Let’s take ten minutes to discuss decorated apparel sales tactics. Which mindset works better for sales growth, “Hunting” or “Farming”?

“Hunting” is where you seek out new opportunities with constant scouting and networking. It is getting orders now. Today. This means you are aggressively reaching out and pulling in jobs to fill your schedule. Shops that employ salespeople are staffed with a team of hunters.

“Farming” is basically the opposite. This is the long-term strategic development of your customer base that leads to a solid core book of business. It’s cultivating relationships that don’t go away. The sales cycle takes much longer, but the benefits are huge as they are easier to maintain than constantly hunting. Shops that offer online web stores for their customers develop the order farming mechanism they can harvest continually for sales.

I’d argue that to develop successful decorated apparel sales tactics your shop business plan needs a strategy that encompasses both. You need to understand your customer well enough to know which tactic works best for development.

Let’s explore this further:

Decorated Apparel Sales Tactics: Hunting

All too often shops sit around waiting for orders to just walk through the door. The feast or famine cycle perpetuates endlessly like a dog chasing its tail. Even when busy, a shop’s schedule will suddenly dry up because nothing has been booked out further than a few weeks. Right now, what’s on the docket for three or four weeks from today in your shop?

Getting anxious?

Yet, good hunters don’t launch themselves in any random direction. They spend time researching their target to allow themselves the best chance for success.  

They hunt where the deer live.

For apparel decorators, this means understanding not only your shop’s unique value proposition, but aligning yourself with your core customer’s needs.

What Is Your Best Order?

Take a few minutes and break down your best order in the last twelve months.

  • How many pieces?
  • What type of shirt?
  • Decoration method?
  • What does the art look like?
  • Profit or margin?
  • Who made the order decision to buy from you?
  • How did they find you?
  • Where are they located?
  • What type of company placed this order?

Remember, the ultimate goal of your shop is to make money, not to “stay busy”. You can’t buy groceries with busy.

Want more profitable jobs on your schedule? Develop your hunting skills that focus your efforts on this exact type of customer and orders that fit your company best. You have to define exactly what that looks like for your shop. Focus on similar jobs in the future. Then, and only then, can you develop your strategy to go out and target that type of sale.

For a hypothetical example, let’s pretend that your shop’s best orders all come from gyms or physical fitness trainers.

These typical jobs all have the same basic characteristics. First, they are easy decorations to handle in production. Usually, it’s just the same logo to embroider on a hat, bag or jacket. For screen-printing, the print is usually just a few colors. Your art department has developed some great creative pieces and understands this type of business. Typically they seem to be ordering over 288 pieces at a time, which is more than your shop average of 138. Getting more of this business would be a benefit to the shop, as they place above average quantity orders, that have easy and repeatable production work, and are profitable.

Getting Started

So with the hunting mentality how do you develop more leads with this type of prospect? If you are doing great business with two or three gyms, what would your bottom line look like if you were servicing fifty or sixty?

A good starting point might be to fully understand who you might be dealing with for the selling opportunity.

  • What’s the difference between talking to a local gym owner or personal trainer and a large national conglomerate gym business?
  • Is dealing with the local YMCA any different?
  • What about a yoga studio?
  • Who makes the buying decisions for each of these?
  • Just using an online search, how many of these companies are in an area that is a one-day ground ship from you?

Ask those questions and chart the answers to understand the opportunity around you.

Next, where are they on social media? Do they use Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn or other channels? Have you followed them? What are they posting on a regular basis? Do any of your other customers follow them? From what you can find online, can you determine how to approach them?

Similarly, where do these gym decision makers hang out? Are there any networking events you can attend? Trade shows, competitions or conferences? Nothing beats a handshake and an opportunity to meet someone and learn about them in person.

Build Your Sales: Hunting

Once you have your research completed it is time to construct your hunting sales strategy. This is the full-bore, charge ahead effort to build your sales for this market segment. Start with developing your marketing materials that are focused on this activity. Make sure your marketing collateral addresses their needs, problems, and desires. You want to show that you can make their lives easier by buying from you. If you’ve done your homework you would understand that:

  • They need a good resource to develop an online apparel platform for the gym.  Good thing you have an easy to use tool for that.
  • You’ve got plenty of examples of decoration on Dri-fit, athleisure, yoga and sports oriented apparel.  You can show that you’ve solved the dye-migration on polyester fabric challenge, or using stretch-additive to prevent cracking on sports garments.  Other shops weaknesses are your strengths!
  • Your art team has developed plenty of trendy designs that can sell.  You have a robust portfolio to show specific examples of this genre.  Samples include more than just the “Property of” type gym wear.
  • Special effects aren’t a problem.  You can show examples with puff embroidery, metallic, foil, high density, or even ink that appears only when you sweat.  You’ve got the Wow! factor nailed.
  • Their biggest problem is always recruiting new members and current member retention.  How will the gym partnering with your shop help with that?  Show them how you solved that challenge for other companies.  Tell the story of how you are taking away their pain.

