Episode 108 – Thinking Like a BIG Business

Oct 3, 2019

This Episode

Mark Stephenson & Marc Vila

You Will Learn

  • How to think like a BIG business
  • Why to think strategically and leverage technology

Resources & Links

Episode 108 – Thinking Like a BIG Business

Show Notes

Thinking like a big business is going to change the way you act and run your business. This change is going to allow you to adapt to changes & reach your growth goals.

What thinking like a big business can do for YOUR Business
What does it mean to ‘think like a big business.’ This means you are planning things out, standardizing practices, preparing for troubled waters, documenting everything and adopting SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) for essentially everything.

Think Strategically
Often times small business just think job-to-job. When is my next order, when it is due, etc. Often times the thinking strategically is left out. You have to think with your long term and short term goals in mind with every decision. Some decisions today are really frustrating to make, but you know its one you have to make for a long term win.

e.g. We just did an experiment with cheap vs premium digitizing service. Basically $10 vs $100. Spoiler: the cheap digitizing had 10k more stitches, took 20 min longer to sew out and had a bunch of thread breaks…. PLUS.. looked terrible. Thinking small might have you say, “let me just get the job done and move on. This is only a $600 job, how can I spend $100 on digitizing” – THINKING BIG would say. This job is for the Fire Chief. If I make this look amazing and impress the Chief, i could land a ton more business from the Fire Dept, in addition to the notoriety that my embroidery business does the work for the county fire dept.

Use Technology
Whenever possible use software and hardware to make your job easier and more efficient. Investing in something that streamlines your shop means you are going to produce orders more productively and streamlined. Delivery faster, less mistakes = more satisfied customers.

e.g. investing in a all-in-one hooper means you hoop faster and more accurate. Using a CRM for managing customers means you won’t forget to follow up. Using your phone calendar means you won’t forget to show up for appointments.

Maintenance SOPs
Your equipment won’t maintain itself. You need to create standard operating procedures for keeping your equipment clean, maintained and up to date. Well oiled machines perform well (literally and figuratively). This means writing down and posting SOPs for your equipment including (but not limited to):
– Pre-Job preparation
– Post-job clean up
– Daily maintenance
– Weekly maintenance
– etc etc.

e.g. Have you ever noticed in a bathroom they have posted the times to clean and sign off on who did it? You should do the same thing. Have a maintenance sign off form. Even if you do it 100% yourself.

Supply SOPs
There are two things you need to do when it comes to supplies.

1. Maintain proper inventory
2. Project quantities needed for the future

This is how a retail store runs. They are consistently counting whats on hand and creating projections for what they will need in the future. A grocery store knows that pumpkin spice is going to fly off the shelf Sept-Nov. Compared to selling almost none during the spring. This is how you need to run your shop. If you know you are going to use a ton of white vinyl in Sept.. stock up early so you don’t run out.

Make Brand Based Decisions
In previous episodes, we have discussed the personality of your business. The look and feel of your business should match in all of your customer facing property and collateral. In other words, your website, facebook page, invoices, quotes and emails should all feel like your brand and your business.

Know your Expenses
A big business knows every expense and how to categorize them. If you aren’t tracking your expenses diligently, you could be running yourself into debt and out of business.

R&D should always be on your mind
You should always be researching the industry and thinking about the next big thing for your business. Having the knowledge means when the timing is right, you will know when to jump on an opportunity. Also, be sure you know how to use your equipment to all its abilities. Don’t know how to embroider caps? Spend time each week practising. Big businesses are always looking forward and are educated about the industry. Knowledge is power.

Treat Big Businesses as Equals
When you have the opportunity to land a big account, be sure to pursue the opportunity as a big business would. What are some things a big business might do differently:
– Their decisions are multi-dimensional – Be sure to properly qualify them before quoting them. Do they have certain quality standards? Why are they changing vendors? is a low price more important than a premium garment?

– They may not move quickly – Be sure to understand their pace. Find out their timeline and be sure to stick with it.
– The person you speak to might not make the decisions – Find out how the decision is being made so you can better deliver value to them.
– They want to partner with good businesses – If you are thinking and acting like a big business, it will get noticed. You look like someone who will be a trusted partner.


Welcome to the Custom Apparel Startups podcast, your best source for information, news, tips and tricks to get you off the ground running, and earn success with your custom apparel decorating business. So, get ready to soak up some knowledge!

Now, here are your hosts, Mark and Marc!

Mark S: Hey, everyone! Welcome to episode 108 of the Custom Apparel Startups podcast. My name is Mark Stephenson, from ColDesi.

Marc V: And this is Marc Vila, also from ColDesi now, officially. I’ve got the ColDesi shirt on today and everything, too.

Mark S: But still the ecommerce maven of Colman and Company!

Marc V: I actually spoke with a listener, Maria, and she had asked the question that other people ask. “Oh, is it two different companies? Are you completely separate?” I was explaining to her that more and more, we’re getting into the message that ColDesi is a lot of different things, and one of them is Colman and Company, the ecommerce store, where we sell supplies.

Mark S: That’s very true. Just so you know, if you’ve seen the videos, you may have noticed this. The way we divide up the people between Colman and Company and ColDesi is everyone with a full beard, we say they’re from Colman and Company.

Marc V: I think that’s actually mostly true.

Mark S: It’s mostly true.

Marc V: Good. Now that we’ve gotten that all cleared up, we can go ahead and move on to what this is about.

Mark S: Let’s not just get down to business. Let’s get down to big business! That’s what I want to do.

Marc V: Yeah, big business. In this episode, we’re talking about thinking like a big business. Thinking like a big business, it’s changing the way that you think and act, and run your business. It’s the way that you learn how to adapt to changes, react to growth goals, having particular goals.

It’s thinking the way that a big retail store or a big restaurant, or something like that, would think. It’s very future-thinking.

