Good vs Bad. For decorated apparel industry shops, what’s the difference?

That’s always an interesting comparison. I’m sure you may have always wondered how your competitors interact with their customers.

Below, I’m going to describe how two shops might handle the same order.

The idea is to illustrate how contrasting businesses might process the same work. Except one shop will constantly fumble the ball, and the other will score touchdowns at every turn.

Which of these fictional shops more closely aligns with your procedures and processes? Maybe some of both?

The Good vs. Bad Setup

Mary works for a local steel fabricating company, Titan Metalworks, and needs some shirts for a company summer picnic.

The order will be for an event for their 334 employees, plus their families. Mary is a newly hired HR manager, and this is her first big function in the role.

She wants it to go well, as she knows the CEO will be judging her on how she handles the event. The picnic is about six weeks away and will be held at a local park on Saturday, the 26th of next month. She has the corporate logo, branding guidelines and a vague idea of what she wants for the artwork.

For our example, there are two shops. These are not real businesses, but the way they handle things is based on real experiences in the industry. I’ve heard a lot of stories over the years.

“Kooky Fred’s Printworks” is a complete disaster. They stub their toe every chance they get. Ouch.

“Awesome Jack’s Screenprinting” is the opposite, as they do everything right. Dialed in is an understatement.

Let’s take a closer look at the good vs. bad.

Kooky Fred’s Printworks – The Bad

“Kooky Fred’s…” grumbled the voice on the line.

“Uh, hello?” said Mary.

“Yeah, help you?”

“Yes, you can! My name is Mary Jones, and I’m the HR manager for Titan Metalworks. We are having an employee event soon and I’d like to get a quote on some shirts.”

“Well, it’s going to be a minute. Fred stepped out, and he’s the only one that knows how to quote. I’m just answering the phone.”

“Ok, well, uh, when do you expect him back?”

“Honestly, I don’t know. I just walked up in here to grab a soda and the phone rang. I’m not sure where he went.”

“Alright, can I leave my name and number and he can call me back?”

“Sure. Hold on while I find a pen.”

A few minutes go by for the pen search. Mary can hear some muttering. “Ok, here’s a pen! I’m ready when you are…”

Mary gives both her phone and email contact information for Fred to call her.

The Next Day

“Hello, Mary? This is Fred down at Kooky Fred’s Printworks. Did you call here yesterday? Something about some HR shirts?”

“Fred! Yes, thanks for calling me back. As I explained yesterday, we’re having an employee event and I need to get a quote on the shirts. I was hoping you could help me.”

“Sure can Mary,” Fred says as he searches through his cluttered desk for a pad of paper. “Whaddya need?”

“Well, we are having an employee picnic in about six weeks. I just need the quote now, and I’d like you to do the artwork. I’m not too creative and need some help. Do you have any suggestions? I’m new here and want to make a good impression. Can you do something cool?”

“Artwork is no problem. We gotta gal we use. Do you have an idea of what you want the shirts to say? Maybe you could send me your logo?”

Mary thought for a moment and then said, “Yes, I have an Illustrator file and a brand guideline I can send. We need a fun shirt design with our Titan Metalworks logo and the headline “Summer Picnic,” and the year somewhere. I’m not sure on the shirt or ink colors. Our logo uses two…a royal blue and black.”

Fred wrote this down on his pad.

“Mary, how many shirts do you need?”

“Well, we have 334 employees, but their families are coming too. How do I calculate that?”

“To give a quote, I need a total. Wanna figure that out and call me back?”

“Uh, I guess so”, said Mary.

Later That Day

The phone rings. Fred reaches to pick up the receiver, “This is Fred.”

“Fred? It’s Mary with Titan Metalworks. “Hey, based on an estimated headcount we’ll need 425 shirts.”

“425, great…that’s my favorite number,” Fred says while rubbing his hands together. Nice order…

“It is? Ha, that’s good. So, how much for the shirts?”

Fred responds, “Well, that depends. What type of shirt would you like and what color?”

“We would like t-shirts, preferably in bright, fun colors. What would you suggest?”

“Well, a lot of our customers go with 100% cotton. Ever heard of Hanes? They make a good shirt. There are tons of colors too.”

“Ok, so how much would a shirt cost?”

“What color of shirt would you have in mind? Is the art just blue and black?”

“I don’t know about a shirt color. Maybe yellow? Our logo colors are blue and black, would those look fun on a yellow shirt?

“Blue and black on yellow will look nice. Would you like me to work up a price with that?” said Fred.


“Great! I’ll call you back in an hour.”

“What? Ok, that will be fine. Talk to you then.”

Two Days Later

“Kooky Freds.”

“Uh, hello is Fred there?” asked Mary

“Yeah. Hold on.” There is an audible bang as the phone receiver is slammed on the desk or something. The phone answerer screams, “Fred! Fred! Phone! Yeah. Some lady.”

“He will be right with ya.”

“This is Fred.”

“Fred? It’s Mary with Titan Metalworks. Were you going to send me a quote? I need it to make some decisions about my event. Is it ready?”

“Yeah. Uh. I thought I sent that to you? You didn’t get it huh?” said Fred matter of factly. “Let me find what I did with that. Can I place you on hold?”

Before Mary can answer, there is a click and some tinny sounding hold music comes on. A few minutes drift by. Mary draws some funky triangles on her legal pad. Then a few question marks.

The sound of Fred’s voice jerks Mary awake. She realizes she was almost napping. “Mary? Ok, how does $9.97 grab you?”



“Is that the total price for each shirt?” asks Mary.

“Yes. Plus screens, art fee and freight in,” says Fred.

How Much?

“Uh, so how much for the total then, with all of that?” fires back Mary.

