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Succeeding as a Contract Garment Printer

(January 2002) posted on Fri Feb 01, 2002

Learn the advantages of contract printing and the challenges screen shops face in satisfying customers.


By Terry Combs

It seems that everyone in the custom screen-printing business has seasonal cycles. Not so with contract printing, unless it's by your own choice. (For example, my business presently focuses almost exclusively on one contract market that follows the school year.) To even out your production, you can pick and choose contract customers based on their own particular seasonal needs, then use these accounts to build a portfolio of customers whose work meshes into twelve months of steady business for your operation.

Another benefit to contract printing is that you avoid having cash tied up in inventory, or worse, having money locked up in product that hasn't sold my as well as you had expected. In other words, you avoid having goods sitting idle and taking up your valuable warehouse shelf space.

The most significant drawback to contract printing is that you only earn revenue based on a "per print" price. You can't pad revenues by marking up the price of the garments because the garments are typically supplied by the customer. More about this later.

Customer base

I've printed for major corporations and theme parks, every fraternity and sorority in the country, and each of the teams in the National Football League. But I've never once called on any of these accounts personally. Remember, the contract printer is the anonymous, inconspicuous decorator, while his customers are out there representing themselves as the creator of the product coming off the printer's dryer belts.

The contract printer's customer is basically anyone who has access to garments but has no direct access to a printing facility or equipment. As an aside, most contract customers have little interest in being involved in the production end of the business. The bulk of these buyers are involved in some form of finished-goods sales, many of them doing business as advertising-specialty distributors.

Basically, contract customers are a conglomeration of salespeople who rely on others to produce their finished product, but are savvy enough to understand that they can buy T-shirts, sweats, jackets, and caps just as easily as a printer and from the same sources. They can buy the substrate, but they need the contract printer to provide the printing service.


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