Mark S: Yeah. I did one of the new little mini-casts about mindset. I don’t know if it’s been published yet.

Marc V: No. It’s going to be published soon, though. Currently, there’s a couple of mini-casts. Just as an aside on that, we’re going to be doing some short versions of the podcasts; five, ten-minute type of goals, just focusing on very, very specific things, a lot of nitty gritty. We’ll do these separately. There’s currently two on deck, to come out, so stay tuned. You’ll find them in the same place where you found this.

Mark S: Really, thinking like a big business is changing your mindset about how you think about your business. You may think about your business now, like you’re a one-person business, or you’re a home-based business, or you’re a sole-preneur or a mom-preneur, or this is what your business is.

But once you shift how you think about it, and start thinking like a big business, different things happen.

Marc V: Yeah, because oftentimes, small business owners get caught into a trap of “This is the job I’m working on today. This is the job I’m working on today.” And every day turns into the same day, of just worrying about what the jobs you’re doing are today. And if you have no jobs, -.

Mark S: You’re worried about where to get a job.

Marc V: You’re worrying about where to get a job, and you wallow. That’s just a fact that’s true of everything. I’ve had friends who are mechanics. One of my really good friends is a contractor, and he does all types of stuff for peoples’ homes. Sometimes I’ll see him, and he’s just like “Man, I don’t have anything going on!” And I’m just like “What’s the plan? What’s the next big thing?”

He’s struggled with thinking like a bigger business. But more and more, he gets into it, and he gets better at it. That’s what your goal is.

Mark S: What can that do for the listeners? What can that do for somebody that’s got a small custom t-shirt shop or embroidery shop, if they start thinking like a big business?

Marc V: Some of the things you can expect are that everything becomes standardized, in a very professional way. So, the way that you’re invoicing and sending out sales orders, and accepting payments, it’s very professional.

You are going to forget doing things less often, because you’ve got a procedure for everything. You’re probably going to make more money, because you’re managing your business better. You understand your finances better. You’re understanding your debt and income and outgo.

Mark S: That’s a good point. I hadn’t thought about that. When you’re a big business, you’re really not managing your business from your checkbook. You know what I mean? You’re not thinking about what I need to accomplish this week or how much money I made today.

You’re thinking about “Okay, what do I need to do to get here by next quarter, by next year, by five years from now?”

Marc V: For example, if you’re a big apparel shop and you have a storefront, where people are walking in, thinking like a bigger business there would say “I’d love for this to be a franchise-style business, where I’ve got one in every mall in town. So, how am I going to get there?”

“First of all, I have to understand how profitable this store is, because maybe I’m going to want to have some people invest. Or I have to understand how much money I’m going to need, to open up another location, and how long it’s going to take that location to be profitable. So, I have to know all of the money I have to have, and how am I going to get there? Do I have to cut costs? Do I have to save more, spend less?” All of that.

Mark S: That reminds me, if you’re a home-based business, and let’s say you do $3,000 to $5,000 a month. That’s your income. It’s not bad, for a side hustle. Are you doing business like you do $10,000 a month, or like you do $100,000 a month?

There are things that you’re going to think about differently. A $5,000 a month business is going to think about their whole business differently than a $100,000 a month business.

You can’t run down to Walmart to pick up some extra supplies, if you’re a $100,000 a month business. You can’t last-minute order things from Colman and Company overnight. You can’t run your business that way, if you plan on doing 1,000 shirts a month, instead of 100 shirts a month.

Marc V: I agree 100%. You’re having to get yourself in a mindset, so you can grow, so you can scale up and get bigger, get bigger customers, all of these things. It’s a domino effect of things.

Let’s just go into our list of things that we’ve got here, and what they are. These are actual action items that you can do, and chances are, if you’re listening to this, you can do one of these things better, if not all of them. So, let’s start going through some of them.

Mark S: I agree. The first one is, can you use technology better? Can you upgrade your systems better, so you can do things faster? That’s one thing that a company like ColDesi is looking at all the time. Are we using the best customer resource management software? Are we using the best email software, which we’re going through changes right now?

Is the ecommerce software that we’re using right now for Colman and Company, is that going to last us into the future? Is your website or your sales practices, are they technology-enabled enough to handle two times, three times or ten times the business?

Marc V: This is about scalability, being able to do twice as much, four times as much, 16 times as much type of a thing. If you’re managing your books right now out of handwritten receipts or out of Excel spreadsheets, and that’s literally how you’re keeping track of every order, is an Excel spreadsheet, and everything is done there, that might be fine for now.

That might be fine for when you’re doing ten orders a month. Now, what happens if you do 100? Imagine yourself managing it then. What if you get to 1,000? It basically becomes almost impossible, then. It’s a ton of work.

Then, being able to go backwards on that, like “Okay, now I want to get QuickBooks or FreshBooks, or one of these things,” and you had these people a 300-page Excel document of all of your orders, it’s going to be a ton of money to get that data in. You’re going to have to start fresh. It’s going to be a mess.

So, while you’re small, think big.

Mark S: I agree with that. The point is that not only will you be better prepared for when you do get big, and I think you’ll be more likely to get bigger, is you’re going to get the efficiencies that a big company has, in your company now. Everything you do, it will just make you more profitable. It will make the jobs go faster.

It will make your customer interactions be smoother. Every part of your business is going to work better, because if you operate your business like a McDonald’s does, then the procedures, the pieces and parts, the accounting, taking the money, it all works well every single time that you do it.

Marc V: Using technology will give automatically some perceived value in doing business with you. If the way you do business now, or your competition is “Hey, here’s the job. Here’s the quote. It’s going to be $300. You can give me cash, you can write me a check, you can Venmo me the money.”

Mark S: I knew you were going to say that, for some reason!

Marc V: That’s actually how I got my hair cut last time.

Mark S: Venmo?

Marc V: Yeah. They said “We do cash, credit card, Venmo.” I was like “I’ll Venmo it, just for fun!” And I put a little haircut emoji as the reason.

