Build Your Business:

Ahead of the Curve

Industry expert Mark Coudray shares his thoughts on decorated-apparel innovation and moving the industry forward.

By Jamar Laster, Executive Editor

The progression of digital printing, including wide-format applications, represents a natural evolution for graphic screen printers.

November 2, 2020

It’s not an understatement to say that when you want to talk about innovation in decorated apparel, the first person you should call is Mark Coudray. Regarded as an industry pioneer, he has extensive history in four-color-process screen printing and is respected as an innovator and thought leader in all business phases. He has won numerous industry awards, judged national decorated-apparel competitions, and his work has been published globally in more than 500 technical papers, articles and research pieces.

Therefore, whether it’s the imaging sciences; technical decoration methods; business design; or sales and marketing, Coudray is considered an authority for knowledge in all things decorated apparel. So when he talks about innovation its role in business growth and moving the industry forward, people tend to listen. That’s why he’s particularly effective in his current role as president of Coudray Growth Technologies, San Luis Obispo, California, where he’s a coach and consultant for entrepreneurs seeking cash-flow and profitability solutions for their businesses.

“Sales and profit are the oxygen and blood of a business,” he says. “Without either you die. Our main focus is to make sure we have profitable sales to grow our companies. It is impossible to innovate unless you have funds to invest in the innovation and training.”

Impressions recently sat down with Coudray to discuss industry innovation, technology, the concept of redefining your business, social-media marketing and more.

Following is what he had to say.

Impressions: How have you noticed screen printing — and decorated apparel as a whole — leverage digital technology to get to where we are today??
Coudray: Decorators have engaged digital technology and assets primarily in the areas of production and marketing. The real power of digital technology — analytics and data — has largely gone untouched. I think this is primarily because so many people are not aware these resources exist or they are frightened of them because they look like math and coding. The future is in the data. This allows us to analyze what has happened, but more importantly what is coming next. It is almost like seeing into the future.

Impressions: Is it accurate to say some apparel-decorating technologies seem to catch on quicker or make greater impacts than others?
Coudray: I would be very cautious about making choices around decorating strategies. Most are simply an extension of what is currently being done. The challenge is in the life of the technology. Today, the attention span is very short. Improvements that can be immediately implemented are the ones that get adopted quickly. The downside is that the life cycle is very short before you need the next extension to the process. More difficult technologies like water-based ink and discharge require experimentation and commitment, but the life is longer. How successful you are is based on how developed the inks are from the manufacturer and how much support they have for you.

Impressions: What was your approach to innovation in your own decorated-apparel business?
Coudray: I have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to technology in the industry. I recognized early on I was going to need more powerful tools than were available from suppliers or the industry trade association. As a result, I made the decision to get my degree in graphic communications from a university that taught the engineering and science behind imaging. This was a Bachelor of Science degree instead of a Bachelor of Arts.

This has served me extremely well, as I can substantiate what and why something works or does not work. It has helped me distinguish the math and science of the process, and machines that make it possible to actually print. I know this is very different than the vast majority of our industry, but it is fundamentally necessary to create a solid, stable foundation upon which others can achieve consistent, predictable results.

The pioneers in this industry, like the late Joe Clarke and Don Petry, as well as Andy Anderson, Bill Wainer, Don Newman and so many others, relied heavily on how things work when inventing and developing new ideas and processes.

Impressions: Hybrid printing is currently the next trend poised to take over the industry. What’s your take on this technology and how decorators can leverage it to increase sales?
Coudray: Hybrid printing is an interim step to full implementation of DTG. It is following the exact same path that happened to the graphic screen printers before digital wide-format printing made them largely obsolete in the early 2000s. If you are a decorator, this is the natural evolution.

The biggest advantage for leveraging hybrid printing is through a process called variable data printing (VDP) This is where different designs or colorways are printed on a common base. You also can use VDP for applying different names and numbers.

The current application of VDP is very simple. It is an incredibly powerful tool when combined with other data sources to create fully variable data. That is too big of a step at the current time but is fully developed on the graphic side (non-textile or wide format.)

Impressions: You have had to redefine yourself throughout your career. Discuss how you approached this redefinition and what helped you do it successfully.
Coudray: I was forced to redefine my role because of multiple factors beyond my own control. Two of these were the market changes resulting from the 2008 recession and a personal tragedy that came right as we were coming out of the recession. The combination proved too much and we ended up closing our own print operation. When I regrouped from that, I realized that all the elements that caused my own apparently healthy business to collapse were present in virtually every other business I looked at. Consequently, I pivoted my focus toward the marketing and finance optimization necessary to create a healthy, resilient business that can weather cyclical hardships.

Impressions: Discuss innovation when it comes to your approach to cash flow and profit. How is “Profit First” a good foundation of this innovation?
Coudray: Profit First is a proven, documented method that gets you paying yourself first and taking your profit first. If you do that, and you don’t have enough at the end to pay your bills, you have just discovered the reality you have a business that isn’t viable. I brought Profit First to the industry in the spring of 2018 and was the Profit First Professional of the Year for 2019 globally because of the success it has delivered to decorators.

It takes six to 16 months to fully transition from your current state to a fully functioning Profit First business. The results are amazing and transformative. There is a Profit First for Screen Printers Group on Facebook. There are about 400 members as of this time.

Impressions: As a consultant, are there any clients whose stories stick out as memorable or teachable moments for others looking to grow their businesses?
Coudray: There are many. The successes follow a documented path. The first step is assessment to determine the current state of the business. The second is to implement Profit First and select up to four key niches or areas of specialization. This allows for focus and optimization. I call this my Personal Fitness Training Plan for Business. A particularly good success story is Ali Banholzer from Spirit Warehouse. She has exploded her growth and market using these strategies.

Impressions: Social media is proving to be indispensable as a marketing tool. What’s your opinion of innovation in this area? How should apparel decorators be using social to reach their audiences?
Coudray: Social media is one of the most popular and newest channels through which to market. The various platforms are only channels, in the same way that retail, direct mail, online stores, etc., also are channels. The more evolved model is called omnichannel and involves the integration of all channels.

Coming out of the COVID-19 crisis will be a redefining of how we do business. It will be a time of tremendous opportunity for those who were fortunate enough to survive. Sadly, there will be many casualties. At the very least, decorators need to know their niches and where the customers in those niches are hanging out. Their role is to be a voice of authority and expertise to their markets. This might mean trending design, but more importantly, it is understanding the needs of their markets.

The very worst thing they can be doing is pushing out messages basically saying, “Buy my stuff.” The role to take is one of being helpful and an expert in your understanding of the market and how decorated apparel and promotional products can enhance the market experience.