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Marketing for Apparel Decorators: Getting the Word (and Pictures!) Out

Strategize your decorated apparel business's way to the best year yet by leveraging the power of e-mail and social media

By Jennifer Cox, Contributing Writer


Your customers can be great allies in getting the word out about your latest products. Image by devitaayu – stock.adobe.com

April 3, 2024

Finding customers, aka successful marketing, is the second most discussed subject we cover, both with our National Network of Embroidery Professional (NNEP) members and decorated apparel professionals in general. Many decorators are not sure where or how to find customers. Many new and existing business owners simply guess what kinds of marketing that will work best for them, or worse, do no marketing at all.

woman working in T-shirt screen-printing shop

Marketing it about more than just numbers. It’s about every single T-shirt, hoodie or hat you put out into the world. Image by Cavan for Adobe – stock.adobe.com

In the simplest of terms, marketing is the process of finding more customers by reaching the right people and doing the right things. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Ask people to define marketing more specifically, though, and you’ll likely get as many different answers as the number of people you ask. Not only that, but the answers you get will probably be all over the place: ranging from, “It’s brochures and slogans and print ads,” to “It’s web sites, newsletters and e-mail,” or “It’s an MBA crunching numbers on brand equity and analyzing market-share data.”

The truth is marketing is much more than just brochures, websites and numbers. It’s an effort encompassing countless things big and small that generate revenue, profit and opportunity for growth. It is the invoice you send for payment. It is the quote you jotted on a scrap of paper. It is the sign in your front window or on the side of your vehicle. It is the e-mail or actual sample you send to your customer for sewout or design approval. It is every single product created by your business that makes its way out into the wider world.

Something to think about—your customers are likely not walking around “nekkid.” In fact, it’s a pretty sure bet that they already have a closet filled with clothes at home. When your customers buy your logo’d, customized, decorated apparel they are therefore, in all likelihood, trying to accomplish something, or solve some problem other than just having nothing to wear.


This in turn presents you with an opportunity. Once you identify the additional problem, or problems your customers are trying to solve, you’re going to find convincing them you have the best solution to that problem that much easier.

With that in mind, if you take no other idea away from this article, take this one: quit selling stuff and start solving problems! Market your solutions, not just your products. This will catch the attention of both existing and potential customers more effectively than simply showcasing products and prices.

What follows are a number proven and successful marketing strategies that you can learn, you can do, you can afford and that—best of all—work.

Market Research for Apparel Decorators

“Market Research” is a meaningless phrase to many business owners in the decorated-apparel industry. Many assume only big companies do it. Here is how to make market research relevant to your business with just three simple questions:

  1. What is the average dollar amount for your orders?
  2. How much do your customers spend with you annually on average?
  3. How often do your customers place an order with you?

By answering these three questions, you can in turn determine the dollar value of every customer and every sale. Don’t look now, but you just did market research!

Putting in some specific numbers, if your average order from a trades business owner (plumber, builder, painter, electrician) is $450, and they place orders four times a year, it makes sense that each of these kinds of customers is worth $1,800 per year. If, on the other hand, your “onesie” and gift customers spend about $40 with you just once a year, clearly these customers are worth $40 per year each. Which group of customers do you want to get more business from, gift and onesie customers or tradespeople?

When you start doing this kind of research, you will likely notice your customers falling into several different categories, such as onesie and gift customers, family or family event customers, trades customers, schools, teams and sports customers. Look at the numbers from the customers in your different categories to find your best sources for profitable orders.

By looking back over the past several months or, better still, an entire year of orders, patterns will emerge that will help you identify where to invest your marketing time, money and efforts, so you can attract more customers and orders like those placed by your best categories of customers.

Rewards and Referrals Programs for Decorators

This is a simple, yet effective, marketing strategy that many businesses often overlook. You may think these programs only work for companies that have large customer bases, when in fact, your business can greatly benefit from such a program, as it is one of the best ways to generate leads locally.

Consider it from a prospective customer’s perspective. Would you rather do business with a company that you’ve never heard of after simply looking at a promotion or ad? Not too likely, unless you have an immediate need for whatever it is that they are offering. If, on the other hand, someone you know and trust recommends a local business to you would you consider at least checking out the business they suggested? The answer for most people would be, yes.

That’s the power and the beauty of referral marketing—and why you should make a point of offering a referral program. When you provide a great experience and your customers love their custom products, they will be more inclined to leave reviews, give testimonials and tell their friends about you. By providing rewards for doing so, you further incentivize your existing customers to recommend your business to their friends.

