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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

Contract customers come right to the edge of doing the job themselves. They often show up at the printer's facility with garments and, frequently, art in hand. I've seen many of these customers show up on my doorstep with not only the garments in tow, but with a manila envelope filled with correctly produced film positives. In these situations, I was able to skip right to the step of screen preparation and get the job up and running very quickly.

Outside of ad-specialty customers, contractors find business from retailers and catalog companies who operate in much the same way as their ad-specialty counterparts. What sets these customers apart is that their jobs typically represent higher volumes, leading to even better consistency of product flow for the printer.

Ad-specialty distributors might be competing with regular custom printers who sell direct, and they are therefore on the same roller coaster when it comes to order frequency. Retailers, on the other hand, have their own outlets for selling printed goods directly to the final consumer. This means they can enjoy greater regularity in their ordering cycles. Even if your customer is a retailer who has seasonal peaks and valleys, you can anticipate these fluctuations year to year and plan accordingly by finding other customers to keep you busy in these slower times.

A contract customer may involve you in projects that are akin to fulfillment programs, where you will decorate from a catalog of standardized graphics repeatedly, meeting prescheduled deadlines and drop-shipping the finished garments to locations predetermined by the customer. In the world of contract printing, these sorts of fulfillment programs may represent fairly short runs, but the frequency of orders can make up for the lower per-order volume.

Another popular revenue stream for contract printers involves printing overflow work for local custom screen printers. The drawback with this sort of business is that the orders can be frequent and substantial, then dry up suddenly.

I've done overflow work, and I've purchased plenty of overflow work from other contractors. One thing I've learned from these experiences is that when the original printer's flow of orders slows down, the contractor's flow of orders squeals to an abrupt halt.


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