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Build Your Business: Trends
Super-Size Your Sales This Holiday SeasonAlthough the weather might not yet be frightful, now is the time to start thinking about how best to prepare for your wintertime holiday sales
Images by EMrpize – stock.adobe.com
For many decorators, the end-of-the year holidays, and Christmas, in particular, represent their biggest selling season. Whether your shop creates personalized mementos, corporate gifts, promotional event apparel or holiday preprint designs, becoming aware of opportunities and maximizing sales is what this article is all about.
Highest Sales of the Year
“Historically, Q4 is our biggest sales period of the year,” says Benj Lawrenz, COO for Sky High Marketing, a high-volume shop in Waukesha, Wisconsin. “It’s a natural fit for branded merchandise and corporate gifting. The clients we service span a variety of industries that need holiday gifts for their employees or VIP customers they would like to thank.”
“Our holiday sales usually bring in about $500,000 from November to December,” agrees Jacob Dockery, president of Dockery Corp., based in Warsaw, Missouri. “August is our biggest month of the year, but December represents about 30 percent.”
Similarly, for Jessica Sanchez of Colorpop Print Studio, Grand Prairie, Texas, the holidays represent approximately 30 percent of her company’s annual sales, which includes direct-to-garment (DTG) and direct-to-film (DTF) transfers as well as customizable gifts such as T-shirts, mugs and a variety of sublimation products.
Maximize Profits by Planning Ahead
No matter how big your business is, decorators who prepare in advance inevitably find that their efforts pay off.
Says Lawrenz, “It is never too soon to start! Increased demand in December combined with any lingering supply-chain delays will limit options. We work with our clients to encourage ordering (or securing inventory) as soon as July to ensure they get exactly what they need for their project.”
“I think you should start pushing right after August,” agrees Dockery. “Sometimes, depending on the month and how customers respond, we start teasing [as early as late summer] with Christmas designs from past years.”
“Between my CrossFit gym and corporate clients, I start pushing late September, early October,” says Christy Rossi, president of Snatch and Run Screen Printing in Fort Mill, South Carolina. “I want orders in by the first or second week of November. We are in full production mode and delivering by December 1st if possible.”
Similarly, Tom Rauen of Dubuque, Iowa’s, 1-800TSHIRTS, says he gets holiday sales rolling by hosting a showcase event in the early fall. The location has ranged from his own facility to a brewery to a hotel conference room. Snacks and drinks are provided, and top vendors are invited to set up a table with their newest products.
“We get a good turnout, usually at least 100 people. It’s about getting them in a buying mood and starting conversations,” Rauen says.
Online Stores Drive Sales
In 2022, according to Adobe Analytics, online holiday sales hit $211.7 billion in November and December. This in turn means whether you are offering webstores for your clientele or you are selling your own holiday apparel and gifts online not having a presence or offering this service means you are losing out on income.
As evidence of this fact, Rick Roth, president of Mirror Image Screen Printing, Pawtucket, Rhode Island, which offers webstores to his nonprofit and political organization clients as part of its business model, says he sees a dramatic increase in sales over the holiday season.
“T-shirts are affordable, so whether your client is Farm Aid or another type of fund-raising entity, it’s a perfect personal gift for friends or family,” Roth says. “We’ve done huge numbers from Farm Aid. We’ve taken their sales through the roof. And much of our post-concert sales are holiday driven.”
“To further boost holiday sales, we create bundles,” Roth adds. “A bundle combined with a limited-time offer is very effective, even better if you include a special-edition item. Limiting the time and access to something persuades people to buy immediately rather than put it off.”
By extension, Roth says, this all means he must also be prepared for increased website sales and be flexible in his printing methods.
“We print most of our online orders with DTG, because we don’t have to inventory as much, and no shirts go to waste,” he says. “If a particular design is selling well, we will screen print it, but overall, it’s become more profitable to use DTG.” Along these same lines, Roth notes, “You have to be ready with enough people to get orders out fast. Everyone now has Amazon expectations.”
Another type of e-commerce can be found in company stores, which generate a big percentage of decorated apparel sales during the holidays.