You can also give rewards to customers who complete certain actions, like following your social media channels, posting a photo of themselves in your apparel on their own social media and tagging you, or by posting a review of your business. When a happy customer talks about how great your company is, doing business with you looks like that much better a choice to other potential customers. Recognizing and rewarding this with a coupon, special offer or discount encourages your customers to engage more with your business, thereby building customer loyalty.

Business Pages on Social

Since so many of your potential customers are from the local area, Facebook, Yelp and Google’s business features are important for your business. Having high Yelp reviews, in particular, improves your credibility online, helps buyers feel confident about reaching out to you and helps your search ranking. You can “claim” your own business on Yelp for free, customize your profile, add pictures and ask your customers for reviews. Go to business.yelp.com to get started.

Over two billion users log on to Facebook every day, and more than 68 percent of Facebook’s monthly active users log on daily. Create a free Facebook business page so these people can easily and quickly find your business, find your contact information and see your business hours. Users can also view your posts, get a feel for your business and see the problems you are solving for your customers with your decorated apparel. Share photos, videos and stories that demonstrate what your products did for each of those customers.

Register your business with Google for free and add pictures. If you’ve ever searched for your business in Google Maps and Google does not see it, that is because you have not claimed it yet! Go to google.com/business to get started.

E-mail Still Works for Decorators

Contrary to popular belief, e-mail marketing is not on the decline. Just the opposite. Studies have shown most millennials actually prefer their communications to come from businesses via e-mail, making it one of the most effective marketing methods around: an easy, free and scalable way to communicate with potential, new and existing customers.

As an added bonus, e-mail is also one of the few digital marketing strategies where you have total control. Unlike social media channels that can change at a moment’s notice, you have complete ownership over your e-mail lists, what you send out and when you send it.

I get the fact most business owners don’t have tons of free time to devote to creating well-written, great-looking e-mails, so consider using marketing automation to make the process that much easier. Many options exist, ranging from free ones to products with all the bells and whistles. Once you have an e-mail marketing tool in place, experiment with sending out newsletters and specific promotions to your database.

Please do yourself a favor, though. Do not send out e-mails showing a photo of a hoodie with a list price. If you do that, it will not be read, trust me. Instead, tell a quick story about how “X” company celebrated its 25th year in business with a huge celebration and food trucks in the parking lot. Include a photo of everyone wearing your hoodies at the celebration. The caption under the photo could be something like: “They sure look good in their new custom hoodies!”

You’ve Got it, Flaunt It

Consumers prefer visual content to plain text. Visuals are also much more memorable. The success of visual platforms like Instagram and TikTok proves this. Reportedly, the majority of millennials say they are more interested in visual search than any other type of new technology. This trend is being reflected in the search engines. Google is serving more and more images and videos in its results.

embroidery machine decorating a baseball hat

Customers love visuals, so show off your decorated apparel equipment and what your company is capable of! Image by Surasak – stock.adobe.com

Of course, as an apparel decorator, you hit the lottery when it comes to visuals! Post photos of jobs as they are being executed on your equipment. Shoot short videos (less than 30 seconds, really!) of equipment running and then post them with a brief comment. These videos should not be fancy. Nor should they not look sleek and edited. If they come across as authentic, they will be much more effective when marketing your business.

We all love to “peek behind the curtain.” It is human nature. Intentionally share what is going on in your operation by posting “how it is made” photos and videos. Post a photo of a bunch of thread colors or pails of ink or piles of screens. Upload a video of the UPS driver unloading a stack of boxes filled with new inventory and explain how it will be headed for your machines in the next few days. Tag your customers in the images and videos where their job is being decorated. Add photos and links to your videos in your e-mails to further increase their effectiveness.

Note: no matter what your approach or strategy, ever-advancing technology in combination with ever-changing consumer behaviors can make jumping on marketing trends difficult. However, while you don’t necessarily want to keep changing your marketing strategies with every emerging trend, experimenting with various approaches can show you what works best for reaching both new and existing customers. The latest marketing trends are often closely aligned with consumer needs. Trying them out can keep you relevant. That said, it is essential to keep track of what works, as well as what doesn’t work as you continue to fine-tune your marketing efforts.

As the founder of the National Network of Embroidery Professionals (NNEP), Jennifer Cox has worked with thousands of embroidery and decorated-apparel business owners to help them build successful businesses for over 25 years. NNEP supports members with services, savings and programs designed to help them find customers, keep customers and make money. To find out more go to NNEP.com.

For more stories on marketing, social media and the decorated-apparel business click here and here.