So many people think that having a t-shirt business is just a piece of cake. I hear a lot of people say “How hard can it be? It’s something I can do on my free time.” I also get calls from a lot of enthusiastic aspiring entrepreneurs telling me that they are so excited to start a t-shirt shop and that they’d need a few shirts printed. Their t-shirt designs are really awesome but when they asked me to quote for a few shirts, they get dismayed, after doing the math, that they have to sell the shirts for at least $30 each just to recoup their expenses.
The first thing you need to know is that selling t-shirts is hard. It requires a lot of research skills, creativity, dedication, and hard work. So to those of you who say “free time”, please go to the market, buy the hardest tofu you can find, and smash it to your head. You need a lot of time and a lot of money and a lot of energy to create a good t-shirt business. I’m not saying this to discourage you, I am saying this to put your feet on the ground in case you’re floating in your t-shirt business fantasies. Real work, real hard work, can only be done when both of your feet are on the ground. If you’re reading this and you’re raising your brows, still believing that selling t-shirts is as easy as selling candies, you might be right. But here’s something you should know: selling candies is not easy. And so is selling t-shirts.
And so let’s just say that even after the realization that starting and running a t-shirt business is hard, you decided to pursue it. Congratulations! Welcome to the phase called the Beginning. Like any endeavor, as much as possible, you want to be equipped with knowledge so that you’ll not commit as many mistakes as the ones who just dived blindly into it. Being knowledgeable from the start will help you navigate your t-shirt business in the right direction without losing a lot of time, energy, staff, friendships, clients, and money!
Here are some mistakes you can make that can potentially kill your t-shirt business:
Not Finding Your Niche
Unless you own a t-shirt printer that mass produces and mass prints shirts for branded t-shirt businesses, you need to focus on a market. Who will wear your shirts? Boys or girls? Teenagers or yuppies or oldies? What do these people want in a t-shirt? What do these people find appalling? You have to be laser focused on a specific market and give them products they can’t resist. If you’re just a jack of all trades, a shirt shop for everybody, you will realize how hard it is to charm a specific market. Sure, you will still sell a few shirts now and then, but in order to be real hit, you have to find your darlings.
This should show in how you design your website, throw contests, design your ads, how you tweet and share on Facebook, how you decorate your shop, how you package your tees, what kind of music you play, what kind of sites you post to, where you sell, etc. It obviously should also reflect your overall brand – your brand name, your colors, your logo, your models. Basically, every single aspect of marketing should only have the goal of alluring a certain set of people called also known as your niche. Not deciding on a niche and not getting to know your niche down to the itsy-bitsy detail from the start, you will find yourself constantly shifting directions. Halfway through the year, you might realize that you want to focus on the kids market but realize that in order to do so, you have to change everything about your brand including your company name. This will also make you waste a lot of money because you’re just throwing your marketing efforts to random places. Again, find a niche you want to penetrate and focus your energies there.
Choosing the Cheapest Materials
We want to sell shirts and we know that in order for us to be competitive, we have to sell at incredibly low prices. However, research shows that the quality of the shirts is actually a big factor in customer purchase. Besides, why do you assume people love to buy the cheapest. If you’re focused on a niche and you give them the kind of tees they’d really love to wear, then price is actually not a big variable. Just don’t make it way too expensive, of course. A difference in a few dollars is no biggie for the customer who likes the design and quality of your tees.
Sometimes, we might assume that the customers can’t tell the difference. But oh, they can. You can. Everybody can. We can tell this by the level of comfort we experience when we wear tees and by how the tees handle washing. That simple! If your shirts fail miserably in these criteria just because you prefer to go for cheaper materials, then you risk your t-shirt business of losing one customer at a time. By the end of your first year, they’d probably find a shop that’s as cool as your designs but with much better quality. You don’t want that to happen just because you thought they’re cheapskates like you!
Starting Big Right Away
You have a really brilliant idea for your t-shirt business. You’re too giddy to start and you’re scared someone will steal your idea. So you pool all your resources to raise thousands of dollars to make thousands of shirts. I tell you what, this is the fastest way to kill your business and kill yourself with debt! Have you educated yourself on running a t-shirt business? Do you have an expert to help you? Do you have a ready market that’s willing to buy your shirts (thousands of shirts)? Or are you just being ambitious because you think you have to give it all you’ve got (financially!) to become successful at this t-shirt business thing?
Even if you think you’re equipped with all the right elements to succeed, it’s still a stupid idea to start big right away. Instead of thousands, try hundreds, or even just a few to test your market and to find out if you can handle your new t-shirt business right. Sure, each shirt would cost a few dollars higher than buying in bulk but that’s wiser than buying hundreds without even being sure that someone will buy one piece. Starting small (or medium) is the best way to go on your first year. If things are looking great, expand! It’s great to give your new t-shirt business all you’ve got but in enthusiasm, creativity, energy, marketing efforts, not all your money.
Not Building Relationships
You might say “I don’t need to kiss people’s asses, all I need to do is make good shirts!” While I totally understand this sentiment, promoting yourself out there will make a big difference. Word-of-mouth and really good connections can lead to more and more t-shirt orders. Anybody who’s self-employed or is running a business knows that. Start with the people you know! A simple message on Facebook, asking them how they’ve been could lead to you introducing your t-shirt business. Go to conferences, go to events, and the next time you pick up your kid from school, make sure you say hi to the school director. Make it a goal to make at least ten quality friendships a month. Do not just spam people! Really get to know them and be interested in what they do. You have no idea how anyone can be your client. Everybody needs shirts at some point- even just for family reunions. So while it’s great to make your store and website pretty, it’s equally important to sell yourself.
Too High Expectations, Too Little Effort
Well, I’m basically wrapping this up by going back to my point at the beginning of this article. But this is basically the number one way to kill your t-shirt business, or any business for that matter. You expect to be big in a year but once you actually start with the business, you’ll realize day-by-day that it would take at least three more years for you to become established. If, for example, your strategy of a shortcut is to sell directly to malls and stores, then you will soon realize that it’s really tough (read: almost impossible) for your products to get selected. These stores are choosy! Hundreds of t-shirt suppliers go to them offering the same things that you offer. The first few years will be a learning experience for you. So instead of expecting too much but working too little, do the opposite: expect little on the first years but give all the effort you can give.
If you have the right mindset and you avoid the deadly mistakes in this list, then you, my friend, are on your way to becoming the next t-shirt tycoon.