had requested. The two Costco jackets remained. We put the first one on one of our embroidery machines. Less than 60 seconds later, disaster struck and the machine tore a hole through the jacket. The odds of this happening on any garment placed on a machine at any shop industry wide are are 2%. But when the garment is something that the customer supplied and the logistics of replacing it involve driving around a city to purchase a replacement jacket at retail pricing while not getting other clients’ orders fulfilled, the odds seem to approach 50%. So then, because the client wanted to save $10-20 on a jacket, we have to decide whether to spend $300-$400 of down time and cash outlay to fix something.
We’ve previously written about our general policy of not accepting customer-supplied items (see http://iminstitches.com/2011/five-reasons-why-embroidery-screen-printing-shops-dont-want-to-work-with-garments-you-have-supplied/). It gets tempting to break that rule when we think there’s a nice big client on the other side of “just this one time.” But every time we are reminded why the local embroidery shops that did do this have gone out of business.
Sorry folks, but that’s not worth the effort. A business that wants to stay in business for the long haul can’t lose a dollar of business for clients who want to save a dime.
We have some embroidery clients in the Seattle-Tacoma area with a very particular need — the need to wash their embroidered jackets, towels, and robes with bleach. One of these clients is a string of dental offices that requested lab coats for its dental hygiene technicians. Another is a hotel chain of which we have written before. We supply that hotel chain with embroidered robes. When the housekeeping staff changes the linens in the guest rooms, the robes get thrown into the laundry and submitted to a long exposure to a disinfecting bleach. The dental offices also need to be able to wash the dental technicians’ embroidered lab coats with bleach. The purpose of washing with bleach is, of course, to disinfect the garments, which have been exposed to bodily fluids.
“But,” you ask, “wouldn’t the bleach wash out the color in the thread of the embroidered logos on the garments?”
Yes, they would if an embroidery shop were to use traditional classic rayon thread. However, just has technology has advanced in hundreds of other applications in our lives, it has also advanced in the manufacture of thread.
The solution for clients who are in need of bleach-resistant embroidery is called Polyneon thread from a thread supplier called Madeira. It is completely unaffected by bleach. You can take a 14 color embroidered logo with all colors of the rainbow, toss it into the laundry with an overdose of bleach, and it will come out of the laundry as radiant as it looked originally. This makes Polyneon thread a perfect fit for medical offices, hotels, restaurants and other establishments seeking to promote their brand identity through logo wear.
We do embroidery and screen printing work for a Tacoma-area chain of hotels. About five months ago, one of the hotels decided to replace some of the robes in its room. Their first instinct was to go for plush, but inexpensive. Cotton is more expensive than synthetic fabrics, so by the time they had called us, they had already firmly decided to buy 100% polyester fleece robes.
When the robes arrived from the supplier, we were not impressed at all. They were shedding fibers all over our shop and into our embroidery machines. My partner and I shook our heads as we realized our client would eventually come to see that the robes were not a good fit with this hotel’s upscale brand image. But these were what they had insisted upon purchasing, so we cranked them out, delivered them, and were pleased that the client was immediately delighted with the outcome.
I was just visiting this same hotel a week or two ago to look into booking some room-nights for visiting family and asked to see a room. There in the closet was one of the robes we had embroidered for the hotel. It was not holding up well at all. The embroidery still looked good, but it was hard to tell because the nap of the fleece was falling every which way over the fine detail of the text in the hotel’s logo. In truth, the robe looked like a wet rat!
A few days later, I was contacted by the hotel’s Housekeeping Director who had come to the same realization. ”These robes are terrible,” she said. ”What can we do?”
I explained that the polyester microfiber fleece was just not a good fabric in general for heavy duty use. In addition, it was particularly unsuitable for the fine curving details but empty fill spaces of their logo. I recommended she go with a waffle-weave robe. The waffle weave fabric looks nice as a stand-alone and the embroidered logo will always be prominent visible. She agreed.
We just delivered the first round of embroidered waffle-weave robes this past Friday to our Tacoma client. The Housekeeping Director took one look and exclaimed, “Oh, this is going to work MUCH better! She then thanked us for recommending this style.”
We have written it before, and we will surely write it again — it pays to buy quality.
Take a look at the photo below and see if you can figure out what is wrong with this shirt.
One of our newer customers in the Seattle-Tacoma area ordered a small run of embroidered polos. They had been ordering these shirts for years from the logo wear vendor that preceded us. We dutifully ordered the shirts from our supplier. We were a little hesitant, though, because it has been our experience that some items from some suppliers do not seem to be subject to rigorous quality control standards.
The box arrived within a couple of days. We pulled the first polo shirt out of the box and set it down to mark it, but something did not look right. Have you figured it out from the photo above?