Mark S: By the way, Venmo is the PayPal of the bearded generation.

Marc V: It’s like social media money. But anyway, talking about that, versus you’ve got, say an invoicing type of a software, like QuickBooks or FreshBooks or one of these. There’s a bunch of them out there. Or something that’s built into your ecommerce store. At that point in time, you’re sending somebody an invoice.

It’s a professional invoice, with all of your information. Right on it, from their mobile device or their desktop, they can click Pay. When they click Pay, it brings up the payment options, right on their phone. Maybe what you have accepts PayPal or Apple Pay or Venmo or one of these things, as well.

Right on their device, they just click a button, and it recognizes their face or their passcode, and boom! They’re paid. That experience is really nice.

Yes, it’s going to cost you a bit more than if you were to just take cash only, because you’re going to pay a few percent to that. But it was really convenient. It made it really easy to pay, versus if you say they have to pay via check or cash.

Mark S: Now you’re going to the bank. You’re making manual entries. I’ve even started to deal with some CRMs, some of the customer resource management softwares that you can do the proposal, you can send it to somebody, they can approve it, as in the artwork. Then, if you’ve got a deposit, you can set the percentage, and they can pay that, as well.

That’s thinking like a big business. A big business wants to make it easy for you to give them money. And that’s basically what you can do. You can make that change.

Marc V: Technology is not just about apps and software, and stuff like that.

Mark S: Right. It’s operations, too. It’s actually making something.

Marc V: Yeah. The embroidery machine you’re using, the printer that you’re using, whatever it might be, all of that is part of your technology, too, and embracing that, to think like a big business.

Mark S: I love the all-in-one hooper example.

Marc V: The all-in-one hooper is something that I wrote down. If you’re an embroiderer, basically what that is, is it’s a device that you put a shirt on it, and you can pop a hoop in there. Basically, you get the embroidery in the same place every time, and straight every time.

Mark S: As opposed to manual hooping, which takes a little bit longer.

Marc V: Yeah. You do it on a table, and you visually see it differently. It typically takes longer, and typically, you are more likely to make a mistake, especially if you haven’t been doing this for 15 years.

Mark S: And I will tell you, if you walk into a really large embroidery shop, there’s a 90% chance they have a hooping device or ten, in that shop. So, if you are in embroidery, and you are thinking like a big embroidery business, then think about if you had 20 single-heads, and you were doing a 1,000-piece order. Do you want to sit there with your embroidery buddy ruler, and try to line up each individual shirt? Of course not!

Marc V: And using marking chalk constantly, and lining it, and is it straight? That’s hard to do. So, using technology to build that system is great.

Mark S: The same can be said of like a pre-treat machine for DTG.

Marc V: A better heat press.

Mark S: They’re small changes. A better heat press, that works faster, more efficiently.

Marc V: These are all different things you can do. But you need to embrace technology the way that a big business would embrace technology, meaning you’re always looking for something that’s going to make you work faster, more efficient, less mistakes.

Technology is even just using the calendar on your phone, for reminders. If somebody says “Yeah, call me on Tuesday,” right then and there – this is something that I do when I go to the Doctor’s office, even – right when they tell me the appointment, I hit Add New Appointment, Time, Date, Alert me the day before, Alert me the day of, Save.

Then, when you’re busy and you’re running around, and they sent the wrong shirts to you from the t-shirt manufacturer, they sent you the wrong color, and now you’re scrambling. You’re trying to get the new stuff done, and all of this.

That appointment is still supposed to be happening in an hour, but you’re not thinking about it. Technology gives you a little slap, and says “Hey! In an hour, you’re supposed to call this person.” So then, you know to do that, and you get it done.

Relying on sticky notes and notepads, a scrum board, an appointment book; those are all great. And use those tools for the right things. But the notebook is never going to jump off of the desk and throw itself at you, like your phone.

Mark S: And it’s not conducive to – the customer has no idea that’s happening. I even – I’ve brought it up before – I think it’s Lori Consoli who uses an app for her business, that’s designed for restaurants to tell you your table is ready.

It’s like you take a reservation, you place your order. It should be ready by then. I’ll send you a notification, when it’s the next day or something like that. The idea is that the order and the process, and the customer notification that it’s ready, are all automatic.

So, you’re doing your work, if you’re using a system like that. You’re just making shirts, updating things, and the customer shows up when it’s time. You hand them the shirts. You take the money, if they haven’t paid yet, and then you move on. Big business stuff.

Marc V: Yeah. There’s a ton of stuff in technology. So, think about it in equipment, think about it in software, how you take payments. There’s a ton of that.

Before we go down here, though, I had made another note up here, that’s a higher level thought that I wanted to make sure was the first thing that we make sure people know, is that big businesses think strategically, always. We kind of alluded to some of it and mentioned it before. But they’re not making decisions just on that order. They’re making decisions for those long-term business decisions.

We’ve talked about an example before, about a company who offered food delivery service for animals. We saw them at – I’m trying to remember where we went. But we went to an event, and it was basically an event that sounded like it was going to be a motivational thing, but it was really just a guy selling a book.

Mark S: Oh, yeah. That was a shock.

Marc V: He talked about this food delivery service, and he knew how much it would cost to get a customer.

Mark S: That’s “Buying Customers.”

Marc V: And it was the same amount of money that he would have earned. In fact, a little bit more. So, he was losing money for every new customer he got. However, they had done some predictions and guesses, and knew some information, by doing some research, that they were probably going to get a lot more business from those people, and would be profitable.

Mark S: That’s a great point.

Marc V: An example that we had was, we’ve been doing some experimenting with good and bad digitizing, lately. We have this firefighter logo that we did, and we sent it to a really cheap company, and to a premium service. Obviously, ten times the price cost.

Mark S: Right.

Marc V: That’s a fact with cheap [inaudible 17:17]. And the quality difference was staggering.

