Direct-to-film (DTF) transfers have become a significant source of revenue for print shops nationwide in recent years, thanks to their full-color capabilities and the way they complement short-run prints. Some businesses have added it as another arm of their services, while others have made it the main focus of what they offer their customers.

For Pennsylvania-based BeeGraphix, the potential of DTF decorated apparel and accessories has inspired the business to make these digital transfers their primary service. The company initially focused on screen printing when it opened in 2004, until recently when it decided to change things up.

Vice president Davis Slagle points to changes in what customers are asking for.

“Customers aren’t getting the 500-piece screen printing order, they’re getting 200 pieces, or they’re getting 100-piece orders three times a year,” he adds.

But switching to almost entirely DTF meant that BeeGraphix also needed the tools to effectively help customers sell those custom-printed products. Davis says the company started using InkSoft stores to sell customer merchandise and saw exponential success.

Growing by leaps and bounds at BeeGraphix

In a recent PrintHustlers podcast interview, Davis said the company ran more than 1,000 InkSoft stores for their customers. BeeGraphix manages storefronts and curates product selections for customers.

That jump is credited to a couple of different factors. Like many shops, Davis says the pandemic prompted BeeGraphix to reassess how they sold and printed products.

“Everyone was selling ‘Save Our Town’ or ‘Save the Local Business’ T-shirts. But suddenly, you had no way to print them, and you had half your staff,” he says.

BeeGraphix decided it was time to switch to DTF and combined the power of those transfers with InkSoft Stores.

“I needed a solution to be able to process 700 stores, one order from each store a day, 700 different pieces of artwork, and process that out during a regular day of business,” he says. “With the business we did last year, we had $9,700 in InkSoft store sales on a Thursday in February, historically our slowest time of the year.”

“For the cost of the platform, the ability to have that many customers and the amount of revenue you can bring in is where I see the value in the investment,” he says.

BeeGraphix online stores
A screenshot of the BeeGraphix online store lineup for schools and universities. The company currently runs an estimated 700 storefronts for schools, teams, fundraisers, businesses, churches, and more.

Making the switch to direct-to-film

The pandemic certainly sped up BeeGraphix’s move to DTF printing, but Davis says the switch was also two years in the making because of significant shifts at the broader level in online shopping.

“One of the biggest problems shoppers have with online stores versus Amazon is that even if a store opens and closes on the same day, people don’t get their product for another five weeks,” he says. “No one wants to wait five weeks for their order in a post-pandemic world, so there was a need to drive the speed [of production].”

After selling off all their screen printing equipment and switching entirely to DTF prints, Davis says they were able to close that print-to-production window and expedite shipping times. Currently, if someone orders from an online store, within five business days, their order ships out. Eventually, Davis says the goal is to shave that time down to three days.

“Everything we’re doing moving forward is based on speed and volume,” he says, estimating that from January 2022-January 2023, the company’s order volume grew 300% with the combination of InkSoft Stores and DTF printing.

Getting the most out of InkSoft stores

An online store is a fantastic tool to help customers sell merchandise, but it requires routine management and maintenance for ultimate success.

“I’d say 25% of our stores aren’t active at any given time. People can buy from them, but the products are out of season,” he explains. So, the business will constantly pitch new ways to keep a store relevant and profitable, like launching a set of St. Patrick’s designs in football team merch stores to ramp up interest in the off-season.

“If we get 10 more shirts a month per store, times 50 football team stores, that’s 500 more shirts we can print that month that we previously wouldn’t have sold,” he says as an example.

That savvy is one way BeeGraphix stays competitive with more prominent companies who might have a much larger budget for software and marketing, he says.

With one local football team, BeeGraphix put this continual marketing approach to work by launching a preseason sale, then adding new designs every time that team won another division playoff, all the way up through winning the final state championship. By having those designs ready to sell in the store quickly, BeeGraphix delivered championship shirts before the team returned for their homecoming parade. And the online store netted roughly $7,000-8,000 in sales thanks to the quick action by the shop.

Speeding up the online store creation process

BeeGraphix has sped up its printing and e-commerce processes, but the streamlining hasn’t stopped there. Since building a store takes time, Davis says the company has also made strides in speeding up the store creation process. What would typically involve a lengthy exchange of 4-5 calls between a sales rep and a customer, BeeGraphix has shaved that process down to one simple online form. With those details, the company’s online store manager can push information to the artist, store builders, and the rest of the team to create art, approve art, build a store, and launch it.

“Two years ago, it was taking us two weeks to build a store, now it’s taking four days,” he says. “We’ve changed when we present artwork to the customer and get them to approve that first, so then we’re into the build to shave the process down to three days.”

Finding new customers for BeeGraphix

While team sports might be considered a niche, Davis points out countless print shops target school sports. It’s a crowded marketplace. That’s why BeeGraphix targets more specific niches within those categories. That includes rugby teams or other competitive sports that might not have as many online store outlets, like equestrian competitions.

“What we’ve been able to do with InkSoft is offer variety to the customer for their store,” he explains. “Maybe they want to offer four designs on five different colored garments and have them on 100 products. We can accommodate that.”

That customization of an InkSoft store pairs well with the customization DTF printing offers. With direct-to-film, BeeGraphix can offer options like diverse colors, textures, and gradients with a product-rich store.

Davis says he encourages other shops considering InkSoft to ensure they have a plan and a general sense of their customers before signing up.

“The monthly subscription rate and the cost of entry of InkSoft are attainable,” he says. “InkSoft is a powerful platform, but you’re wasting your time as a business if you don’t use it to collect orders or other features. Investing in the system and learning it to its max capacity is what I’d suggest anyone do.”

The future of print shop software

As the market continues to change and what customers want from their decorated apparel evolves, Davis says he sees the demand for customization and short runs playing a significant role.

“DTF transfers won’t ever take over screen printing. It’s still going to be a main source of revenue in this industry,” he says. “How much more revenue can you generate from customers by offering one more option?”

And getting nimble with online stores can also help shops shore themselves up against the online competition. Davis notes the countless direct-to-consumer options that customers have now, like TeeSpring and Printful, where they can sell products online without working directly with a print shop. Decorators can stand out from these services by providing a complete end-to-end service with high-quality decorated apparel and well-maintained online stores.

“Most customers aren’t going to be able to create the design for their decorated garment, add it to a store, and promote the products, so they sell a lot of merchandise,” he explains. “That’s where shops have the advantage, by offering online stores.”