Build Your Business:

The Web Store Playbook

By Jessie Lewis, Contributing Writer

August 21, 2017

In economics, there’s a theory called “opportunity cost,” defined as the potential benefits you miss out on when you choose one option over another. Sounds straightforward, right? But opportunity cost is sneaky — you don’t always fully understand what the cost will be until it’s too late.

Take hiring, for example. If you choose to hire a cheaper, inexperienced employee instead of an industry veteran who requires a higher salary, it might seem like you’re saving money. But down the line, you could realize that your business would have experienced more growth if you had invested in the more knowledgeable employee up front.

In the competitive team and spiritwear market it’s particularly important to evaluate new strategies, technology and offerings that have the potential to benefit your shop, but it can be difficult to identify opportunity cost in the moment.

Entering the web retail market is an opportunity that’s on the minds of many team and spiritwear businesses. Have you considered moving your team business to the web? The following will give you a look at how to boost your business with managed online stores — and help you evaluate the potential opportunity cost that’s at stake.

Should You Sell Online?
The team dealer/team relationship has been clear-cut for a long time. You send the coach off with an armful of order forms, you log the orders into a spreadsheet, you produce the products and you deliver the goods. Then you do it all over again the next year.

While time-honored, this method of managing team orders actually can create a host of problems for the coach or admin who just wants to focus on his job. The process of tracking down completed order forms, hounding players for payments and making the trip back and forth to your location is time consuming. Then, there’s the distribution of uniforms, duffel bags, training uniforms and hard goods.

Even more challenging is spiritwear. With a student body or fan base of potentially thousands of people, managing orders and extra stock is a job in itself. Then there’s the stress of selling spiritwear at events — will they be able to sell enough of their pre-bought goods to actually turn a profit?

In the end, even if your customers love your products, they might find themselves dragging their feet to reorder next year.

With an online team and spiritwear store, coaches and admins send out a single link where players and shoppers can buy their gear instead of distributing and collecting order forms. With the right platform, you can display mock-up product images featuring the design to give customers an idea of how the finished product will look. Customers are able to order products in the colors and sizes of their choosing, then check out and share their shipping information right on the site.

This can save massive time on the customer’s end, as he doesn’t need to deal with order forms or inventory. And you don’t have to spend hours creating a spreadsheet, as all orders are compiled nicely and ready to fulfill. Plus, stores can be left open year-round, which could mean more orders and steadier revenue that’s not as affected by seasonal demands.

We’re in the age of e-commerce. In 2016, 8.3% of all sales came from online purchases, according to Visual Capitalist, and another 3.7%-4.2% increase is expected this year. Your customers are already used to buying online. Why not take their team and spirit garment purchases online as well?

Get Customers On Board
If you’ve been working with a certain team or school for years, you might be wondering how you’ll ever convince them to switch to an online store. However, it will likely be much easier than you think. The trick is to demonstrate the store’s value.

First, tailor your pitch. Create a demo store in the team colors with a sample product or two to show what the store would look like. Explain how instead of managing order forms, the admin will just need to share a link with the players.

Second, make it a deal the team can’t refuse. If you’re using the right software, managing an order through an online store shouldn’t take more time than managing an order using traditional methods. In fact, it should save you time. Instead of making the online store an add-on cost, present it simply as a different way of doing business. More convenience at no extra cost? It will be one of the easiest sales you’ve ever made.

You also can use the store as a springboard for conversations on how you can create new sources of revenue together. For example, for spiritwear, you could use a store to increase game ticket sales through a special sale — if the customer buys an early-bird game ticket, he gets a coupon to use in the store for a low-cost item or a percentage discount.

Online stores also are the perfect method for zero-risk fundraising. You could set up a store with a specialty shirt to fundraise for, say, the travel costs for a specific trip, or even new microscopes for biology class. Instead of buying a lot of stock ahead of time and trying to sell it at events, the school can simply promote the store link. You don’t even need to buy the blanks until all of the orders and payments have been collected through the store. The school makes a profit without any upfront investment, and you sell far more than you would have had you simply been trying to sell a bulk order to a risk-averse school admin.

