Getting More From Your Blanks Supplier

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CASPodcast with Mark Bailey from SanMar

This week we sat down with Mark Bailey, who’s in charge of Decorator Relations with SanMar.

What does a Decorator Relations person do?

We help any customer who owns equipment that’s looking for education or solutions on how to effectively decorate our products.

The reason we have Mark with us today, and we had Holly with us last time is because there are a few questions that we get all the time on our Custom Apparel Startups Facebook Group and from our customers at Coldesi when we sell them a machine. “Where can I find X?” And they have a picture in their mind or an old shirt a customer brought in and they’re trying to match it. We’ve gone out of our way to set up a relationship with SanMar because they’re the best people to help answer those questions.


Decorators probably spend about 30% of their time decorating and 30% of their time posting on forums, looking for shirts (etc.). What’s great about having Mark from SanMar here is that we can talk about how decorators can better use their time, rather than searching around for these products.

When they’re sourcing the product that doesn’t necessarily mean that product is perfect for the type of embellishment that they want to put on it. Anyone in our company, in our call center can find the specific product if you tell us the styling, the fabric content. We’ll tell you what’s in our line that’s comparable. However, my department can tell you the best product, or product line for any type of embellishment and process. And we find the closest thing to what you’re looking for that can be effectively printed with that type of decoration.

For new people, that’s incredibly valuable. If you call SanMar and say you’re looking for polos that you can decorate for a plumbing company, and you do DTG, what can you do, these are the guys that can tell you what polo’s work in a DTG machine.

We look for the products that have the best finish for that particular process. If we’re talking about DTG you typically want something that’s a tighter knit. Less pixelating of the design, because of peaks and valleys in the fabric. We’re moving towards more customer facing stuff in the next year to two years with SanMar University. So eventually this stuff will be at people’s fingertips.

An issue in apparel decorating that happens often is somebody gets into the business with one method of decorating. They can embroider or they can DTG or they’re doing vinyl transfers. Then their customer has an idea or they have an idea of a garment, and they try to force it into the type of decorating they do, and you can’t do it that way. You have to start with “this is the way I can decorate, these are all the things I can do and can’t do,” and then figure out solutions for your customers when they ask for something that doesn’t fit into that box. You’ll be able to use salesmanship and customer service to provide your customers with a great alternative. The customer might come to you and ask for a very specific garment, and you can search all over for it, and it might not even provide the best look, feel, and finish. The customer assumes that garment is what they want. If you go to somewhere like SanMar, or you build up the knowledge yourself, you can come back to your customer and offer an alternative that they might be just as happy with or happier.

You want to go through the available catalog and make your own catalog with the clothing that you can offer that match your decorating technique. You can go to SanMar and actually create your own online catalog.

You can create your own small mini-catalog, we can provide you with an excel spreadsheet of the products with all the features and benefits. A lot of our affiliates will populate their website so their customers will know where to go to for a resources for apparel that supports the type of equipment they’re purchasing.

If someone brings you something that’s hard to embroider you can say, “I’ve got a great alternative. And here’s something that I’ve embroidered on it.” The customer can see how good it looks, and you can talk about why: the threads don’t loop, it’s thick enough to hold the stitching the right way, it’s heavy enough that it’ll handle a heavy appliqué. It also gives you a chance to talk about other benefits of the fabric, perhaps the fabric keeps its bright color well through multiple washes. Sell the other benefits of that garment – what are the other benefits to the customer? They don’t care how hard it is for you to embroider it. What they do care about is cost, comfort, washibility, longevity, etc.

Those are all things we can advise on. And if the customer is really set on trying to accomplish that embroidery on that particular product, we have national experts who can tell us exactly how to do it – needle, threat, backing, machine speed. It’s just a matter of is the decorator willing to do that extra work in order to accomplish it. Time is money, a lot of times they don’t want to change needles, and slow production. We have found very few things that can’t be decorated the way a person wants, if they’re willing to learn.

If you’ve just got three items that you normally decorate, you can use a customer request or recommendation from SanMar to test and expand your range. Stubbornness is not going to get you anywhere, you must be willing to learn and constantly trying to improve what you do. When you have the opportunity to talk to an expert, at your supply company, your equipment company, or your apparel supplier, take that opportunity. You’ve got people with a lot of knowledge who spend a lot of time learning and perfecting. The folks that do the best, do that. Whether it comes down to maintaining their machine or just buying the right garment.

What else do you wish our customers would use you for?

Along the same lines of what you were just discussing, a lot of decorators are regionalized and they don’t allow themselves to get out nationally and meet people at shows where they can educate and learn what’s new and what’s trending. That’s what’s great about our department, we are national in scale and we have a lot of affiliations across the country, as well as internationally. We can plug people into what they don’t know they don’t know, so to speak. We offer a lot of consulting. Whether its software, equipment, decorating techniques, whatever it may be, including how to sell goods and how to position them. All those tools are going to help them move more product. They all go hand in hand.

That’s something Coldesi, Colman & Company, and SanMar have in common – trying to find ways to be useful to our customers and add value to those transactions. Most apparel decorators out there are buying their blanks from wherever they could find it, or wherever someone recommended. When they buy equipment they’re just buying a box. When they look for supplies, they’re just ordering thread, or vinyl, etc. Our companies have a lust for usefulness to our customer base. That’s why we do the podcasts, the blog posts, the Facebook group, tons of webinars and educational videos. It’s about being a resource for the customer, not just being a place to click and buy.

What do you think are a few specific things customers can do to help drive sales, get repeat customers, or increase ticket size, in regards to what they offer?

If you’re a direct seller some of the easiest things you can do to position product out in the marketplace is to reach out to our tech service team which will help educate them on all the free marketing services we provide. Custom websites, in less than 48 hours, free custom printed catalogs, electronic flyers, all these little things that help position product and make it easy for the end consumer to order from them.

Then we add Holly on, who’s just the best. She’s just an incredible trainer on industry and trade, and all the different ways you can position our products and what are the best sellers for those industry trade channels. So that you’re going armed with products that are relevant. With the right form of decoration that’s relevant for that trade channel.

They just need to start by calling someone at SanMar or emailing Decorator Relations and we can get them going.

A constant conversation on our Facebook group, is what do I need to do to create a website? Do I need one? What kind do I need? I got some quotes, some were $5000, should I do that? Should I do a drag and drop site? You can often get trapped it that or you end up making a decision that now you own, and you regret later and you spent a lot of money and time on it. The short answer is yes you definitely should have a website. There are a lot of benefits. Even if you mainly sell in person. You could be at a baseball game talking to someone and you can have your catalog on your website so you can bring it up on your smartphone. The long answer is that if you have an apparel company that is going to a supplier that is going to provide you with a free site, with all the apparel you can buy from them, and the accessories, that works with your equipment, then do it. All you need to do is spend an afternoon working on it.

You can use your own domain name that you choose, we can create one for you (if it’s not taken already). You can populate the site with up to 25% of non-SanMar products, you just have to pull the imagery from your suppliers. Because we know we’re not going to be the be all. You can have up to 3 points of pricing. You can have up to 8 different logos. If you have a school website and you want to capture all the different teams, you can. So when people go on the site and they want the volleyball logo versus the football logo, they just click on it and it automatically populates it and positions it on the product so you get a visual.

Not everyone knows where to go with their website. Maybe this isn’t the website you want to have forever, but it’s done for you. Perhaps this is all you need. You can honestly spend a thousand dollars a year to maintain something that really doesn’t earn you extra money.

When I call in to SanMar am I talking to a Decorator Relations person in my area, or am I calling on to corporate and talking to whoever is available?

We have a whole team internally. So reaching out to is probably the best way. But I have two field guys who run the east and west coasts and they’re constantly in the field. Their job is solely to call on decorators to help them grow their business. And most of these contract decorators don’t buy from us, because they’re a service provider. It’s a very unique department where we’re trying to go out and help these decorators, have good margins, so there’s lots of options for our broker customers who need their services. That’s our primary focus.

From there then we also help a lot of customers who do their own decoration and of course we have over 70 sales people in the field that will do site visits and come to their place of business and show them the new product lines and talk to them about the best products that support their equipment, and all the other tools we have available to market their business and our products.

So many apparel decorators feel lost when they’re new. We do our best to help them out with supplies, equipment, software, and all these things. Sometimes they come to us with complex apparel and accessory questions that we can’t answer, so we send them out to all the places they can look at. More often than not, there is no service provided with your blank. If you’re ordering from a particular supplier is often “It’s a privilege to buy from us, this is how we sell to you. You can buy this quantity. This is how we’ll ship it to you.” To us, as we’ve talked with Holly and Mark, SanMar is the opposite of that. It’s as if they’re excited to have their customers buying from them.

It’s the why. We invest in people. We don’t sell t-shirts, we employ over 70,000 businesses, to help them make an income and support their families. We come at it at a completely different holistic view than most businesses in the market and the trade channel. That’s what we do best, we invest in people. Not only our own but our customers who mean so much to us. Last week we were at our sales meeting and we had a call from a customer that been wanting to call Marty Lott for a long time. And Marty wanted to share the conversation with us. So we called him live and we told him that there was 100 people in the room and just wanted to hear what he had to say. He basically just wanted to say “Thank you for investing in me. Twelve years ago when Katrina hit you were the only company that called me, and Marty you called me personally to see how I was and how my family was, and what could you do to help. And then you chose to help me to get my business back on track. Ever since you’ve done nothing but reach out constantly, your teams and your employees, ‘what can we do, how can we do it better?’ I just want to take the time to say thank you.” That’s what we’re all about. It starts from the top and comes down.

Those are the only companies we want to do business with and those are the only companies we want to work for. We get particularly excited, no matter what business it is, where we see that the company is investing in their employees, who invest in their customers, and it creates a full circle, karma-esque type philosophy. There’s somewhat of a catch though. You can’t do that and be the absolutely bare bones, lowest price possible. It’s important to see the value in that. Your business can truly succeed when you have all these open resources – you’re not out there alone.

Any of the shows where there’s equipment selling we’re typically out there educating or jointly educating with our affiliates. Not only on the floor but in the education suites. So please spread the word and seek us out and we’ll try to help you in any way we can.

Have a good business!

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