What a great validation of Marc and Sean’s (only people i know there) hard work yesterday in the Washington Post: http://wapo.st/1bwZQnO They certainly deserve it and i wish them the best. They are somewhat of a competitor but have always been fair with me (except my brief interlude with Andy Louis charles). They were online early advertising and clearly serving the larger side of the business with screenprinted t-shirts. I never thought a customer would design their logo online and CustomInk changed my view of that. They were the first (and i copied) to put up online reviews which not only help prove and improve their service but it gave their site ‘liveness” which at the time was non-existent. They leveraged great service and outsourced the printing for as long as they could to meet demand without the cash demands and ramping up staff for a highly cyclical business. But outsourcing is very difficult to manage and I would never want to do it. We diverged into B2B while they went for consumers. I thought managed online stores for companies was a sure way to get all internal company purchases (it wasn’t), while they developed design-online. I concentrated on embroidery thinking it was an equal portion of the market then it clearly is, while they focused on screenprinted tees. As stated in the article, they got funding and started from scratch. We got a lot less funding but had a legacy business problem that diverted our attention but also kept us afloat with diversity. They invested heavily in customer service and artists, we thought complete online transactions were the best especially for on-demand stores like the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and Audubon.
Regardless of the similarities, differences and paths we’ve taken, CustomInk picked the right strategy, hired the best people and executed it to perfection. They are the envy of our industry and honestly have helped improve service for everyone. There were (and still are) a lot of shady “used car” type dealers that would steal and undercut from others. That manifested itself in a bad experience for the end customer. The exceptional service CustomInk provides has forced everyone else to do the same. That improves the entire industry.
I am and have always been very competitive in sports, work, scrabble, etc. which should mean i hate to lose more than anything. That’s not true. Once you are competitive long enough and in some small way successful, I feel you gain a new perspective. You want to win of course and you should be irate if you didn’t perform well but never spiteful of your competitor especially when they played on the same level playing field you did. I have the utmost respect for the folks at CustomInk and think they have done an amazing job. Keep it up!
Custom tees looking good rolling off the new machine
I took over my mother’s one part-time employee business in 1994 and jumped into the contract embroidery business head first. I borrowed money from my parents to buy a $100K industrial barudan embroidery machine and started making calls. The business grew quickly and we expanded. I thought i was a genius or a dynamo sales-guy at least; i wasn’t. I just took a chance and it worked out at that time in that industry. What i didn’t realize was machine companies would come out with cheap machines in the years to come and eliminate the barrier to entry i thought was me being smart. Like most businesses, barriers drop and that’s a fact of life. We became more efficient to stave it off and started selling online direct to acquire our own customers but i grew up as a contract embroiderer and wanted to continue in that business.
Unfortunately, cheap machinery was not our only problem. Manufacturers of brands like Charles River, Antigua, Ash city, etc started offering embroidery in-house and overseas turn-arounds reduced to 90 days so all big orders were done before they were shipped from china. Lastly, the final two large blank (no embroidery or screenprint) distributors have not stepped up in any meaningful way to protect the decorators that add value to their product. Without a logo embroidered or screenprinted on that garment, its worth virtually nothing. Add in all these factors and it seems clear to me that contract embroidery as we knew it is getting squeezed out of the market. There’s no path to creating a sustainable venture. You have to win every order over pennies while the distributor salespeople and SanMar/Broder eat up most of the profit. This is not complaining; if i were in their shoes, i would do the same thing. Problem is: when we’re gone they’ll lose a lot of business and besides having an exclusive brand agreement with Nike or Adidas, they won’t be any different then the small players. If they try to decorate in-house, the majority of their customer base (small decorators) will go to another vendor. The true sales guys will likely order from a one-invoice supplier or begin to decorate in-house and kill the small decorators that are town-based an rely on walk in traffic versus going out and selling.
So, in conclusion I am sad to see the dead end road for contract embroidery without support from the large blank distributors but want to point out that letting contract decorators die will be detrimental to their business long term. They are the geniuses today i was in 1994 and will soon be the non-genius i am today unless something changes quick.
About 25 years ago I traveled up to the North Country to become a ski racer (after i came to the sad realization i didn’t have the size (or hands) to compete in football at a high level). I enjoyed 2 years at Northwood School in Lake Placid but was riddled by injuries. I had knee surgery in October of my first year and didn’t make it ‘on snow’ until late January and wasn’t able to compete well that year. Senior year I was fortunate to start getting some real results until i shattered my shoulder the day before Junior Olympics where i was supposed to represent NY State. Too bad and I sometimes wish i had pursued ski racing for another year before going to college but that’s the way it happened.
However, a month or so later i got accepted to St. Lawrence University and my whole world changed. I was able to race D1 for two years, although not very well (i needed more training to keep up and wasn’t getting it at SLU). But, truth be told, I was more than a little distracted by college life. I picked that up real quick and had the time of my life. Beyond the short term fun and stories we continue to tell about our time in Canton, NY, I cherish the friendships i made at the “Larry”. I married a SLU girl, still live within 3 miles of 3 good SLU friends and regularly get together with the same exact friends I did back at St. Lawrence University between 1989-1993.
So, even though i haven’t been to campus in 20 years, i was saddened by a devastating fire at Gunnison Chapel this weekend. I’ve pasted the story below along with pictures and a video. Gunnison Chapel has been a symbol of SLU for almost 90 years and like any object that recaptures great memories, it was sad to see it destroyed
Kiteboarding Cape Cod Labor Day 2013
When i’m not at work, I try to get in the water as much as possible. I grew up waterskiing and when i was 17 my dad asked me if i wanted a windsurfer. What made me really think about the answer was they were very expensive and I thought to myself, “if I drop this sport in 2 weeks, I don’t think dad would appreciate it and most likely these offers would never come again.” Well, I committed to windsurfing and also began teaching it at a school in nantucket named Force 5 Watersports and have been chasing the wind ever since.
When kiteboarding came along in the 2000’s, I had no interest. I was pretty good at windsurfing, kiteboarding was extremely dangerous at the time and I was old enough to not think that was cool anymore. But, when i learned it was safe and my sister-in-law was intrigued with windsurfing, I suggested we both learn to kiteboard. I knew the learning curve was faster then windsurfing and it required less upper body strength……so we both started learning. Now, i’m addicted all over again. Kiting (as we refer to it) can be done in less breeze and with less effort…..but the main kicker is you can JUMP HIGH! I mean like really high. in the picture above I’m able to get 10-15 feet in the air but sometimes i’ve been aloft for 8 seconds! Add in you can also go super fast across the water before and after you jump, its really a thrill seeker’s ultimate sport. Plus, its now relatively safe. you don’t have to jump out of an airplane, off some rocks or with a bungee attached to your legs……you just POP it! its amazing and what i spend my time doing when I’m not trying to help folks with custom t-shirts or embroidered schwag.
Custom tees for a franchisor 20 miles away for a franchisee 1,500 miles away