“The most common online store we use for the holidays is what we call a redemption store,” says Sky High Marketing’s Lawrenz. “This is where a client offers a selection of gifts. These include things like drinkware, apparel and bags. Users choose what they want instead of receiving something that will not be used. It results in a better, more meaningful investment for the client.”
Fun with Ugly Sweaters
Not surprisingly, given the festive nature of the season, the holidays, in particular, are a time when creativity can pay off big-time. Rauen of 1-800TSHIRTS.com, for example, says his company has combined the idea of custom branding with a holiday twist by creating what it calls its “Ugly Christmas Sweaters” program, an initiative that has nearly doubled his December sales.
According to Rauen, central to the program’s success have been the efforts of his art department, which created more than 100 templates simulating an ugly sweater design using fonts replicating cross stitching. Interested organizations in turn will then send in their logos, event names, school names, etc., which the art department plugs into a template of the customer’s choice that “Christmasfies” it.
“I’ve been doing Ugly Christmas Sweaters for about five years now,” he says. “I started it because anytime I’m working with a customer—whether it’s a corporate client or a school—I’m always looking to add one more opportunity to sell them something. If it’s Joe’s Lawn Care, he’s only going to order the same logo on the same shirt so many times. But over the holidays, people are looking for something to wear to the company Christmas party….Another tie-in for places like dental offices, the bank or a retail store is to have everyone wearing the same kind of Christmas shirt.”
Rauen adds that the “Ugly Sweater” approach doesn’t just work for Christmas, noting he has also had great results offering shirts for holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and the Fourth of July as well.
Cater to Your Niche
Of course, the good news for any shop already catering to a particular niche market is the fact you also already have a built-in market of family and friends looking for something for that special someone involved in that hobby or sport.
In Rossi’s case, this means taking advantage of her company’s already strong relationship with CrossFit practitioners. “I serve gyms all across the Southeast,” Rossi says. “For the holidays, I typically see a shift away from standard T-shirts and tank tops to higher-ticket items like jackets and stocking stuffers like water bottles. I often see people willing to pay double what they would normally spend on a nice Christmas present for a spouse or friend.”
In terms of timing, Rossi says, “In October, I start building a list of great things for gyms to offer. I include some smaller-ticket items and then something higher priced, like a $100 jacket. These are also ideal for gym owners to give to their coaches for Christmas. This strategy has always worked well for me.”
Another big seller, Rossi says, is bags, especially backpacks. “These are a great gift when the giver doesn’t know the recipient’s size,” she says, adding that while her company usually embroiders the jackets it sells, for other apparel she uses DTF transfers.
“DTF is great because I can decorate piecemeal as the orders come in,” Rossi explains. “If you screen print, you have to make sure you have enough time to get all the blanks in, and this can be a challenge when stock levels are low around Christmas…Ideally, you want to get every gym their merch by the first or second week in December, so they have time to get it to people for Christmas.”
Rossi estimates the average gym she serves has approximately 200 members of which 100 will typically place some kind of holiday order. “When I pitch a higher-ticket item with lower ones, for example a jacket, hat and water bottle, they buy all three. They go kind of crazy at Christmas,” she says.
Craft Shows and Festivals
For smaller shops with one or more singlehead embroidery machines and a heat transfer press, another great market for capitalizing on holiday sales is local and regional holiday craft and gift shows.
Cassie Mace, founder of She’s Sew Vain, Grayson, Kentucky, who estimates she does about 40 shows a year, says that at her fall and winter shows she makes a point of showcasing things that make great gifts, with decorative Christmas items and apparel, constituting between 60 percent and 70 percent of her annual sales.
Actively participating in shows since 2014, she has found identifying the best matches for her company to be a trial-and-error process, but more than worth the effort. Although her events of choice include a mix of single-day event and those lasting as long as four days throughout her tri-state region of Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia, she has found multiday shows are the lucrative.
Another important criterion is expected attendance. Shorter, smaller events might draw 10,000 people, mid-size around 50,000, and state and national events 100,000 or more. “You can expect 2 percent to 3 percent of attendees to make a purchase from you,” she says.
In terms of scheduling, Mace says she begins displaying Christmas merchandise in September, which she considers a soft opening. She then stops doing shows the weekend after Thanksgiving. Although most of her sales are made at shows, she will also take orders that she fulfills at home and then ships out a well.