Mark S: I mean, seriously! We’ve got to put a picture or something in the show notes, because it’s amazing.

Marc V: Yeah. If you listen to the podcast often, or this is the first one, or whatever it might be, you’ll find out about that soon, because we’re putting together a video about all that stuff. But the point being, is thinking like a big business would say “I’ve got an opportunity to get a job with the Fire Chief. They have a special uniform thing that they want made. Something happened with the last embroiderer. I’ve got the opportunity.”

A small business would say, “He’s paying me $200 for this,” etc., etc., etc. If I use that expensive digitizing service, I’m not going to make any money,” which is a fair thought to have. Right?

Mark S: Okay.

Marc V: But if you get this Fire Chief, and you impress the Fire Chief, what are the chances of the ripple effect that’s going to have on your business? A bigger business might say “I don’t care that we’re losing money on this job. We’re getting the freaking Fire Department as a contract! They do tons of stuff! They have to have dress uniforms, and they have things that they wear out, and they have all different types of things!” And they’re connected people, too.

Mark S: I think that what you just said is that a small business is going to look at this one job, and spend $15 on average or below average digitizing. And they’re going to do that because they’re only thinking about this one job.

A big business is going to say “I’ll spend up to a couple hundred bucks for this digitizing, because I want it to be perfect, because there are 900 firemen, and the contract could last year over year, for five or ten years.”

That’s the difference right there. Then, it really doesn’t matter how much the digitizing costs, because if you’re going to sell 10,000 garments or 1,000 garments, or 100 garments, the extra few pennies each is not going to make a difference.

Marc V: Yeah. And then, what we talked about before, about the value of customers, the referral business that you get, the word of mouth. It ripples out.

In that thinking strategically, you need to think about that in every other point that we’re making down here, because using technology is like that, too. Thinking strategically about your technology. “Do I really want to spend an extra few percent, so people can pay with their Apple Pay and PayPal?”

The answer is probably yes. You want to make it easy for them. I know it costs you a little bit more, but the strategic thought would be “I want to get to the point where I could have a couple salespeople, maybe. They could be out there, and they could create an invoice mobilely, get paid on it, and we could start doing the job.”

Mark S: Yeah. “Should I add another better heat press to my business, which is going to speed up my production two times? It’s not going to make me any more month this month, but over the next six months or a year, it’s going to make me a crap load of money.”

Marc V: Yep, especially when you can deliver a job faster, when you don’t have to say no, when you’re not over-booking yourself. That’s a problem with a business like ours, in this industry. And it’s the same with any other service-based business. Right?

A restaurant only has so many seats. A plumber only has so many hands, and a truck. A mechanic only has so much room to work with in their shop, and the only way to grow is to expand that.

So, use technology, and figure out different ways for you to expand it, whether it be equipment, software, or whatever it is.

We can move on to the next one.

Mark S: Which is maintenance and standard operating procedures. I like this idea of SOP, because it’s helped us, even in the Marketing Department at ColDesi. We have some standard operating procedures, before we place an ad with any newsletter, before we do a new video, before we launch a new marketing campaign.

There are steps it goes through, and there are people that are in charge of each one of those steps. The value there is just like when you hire somebody new at McDonald’s. They may or may not know what they’re doing. They may have a good day or a bad day. But the procedures are in place, to make up for all of that.

It should be the same for you. I can’t spell. I can’t spell. I write really fast. I use technology for that. But that also applies when you go into doing regular maintenance, which costs you time now, but saves you dollars later.

Marc V: That’s kind of the maintenance standard operating procedure. This is a great exercise that you can do, about thinking like a big business, that chances are you don’t do this. Because I talk to equipment technicians and trainers, and they tell me.

Mark S: We know you don’t do this. You don’t do this.

Marc V: But the few that do, never have a  problem.

Mark S: Right. We never hear from them!

Marc V: Here’s what you can do. Here’s my little list. You have a standard operating procedure for everything, that you write down. This is something that you write down or type out, and I recommend posting it by your equipment, so printing it and putting it on your equipment, next to your equipment, whatever it is.

It’s a pre-job prep list. What do you have to do for your equipment, before you do it? No matter what you have, there is some sort of pre-job prep list you have to do.

Mark S: You oil your embroidery machine.

Marc V: Oil your embroidery machine, nozzle check your DTG printer.

Mark S: Same thing with the UV printer.

Marc V: The same thing with the UV. Your heat press, make sure it’s calibrated. Make sure your platen’s warmed up, if it needs to.

Mark S: And clean.

Marc V: And clean. Make sure it’s on, it’s heated up, all of these things. Everything you’re going to do, you have your pre-work. If you have a cutter, you’re going to make sure that your blade and everything is set to cut for the material that you’re going to be working with on the job.

Mark S: Right, because you don’t want to be eight feet into a roll of vinyl before you realize it hasn’t cut [inaudible 23:23].

Marc V: Or it’s cut all the way through, and you’ve destroyed your blade and everything. So, you’ve got pre-job preparation. Then, you’ve got post-job cleanup.

Mark S: Yeah. I’ll tell you, I love pretreat machines for direct-to-garment printers, but pretreat is basically salt water and magic chemicals, that if you leave it sit inside the nozzles and inside the machine itself, then it will rust it out. It will cause damage. It will not spray properly, and that will cost you a lot of money down the road.

But if after you’re done with a job, you go through the two-second cleaning procedures, you’ll be fine.

Mark S: An embroidery machine example would be you take your bobbin out, you clean out your rotary hook with air, you prep it up and get it ready to go for the next job. So, every machine has the same thing. You make sure you have your shutdown procedures.

Then, you’ve got your daily maintenance for all of your equipment. These are all checklists that you have. You have a daily maintenance checklist. What am I going to do to my DTG printer every day? Some things are going to be easier than others. If you’ve got a Digital HeatFX printer, you’re not really doing much to the printer.

