Welcome to 2020

Thinking about the future of your business? Josh Ellsworth shares his predictions for custom apparel decorators for 2020. Do you agree?

Welcome to 2020. This is always a favorite time of the year to take stock of your situation. Whether you believe in the power of New Year’s resolutions or not,  January is as good a time as any to think about opportunities that you could possibly use to grow your business in the year ahead. Maybe you want to purchase a new piece of decorating equipment, maybe you want to offer a wider range of services. Garment decorating expert Josh Ellsworth has put together a list of his predictions for 2020 and it is excellent food for thought. Whether you agree with him or not, we are always open to hearing your thoughts on directions or opportunities for 2020. We are definitely thinking along the same lines when it comes to the continued emphasis on speed of delivery. We are continually working on ways to get ALL your orders to you faster, with longer cut-off times and quicker turn around on custom and stock orders. Let’s see what else Josh has to say about what we’ll be seeing more of in 2020 for custom apparel decorators.

2020 Predictions for Apparel Decorators by Josh Ellsworth

This much we know…customers want orders faster, for less money and with better quality.  We also know good people are hard to find, they’re even harder to retain and kids don’t want to work like they used to.

Welcome to 2020.  It should sound a lot like 2010, 2000 or even 1990.  After all, the fashion and brands that thrived in the 90’s have returned with a vengeance.  Welcome back Champion and Puma!  I’m just waiting on those And t-shirts to return in a big way!  As a kid on the basketball courts at my local playground from dawn to dusk they were staples in my wardrobe.

In all seriousness, business is changing.  I think it always has.  Some of us are just more in tune to it now.  As I mentioned last year, the week between Christmas and New Year’s is my favorite.  It’s when I set aside time to step back, reflect on what’s happened and try to predict what’s next.  I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of an organization that not only allows this type of thinking but encourages it.

This year’s predictions are a little different…they are part prediction, part observation and part inspiration.  Hopefully these thoughts will show you a bit about where we feel things are headed and clue you into some of our “game changers” for 2020.

So without further a due here are my top 10 predictions for 2020.

  1. A Passionate & Emotionally Charged Election = More Sales Opportunities

If opportunities present themselves in trials this should be the year to be involved in printing for campaigns.  Affiliations and arguments aside, if you can bring yourself out of the fight to see the opportunity, it’s tremendous.  My rural town already saw an RV pop up store set up for a few weeks in December to get a jump.  I predict that merchandise in this year’s election will outpace the likes of Obama’s 2008 campaign and Trump’s 2016 campaign which are viewed as two of the most successful in history.  If you want to capitalize, get creative and create product that’s unique.  Create staple pieces but also consider being the first to market when those memorable moments happen throughout debates etc.  Reacting to trending events with t-shirt designs is a viable business model all in itself.  While there is plenty of space for success, be sure to research copyrights and trademarks before creating anything to be sold.

  1. You Will Harness the Influencer

Merch (short for merchandise) has become part of our vocabulary thanks to Amazon Merch and now YouTube Merch.  There is something really interesting about YouTube and the staying power it has.  Other social media platforms seem to come and go or settle into their demographic but YouTube seems to me universal.  When reviewing some of the most successful people in 2019, you’ll find a list of global celebrities, sports stars and the like, but you’ll also find a YouTube stars.  Perhaps there is an opportunity for you as a company to become this star in your niche, or partner with up and coming stars that are already out there.  Either way, influencer marketing continues to see progress in nearly every age group, especially younger folks and I wouldn’t turn a blind eye.  I predict you will take a hard look at YouTube and figure out how your business can reach more customers through it.  (Don’t ruin this one for me!)

  1. On-Site Printing = Activations

T-Shirt printers have been taking screen printing presses and heat presses with transfers out in a field or into a gymnasium for the better part of 40 years.  But something is changing in the way we do it and talk about it.  This on-site printing is now in a class called activations as part of a retail movement of the pop-up shop or experiential retail.  Somehow the new vernacular has made it sexier and everyone wants it. If well thought out and executed, your shop can provide these services to nearly any client.  Traditional ideas include apparel at sports events or a concert but more trending deployments are for restaurants, breweries, brands and the like.  My prediction is that more equipment and technology solutions from suppliers will be tailored to the emerging category of on-site activations to make it easier for decorators.

  1. Patches Keep Growing

There is little doubt that patch like transfers and sewn applications are in high demand as we close the books on 2019.  There are many positive developments to say that 2020 will be even bigger.  New equipment technology like the power platens and 360 IQ hat press to be able to print these types of looks onto many different items without embroidery will drive the capability in more shops and create innovation on how the looks are offered to many markets.  At Stahls’ we’re going all in on this trend and will be launching 3D Embroidered Emblems, Traditional Embroidered Emblems and Leather patches to our already growing line of CAD-Printz Permatwill, CAD-Printz Textured Twill and FlexStyle Emblems.  The State of the Industry Report published by ASI in October cited patches being offered 52% of the time by decorators surveyed.  My prediction is that patches will climb to be offered by even more decorators in 2020 (over 60%).