If you could not figure it out, try the same photo with some straight edge rulers placed strategically:
When the horizontal ruler is aligned with the bottom of the sleeves and the vertical rulers is aligned with the polo’s placket, you should expect to see that the intersection of the rulers creates angles of approximately 90 degrees. We’re not even close to that here.
We pulled the second one out of the box and it had exactly the same problem, but the opposite direction! Aaaarrrgh!
Rather than stitch on the shirts, we packed them all up, brought them to our customer, spread them out on our customer’s desks and asked, “Do you really want to see your staff wearing these?” The answer was an emphatic “No!”
We talked with our customer about how they were using these shirts. It turns out they were giving a new shirt to each new employee as the employees emerged from orientiation training. We advised our client to order a similar shirt from an alternate supplier that, we believe, just has better quality controls in place for their polos. The customer agreed to switch and thanked us for showing her the problem with her original shirt selection.
We have a new embroidery and screen printing client in the greater Seattle area who came to us in desperation. This junior football team shared with us that their season was about to begin. Three months prior, they had ordered team uniforms, embroidered coaches’ jackets, and other spirit wear from “the cheapest bidder.” Nothing had yet arrived. The team sportswear vendor they had chosen was unresponsive to their pleas for delivery and would not even provide news updates to help them manage the expectations of the increasingly dismayed players and parents.
We were fortunate to have been recommended by two people trusted by the organization’s board. One was a coach who had purchased from us as a business owner. The other was a Past President of the same Rotary Club to which one of our owners is the current President. Both testified about the quality of our work and our integrity as a vendor.
The team representatives met with me and asked what we could do to help them out. They asked anxiously what our turnaround time was. They could not believe that we promised a standard two week delivery window. They immediately ordered embroidered polos, jackets, and hats for the coaches, embroidered duffel bags for the players with added personalization of names and numbers, and an array of screen printed hoodies and t-shirts for spirit wear. Everything was delivered as scheduled, some items even within one week.
At the team’s request, we had also quickly set up a team fan wear virtual store so that parents could order apparel to support the team. We were shocked to learn that the previously selected vendor had demanded that all orders be placed by a specific deadline (months ahead of delivery), and that the vendor’s online spirit wear store actually has a “Closed” sign on its home page.
That led us to contemplate the main point in the headline of this post — who’s there for whom? When you shop for almost anything, is it not your expectation that the vendor should make things relatively easy for you to buy their product or service? Of course it is. Who are these vendors who behave as if their customers are there to support the vendor? Why are they still in business? Who are the customers who tolerate this treatment?
We believe that a vendor is supposed to be there for you, earning your business and trying to earn the right to your repeat business every time. We believe customers expect a quality product, offered at a reasonable price, and delivered in a reasonable time frame. We believe two weeks is a reasonable frame. We believe it is our job to try to meet that expectation. We are not perfect. We mess things up sometimes and sometimes things get delayed a little bit beyond the two week window we prefer, but we do at least try to keep our clients informed about what is going on. We never forget that our clients have other choices when it comes to logo wear providers.
We were pleased to have been selected as the logo wear vendor for a team in Juneau, AK. What made this embroidery job interesting was the delivery. The customer was on a deadline as game day was approaching. We were planning to get embroidered team jerseys cranked out in time for a typical ground shipment via FedEx or UPS. However, the customer explained that the stated delivery times were not always reliable, even to cities like Juneau. He suggested that we utilize the Air Cargo office of Alaska Air, which was proven to be more reliable. One of our drivers dropped off the package at the Air Cargo office of Alaska Air at the Seattle-Tacoma airport, and the uniforms were winding their way through the air to Juneau within hours. We learned later that the team was delighted with their uniforms and we were pleased to have made another customer happy.
Through our engagement in local business and community groups, we have had the opportunity to see a lot of small businesses come and go. We can almost sniff out the ones that are going to fail based upon the way their representatives present themselves. One of the most important indicators is whether that representative projects confidence. I think this goes right down to the subjective, perhaps even unconscious decision-making that is wired into our brains that guides how some of us vote for leaders, decide who we admire, and perhaps even choose friends. Would it not be advantageous to have that same wiring working to boost a prospect’s interest in your business?
We recently supplied some embroidered shirts to a small startup that supplies camera equipment. The owner ordered only four shirts. He wanted them because he was heading off to a trade show. What do the shirts accomplish for him? Several things:
- Awareness — At least people will know what he represents whether or not they ever speak to him.
- Branding — This builds upon Awareness because the firm has other marketing materials and is trying to achieve a consistent brand image.
- Boost A Prospect’s Confidence — Consistent branding materials help a consumer to decide whether your company is stable and a viable long-term supplier.
Stability is particularly important for potential clients who are looking for a long term relationship with your business. They want to know if your company is just a flash in the pan or if you will be there to support your product several years down the road.