Setting Customer Expectations
Once you have a customer who’s ready to start a store with you, take the time to outline exactly how the whole process will work. Here are the questions you must answer before you both commit:

1. How are products priced?
Does every shirt have the same sale price, or does an 2XL cost more? How much will it cost to personalize products with names or numbers?

If it’s a fundraising store, how much of the proceeds will go back to the organization? There’s a big difference between a check for 15% of the revenue and one for 15% of the profit. Make sure everyone’s on the same page.

2. Who purchases the blanks?
You may be more than happy to purchase the apparel blanks on an as-needed basis. However, hard goods might be a different story. You don’t want to take an inventory position on 500 blank mugs, only to find you can only sell 200.

For hard goods, you may want to have the client purchase the products up front. In this situation, you’ll need to account, report and reimburse the cost of the mug to your client for each order. Otherwise, they’ll be paying you twice: once to buy the blanks, then again when the employee/student/donor buys the decorated product. Keep accounting tidy.

Finally, set an agreed-upon time frame for doing regular inventory counts for any blanks owned by the customer. This might be weekly, monthly or never — just make sure it’s clear.

3. How much stock will you keep on hand?
If your suppliers offer free one-day ground shipping, you might be able to handle fulfillment on an as-needed basis. However, if there are shipping charges or a longer lead time, you may want to keep stock on hand.

4. How long will the turnaround be?
Will production occur on demand, or will you establish a minimum before creating the production work order? Or will you produce all the products ahead of time and simply ship as they’re ordered?

5. What is the minimum number of orders (or sales dollars processed) required for the store to stay open?
You might be offering the store for free, but make it clear that you can’t be processing two shirts a month. Set a clear minimum. For example, for a fundraiser, you might set a baseline of 24 shirts. If the minimum isn’t met, the fundraiser is called off and every purchase gets a refund. This is a low enough number for most organizations to easily reach, and it will encourage them to promote the online store to their supporters.

6. When will they be invoiced?
If you’re invoicing after the order is complete instead of taking payment directly through the store, you must consider how invoicing will work. Constant positive cash flow is important to keep a business running like a well-oiled machine. The best practice always is to invoice the day after an order ships.

However, some customers will require different invoicing terms. Grouping invoices for all orders throughout the week, or breaking up payment into a 50% deposit and balance due upon completion, are two examples.

Even still, some clients may want to only be billed once a month. Be careful when agreeing to this infrequent method as this could hurt your cash flow. Remember, if you wait until 30 days to invoice for the order, and then they have 30-60 days to pay, that span of time may have a detrimental affect on covering costs.

7. What happens if there is an unexpected sourcing problem with the inventory?
Occasionally, items could be hard to source due to challenges with keeping certain sizes or colors in stock. What happens if a shirt blank used for a program is discontinued? Make sure you have a discussion about these situations, especially if they could potentially cost you more money.

8. What happens if the client wants to change the design halfway through the program?
If you’re keeping a stock of decorated products for the sake of more efficient production runs, what happens to it? Who pays for it?

9. How will you manage inventory?
Remember: It’s not a box of shirts; it’s a box of money. Here’s a trick: When you start a new pallet of garments, have only one open box at a time. This makes it simple to keep track of inventory. For the open box, use the printer’s fold for easy counting. Keep the incomplete stack at the top of the box folded over a second time to indicate that it’s not a full stack.

10. How will you end the program?
Have an exit plan from the beginning, especially if you’re planning on working together indefinitely. What happens when your client decides he wants to remove an item or discontinue a store? Can blank inventory be returned? Set the framework so it’s clear who pays for any remaining inventory.

With competition, fluctuating costs and seasonal demands, growing your business is an uphill battle. But when new tools enter the picture, drastically increasing your revenue becomes possible.

Jessie Lewis has spent her career helping businesses learn how to attract new customers. As the content marketing manager of InkSoft, she helps garment decorators increase their decorated product sales online. Learn more at