  1. More Print Networks Rise & Fall

Speed of delivery remains the target of nearly all decorators, without accruing tons of overhead to do it.  If we could all have print shops in every corner of the country to get product to customers the same day or one-day we would do it.  But this isn’t possible due to the challenges previously stated of finding labor, finding space and then….well paying for it and managing it.  Uber and Airbnb seemed to solve this by connecting networks of local providers through technology.  Making possible widely scaled offerings without having to “own” much of anything.  Companies in the apparel printing space will continue to try to do the same thing.  I predict 2020 will be the year that it happens and maybe you’ll be one of those print local providers or maybe you’ll create the network.  If not, here’s what you can take from it.  There is an advantage to being online and there is an advantage to being local.  Whichever you are, own it, talk about it and make it part of the value you deliver to customers.

  1. Digital Screen-Printed Transfers Change the Game

I’ve been with Stahls’ companies since the late 90’s and have seen many innovative products and trends.  I’ve not been as excited for any product as I am the category of Digital Screen-Printed Transfers.  The reason for my excitement is that this solves many challenges for apparel decorators without a ton of expense.  It can simplify the way a decorator prices, presents, selects, orders and applies products in their business.  With no per color fees, unlimited colors, low minimums, fine detail, low temperature application and a super soft feel the category is everything we’ve been wishing (and developing).   I predict Stretch Litho Matte digital screen-printed transfers as well as the upcoming launch of UltraColor digital screen-printed transfers will make this category of products our best-selling of this decade.  Watch this video to get the basics and then stay tuned for more info about UltraColor later this month.

  1. Client Specific Webstores Become Expectation, No Longer Surprise & Delight

Client specific webstores are being used by your competition to win more sales.  If you are already in on this, then maybe you are the one winning!  I hope so!  If not, open your eyes.  There is a slew of providers (including Stahls’ Spirit Sale) in the market that equip decorators to create and launch webstores for their customers.  These webstores are being used for fundraising, brand stores, employee stores, team stores and a bunch of things in between.  Each store creates a shopping environment branded for your client that allows their supporters to purchase online.  This not only cuts down on paperwork and money handling  for your client but also gives them a way to share the ability to purchase on social media, on email and beyond.   What we’ve found is that the business value of an online store solution is way beyond just the online store.  It’s a kind of loyalty builder as a total solutions provider.  You become more than just a t-shirt printer which helps to drive better relationships and less future price pressure.  This is more observation than prediction.  However since the online stores are reaching a new level, the prediction is that there will be an opportunity for much more content on how to make the fulfillment of products through these stores successful.  I’ll share a whitepaper on the topic in the coming days.

  1. The 360 IQ Hat Press Gets Product of the Year

Wait, didn’t that happen last year at Printing United?  Yes it did, but I predict this new machine isn’t done yet and it will win at least one more industry award in 2020.  And while awards are cool, the bigger deal is that it wins you more business.  This machine changes what’s possible with hat printing and helps to fulfill one of my previous predictions about the growth in patch like products.  Read what Dallas Smith from Nitro Promotions in Kansas recently had to say about this machine:

“The 360 IQ Cap Press… Groundbreaking?  Incredible?  Awesome?  Amazing?  My favorite Christmas gift this year?  We’ve been in business for 20 years and have been a Stahls’ customer much of that time.  The 360 IQ brings me up to 5 cap presses.  I’m going to be selling several really nice used cap presses because the 360 IQ is an absolute game-changer.”

Watch the machine work on this video.

  1. The Big Squeeze Produces Lemonade

I documented in my predictions last year about a business condition I titled the big squeeze, which saw more hobbyist decorators entering the space through desktop manufacturing equipment as well as larger businesses (often funded by private equity) acquiring more companies to get larger.  The mid-sized decorator in between the two has been getting squeezed and fighting for relevance. The Big Squeeze is only getting tighter and now I’d venture to say it’s accepted as the landscape.  In my talks with mid-sized decorators, there is little doubt that some are thriving and some are dying.  Those that are thriving have turned this so-called lemon into lemonade through their ingenuity.  I wish I had an exact blueprint to share, but each business has charted their own path that is relevant to them.

Some have specialized; others have diversified.  Some have opened store fronts; others have closed them down.  Some have hired help to market their business online; others have hired production staff so they can focus on marketing and sales.  Some have thrown their proposal into a government contract; others have leveraged connections at small businesses in their local community.  You get the point….

Even though there isn’t a one-size fits all formula, there are bits and pieces that can help you on your course.

Sharing these stores of people and their businesses is one of my big goals for 2020.  For this reason we’ve started the Heat Press for Profit Podcast.  My prediction is that you’ll find value in searching and subscribing to it wherever you listen to podcasts.

  1. You Will Succeed

Of course this last prediction isn’t measurable but its one I want you to think about.  I often ask the question when I meet apparel decorators, “How do you measure success?”  It surprising that almost everyone I ask it to, seems caught off guard by the question and stumbles a bit through their response.  I’ve heard answers ranging from; by how much is left in my bank account from month to month, to when I see someone wearing the work I created.  There isn’t a right or wrong answer, but I believe there should be an answer or potentially answers to the question.  How will you measure up to what you want to accomplish in 2020?  My challenge is to incorporate a little business, a little personal and a lot of how you will measure your success by investing into others.  My prediction is that if you define success, you have a better chance at achieving it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my thoughts on 2020.  Feel free to share any feedback in the comments section below.  Wishing you the best year yet!




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