Think through how your company looks to your prospects. Does your company inspire confidence? Do your prospects feel comfortable that you will be there for years to come? Do your representatives look and act like they are mercenary hires or like they belong to a brand? Your website, your print materials, and your logo wear all help mold that brand image in the eyes of your target market.
One of our local Seattle / Tacoma area embroidery and screen printing competitors shut its doors this past week. While we feel sorry for the staff affected by that event, it obviously creates an opportunity for our firm. We have already had clients calling us to ask if we can take over handling their logo wear.
The first client with whom we met starting off asking us about our production capacity. Their former vendor had advised them to make sure they found a vendor with at least X number of machine heads, which translates into how many garments one can stitch simultaneously. What the now-shuttered vendor did not advise their client to contemplate was the condition of the vendor’s equipment. This Puyallup-based competitor was openly for sale for many months. When we considered purchasing their business last year, we learned that their equipment was antiquated and falling apart. The owner was not investing sufficiently in the maintenance of their screen printing equipment. It literally broke down into a heap of scrap metal the following week!
When you go to rent a car on a business trip or family vacation, what goes through your mind when you find that the car you rented is dented, rusting, and/or dirty? Are you not comforted when you find the car you rented seems at least clean and well maintained, and preferably relatively new? Wouldn’t you want the same from a logo wear vendor in which you have trusted a key element of your corporate branding?
When choosing your embroidery and screen printing vendor, how much capacity the vendor has only answers part of what you really need to know. What you also want to know is what is the downtime of their equipment. Just losing a film printer’s toner controller chip — a $5 part (!) — can knock a screen printer down for days while they await delivery of a replacement part. On the embroidery side of the house, cheap production equipment is made with a lot of plastic parts that will crumble and break inside the machine eventually, leading to the vendor having production downtime. Recently, one of our local Seattle area competitors even had to ship equipment back to a service center on the east coast! What if that had happened just before you rolled out your new product?
Our service technician visited us 15 months ago and listed the parts of our equipment that the manufacturer considered “disposable.” When we scheduled his return visit last year, we told him to replace all of those “disposable” parts, whether or not it was immediately necessary. We do not believe that downtime is in our customers’ best interests; therefore, it is not in ours.
Top quality embroiderers and screen printers have built their businesses from the ground up with the idea of minimizing downtime in order to always ensure smooth, reliable production for their clients. Work with a vendor that feels invested in the future of your business, and invests to ensure your mutual success!
Branding one’s company involves a number of decisions from logo design and development of graphic standards to setting the corporate culture and tone of customer service. The ultimate goal is to make a brand resonate well in the mind of the consumer.
But what happens when it’s time to send the customer-facing representatives out into the streets? Smart marketeers are thinking ahead to this eventuality. Perhaps branding for those sales representatives is best accomplished with a company lapel pin on a suit jacket. For example, for years IBM was associated with blue suits, which helped create a corporate identity that worked for IBM. Now what you are imagining in your mind is a bunch of people dressed in quality blue suits. But what would happen to your image of IBM if those quality blue suits looked threadbare, had jacket lapels that were way out of fashion, or were otherwise of poor quality? Would that not have tarnished your impression of the great IBM brand?
For many companies, branding efforts extend to outfitting employees in embroidered shirts, embroidered jackets, embroidered hats, and other logo wear. Marketers should consider not only the quality of the stitch work of an embroidery shop, but also the quality of the garment upon which the logo will be placed. Work closely with your embroidery shop to ensure that the garments meet your expectations for durability and style. Otherwise, your branding may end up reminding people more of a circus when you had envisioned looking more like IBM.
We constantly have conversations with prospective customers who are wary of screen printing. They feel like they have been burned in the past in their dealings with screen printers. It’s no wonder. Take a look at this image of a local sports team jersey. It looked like this after only TWO washes!
You may think, “Well, that’s what happens with screen printing.” Wrong! That’s what happens with poor quality screen printing.
The first question that went through my mind was, “Why isn’t the club taking these back and demanding replacements?” The answer, of course, was, that the club didn’t have time to seek replacements because the season was underway. So everyone just lives with it and assumes that this is what happens when you buy screen printed team jerseys.
It does not have to be this way, folks! You do not have to accept substandard quality in this arena. How would you react if you bought new tires and then discovered the tire shop had installed retreads? You would reject them, demand to have things straightened out to your satisfaction, and then still probably report the vendor.
I’m In Stitches does not tolerate poor quality screen printing. We use only quality inks. We make sure the ink adheres properly to the shirts. Finally, we cure the inks onto the garments properly. This is perhaps the most important part of getting a quality outcome. Cheaper vendors can escape doing this well because the customer does not notice the difference until weeks later. Properly curing the inks onto the garments ensures a high quality outcome that keeps our customers pleased for the long run and keeps them coming back.
When you order screen printed tees, screen printed hoodies, and screen printed team jerseys from I’m In Stitches Custom Embroidery and Screen Printing, you can count on us getting the job done right.