Mark S: You just blow it off.

Marc V: Yeah. But it could just be keep the area around it clean, maybe could be your note. It could be just check your toner levels, that you’re always just constantly taking a look. “That looks good.” The area is clean, you make sure the paper trays are all in and right, and clean.

Mark S: [inaudible 24:51].

Marc V: All of these things. And the same thing with your heat press. You make sure it’s clean. You make sure no transfers got stuck to it.

Mark S: That you turn it off at night.

Marc V: You turn it off, and all of that. And then, the same thing if you have weekly, monthly, quarterly maintenance cycles.

Mark S: And you’re going to. Sometimes, we say daily and weekly, but for example, the maintenance schedule for an embroidery machine depends on how long you’ve been running it. For a DTG printer, there’s some flexibility there. But the best practices are actually already taped to the top of every DTG M2.

Marc V: The thing that I thought about is if you go to a restroom, and they have this sign in the restroom, of the cleaning. Typically, it lists different things they do; mop the floor, clean the toilets, take the trash.

Mark S: And they have signatures next to it.

Marc V: They have signatures next to it, and it has time slots; 10:00 AM-4:00 PM, and they sign off on it. This is how a big business is thinking about it. You can do the same thing for yours, even if it’s just you. You wake up, you do your weekly maintenance, and you sign off on it.

It’s not that much different than an app that reminds you to take your pills, or using a pill bottle thing. “I know I took Monday.” So, you don’t forget.

Having these standard operating procedures will really help you out, because you’re going to forget. And the one time that you forget to do something with your maintenance, or cap your DTG printer, or turn off your heat press, it could turn into something that can cost you a lot of money.

Mark S: This isn’t just us, once again, trying to get you guys to do maintenance. This really is thinking like a big business. Imagine a Ford car assembly line, and the amount of maintenance that they go through to keep it running, on a daily and hourly basis, and the disaster that happens if they don’t. It costs millions of dollars, to shut down a line like that.

You may not lose millions of dollars, if your head gets clogged on your DTG printer, or if you ruin a shirt, because there was something on your heat press. But the scale is there. It’s going to ruin your freaking day, that’s for sure!

A big business doesn’t forget that stuff. They have the checklist. Even though for the one in the bathroom, I’m going to bring a grease pencil and write “Liar!”

Marc V: It depends what store you’re in.

Mark S: That’s true.

Marc V: So, it’s important you have maintenance and overall standard operating procedures. You should also have supply standard operating procedures.

Mark S: Yeah, same thing. I actually kind of like the idea of thinking of yourself like a clothing manufacturer. You know what I mean? Because that’s what you’re doing. It’s a creative, smaller-scale process, but you’re a clothing manufacturer, and you need to make sure that you have the right inventory of the parts it takes to make the clothes.

What’s that? That is the blanks, blank garments. It’s the supplies to run your printer and your embroidery machine, and it’s all the maintenance stuff that you need, to do those things.

Marc V: It’s ink, it’s oil, it’s cleaning supplies, it’s vinyl, it’s paper. I help to run an ecommerce store here, and statistically, a lot of people come here, and they overnight things that they should have. Frankly, you should just have it.

Overnighting a bobbin case, a single bobbin case, you should never need just one bobbin case. That’s an embroidery part. It’s an inexpensive part. It’s something that if you just drop it real quick, you handle it a lot, and you’ve got oil on your fingers when you’re handling it, probably. The likelihood of you dropping it and damaging it, is pretty good.

So, having one, and then you just overnight one? You should have bought two or three.

Mark S: That’s a mistake.

Marc V: These are different things. The supplies are any consumable things. DTG, you should have an emergency kit that you own, just in case any of those parts go bad, when you’re in production. These are all things we have, but we see people overnighting things all the time, which means that more than likely, most of those people weren’t maintaining proper inventory, and they weren’t projecting for what could happen in the future.

Mark S: They’re thinking about what’s happening right now, what’s happening today. McDonald’s never runs out of wrappers for hamburgers.

Marc V: Yeah, but their ice cream machine is always broken.

Mark S: Still! That’s repair and maintenance.

Marc V: That is true. I don’t think I’ve ever -.

Mark S: Of course not. What are they going to do? Hand you a hamburger? Because they know what kind of money is on the line. You should be the same way.

Marc V: Yeah. This is how a retail store runs, if you go to your grocery store. Now, it doesn’t mean that all of these places are perfect.

Mark S: Or us.

Marc V: Yeah, or us. Because somebody could devil’s advocate out there and say “Well, you ran of this before,” or “I went to the grocery store, and they were out of milk the other day.” There’s always going to be hiccups, and there’s always going to be things you can’t predict. There are so many things in the market.

All of a sudden, you are just going to get two rush orders in a row that just suck up all of your ink, and you normally are good. But now, you’ve got to rush and overnight ink. And I know some of those overnights are legitimate spikes you can’t predict.

Mark S: Sure.

Marc V: But many of them are predictable. You want to think about the grocery store. This time of the year, they’re loaded up on pumpkin spice stuff.

Mark S: Yes. And in Florida, they’re loaded up on water.

Marc V: Water, that’s true. It’s hurricane stuff. Mark Stephenson, every time this  time of the year, he is just going to the store and loading up on pumpkin spice stuff for his coffee.

Mark S: I really, really love flavored coffee like Marc Vila loves close-up magic.

Marc V: Yeah, so he’s loaded up on this stuff. But the grocery store knows that there is just going to be a spike. People are going to be making pumpkin pies. People are going to be making pumpkin desserts. It’s just a thing. So, you go to the grocery store, and there are just shelves upon shelves of pumpkin stuff going on. They prepared for this. They know it’s happening. They’re prepared for it.

You do the same thing. If you know that when school season starts, you’re going to be using up a bunch of white vinyl, then before it starts, have your inventory ready to go. Use last year, if you have a year before, to predict it. If you don’t, and it’s new, you’re just going to have to guess.

