When to Say No to a Customer

Kirk Harris, from Kaptain Kirk Clothing Co., discusses how to approach this scenario

It can be hard to turn down any apparel decoration job, especially if it’s a large order for the local school’s heat transfer-decorated jerseys or a pile of screen-printed shirts for a local 5K. But every shop, be it an embroiderer, screen printer, or virtually any other discipline might find themselves in a position where they can’t handle the order. But is it ever OK to say “no” to a customer or turn down a job? Kirk Harris, from Kaptain Kirk Clothing Co., discusses how to approach this scenario:

Please understand from the get-go that we, like everybody else in this industry, never want to turn down work, but there are definitely times when it could be in your best interest.

Here are five types that I believe meet these criteria:

  1. If it’s not going to position you to make the profit that you need to pay your employees, yourself, and the bills. Nobody works for free, and if this job is not going to support you, why do it?
  2. A very difficult customer. When I say difficult, I do not mean a difficult order; I’m referring to the client. If you can’t get along, if they are making it too difficult for you to help them, if they are telling you how to do your job, if they are always complaining about pricing, etc, remember, there are customers out there that want, need, and will be grateful for your time.
  3. You are not going to be able to complete the project on time. If you are not going to be able to finish the project within their needed timeframe, I would pass. There’s no point in taking a job, and you know you’re going to do the client an injustice. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t do a rush, an overnight, etc., to meet a deadline, but if you know that you can’t get it done on time, it’s better to bow out gracefully with respect than have your name dragged through the mud.
  4. The job is going to drain your resources to the point that other customers will feel it. If taking on this job is going to cause you to do a less than stellar job on other clients’ orders, I would say pass. You know how the old saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Hold on to the customers you have instead of trying to grab the one that’s in front of you, but if you can take care of this newcomer without affecting your current orders, then grab it.
  5. It is beyond your abilities in-house, and you don’t have a reliable sub-contracting source. Many, if not all companies across the globe, sub-contract work. This is a constant in business, and seemingly a mystery to customers. Nonetheless, if you are approached with a job that you are unable to handle and unable to find a reliable source to sub-contract it to, then I would pass. I stuck “reliable” in there for a reason. Remember, at the end of the day, this is your name and your brand. If this order is messed up, you will be left holding the bag. Don’t risk your reputation, tell them you’re sorry, take a pass, give them some sound advice if you can, and make sure they understand that you are there for them.

Here’s to making the tough decisions!

Kirk Harris

Kirk Harris

Kirk Harris currently serves as president of Atlanta-based Kaptain Kirk Clothing Co. Harris' love of apparel began with retail in the late '90s and in 2006 he founded his first clothing line. In 2012 his journey led him to apparel decoration and in 2014 he settled into his current position. He's reachable at, 404-396-7171, or

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