Getting Started Selling T-Shirts Online
BY MERYL KATLIN
As a full-service decorated apparel shop located in Coral Springs, Fla., I am always looking for new ways to grow. In 2011, I purchased my first digital direct-to-garment printer and after five years I was doing so well with it, I purchased a second one.
Once we figured out a good workflow and how get high-quality prints from the DTG printer, I was positioned to launch my website MakeATeeOnline.com. The goal was to break out of my local market and become more national.
I got my website up in 2012. Choosing which web store creation and online design software was not a quick or easy process. I assigned one of my employees at the time to research what was available and report back on his recommendations.
I had done my own research visiting create-your-own T-shirt websites, and one I really liked was Café Press so I was looking to pattern my own after it.
After looking at available providers, we narrowed it down to four candidates. We spent a lot of time with one specific provider. I liked the artwork, but the contact person was not helpful. My DTG company also said it was working on online design software, but it did not meet our needs.
Finally, we found a company that actually picked up the phone and answered all of our questions. Since then, I’ve been happy with my DTG machine supplier and my online design provider. If it wasn’t for the two of them, I would be doing something else. The support I get from both companies is incredible. I recommend when you are shopping, investigate what kind of support is offered.
I invested a significant amount of money, not only to set up the website, but also to have an expert help me with SEO. Fortunately, I had a long-time friend who was able to help me with anything I didn’t understand, because I am not a web designer.
Part of my agreement with him includes commission on organic sales, and he also has
a web store with us that we do the fulfillment for. And we work together doing classes on how to get started with an online store.
Hand in hand with getting your website launched is having a decorating process that allows for print on demand, and I have found DTG to be ideal. Even if someone orders only one piece, I charge $30 and make a profit.
In fact, because I am not comfortable charging $30 per piece for 10 shirts, I oftentimes make more money on a single item than 10 (unless I screen print them). This is because unlike screen printing and embroidery, where the setup costs can be spread out over a larger order, it costs the same to produce one DTG shirt as 100.
Those who have established businesses already know this, but for newcomers, be aware that your customers more or less demand access to you 24/7. People will text you, Facebook message you, email you, Instagram message you, and call the office.
They'll stop by when you're in the middle of eating lunch. Or you’ll get a text that simply says “Hey, I need a shirt. How soon can I get it?” That happens at least once or twice a day.
A big advantage of having the online design function is to direct people to that. It allows you to lessen the number of customers who call about a single shirt and don’t have artwork. When I tell them it’s going to cost $38 for one shirt, and I charge $75 an hour for artwork, they repeat “I only want one shirt.”
You’ll still get some people who will be on the website and call. They want you to hold their hand through the entire process. Live chat is another way to handle this. I originally used the built-in website chat, but I found it’s easier to use Facebook Messenger from my business page.
With Messenger, I can see chat notifications on my phone, which is easier to reply to, especially on weekends.
While I started my store with DTG, there are other options that will work. Vinyl cutting is probably the least expensive. You would need only a vinyl cutter and a heat press. Sublimation is another option. It’s not as expensive to get started as DTG, or you can always subcontract. But you will need to invest in some type of equipment to produce product.
For someone who is just starting out, my advice would be to think of one product you want to offer. A T-shirt is the easiest, because you can decorate with vinyl, sublimation (if garment is polyester) or even order custom transfers.
Next, you need a way to get the word out to the customer. Do you need an online store? You don't have to have an online store, but you do have to have a computer and graphics software, which now is all subscription-based. You will have to commit to a year's worth of Adobe or CorelDRAW. We have Adobe Creative Suite and CorelDRAW, but we prefer CorelDRAW.
Another service I offer is to help others set up online stores. We have a full affiliate program and myself and a partner hold classes on how to do it. Stay tuned for a future blog discussing this.