Say “I did 200 orders in the summer. Fall is a lot busier. I’m going to prepare for 300 orders.”

Mark S: If this is your first year with a school, you’re going to ask them “What do those orders look like, so I can be prepared?” If for some reason, you don’t have the cash to get those supplies right now, and you know that deal is coming, like a big business, you can budget for it. Maybe order an extra roll, every time you order your regular order.

By the time the season hits, you’ve got a nice stash of the vinyl that you’re going to want.

Marc V: It’s really important to have inventory checking procedures. That’s kind of similar to the maintenance checklist. It might even be, you can combine these things. “Check ink levels. Check ink inventory.” Have a mark that you put on every bottle, that once it gets to this line, you reorder.

Mark S: Here’s what I would be happy with. I’d be happy if you guys knew how much of each of your inventoried supplies, that you should have on the shelf at any given time. Like if you determine that over the next certain period of time, you’re going to need two liters of white, I’d love to see that written down somewhere in part of your weekly checklist. “I’ve got one and a half liters of white. I’m going to order another one, because by the time it comes in, I’ll have used it.”

That will make up for a lot of other things. It really will.

Mark S: Yeah. On supplies, we’ve talked about this plenty of times in the podcast. This is one of the biggest mistakes people make, where they have to order a tiny little quantity, to fulfill something. It costs them more money. They have to overnight things. They don’t have it, and therefore, they can’t fulfill the job. And then, they can’t take the job, and the customer has to go somewhere else.

So, having maintenance and supply standard operating procedures are really important.

The next one we have is making brand-based decisions.

Mark S: What did you mean by that?

Marc V: If you’re thinking like a person, like an individual, you make decisions kind of just on what you feel like doing. You just wear a shirt, because you want to wear it. You don’t say “I don’t wear blue shirts. Every shirt that I have has to have a certain type of collar on it.” Right? Because as people, we really don’t brand ourselves that way.

Mark S: I feel like you’ve called something out there, because you don’t wear blue. But you are wearing red right now. In different parts of the country, that’s going to get you in trouble.

Marc V: We’re blue and red right now.

Mark S: I know! I know. East coast, west coast.

Marc V: Interesting. I’m going to make a note. But if you’re a brand, you actually do have those things that you should be talking about and thinking about. You should be thinking about the colors that you use in your branding. If you’re making an invoice or you’re making some letterhead, or you’re making an ad that you’re going to put out in a local Pennysaver, which is Mark’s favorite way of advertising, -.

Mark S: It is.

Marc V: Any of these things, you want to think about your branding. The way you answer your phone, the way you answer emails, any type of letterhead, your business cards. You want your business cards and your website and your Facebook page, and your logo and the type of shirt you’re wearing, to all feel like they’re a cohesive unit. They’re part of the same club.

Mark S: And honestly, that goes for you personally, too. If you offer a schizophrenic approach to who you are and your business, then it’s going to be jarring for your customers. For example, if you’re Miss Milly’s Home Embroidery, and you deliver your products on the back of a Harley. There’s nothing wrong with that. You might do that on a Saturday. But you know, you’ve got to be consistent.

Marc V: Miss Milly, if you heard that and you were offended, you can call us.

Mark S: It’s just like me and the blue shirt that I’m wearing. I’m well known, that every shirt that I wear 24/7, is one of these SanMar kind of S608s, with the logo embroidered on the side. It’s what I wear, and it’s on purpose, not just because it’s incredibly easy, and I can just go in the closet and pick things. It’s on purpose. If people see me out in any of my businesses, this is what I’m wearing. It’s easy for them to remember me.

They know exactly what they’re going to get. They’re going to get somebody professional, every single time.

Marc V: Yeah. That’s part of the branding of the business that you’re in. It’s really important to make brand-based decisions. Any decision you’re going to make about, it’s really everything. If you’re going to have a storefront, if your whole brand is cute and unique and quirky, then you probably don’t want your storefront to be in like an industrial complex type looking place.

Mark S: Yeah. A big business wouldn’t do that. Right?

Marc V: No, they wouldn’t.

Mark S: How long does it take a company that’s in a mall, to pick a location? A long time. There are real estate agents that just do that. They just match franchisees with the right spot. You’ve got to be like that, about all parts of your business.

Marc V: Yeah. Make brand-based decisions. Next one?

Mark S: I like this “know your expenses,” because it’s different than know what your bills are. You know what I mean?

Marc V: Tell us.

Mark S: A small business knows what their bills are, because they’ve got to pay them at the end of every month. A big business knows, on the balance sheet, what their expenses are, because that affects the overall bottom line.

The first one is kind of the mindset of “I have to make sure I have this much money in the bank.” The second one is looking at how you spend money, and how that affects the profitability and the health of your business, if that makes sense.

Marc V: Yeah. Okay, so what you’re saying is that if you’re tracking everything diligently, and you understand why the money is going out. It’s understanding why the money is going out, not just having the money in the bank. Is that part of it, too?

Mark S: It is. It’s “My business expenses include website costs, it includes the software plug-ins, it includes business cards, it includes QuickBooks. Those are all my business expenses.”

Marc V: So, there’s business function expenses, there’s maybe storefront expenses, there’s advertising online expenses, there’s PR expenses, staff expenses. You understand everything siloed individually, as a whole. This way, if you need to make some sort of adjustment, like you say “Gosh, should we have a bigger store? Or should we not have a store, and just go all online?”, you know where all that money is, versus if it’s scattered.

Knowing your expenses, too, can also delve into knowing your income really well.

Mark S: Yeah, because you can look. At the end of 90 days, you made $50,000. Then you look, and your expenses in your accounting software was $45,000. Then, you only made $5,000. But if it was $20,000, and you look in your bank and there’s only $5,000 in there, these are things that a big business looks at, to identify whether they’re actually making money or not.