Get Your Recon Going

Sales hunters understand the opportunities because they spend time scouting. For our example above, this means going to the gyms or fitness centers. Talking and networking with decision makers there. Asking questions and learning how to solve their apparel related problems. Finding out what other products they might need. The more effort you put into this, the easier it will be to scale your sales in this area.

Of course, this is just one example.

The answers to the questions may be different when dealing with other opportunities such as with restaurant owners, school systems, rock bands, or beach resorts. Scouting out and tracking new opportunities involves a similar process. The sales results you achieve are proportional to the work you put into it.

Decorated Apparel Sales Tactics: Farming

On the other hand, “Farming” works differently in decorated apparel sales tactics. This is the long-term view and is centered squarely on building relationships. It’s about developing trust.

For this type of activity, we need a strategic consultative sales approach. This isn’t about the quick sale, but about understanding your customer’s challenges and developing solutions. Like farming, you may be planting seeds with your potential customer every time you interact with them.

You might even do a few small orders initially. Often with bigger companies, they will send a few small orders to test your craftsmanship, quality control, customer service, on-time ability, and pricing. It’s a dance.  While it is tempting to get greedy and want a bigger piece of the pie, give it all you’ve got on these new orders as you may be auditioning for something larger.

Every order counts.

Like real farming, this type of sale demands patience. There may be a lot of hand holding while the potential customer is considering doing business with you. Your job is to make things easy.

Build Your Sales: Farming

For a good discussion example with farming, let’s use working with a promotional item agency as a contract printer as an example. One company could have hundreds of clients that may need your services. To them though, you are just another vendor. They have a lengthy list of manufacturing companies that produce items for them. Magnets, pens, electronics, calendars…all sorts of stuff. All a promo company does is sell. To work with this type of company you have to understand the nature of their orders, which may be different that some of your other customers.

However, once you demonstrate that you are reliable, they can flood your shop with work.

  • Can your creative team dream up fantastic designs for them to sell?  Giving their salespeople another reason to make money goes a long way.
  • Do you make working with your shop easy?  Are you professionally prepared, or do you seem unorganized and lost?
  • Problem-solving pays big dividends.  When they come to you with a crazy request, can you hit a home run for them and make them shine?
  • Brand guidelines are huge.  You’ll have to hit PMS colors and follow directions.  Is that a no-brainer?
  • How is your customer service team?  This type of client might need more support than you might think.
  • Are you an expert on trendy garments or creative decoration techniques?  That knowledge can go far if you transition it to help them land a new client or program.
  • Can you help them build an online company store program?  Do you have the right tools to help?

It might take a bit to work with this type of customer before they hand you all of their apparel decoration orders. It is a trust thing. That’s why you constantly have to work on this relationship and hit home runs every time they send something to you.

Decorated Apparel Sales Tactics: The Hybrid

The modern spin on decorated apparel sales tactics requires you to be proficient in both hunting and farming sales strategies. Shops that balance this type of effort seem to be more successful and are booked with a bigger diversity of customers. It helps when you use hunting tactics to bird-dog new leads for your farming strategy. They only way to stay continually busy is to fill up your sales pipeline with new work.

New customers are the lifeblood of your shop. Most businesses lose 15-20% of their business per year due to attrition. The pressure to constantly replace this volume can be immense.

Do you have a targeted strategy to reduce this percentage and to bring in new business simultaneously? You can’t just be head down, blinders on, working in the shop and expect any sales growth. I don’t care where you are, there’s another shop that wants your customers. Especially now, as everyone shops online. How much emphasis do you give your web selling platform? A lot of the shop websites I’ve seen could use a redesign.  What about yours?

Let’s be clear. It doesn’t have to be a race to the bottom on pricing either. Companies that only compete on price only have one thing to offer. Understand your customer base and build your product offering to match their needs, desires, and problems.

Build Your Sales: Hybrid

For example, let’s say your shop markets to high schools. You use your hunting tactics to determine that your unique selling proposition is a good fit for a particular school, even though they are an entire county over from your shop. Your art, craftsmanship, customer service, on-time delivery, and school ordering platform can’t be beaten. But that’s not what you are selling.

The eye-opening demonstration to the football coach or athletic director is that your method solves their headaches. Anybody can decorate a shirt. Not everyone can make their lives easier. They don’t have to collect money or fool around with order forms. Those spiritwear fundraising shirts are delivered to the students, segregated by homeroom teacher and with the student’s name on the bag. The coaches don’t have to distribute them. Their pain-in-the-butt chore just got eliminated. Now they can get back to what they really enjoy, which is figuring out how to beat their rival next Friday.

In the end, problem-solving is what lands you this client. Probably most clients that are worthwhile, really. The question you have to ask yourself is “What problems are we solving for our customers?”

Once you’ve identified how this strategy will work for your shop, all that’s left is to launch the sales rocketship.

What do you need to make that work?


“To me, job titles don’t matter. Everyone is in sales. It’s the only way we stay in business.” – Harvey Mackay

“In sales, a referral is the key to the door of resistance.” – Bo Bennent

“I’m a big believer in “branding the customer experience”, not just in selling the service.” – John Sculley