Mistakes happen. For apparel decorators, it’s inevitable. There are simply too many moving parts to be perfect all the time.

How you handle the mistakes, though, can separate you from your competition.

Studies show that an angry customer will tell between nine to fifteen people about their customer service experience when they aren’t happy. How you deal with your mistakes is crucial.

You don’t need someone out there with a megaphone broadcasting this stuff.

The Top Three Mistakes

In our industry, the top three mistakes shops consistently make are missing deadlines, quality issues or dealing with some sort of financial challenge.

Are you a few days late shipping that order?

Did a client just open a box and see that their entire order is printed off-center or the back print is missing?

Is someone on the phone screaming at your receptionist because their credit card was charged incorrectly?

Bad News Goes Viral Instantly

Having someone tell a good chunk of their friends or post on Facebook that you suck isn’t a good look for your shop.

I don’t care who you are.

If so, what strategies have you implemented to mitigate those challenges that make your customers so upset?

In this article, we’ll look at six secret hacks to deploy to handle the mistakes in your shop that will turn those frowns upside down.


Step One: Own It

I can’t stress this enough.

Absolutely nothing upsets people more than making excuses or deflecting the responsibility away from your company when clearly it was your mistake.

Own. Your. Mistakes.

Don’t dig a hole and make it worse by campaigning that “It wasn’t your fault”, “I don’t know how that happened,” “It was the new guy,” “We did it close enough,” or “That’s too expensive for me to fix.”

Even worse is somehow blaming your customer for your own problems. “I’m sorry, but it was your fault we screwed up.”

Yes, that actually happens.

Accountability matters.

Some Real World Examples

What would you do?


  • After producing your embroidery jobs, they go to a table full of trimmers to cut the threads and remove the stabilizer on the inside of the shirt. Somehow shirts from two different orders ended up in the wrong boxes. Two customers received the wrong product. One was for a trade show that starts tomorrow. Ut oh.
  • The shipping department sends out six complete skids of hoodies across the country for an event. This happens well before the ship date, so everyone feels great that the job went as planned. Your customer phones and is incredibly upset because when they clicked the tracking number it shows a delivery date the day after the event. That’s when you learn that your shipping clerk didn’t click “guaranteed delivery,” and the shipment is on a train going across the country and can’t be intercepted. The only solution to ensure your client has shirts is to contract the reprint for the entire order in the destination city with another printer.


  • The order called for a Pantone color to print on a dark shirt. When printed over the underbase there was a print color shift, and the hue came out much lighter and didn’t match the intended color.
  • The art for an order was a 12″ wide text phrase printed horizontally. During production, the press operator loaded the shirts wrong and a significant amount of the order was printed so the image appears crooked on the shirt.
  • When producing a DTG order on some Texas Orange shirts, the pretreatment solution left a yellowish halo around the image. Surprisingly enough, this only affected one size range for the order, the mediums.


  • Your shop occasionally does contract production work for a promotional marketing company, and your client had the end-user customer come by to pick up a sample. A new front office worker demands that the end client pays for the sample, instead of invoicing the promo agency directly as was intended. Worse, the customer pays with their debit card and this information gets recorded for the job. When the production run happens the entire order is charged to the end customer’s debit card instead of the marketing business. They are a student and this wipes out their bank account. Drama ensues.
  • You ship a good chunk of your orders on third party freight accounts. Upon auditing the work of a newer employee you discover that two months of freight for orders has been assigned to the wrong customer’s account. This means that one customer has been getting free freight, while another has been over-charged. Neither customer has said anything. What do you do?

What Is Your Limit?

How far are you willing to go to make your customers happy?

I know what you are thinking… “Hey, that’s going to cost us money to fix!”

I can’t argue that.

But think about how much a client spends with you over the lifetime of their relationship.

Not to mention, have you stopped to consider how much influence they might have with other potential customers? What if they convinced someone you haven’t even met yet, to not do business with your shop for how you bungled their mistake?

Flaming your shop for your mistakes is ridiculously easy these days. You’ve seen those posts.

Your first step to exit the doghouse is to be accountable for your mistakes.

This means owning it and making it right.

Step Two: Learn From It and Change Something

Often, these are expensive lessons.

But only if you are paying attention.

In the example above, I mentioned misprinting shirts because the ink color didn’t match the intended Pantone color. When that mistake occurs in your shop, is there a full blown strategy session to conquer that problem?

