Build Your Business:

How To Sell More With Every Order

If you have a customer who wants to order a single-color design, show him his artwork with two or three colors. When a client sees how much nicer a shirt looks with additional colors he approves it. Photo courtesy of Mind’s Eye Graphics, Decatur, Ind.

October 22, 2012

In theory, the goal of every decorated apparel business is to sell as much as possible. But in practice, far too many people end up being nothing more than order-takers. If you control the artwork, you own the customer. That may sound like an egocentric statement, but it’s true — and I’m not talking about intellectual property or copyrights. If you have artwork that was created or modified for a T-shirt, it’s just sitting there on your hard drive waiting for you to do other things with it.

Some decorators may think they are selling apparel, but they really are selling memories. It may seem like only a blank garment and a decoration method, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Whether it’s a vacation in Cancun, a concert, a 5K race or family reunion, people will pay more for memories than for a plain T-shirt.

The key is to have a strategy in place. If you strive to ensure the artwork elicits a “Wow!” from your customer, why should you be satisfied with only a 100-piece T-shirt order?

My favorite way of explaining this concept is to ask, “Do you want fries with that?” What fast food restaurant doesn’t ask that or a similar question as soon as you finish ordering? If you didn’t order a drink, they’ll ask if you’d like one. If they are pushing a new item, they may ask if you’d like to try the new “death by chocolate brownie” or the Strawberry Margarita Fruitista Freeze.

So replace the symbolic “fries” with a pop-up box on your website, a showroom sign over a rack of new styles or a prepared list of add-on suggestions by the phone as a constant reminder of additional merchandise to mention.

Let’s say a customer is buying tank tops for an upcoming 10K race. Why not suggest a visor or a cap? You can’t use exactly the same artwork for a front chest as a visor, but you can easily include the name of the race and a date.

Customers usually come to you with tunnel vision. They are only thinking: “I’m on the T-shirt committee and I’m supposed to get T-shirts.” It’s your job to make them aware of the additional possibilities available and make them realize that their race could benefit from offering water bottles for goodie bags or a nice gym bag for each of the winners. It’s important to have a proactive attitude. is a great example of this concept. If you’ve ever purchased merchandise on this website, you know that before you place your order, a screen pops up that shows you other books or merchandise that were purchased by people who bought the same item. Or it shows accessories or similar products that are a good match with your purchase. And upselling isn’t just about adding more merchandise, but also upgrading to a higher quality, more colors or more personalization.

For example, back to the race analogy, let’s say the customer comes in wanting a traditional T-shirt with a one-color design. Right off the bat — since it’s for an athletic activity where people are going to sweat — you may suggest upgrading to a performance shirt. After taking a look at the artwork, you may say, “This design looks really great. I know you’re concerned about managing the cost, but if you add a second or third color, it will cost only $0.20 more per shirt, and you’ll be surprised at how much better the shirt will look. Why don’t I have my artist create a comp for you to look at?”

Or if you are not talking to a customer in person, when you submit the quote and proof for the one-color design, you also can submit a comp for two extra colors along with the added cost.

I have found that almost every time I make an improvement suggestion, the customer says, “yes” if he sees the artwork. If he doesn’t see the artwork, he’ll go back to the original order. So seeing is believing.

Enhancing the artwork of any order gives a shop the opportunity to show a customer “the wow.” This is part of the sales process. It’s recognizing the client’s hot button and drawing that person into the sales process. Natural salespeople understand this, and the good news is this approach can be taught — though not everyone will enjoy it.

You start the upsell process by collecting as much information as you can about the purpose and goal of the shirt. Good questions to ask are: When is your event? How many people are going to be there? Is this annual or a repeat event?

Is this is a commemorative event? Are there support people? Would you want to thank your volunteers by giving them a special color? Point out that by offering a bright yellow shirt for volunteers, everybody knows who to go to with questions if they need assistance.

All of these questions will lead your customer into thinking how to make the merchandise special, and this is where you add real profitability. Adding a second or a third color is a small cost to the customer and almost no cost to the decorator. If you are printing on an automatic press, it requires a little more setup and screen-making time.

For manual shops, adding a second and third color is the most profitable thing that can be done. However, when adding a fourth, fifth or sixth color, setup and screen making is less profitable. If you are embroidering, added colors won’t matter.

Sales staffs need to know that for screen printing orders, second and third colors are very profitable and should always be pursued as a way to reach sales goals. A third color often gives the design more dimension by having a foreground, middle ground and background.

When selling extra colors, you don’t have to show customers their own art, but you should always have examples. Or when you present them with the proof, also have a version with the extra colors. This is what I like to call “guided discovery” or “suggestive selling.” Many times, even if the customer originally said “no,” he will change his mind when he sees the proof.

In figuring out what kinds of extras to suggest to a customer, asking questions and the artwork are two things that can help lend some clues. For example, if a customer tells you the shirt is for a hiking trip, a bandanna is an obvious add-on.

If the artwork were for heavyweight hoodie sweat shirts for a snowmobile club, a long-sleeve performance shirt would be perfect to wear underneath. Sometimes, it’s something as simple as suggesting putting “Event Staff” on the back of the shirt.

In the typical order and delivery process, there are several opportunities for suggestive selling. These include the close, artwork proof, art approval, order approval, delivery and follow-up stages.

Every time you deliver an order, you have another opportunity. Each box needs to go out with something extra in it, especially if you are a multiprocess decorator. If you are shipping 25 embroidered caps, the client may not know that you offer performancewear with reflective names and numbers, so include a sample.
If customers ordered via the Internet, it should be standard practice to have a follow-up email asking them how they liked their orders and suggestions for other merchandise.

Establishing and maintaining an upsell mentality can be more difficult for shops that do contract and custom work. In the contract relationship, you never speak to the end user, and it’s easy to get into the habit of taking the order and simply getting it done. When contractors have customers with upsell potential, they tend to treat them the same way.

While it’s important to offer additional ideas, never overwhelm, confuse or offend your customer. The secret to this is in how you present it. Avoid seeming like a used car salesman who’s going to cut a deal; be more like a professional who has the customer’s best interests at heart.

Does the customer want the shirt to be a keeper that is frequently worn or something that is going to be stuck at the bottom of a drawer? Point out benefits like stroking volunteers’ egos with event staff shirts. Sometimes you may offend a customer who may think you only want to get more money out of him, but this doesn’t mean you need to stop upselling. You simply need to change your delivery method.

I recommend presenting two to three options. Shirt quality is a great area to pursue when upselling. Does your customer perceive that a heavyweight shirt is higher quality? Show him a super soft lightweight fashion top. Good, better and best options are ideal for presenting the differences in quality. Help him understand why a 4.7-ounce lightweight T-shirt costs more than a standard 6.1-ounce weight.

Upselling is one of those well-known principles that most shops know about, but not nearly enough actively practice. For any decorator who knows his product and market, coming up with good ideas is a no-brainer — in many cases. The trick is making it a habit. While I can be found guilty of not using opportunities as often as I should, I have found that when I try, I can upsell almost anyone — and you can, too.

Greg Kitson is founder of Mind’s Eye Graphics, Decatur, Ind. For more information or to comment on this article, e-mail Greg at or visit Hear Greg speak on apparel decorating topics at the 2013 Imprinted Sportswear Shows (ISS). Reduced workshop and seminar rates are available if you pre-register: