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CASPodcast with Holly Rox from SanMar

We spoke with Holly Rox from SanMar to learn more about Blanks. Holly is the Senior Trainer for SanMar, one of the top Blanks supplier in North America, and has been part of the training team for almost 10 years.

We wanted to chat with Holly because one of the most common questions we get is ‘where do I find this particular blank?’ And that can be one of the biggest challenges in the business – trying to find those perfect blanks.

How does SanMar help people get started who are basically clueless on which t-shirt or polo to buy?

It boils down to knowing who your customers are and what they want. Typically you will go to the customers, find out what they want, and then go ahead and find that. Those questions are super important. Understanding why the customer needs the product that they need. What the person is going to be doing in the product, that will tell you whether you need something that is performance focused, or if you just need something that is price conscious. Really knowing what the expectations of the customer are and what they want the final piece to be will really save a ton of headache and time trying to find the right product for them.You want a company that is there for you, their whole focus is to help you in trying to find the best product for your customers.

SanMar is training their employees to help turn apparel decorators into textile consultants, t-shirt consultants. Whose going to be wearing the shirts, what are they going to be used for, what’s the weather going to be like, is there color restrictions. And then from there the apparel decorator can come to SanMar with their requirements.

Based on those requirements we can narrow it down. And present a good, better, best type of situation for their customer. If you go in with just one piece unfortunately it leaves the customer feeling like they have no choice. When you go in with a good, better, best you’ve got one piece that you really know fits all the parameters they’re looking for. But you also have a piece that’s maybe lacking in one or two things, maybe it only comes in white and black but not in the green they need it in, but it’s less expensive. And on the other side of the scale there’s also one that has some features the customer didn’t even think about that all of a sudden are really important and that piece might be a little above their original price range. It gives you leeway and flexibility so that you’re not just pulling your margin from that middle piece to satisfy a price issue that you didn’t even know was an issue in the beginning.

What we find we run into in this industry is too many people are trying to race to the bottom on price. Sometimes that’s the only option people are offered, perhaps because it’s more profitable or a way for them to drive the price down. But something we always talk about is making sure the shirt works for your technology, before you offer it to your customers. So limit the number of options you give your customer, based on your technology and what you know works. But what we like about what Holly said is that if you let SanMar know you do DTG, they will give you a menu of options that work with DTG.

Whatever your specific needs are, whatever the type of decoration that you’re focused on, that’s really going to play a huge role in what blanks you’re going to buy to make sure it works.

When you’re giving your customers options this means that they won’t be picking the 100% polyester, sweat resistant fabric if all you do is DTG.

Every brand, every company, everybody who sells something has to set themselves apart in some way. It can’t always be just about the price. That fight to the bottom price, is going to be damaging to everybody. When we talk about being that consultant with your customers, you’re offering so much more. Your offering your knowledge. Even if you have to call SanMar to get that knowledge you’re looking for. That’s what we’re here for, what our role is.

Earlier this year we did a blog post on beating the competition by being different, and perhaps one way to set yourself apart is to be knowledgeable about the blanks you offer and finding unique things for your customers. And giving your customer a choice instead of just telling them ‘ya I do shirts, they’re $14/piece’. You give them two or three different options that will work with what they want to do. Or if they want to use the moisture wicking fabric, you can then suggest they do their design in vinyl instead of DTG.

You want to give them choices, but you have to limit choices too. Recently there was some talk on our Facebook group about ‘what do I do with my business catalog?’ And I’m sure the SanMar catalogs are amazing, but they are an overwhelming amount of choices to pass on to the consumer. And not everything in the catalog will perform the way you want it to, because perhaps the blank isn’t made for that fabric or your machine.

What are some of the things that you can do to help customers build their own little catalog?

The biggest thing would be to always have samples that you are prepared to be able to sell right then and there. This is a very visual industry and it’s really hard to say “Here’s your t-shirt and this is what it’s kind of going to look like with bling.” If you show it to them they’re sold, it’s an emotional purchase. A lot of times we forget that what we’re printing on the t-shirt makes it what it is. Some of these are just throw-away t-shirts, you’re just going to give them away, but some of them are a memory that customers want to have for a very long time. These are the things that are going to differentiate, when you’ve got that emotions to offer your customer. Anytime you can take something blank and turn it into something someone will own and it’s personal to them, you can’t put a price tag on that. Those are the things that are going to set people apart from each other. That’s why those big companies online are doing so well. The biggest buying group right now is this group of 18-34 year olds. They have gone through life with everything being personalized for them. Anything you can do to help make that happen will help you.

If you’re in a school or team environment, always carry the colors of that school or team. And don’t just display a t-shirt, it’s always great to merchandise the way people are used to seeing things if they were to go into a retail store. It’s not just the polo, it’s the polo with the jacket and the scarf and the gloves, etc. So that all of a sudden it creates this full package and so many times you’ll go in and say I want all of that.

Instead of having to answer the question “Can you find me shorts just like this?” you can tell them to look at what you’ve got. You’ve put together a collection that looks awesome.

Going back to the basics a lot of our customers have no idea what to do. They don’t know where to get blanks, they don’t know how much they should keep in inventory, whether or not they should even keep an inventory, order minimums. What are some of the nuts and bolts of SanMar and how they deal with their customers?

SanMar has been around for 45 years, and we’ve had our ups and downs, but I think the one thing that we’re proudest about is the ownership team here has never been one to be stagnant. They’ve always tried to move forward. Things have changed in this industry and what we’ve been noticing is more and more customers do need visuals, like the school selling guide. We’ve got one for corporate apparel as well. We’ve got one for t-shirts. We’ve really tried to support the education of our customers so that they feel a little bit more confident in presenting apparel. Our staff goes through almost a year’s worth of training before they get their first set of customers as an account executive. We’re aware of how customers like to shop and this is where we’re starting to go. It’s so much sexier to see all of these clothes in a color scheme. It’s almost like you just walked into the collegiate bookstore, or right into the school locker room and all of a sudden you have this wow.