That’s the idea behind treating your expenses like a big business. Is what I’m doing making me money? And at the end of a quarter, at the end of a year, did I make money?

Marc V: And if you are using accounting software, and you’re sku-ing things like DTG print, embroidery; you can know how much each are bringing into the business, when you think about reinvesting, whether it’s time or advertising or equipment, or whatever it might be.

A couple more to go. The next one is R&D, research and development, should just always be on your mind.

Mark S: What do you mean by that?

Marc V: You’ve always got to know, you’ve got to be learning, constantly. That’s another way to rephrase it. You’ve got to be knowing what’s going in your industry, what’s going on with your equipment, the future of your equipment, the technology within your equipment. T-shirt technology – what’s new with the apparel suppliers you’re buying from? Is there a trend on how things are moving?

Knowing all of your research and all of the data, and developing new things for your business, as well. If you run an embroider shop, and I know that there’s folks out there, they don’t know how to do hats. They never learned how to embroider hats.

Mark S: They tried once.

Marc V: Yeah. They tried once, they failed, they got frustrated, they said it’s too hard. Well, guess what? Pretty much every hat out there is embroidered. So, somebody’s doing it. Not you, though.

So, spend time every week, learning how to do the hats. You have some money put aside, to buy blank hats. You’ve got some time put aside to practice it, and you’re learning how to do it. You’re researching and developing, being able to do another thing with your equipment.

There’s also just getting creative with things. We did a video where we went out and bought a bunch of different things to try to print on.

Mark S: Yes.

Marc V: So, you do that same thing, too. Say “What else could I do? What else could I buy wholesale?” Start thinking about that, and say “I wonder, if I start doing these canvas boards?” So, you buy some. You try to make some. You see how they come out, how they look. You ask customers what their feedback is.

Mark S: That’s it.

Marc V: You’re always researching new things. You’re looking for the next big thing for you, even if you’re really, really small. A really small thing might just be you haven’t done hats. So, you learn how to do it. That doesn’t mean that you’re in the hat business, or you decide to be in the hat business.

You might do all that research, do all the work, find out what the competition is like, and say “You know what? Hats aren’t going to be as profitable for me as sticking with the woven shirts, like this. I’m just going to stick with this.” The research doesn’t mean you’re going to do it. It gives you the education, to be able to make the good decisions.

Mark S: For us, and maybe for you guys, too, it also has to do with education in marketing. We’re always looking for places to learn more. We’re constantly doing R&D on marketing efforts. Maybe you look, and you’re thinking about your business as a big business, and realize that “I’m going to want to try some Facebook advertising. Fourth quarter, I want to see if I can expand my market by using Facebook, so I’ve got three months. Let me start doing my research now, so by the time I decide yes, it’s not $100.” You’re working up to it.

Marc V: You’re planning and thinking. The last one we have here, this was something that you brought up, Mark. So, I would like you to jump into it.

Mark S: Okay. This is different. We’re no longer really talking about you thinking of yourself strictly as a big business. We’re thinking about you dealing with a big business. So, for example, I’ll use the example of ColDesi again. The vast majority of our customers are just like you. You’re a one person or a three to five person business.

Most of our customers are just getting started, or they’re in a position where they’re going to add their second machine. That’s most of what we do all day. That’s why it’s the Custom Apparel Startups podcast.

But we also have historically had some amazing customers, huge customers. We’ve got the number three uniform company in the world, as a customer. We’ve had Nike and Levi’s, and we’ve had some big franchises as a customer. Well, we can’t think about them the same way we think about you guys, because they want different things.

If a customer walks into your shop and they want five shirts, that’s a big difference between the city coming to you for 500 shirts. They want something different. They need something different. So, you have to talk to them differently, and treat their expectations differently.

Marc V: Yeah. We wrote down a few different things here, that are just some ideas how to think of yourself like a big business, and try to think of yourself as equals with a big business.

So, you have the opportunity to get a contract with a big business. It doesn’t mean that this is one order of 8,000 shirts, that you’ve got to figure out how to get the contract for, and get them made. It’s about building a relationship with this big business.

I don’t know what the order is going to be, but here are some things that you can consider.

Their decisions are probably multi-dimensional, meaning that it’s not necessarily just about who makes the shirt the cheapest or who can deliver it the fastest.

Mark S: Or how cute your design is.

Marc V: Yeah. Oftentimes, it’s a lot of different things coming into it, depending on who is making the decision and what’s the motivation for talking to you. So, finding out what those different dimensions are, is extremely important, and it starts by qualifying them, asking them.

“What’s important to you. Are you looking for ultra-premium apparel? Are you trying to do this with a slim budget?” Figure out what it is. “How often are you going to be doing this? Are you looking for a one-time thing, or is this going to happen every day or every week or month?”

You find out all of these things, and now you know the expectation. So, before you quote, you might immediately just go quote “This is my standard shirt. All of my customers like it.” But if you’re talking to a big business or a big brand, then they might be looking for something very, very specific. That’s when you ask that.

They’ll say “Yeah, we’re a fishing shop, and we’ve got four different stores, and we want to do our uniforms. We want our uniforms to look like when somebody is going into like a big box store. We want to look like uniforms, and nice, when people walk in. Because we’re going to have customers coming in here, and they’re going to spend $1,000 on fishing stuff. We’re the experts. We want them to trust us, when we recommend something for them.”

Mark S: I like that.

Marc V: In that case, they probably want an ultra-premium shirt.

Mark S: Yeah. You’ve got a great question down here that I think is 100% something that you have to ask a big business, and this is something that, if you were a big business, you would ask. That is, “Obviously, you order custom apparel now. What’s making you make the change? What happened with your last vendor?”

Then, the story that they tell you is going to kind of lead you to what the problem is. “We had a bad relationship with them,” or they were late, or the shirts washed out, or the embroidery was crappy. What that just said was “Well, my company is always on time. We use higher quality shirts than anybody else in town. And I get the best digitizing, so the embroidery will be rock solid every time.”