As for her top sellers, Mace says Christmas-themed, name-drop location items and decorative tea towels are among her most popular embroidered offerings. “People like to give these as a gift for family, church members or gift exchanges because they are under $10,” she says. She adds that while about 25 percent of her items are Christmas-themed, three quarters remain non-Christmas due to her customers looking to purchase item they can year-round.
Other popular items, Mace says, include embroidered throws, scarves and apparel, with many customers gravitating toward gifts that are geographically based by state. “If a person has moved away from home, they might want to buy a West Virginia towel for a friend, or something as a nice memory or keepsake,” she says.
As for her Christmas-themed items, Mace says, “I do Christmas ornaments and embroidered framed pictures. I embroider a saying like ‘There’s a little piece of heaven in my home’ or a holiday-inspired design, like cardinals. I sell them matted and framed, but also with just the mat for those who want to pick a frame to match their décor.”
Embroidered T-shirts and sweatshirts are part of the mix as well, with these, in particular, tending to be city/state/tourist-type designs.
“I have a word art design I use,” Mace says. “It has the shape of a state, and you can fill in different city names. I also offer customization if a customer wants to add their hometown underneath.”
Follow The Trends
Not surprisingly, given the fast-paced evolution and overall tempo of today’s decorating industry, a big part of any company’s holiday sales success will depend on how well it 1) keeps up with trends and 2) is able to translate those trends into products that will appeal to its target audience.
For Rossi, that means tracking social media. “I’m a big advocate of Instagram and Tik Tok. I look almost every day to see what people are wearing. I track colors and styles. This helps me extend my product knowledge and keeps me from offering something that’s way off base,” she says.
“I also do research to figure out what’s going to sell for individual clients,” she adds. “Even within my gym niche, each location has a different vibe. For example, one place loves things that have an American flag. Another one buys anything that is black…it’s all about knowing your clients, knowing what’s popular and then making your selections unique to the place you’re selling.”
Beyond that, as with any project, Lawrenz says his company does its best to work with clients, to ask the right questions and understand the scope of their needs. “By knowing the demographic of the recipient, their budget range, delivery dates, and any other vital information, we will mutually succeed,” Lawrenz says.
“You get out of it what you put in,” agrees Dockery. “I always try to maximize my workload during this time so we can capitalize to the fullest capacity on what we can bring in.”
“One of the most important areas to prepare for the holiday season is your staffing,” Jeff Meilander of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, based Redwall Printing adds. “Get people in and train early. Work with your customers in advance and understand what their expectations and needs are. You’ve got to have some idea of what to expect.”
Deborah Sexton is a former editor of Impressions Magazine and now owns her own company, Saracen Communications, doing digital media marketing, copywriting, and public relations for companies in the decorated apparel industry. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Crossing Strong at the Finish Line
While you may want to cut off Christmas orders by a certain date in December to get merchandise delivered in time, don’t forget some customers may still have some budget to burn right up until Dec. 31.
Tom Rauen, of 1-800TSHIRTS.com, for example, says he does promotions to capture business from companies that want the tax write-off. “As soon we finish up production for Christmas orders, we start promoting to people who don’t want to lose their current budget. The orders may not have a deadline, but they must be submitted before the end of the year.”
Speaking of promotions, while some shops may count on word of mouth from having been around for a while, if you want to increase your sales, marketing and advertising are a must, especially if you want the good times to continue on into the coming year.
High-volume shops like Redwall Printing, for example, make a point of not resting on their laurels, despite already doing a tremendous amount of business each December.
“We are always advertising and contacting our clients to see what we can do better and faster,” says owner, Jeff Meilander. “And we are always trying to engage and attract new customers.”
In terms of specific channels, Meilander says: “Social media advertising is what we have moved to, but we do some search engine optimization ads as well. Since we are a contract shop, we focus on showing what we do; we are not promoting 100 sweatshirts for $5 each or anything like that. The goal is when people see it, it piques their interest, and they reach out to learn more.”
In addition, Meilander says: “We are big on educating the customer. I have found that promotional products distributors don’t always understand apparel. So, we take any opportunity we can to get brokers to come in and take a tour so we can show them samples, videos and how things work. I think they sell so much better when they know what they are talking about. We want to help them succeed.”
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