How can shops determine the jobs they should and shouldn’t take?

When it came to my embroidery and apparel decoration business, I discovered that sometimes, it was not a good idea to solve every customer’s challenge exactly the way the customer wanted. Not if we wanted our business to survive, much less thrive. We learned how to stop caving to unreasonable demands, expectations, and price points from customers. We evolved from thinking, “We will just have to figure it out and do it ourselves,” to understanding that just because we can figure it out and do it, does not mean we should.

Within a few years, we figured out how to stop doing everything ourselves. We ran the orders that made sense and where we could hit the numbers we needed to make reasonable profits. We learned that running full front or back design orders of more than 48 pieces ourselves was not good for our business. Until that is, we added another multi-head machine. We could not produce enough pieces per hour to keep the prices competitive yet profitable until we had more sewing capacity. We sent those jobs to a production house for a while, so that we could keep the customers, yet earn profits. Once we were sending these jobs out often enough to make the numbers work, we added our next multi-head machine.

Today, apparel decoration business owners have so many opportunities to collaborate, outsource, and partner with other decorators. If you’re not a trained graphic artist, no worries. Through the magic of the internet, you have instant access to professional designers at any price point, from a few dollars for a simple design up through an entire branding package at the level of fees such a service commands. If they have a great design, they are going to wear it all the time. If they end up with Bob’s Plumbing arched over a wrench, they will wear it at work, and that’s it probably. Why limit your customer’s business logo design to what you can think up? Your potential sales from each customer hinges, in part, on how much they love their logo and want to wear it and put it on a variety of products for themselves and customers.

You don’t like to do appliqué or tackle twill, and your customer wants 48 jackets with tackle twill on the back? Say yes to the order and contract out the jacket backs to a production house that does appliqué regularly. Make sure you quote a price to your customer that allows for the contractor’s fees and any additional shipping that may be involved to get the goods where they need to go. Dropship the jackets to the contractor in the first place to save some time and shipping costs.

When a customer pushes for a volume price on a small order because they promise that a large order will follow, here is what you do. You agree that the larger order would qualify for X price and let that customer know that you will gladly credit back the difference on the per-piece price of the small order when the larger order is placed.

Sure, you can digitize designs, but the real question is, should you? How much are you earning when you are creating and fiddling with an intricate design to get it to sew well on a six-panel cap with minimal digitizing experience? Not enough! Send out the stuff that is beyond your skill level or when you are running low on time so that you can spend your time making products instead of making designs. Getting the order done is how you earn income and profits.

There is an important distinction between saying no and losing the job and maybe the customer, saying yes and losing your mind or your profits, and saying yes knowing you’ll recruit outside help. Keep your sanity and your profit levels intact. Just because you can, does not mean you should.

   —National Network of Embroidery Professionals (NNEP)

jennifer cox

Jennifer Cox

Jennifer Cox is one of the founders and serves as president of the National Network of Embroidery Professionals (NNEP), an organization that supports embroidery and apparel decoration professionals with programs and services designed to increase profitability and production.

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