This could be digging into all the variables that might affect the final printed hue.

The actual ink mix of course. But also the shirt color, mesh count, squeegee durometer, angle, and pressure. Other influences could include the underbase ink color, emulsion thickness, ink additives and even the type of ink used for the production run.

Digital printing, sublimation, and even heat press color issues are other animals entirely.

Let’s not forget all the problems with embroidery thread color matching either. What do you define as “tonal”, or “one shade lighter or darker” than the garment color?

How dialed in would you need to get to crush just this one facet permanently?




This is a shop-wide global initiative. Every department. Lots of training. Plenty of discussions.

Then it’s wiped out forever. Put a plan in place, and then just rinse and repeat for every order.

Would you go to those lengths?

Step Three: Demonstrate the Change

Trust is earned, not given.

When mistakes happen, hopefully, you put in the work and change the things that will ensure the challenge doesn’t occur again.

After you’ve rebuilt your processes the next step is to show your customer that you are doing something different.

That’s how you earn that trust back.

Not by talking.

By doing.

Let’s say you’ve implemented a full-blown initiative to always hit the right PMS color for an order. What do you think happens if the customer gives you another shot and one of your operators makes the same mistake again?

It means your shop just demonstrated you can’t be trusted.

They will be searching for a new decorator quicker than you can say Google.

On the other hand, most people will give your company another shot if you are dealing with your issues professionally.

And another.

Even another.

As long as you made the change, and keep from making the same mistake you will continue to be their shop of choice.

Slowly, but surely, you are earning that trust back.

Just don’t screw it up.

Step Four: Don’t Be Defensive

“Shields up!”

That is what I always think when people get defensive about problems.

When you try to position the problem into your customer’s lap, their natural inclination is to raise their shields too.

What do you think happens to the communication when both parties have their shields up?

That’s right.

Nobody is listening.

It’s all index finger jabbing and poking away at the other shield trying to find a weakness.


What you want is your customer to be on your side. That way they will still be your customer later.

The first step in that process will always be to align yourself with them.

Being defensive won’t do that.

But when you say, “You are right. I looked at the sample and it didn’t match the Pantone color.” You have aligned with your customer’s point of view.

Guess what?

They aren’t defensive then either.

And when people aren’t defensive they are more apt to listen.

Customer’s Point of View

When mistakes happen customers want to know that you care about them and that some action is headed their way.

It doesn’t matter what the mistake was, they just want it resolved.

If they aren’t defensive, you can then find out what matters to them for the problem order.

Maybe it is a complete reorder. It could also be just for you to do better next time.

You’ll never know if you are presenting a defensive puffed-up-like-a-peacock position.

Don’t let your ego trip you up.

Instead say, “You are right, we made a mistake. What would you like us to do for you?”

This is how you uncover what they need to get back to their normal.

Sometimes they just want to be heard. Maybe they do require a do-over.

That solution can be negotiated too. Because now, you are talking to them and they are listening.

It’s all how you position yourself and ask.

Don’t cut your nose off to spite your face.

Step Five: Don’t Violate Their Trust – Be Proactive

Of course, the best solution to this mess is simply to not make mistakes in the first place.

Or at least, minimize them as much as you can.

As I mentioned earlier, the top three challenges center on deadlines, quality, and money. Do you feel you have the best industry practices for these in your shop?

  • Are you 100% on time?
  • Do you have any quality control issues?
  • What about how you are invoicing or charging customers? What pops up constantly?

The best shops think proactively regarding problems that could occur and develop training, systems, and procedures to ensure things go smoothly.

I love that old quote, “A mind is like a parachute. It only works when it is open.”

There are so many great new techniques, technology advances, and help in this industry that not proactively working on solving these problems is almost ridiculous.

Yet, so many shops are stuck in the “this is how we’ve always done it” rut.

How often are you reviewing your shop’s “way” in operating?

How Are You Working?

Are you working “on” your business or “in” your business?

Mistakes are a violation of your customer’s trust.

Treat them that way.

What proactive measures do you need so they don’t happen?

Hint: Think training. Maybe new equipment. Different consumables. Newer technology. Better communication.

Plus a willingness to change for the better.

The help you require is out there.

Step Six: Learning the New

It’s been said that there always is a better way.

It’s true.

To learn and implement this, you have to be brave and try something different.

In your shop, how many new processes, products or training programs are you working on right now?

I know, I know. There never is enough time.


