How one sign shop owner transformed his business with determination, a thorough plan, and creative commerce.
A friend of the Wrights was using Etsy, the self-described creative commerce platform, to sell jewelry. This got them thinking about whether the platform might be a fit, and their research started anew: How does it work? What do you do? They decided to go for it, using Wright’s old MEWStar name.
The first three months were slow, and they considered trying something else. “Then, Christmastime hit,” says Wright. “We sold 40 pillows in a few days.” In the age of judge-a-retailer-by-their-reviews, these initial sales were just the catalyst the shop needed. Wright says his most important piece of advice for Etsy rookies is that “you just have to give it time.”
Other keys to Etsy success include good photos and good “tags.” Wright says customers want to see pictures of actual products, not a blank pillow with a photoshopped design. This can be a challenge at first if you’re unwilling to use up a little bit of product, he adds, but a custom printed pillow or shirt makes a pretty good family gift in addition to fodder for marketing.
Smart keyword tagging is essential, too, to capture the attention of potential customers. There are more than 5000 search results on Etsy for “custom printed pillow.” One listing on the MEWStar site features a gamut of tags: custom canvas pillow, custom photo pillow, custom pillow cover, personalized pillows, design your own pillow, throw pillow, and custom gift. They sell for $30 to $50.
The shop lists about 150 items on its Etsy platform, where custom is the name of the game and, therefore, digital printing is a perfect fit. T-shirts, bibs, totes, and drawstring bags make up the bulk of their direct-to-garment products. Wright has also converted an old Epson RX595 printer to do dye sublimation – starting with mugs, for now, he says. They put their sign shop background to work, as well, using their engraving capabilities to decorate pint glasses, keychains, cake toppers, and more.
Shirts and Signs
Another component of Signworx’s success is the creative application of their unique blend of skills. Always ready to think out of the box, the team combined its signage background with its newfound DTG expertise when a family friend asked for a favor. She wanted a unique piece of wooden art for her wedding, and Wright’s creative side flickered on. He knew other DTG users who had printed on wood, and thought, “Why not?”
First, they tried a special emulsion to make the wood ink receptive, but they soon found that their usual pretreat solution – Firebird Ink FBX-100 – worked better. What started out as a favor became a bestseller on their Etsy site: MEWStar’s engraved and printed décor featuring the state of North Carolina sells for $75. Quite a haul for a 7 x 20-inch piece of pallet wood.
Some of Signworx’s most profitable applications on its direct-to-garment printer aren’t even garments. Pallet wood signs and customized pillows haul in a premium on the shop’s Etsy site.
The shirts and signage parts of the business have been a great pairing for the shop’s bottom line. The two halves of the company complement one another perfectly: When building projects are slow in the winter, DTG sales go up for the holidays. And the two technologies are excellent marketing tools for one another: Signage customers realize they need shirts; apparel customers need signage. Wright says the number of sign shops in the area has doubled in the four years they’ve been in business, so it certainly pays to have a major differentiator on the shop floor. When Signworx started printing garments, the product made up about 2 percent of their profit. Today, it’s closer to 40, and he wonders if it’ll take over the majority of their business within a few years. Funny what can happen when someone dares to dream.
Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to the magazine.