All of it goes together and imagine if you were a store, kind of a decorator who has two or three schools right around them. When my daughters where in highschool it was all about wearing the sweatshirts and logo t-shirts, especially to the football games. So I was one of those moms who didn’t have anything and so there was a shoe store that just had a heat press machine and the logos of the schools they would just heat press on. It was Friday and my daughters didn’t have anything, so I go to this store and sure enough it has a sweatshirt, he put a transfer on it, and sold it to me for $40. But I paid it, because it wasn’t just about the sweatshirt it was about the security of my daughters going to a game and not feeling like they don’t fit in.

The school and team market is so strong. Because not matter what parents will get what the kids need when it comes to athletics and their school uniforms. One thing that I think people need to understand is that we produce these little guides and you can see we break them down into little sections. It’s not just corporate uniforms. Is this an environment where you get to be a little more casual? Or are you ‘office cool’ where you’ve got young, hungry people who still want to look trendy, but they’re still in the office?

There are t-shirts that feel like sandpaper, but they exist because they’re inexpensive. And there are t-shirts that feel light as a feather and so soft you can’t believe it. You have to give your customer the choice of which one and make it their decision. You have three basic t-shirts in different levels of fabrication, you offer three of those t-shirts in your store in the same color and you have your customers just do a touch test and see which one they prefer, it helps them make the decision.

I’m always worried about inventory and being stuck with inventory. What should I do?

The nice thing about SanMar is that we can get most product to customers within 1-2 days. Most of our customers don’t inventory anything. They utilize us, and just buy on demand. There are no minimum orders. And if you do find yourself with too much, we’ll take it back. Nobody is ever stuck with anything, unless it’s decorated. We also have a freight policy where if you’re order is over $200, we’ll ship it to you for free, no matter how many warehouses we have to ship it from.

Some of the initial steps you’ll want to take is determine what type of decorating do you do, and what garments will work with that. And you may be able to read some of the descriptions online and figure out some of that yourself, or speak with a representative and they can help point you to options. Now you can start to build your own catalog for what’s shown to your customers. You can bring some of those t-shirts, sweatshirts, etc. into your store in a few different sizes and colors so people can see and touch.

Does SanMar offer any type of imagery that customers can use?

Absolutely. We have a whole image library. There are probably 25,000 images available at any one time. What we try to do is do a number of different images so you can get front, side, and back images. That’s important when it comes to trying to find the right product when you’re talking about decoration.
SanMar has this library available to any of its customers . And you can copy and paste any of the images from the site. If our customers ever direct their customers to a website, we do have a completely generic website that doesn’t have our name on it. It’s called CompanyCasuals.com and that is our generic version to send customers to, to go searching for product. And any price that’s posted is the suggested manufacturer retail price.

If you’re somewhere in between having a website and not, it’s a nice place to send your clients. You can also send them a direct link to the shirts.

Our design center allows customers to make their own mini-catalog, up to a 16 page catalog, to highlight and showcase the pieces that they sell. And they don’t have to deal with the 7-800 page catalog.

You can take the images from the large catalog, send them over to a graphic designer and get them to build your catalog with your branding. Then if you have a storefront you can also do that retail display. It is an investment of money, but it will set you apart. In addition to that, if you don’t have a shop, make your own virtual shop. SanMar has images on what a display could look like, and so you can make your own virtual display. Then have that in something you can email your customers or on your website. So customers can see all of the options. Depending on what cost level you want to go with you can simply get a graphic designer to help you put a catalog together. Or if you have a little bit more to spend on marketing, you can get a student to model the clothing that you’ve designed, perhaps at a local park.

Everything that we support, including your custom website, is free for our customers. There is no cost involved. We manage these custom websites for thousands of our customers.

Can a customer have multiple websites?

Absolutely. They can make as many as they want.

They could make a website for each highschool.

It can be a virtual shopping cart too. It can be PayPal enabled. So if they take orders right from the website it will send a shopping cart notification to our customer so they know how many orders are coming in, what logo they want, everything an ecommerce site would need.

We have so many people dedicated to supporting customers. From IT support, to our decorator relations team.

We’ll be doing another blog post with someone from the Decorator Relations team to get more into that.

If you don’t already have a store online, this is ideal. It’s so easy. This is something many businesses are missing. It’s the answer to a catalog issue, it’s the answer to online presence.

A lot of people aren’t aware of how easy it is. We are here to sell apparel. We don’t want people to shy away from it, or feel like it’s overwhelming. If you call SanMar and talk to someone, we can make it a lot less scary for you.

Even if you don’t know where to start, what questions to ask your customers we’ll give you the questions to ask them.

There are professionals who have dedicated their careers to learning about the custom apparel business. Whether it’s the clothing, or the decorations, or the technology. And we recommend that when customers have questions, they contact us, because we’ve spent 30-40 hours on that one question. And more than likely if you’re asking on a forum, the other people are guessing or have been doing it wrong themselves. When you’ve got resources from companies like SanMar, Coleman and Company, and Coldesi, really use them. You can save a whole lot of time.

We’re here to help you start a custom apparel business. We’ve all got something to gain from it. All this information is readily available and free, whether you’re already doing business with us or not.

Have a good business!

  • Join us on Facebook: Custom Apparel Startups
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  • Learn more about Rhinestone Machines, Embroidery machines, Direct to Garment Printing and more at coldesi.com

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