But, did you have to find the time to do that customer’s job over because of that big mistake?

So, I guess there is time.

You just have to figure out how to apply it to your learning process.

Here’s a time management trick you can use to schedule your learning: If it is a production order, just put it into the system like a real job. If it is anything else, schedule it on a calendar like an appointment you’d have with a customer or your dentist.

Then just have the discipline to not skip over it.

Have a “bring it on!” attitude and learn how to improve constantly.

Make time for the new.

Bonus Step: Keeping Track

One awesome hack that you might want to employ is to track your mistakes in your shop.

You might casually be doing this already, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

What I mean here is a full-bore frontal assault on learning everything that leads up to your mistakes happening.

You want to gather as much data as you can.


Are the problems people related?

Meaning, this just could be that Fred screws things up because he doesn’t really care. Or, maybe he just needs some training as he’s doing the best he can, but hasn’t really grasped what he is doing. Is he stressed out on time and skipped a step as he’s trying to get everything completed?

What’s going on with that guy?

What if you kept a log and collected the data points related to all of your mistakes?

Would the same people show up all the time?

Can you be sure that your staff is qualified for the work that they are asked to perform? Do they “really” know how to do their jobs on an expert level?

Be honest.

Have you implemented a training program to elevate their skill sets?

In your shop, what is the number one mistake that people make that constantly drives you crazy? What training would you need to give your staff the skill they need to not make that mistake?

Get that training scheduled!


Do you use old, run down equipment?

What problems happen because of how these machines operate?

Or, maybe you’ve invested a lot of money into newer machines in your shop. Does everyone know how to run them perfectly? Usually when new equipment is purchased only a select few get the training.

Is this true in your shop?

Why not everyone?

On your mistake log, what if you tracked what equipment was associated with each mistake? Would you see any connection between the frequency or severity of the challenges?

If equipment is causing the issues, what if you upgraded? Would that help with your return on investment figures? Maybe better equipment would affect your production speed as well?

Furthermore, equipment can also be defined as computer workstations, cell phones, heat presses, hang-tag guns, emulsion coaters, exposure units, even pallet jacks or dollies.

It’s the stuff your staff uses to complete a task.

Is there anything that could absolutely make a difference on the market?

Yep. You just have to ask.

Don’t step over a dollar to save a dime.


For shops, it takes more than equipment to run things.

You purchase supplies all the time to use for your orders. Most of the time though, there isn’t a second thought on “why” this stuff is used.

Once in a while, there might be some discussion on changing. But for the most part, shops stick to the brands and products they’ve always used.

For your mistakes though, could these be product related?

What if you tracked this on your mistake log?

Do you think you would find any correlation to ink color shifts or embroidery thread breaks to the product used in that process?

Would the screen emulsion or embroidery stabilizer have an effect on the final production quality?

Also, are you sure you are using the supplies correctly? That’s always a great place to start.

You aren’t locked into who you use for consumables. Every once in a while, try another brand.

Suppliers change and improve their offerings constantly.

They want your business.

Usually, you can even get free samples to play around with and experiment.


Sometimes it isn’t the “what” you are using, but the “how” that defines the mistake.

What’s great about this industry is that it is a fun mix of art, craftsmanship, and science that makes everything tick. The process is the craftsmanship and science part.

How involved are you in developing the standards for your shop?

This is the exact recipe for success for each step along the way for an order to be produced.

Do you have that?

On your mistake log, are any of the problems listed process related?

Your mistakes could originate because an important step was skipped, or maybe there wasn’t enough information associated with the order for a staff member to do their job correctly.

If you aren’t tracking this, how would you know what to change?

Follow the Money

Another trick is to express your challenge in terms of money.

Let’s say your shop spends $14,500 a year on mistakes. For some shops that’s a lot, but for others that would be a significant improvement. This is just an example.

In a year, the shop produces 7,800 orders a year, and 889,200 impressions.

This means it costs the shop $1.86 for every order for mistakes. That’s also $0.016 for each impression going to this problem.

It adds up over time. Are you adding that to one of your cost buckets?

What’s not expressed is the time it takes to do jobs over. The hit on your reputation as you have to deal with this challenges. Even the stress you place on your employees as you wade through “what went wrong”.

You can always do better.

Are you up to the challenge?


“Your best teacher is your last mistake.” – Ralph Nader

“An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” – Orlando Aloysius Battista

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” – Ben Franklin