Marc V: It’s finding out those dimensions of what they are. They might not move quickly.

Mark S: They almost never do.

Marc V: Yeah. And that’s something that’s an interesting thing, too. If you are kind of a go-getter salesperson type of a person, and you have this small business, and somebody calls you up for shirts. “You want them today? Are you ready to do the order?”

Then, you call them the next day. “Hey, what about those shirts?” Things like that. You need to know what their timeline is. “No, this is a first quarter 2020 project.” Now you know, and there’s no point in pestering them any time, besides just making sure they remember you, or whatever it might be.

Mark S: Yeah, multiple steps. When we put the Digital HeatFX printers into a franchise that’s hopefully going to be all around the country, it was a multi-step process. We had to meet the people. We had to show them the product. We had to train some of the people on the product, for a few sample stores.

Then, we had to help them work with the ROI, on what clothes they make, through that whole process. In the end, they’re going to buy a bunch of stuff. But it’s this process of working with a big business, that is different than just having somebody walk up.

Marc V: Talking about that, too, the person that you’re speaking to might not be the one who is making the decision.

Mark S: It almost never is.

Marc V: They might just be the research person or the idea person, or they’re in charge of just sourcing all of the products. They’re just purchasing. They’re never going to decide if they buy it or not. They’re told to buy something, and they do the process.

So, you need to find out with that, what are the motivations behind the decision? But also, who is making the decision? You might not get to talk to that decision-maker, too. That’s fine, within a big business like that. It’s going to be a Board that’s going to make the decision. You’re not going to get in front of the Board.

So, the person that you communicate with, you find out from them what needs to be delivered to the Board. “How much information do you need?” You go through this. You’re just constantly gathering information and asking questions.

Mark S: Just as an aside, if you become part of that person’s team, and start asking questions like “How can we make this easy for people to make a decision? Can we present the Board with a sample or two? Can we do something with the quote or with the terms?”

When you’re dealing with somebody like that, you’re asking for information, but the easier that you can make that person’s job, then the more likely you are to get a contract.

Marc V: And now, they’re on your side. They like you.

The last one we have here, they want to partner with good businesses.

Mark S: Yeah.

Marc V: We’ve seen that at Colman and Company, where we get these larger businesses that buy supplies from us. By the way, the scale of all this, it doesn’t mean you versus Best Buy.

Mark S: It could.

Marc V: Yeah, it could be that. It definitely could. It could be you as a mom and pop shop, versus that fishing store that has 60 employees and three shops. They’re much bigger than you, but all these rules may still apply with them.

When it comes to working with bigger businesses, at Colman and Company, we have some bigger businesses that we deal with, and they like the stability of the products. They like knowing that they’re going to get what they’re going to get. They like building a good relationship, knowing they can contact somebody with a problem.

They want to do business with good businesses, because what you provide them is just a part of their whole system, and they don’t want things breaking constantly. They want stability in the business. Think of it like a big boat. It has to make a decision to turn. Engines are going down, it’s too much. It’s a mess. They can’t just run and fix something real quick, and they don’t want to be running and fixing things real quick.

This big business wants a nice stable, good business relationship. You have to make sure that you’re acting and thinking that way. Doing everything from the above here, puts you in that mindset, I think.

Mark S: I absolutely agree.

Marc V: What else? Do we have anything to wrap up on this? Do you have any last words?

Mark S: No. It’s such a useful exercise. And because there’s no definition here on these papers, for what a big business is, even if you consider yourself a big business – because we’ve got some big customers that do thousands of shirts a day – you could still benefit from thinking like an even bigger business. Because that’s how you get there.

Marc V: Because you’re not Google. No matter how big you are, there’s still Google. You know? There’s always something to look up to.

Mark S: How does Amazon do it? How does Google do it? How does Café Press do it? These are organizations that might be worth emulating. If you find somebody – maybe that’s it. Maybe find a big company that you do business with, and think about how they treat you, and what must be behind the idea that they deliver stuff to you on time.

Think about everything that Colman and Company does, to make sure that you get that bobbin. What has to happen? They’ve got the ecommerce site that they have to maintain, that has to hook into the accounting software. There’s a shipping software that has to be right. The people in the warehouse have to pick the right thing. They have to put all the right paperwork in the box.

They have to make sure that UPS or whatever shows up on time. They have to provide a tracking number with that. The customer service rep has to call, to make sure.

All of these are big business moves that we make. Do that. Do those kinds of things. Think about those kinds of things for your business and for your customers, and you’ll bridge that gap pretty quick.

Marc V: Another thing is if you’re doing what we’ve talked about in other podcasts, where you’re going to networking events and meeting people, and meeting other business owners, the chances are you’ll become friendly with somebody who is going to have a bigger business than you, however big that is. There’s nothing wrong with asking that person, at a certain in time. Just say “Hey, I’m trying to grow my business. Can I see any part of your operation?”

Mark S: I love that!

Marc V: “Is there someone I can talk to? Are there some tips? I’m trying to get better at marketing.” There have been times where the owner of our company has had us talk to, on the phone, another business owner that he knows. “Can you talk to so-and-so? Just tell them a bit about what we do for marketing.”

Mark S: And the other way around, definitely.

Marc V: Absolutely. We do that, and that happens to us. So, try to do that stuff, too. Even if it’s a completely different business, I bet if you’re really paying attention, you’ll learn something.

Mark S: Absolutely.

Marc V: That sounds great!

Mark S: Episode 108 – Think Like a Big Business. Not bad!

Marc V: Let’s do it.

Mark S: Alright, thanks, everybody! This has been Mark Stephenson, from ColDesi.

Marc V: And Marc Vila, from ColDesi and Colman and Company.

Mark S: I like that. You guys have a great business!


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