Digital Decorating:

Would You Like a Plaque With That?

By Jimmy Lamb, Contributing Writer

With sublimation, you aren’t limited to plaques, as you can produce a lot of complementary products to further open the doors to more sales with every client. Photo provided by Sawgrass Technologies, Mt. Pleasant, S.C.

September 8, 2014

How would you like to bring in more money on every sale with very little additional cost to you? Does that sound like a pipe dream? Well, it’s not.

Your existing customer base is a gold mine, as every client has multiple needs. However, if you are focused solely on apparel, then you may be earning only a small percentage of the dollars they have to spend.

For example, in the sports and spirit markets, every client is buying not only sportswear, but award plaques as well. And with the markup in plaques typically being higher than that of garments, there are plenty of additional revenue opportunities if you can find a way to add this product line into your current menu of services.

You may now be thinking the aforementioned example is out of the scope of what you do. You certainly can’t create an award plaque with an embroidery machine, but there is a simple solution that can put you in the awards and recognition business very quickly: sublimation.

This decorating method is a great solution to the age-old problem of getting more out of every sale without investing thousands of dollars. The equipment costs are low (starting at $575), the process is simple and production is quick. And with ink costs coming in at less than $0.01 per square inch, it’s possible to create full-color, photo-based award plaques for very reasonable rates.

For example, an 8″ x 10″ blank plaque costs about $6. Sublimation materials cost about $0.50 and, assuming $2 for labor and overhead, you end up with a product that costs about $8.50 to produce, but sells for $30-$40. Not bad for about three minutes worth of production time.

Let’s put that into perspective. Suppose you do business with the local basketball league. If your forte is apparel, then perhaps you are providing the players with shirts, such as those featuring the ever-popular “Mom” theme. It’s a good order and you make a decent profit. But if you also created award products like plaques, you could immediately upsell them with a “Would you like a plaque with that?” recommendation.

It’s a given that any sports league hands out awards — typically engraved plaques or trophies — at the end of the season. But sublimated awards have a lot more to offer, as they can include graphics, logos and pictures, something that engraving can’t come close to matching. For example, for the basketball league, simply take a round wooden plaque, add some graphics to make it look like a real basketball, include a team or player photo, plug in some text and you have an awesome award product. It will generate excellent margins, which, in turn, generates more revenue from a single order.

One key approach for the sports marketplace is to suggest photo-based awards as a fundraiser. Many of these organizations are cash-strapped, so they always are looking for creative ways to make money rather than spend it. Photo-awards are great products to sell to players and their families, as they capture a moment and visually preserve it forever. In fact, these items don’t necessarily have to be awards for winning championships, but rather tokens of participation in the sport or league. The fund-raising concept makes for a nice sales pitch and broadens the range of opportunities, as you can offer packages 
of related products rather than just a single item.

But revenue isn’t derived simply from more pieces. In many cases, you simply need to focus on raising the perceived value such that you get higher margins with each piece. For example, consider a basic photo panel that has been sublimated with an action sports shot of a high school football player. Though the quality and clarity of the image are excellent, it has no real pizzazz. Certainly, you can make money selling these kinds of products to the player’s parents, family and friends, but the margins would be only average in the grand scheme of things.

Consider using a different and more interesting substrate. It starts with the same picture, but goes to a much higher level of customization with the incorporation of text, graphics and a unique substrate that ties in nicely to the overall theme. The production and decoration costs for both items are about the same, but the markup of this product will be at least double that of the basic photo panel.

Obviously, there is money to be made here, and with all of the interesting substrates available for sublimation, it pays to be creative and focus on being as unique as possible.
Action sports photography can play a big part in that regard, and sublimation is an ideal tool for turning those photos into profits. The players don’t have to win championships to be regarded as champions; they just need to be caught in the act of doing the activities they love.

With sublimation, you aren’t limited to plaques, as you literally can produce a lot of complementary products to further open the doors to more sales with every client. Using the fund-raiser angle as an example, pitch as many products as possible — koozies, car flags, performance apparel, mugs, water bottles, caps, stadium seats, phone covers, etc.


Going beyond teams and non-profits, think about other markets to which you may offer this service, such as corporate accounts. If a local business orders apparel to recognize its sales team, you could suggest complementary products, such as sublimated mouse pads or coffee mugs (not every award has to be a plaque). These items can include group or individual photos combined with a company logo and message.

You also could suggest that the customer buy a quality performance polo shirt with the company logo sublimated on it as a recognition item. It serves a dual purpose of rewarding the employee and providing a promotional/advertising platform for the company.

Speaking of promotional products, you probably never considered venturing into this area simply because it didn’t seem like a logical fit. You don’t really have to become an ad specialty company to offer promotional products, but it does make for a nice sideline to your awards products, especially when dealing with groups who are trying to deliver a message or gain exposure. Some of the key sublimation items you can offer in the way of promotional products include: clipboards, mouse pads, can wraps, tote bags, drinkware, water bottles, laptop sleeves and more. The reality is that anything that is capable of displaying a logo, brand or promotional message when put in front of other people is technically a promotional product. So when asking, “Would you like a plaque with that?” you can add, “or perhaps some promotional products?”

But why stop there? Another key need that sublimation can fulfill is indoor signage. From desktop nameplates and point-of-purchase (POP) promotions, to room identifiers and directional aids, there are hundreds of applications for full-color signage. Nearly every group with a physical presence of any kind (buildings, stadiums, classrooms, storefronts, etc.) needs signage. It should be noted that sublimation is not ultraviolet-resistant in the long term, so it works much better for indoor signage rather than for applications that are in direct sunlight for many hours per day. But when it comes to interior locations, sublimation is by far one of the best methods for creating long-lasting, virtually indestructible signage.

So many concepts for cross selling exist that you need to spend a few minutes creating a chart of ideas so that you don’t overlook the opportunity when talking to your clients. Then, create some professional samples of each item so that you can offer a quality “show-and-tell” presentation.

A key area of cross selling is product packaging. By this, I don’t mean containers for merchandise, but rather a group of related items that have been packaged from a marketing perspective. Instead of hitting a customer with a long list of related products, you may be more effective if you build packages targeted to specific markets.

This allows you to easily steer the client into considering multiple related items that are complementary to his main purchase. In addition, it provides a clear picture of the full range of products and services you can offer. If nothing else, you plant a seed for future purchases.

The reality is that you already have an established client base, so cross selling is a logical method for squeezing more revenue out of each customer. Statistics show that it takes about six times more energy, effort, time and cost to cultivate a new client than to service an existing one, yet the average business owner is more focused on generating new leads. There’s nothing wrong with expanding your customer base, but don’t ignore the huge potential of what you have at your fingertips.

So the next time your customer orders apparel products, be sure to ask, “Would you like a plaque with that?”

Award-winning author and international speaker Jimmy Lamb has more than 20 years of apparel decoration experience. He currently is manager of communications for Sawgrass Technologies, Charleston. S.C. For more information or to comment on this article, email Jimmy at Hear Jimmy speak on sublimation topics at the 2015 Imprinted Sportswear Shows (ISS). Individual seminars are just $25 if you pre-register at 

Suggested Reading
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“How to Find Efficiencies in Your Sublimation Shop.”
“Diversify Your Shop With Sublimation.”