Episode 123 – Types of Apparel Businesses: Where They Go & How To Win

Apr 29, 2020

This Episode

Marc Vila

You Will Learn

  • Types of custom apparel businesses

Resources & Links

Episode 123 – Types of Apparel Businesses: Where They Go & How To Win

Show Notes

All businesses are not the same. They each have their own individual personality and goals. Although every business & person is completely unique, we can categorize them. These categories can help us understand a few things:

– Where are you now?
– Where do you want to be in the future?
– What are your strengths now?
– How to sell against each category?

In this episode, we will talk about each of these businesses/people and how knowing this information will help you succeed.

The Pure Hobbyist

Definition: This person makes t-shirts for fun. They wouldn’t even consider it a business. They often aren’t charging anything and just doing stuff for presents. If they do a favor, they usually just charge for supplies and do the labor for free.

Pros: It’s just for fun! That’s it. They like to do it.

Cons: This hobby costs money. It’s not ‘cheap’ to make custom apparel. So if you are concerned with a hobbyist ‘taking away your business’ – remember it’s not sustainable. Its a money pit, not a money generator. Also, they simply cannot do orders of any size in a reasonable amount of time.

How to deal with them: Be their friend! You should connect with every hobbyist you can, they are a source of referral business more than someone who will take your business.

The Side Hustler

Definition: This business is usually still just one person (maybe 2.) The owner has a full time job and is doing this business to earn extra income on their time off. Usually, this business is run off-hours… nights/weekends.

Pros: These businesses have a low cost of ownership. They often don’t have a ton of costs…… No rent, No Employees,etc. The profits of this business go right into the pocket of the owner.

If you are a Side Huster you can often compete by offering REALLY personalized customer service and you can operate at a lower margin due to low overhead. Your business is most likely all referral and through relationships you already have.

Cons: Since this business is a second job and operated by one person, it’s volatile. Side Hustlers might get a promotion at work, and spend less time ‘hustling’. If you are a Side Hustler you should have a plan. Do you want to ride this as an up and down hustle? Do you want to take it to the next level?

How to Deal with Them? Much like the hobbyist, the side hustler should be your friend. If they get an order for 100 shirts, they will need a pro to help them out. If you are selling against a side hustler, your best bet is to sell above what they can. Offer more unique items, better art services or more options.

The Mom & Pop

Definition: This is a two person shop, typically it’s a married couple. It also might be two best friends or a couple of cousins. This shop is usually small, and might still be home/garage based. Its typically full time for one or both of the owners.

Pros: Mom & Pop shops offer the best customer service. They build personal relationships and have many repeat customers. They are also experts in their field. They know people, they know the business. They have moved past being a Side Hustler and are now true professionals.

Cons: Mom and Pop shops still don’t always operate as a traditional ‘business.’ They probably don’t have a true marketing budget and don’t often have a staff. Since they haven’t upgraded to the next level, they have limitations.

How to deal with them? I’m going to give the same answer as the other two… be their friends. They build amazing relationships with fellow decorators. If you are a bigger or smaller business than you, you will find you can get business from them. Especially partner with Mom & Pop shops that do things you DON’T do.

The Small but Fierce

Definition: This is the next level up after Mom and Pop. Now, this business might still only be just Mom and Pop running it… but its got UPGRADES. This business now operates with a true PROFIT in mind. It has monthly and annual budgets. It makes decisions not on personal finances but on business plans. This is a nice place to be!

Pros: This business is run by truly seasoned professionals. They know how to sell, how to deal with competition, how to be profitable. They have probably dealt with numerous upturns and downturns in business. They know how to weather a storm.

Cons: Since this is more of a ‘true’ business, it loses flexibility. They have certain suppliers they work with, they do things within a certain method. It’s harder to move a ship that is set in its ways. If you are a smaller shop then them, you should be looking at providing a more personalized experience. You are willing to be flexible where they cannot. If you are about the same size, its going to be all about the sales experience and quality of work. You have to be the best to beat them!

How to deal with them? Be friendly, but REALLY watch them close. They can easily jump in and grow quickly if they put their mind to it. If you are larger than them, you can win with a sturdy sales team. If you are smaller than them, you can win with the best personal customer experience. The ‘i am the owner and I will personally be making your shirts’ type of conversation.

The Big Leagues

Definition: This category can be broken down into a lot of different categories. However, we will define this as multiple employee shops with prob over 100k in equipment. They have processes, automation, and a true sales force.

Pros: They really know how to win. That’s how they got where they are. They often can really provide low prices that the smaller shops can’t. They can do this by optimizing their costs and labor. It’s no longer about how much is the owner’s time worth, its how much profit can the business make per hour, per day, etc. These shops are predictable and can be tough competition.

Cons: They are going to be like the titanic. It’s hard to turn these ships. They are very set in ways and if a customer wants something truly unique, they might not deliver it. They also are going to shy away from smaller orders and customers with too specific of needs. They are strong, but cannot operate on a shoestring budget. They need income to survive. Their costs are high.

How to deal with them? You might not even have to! They are often tied into specific niches like doing all the local youth sports or dealing with corporate accounts or having a large online store. However, if you do have to go up against a company in the Big Leagues… don’t try to go after price. They can drive costs all the way down (even lose money) to keep a client. You HAVE to win with personal service and having unique offerings.

Now that you know the types of apparel businesses, you probably realize which one you are… and where you’d like to be next year or in 5 years (even if its the same place)

There is room in the custom apparel industry for ALL of these shops to flourish. If you want to maintain or grow your custom apparel shop you have to continue to refine how you run your business, how you get customers, and how to weather storms. Knowing your competition is one tool in your pocket for success.


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