“Hold on. $20 per screen, so that’s $40 divided by 425…is…is nine cents…plus a hundred dollar art fee divided by 425 again…is…is twenty-three cents…and about thirty cents or so thrown in for freight in for the shirts…and that comes out to…let’s see…$10.59.”

“$10.59. That’s your final price,” mumbles Fred.


“Yes. Doing some quick math, for 425 shirts that will come out to $4,500.75 in total.”

“That much? Ok, I guess. What are the next steps, Fred? Can I see some artwork soon?”

“No problem. I need is a deposit of half of the total to get started,” says Fred, elated that Mary is actually going through with the order. So many haven’t these days.

Mary responds, “If you send me a written quote I can have accounting cut you a check for $2,250. I can get you that by Monday.”

Pausing, Mary then asks, “So, how do I calculate sizes? I’ve never ordered t-shirts before.”

Fred says, “Well that’s up to you. You can guess what sizes you might need or make up a sign-up sheet. You’ll just need to let us know your final count about two weeks before the event so we can order. When is it again?”

“It is on the 26th of next month. I’ll guess I’ll figure it out. Can you create the artwork for me so I can use it for the sign-up?”

Do Something Cool

Kooky Fred’s outsources all of their creative work to a freelance artist named Bridget.

She just graduated from high school and is enrolled in the local community college and is taking classes in graphic design. She had a good eye for design but only has about three months under her belt working for Fred. The last artist Kooky Fred’s used was fired after he wanted a $1 an hour raise.

Fred sent Bridget the art instructions in an email.

Here’s what he wrote. “Titan Metal-Works is a new customer of ours. They need a summer picnic shirt. Attached is their logo and brand guidelines. Do something cool.”

Two Weeks Later

Bridget spends about six hours designing a science fiction based theme with large menacing ants using metalworking tools on the food around a picnic basket.

“Summer Picnic” is typeset in white in a new font she just discovered, Bleeding Cowboys. The Titan Metalworks logo is underneath the art, and the design is mocked up on a black t-shirt.

Bridget shows the work to her younger sister who says “That’s badass.” She’s really proud of herself, as it looks really cool to her.

The file is attached to an email, and she hits send.

Mary is having a rough day. There was an accident involving a welder that required the guy to go to the emergency room. It looks like he’ll be ok, but it shook her up a little bit. When she returned to her office, she noticed an email from Kooky Joe’s with the subject, “Titan Metal-Works Summer Picnic Art.”

“Finally!” Mary says to herself.

There looking straight back into her eyes is the angriest ant she’s ever seen using a wrench to smash into a piece of apple pie. Hundreds of other ants are scattered about the scene, all crawling around the food.

“What is this?” she exclaims.

“I’ve waited two weeks! This is what they came up with? Metalworks is even spelled wrong!”

Creative Frustration

Mary pounds in the number for Kooky Fred’s. She is absolutely livid.

“Kooky Fred’s.”

“Yes, is Fred there? This is Mary Jones with Titan Metalworks.”

“Mary! Yes, this is Fred. Did you like the artwork that we sent you? I didn’t see it, but Bridget tells me it’s her best work.”

“Fred, it’s awful. How can you not see it? Monster ants at a picnic? How is that a fun corporate shirt design? Plus, it’s on a black shirt. I thought we were doing yellow?”

Fred pauses for a moment, as he’s not sure what to say. “I’ll get with Bridget about this. What were you expecting? You did ask for something cool.”

“I was expecting summer fun! Trees, birds, flowers…that sort of stuff. Not a horror movie! Our company name is even spelled incorrectly!”

“Ok. Ok. Calm down. I’ll talk to our artist and get back to you.”

“Fred, we’re running out of time. This took two weeks. I was going to use the art for the sign-up sheet for my quantities and sizes. Can you hurry? I don’t understand why this took so long.”

“No problem Mary. I’ll talk to Bridget. Call you soon.”

Another Hundred Dollars

“Mary? Ok, here’s the deal. Bridget our artist, spent eight hours creating that first piece of artwork. I have to pay her for her time, so to do something different I need to charge you another hundred dollars for another design. Sorry, but my hands are tied here. I’ve given her more detailed instructions on what to do, and she can knock it out in no time. If you want a new piece of art, you have to pay for it though. I can add it onto your balance.”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Not really. Can I tell her to get started?”

“I guess.”

Bridget designs another piece of art for the Summer Picnic. This time it is mocked up on a yellow shirt with black and royal blue as the ink colors. Birds, flowers and an outline of the sun make up the main art images. A large headline, “Titan Metalworks Summer Picnic” dominates the top of the design typeset in Comic Sans. The Titan Metalworks logo is placed at the bottom, underneath the illustration. Bridget sends this version off to Mary and includes Fred on the email too.

Mary reluctantly approves the design, as she’s out of time to wait for a new one. She needs it for the sign-up sheet that she posts in the break room.

A Problem With The Order

A week and a half later, Mary sends Fred an email to order her shirts for the Summer Picnic event. The total number she needs is 63, plus 14 youth sizes. She sends the quantities for each size.

Fred immediately calls Mary. “Hey, uh, Mary…we have a problem with your order.”

“Yes, what’s wrong? You did get my email right?”

“I did. That’s the problem. Originally you said you wanted 425 shirts. Now you are ordering 63. Your price was based on a larger quantity, so I’ll have to charge you more. At a quantity of 63, your shirts will now be $14.63. The good news is that your total now only comes out to $921.69, plus that $100 for the new artwork. That will be $1021.69 as your new total. As you paid $2,250 already, it looks like I owe you some money.”

Mary sighs and resignation colors her voice as she says, “I suppose that will be ok. At this point, it doesn’t matter.” She just needs to get this done. It’s not her fault that nobody liked the design.

“Good. I’ll get these ordered and scheduled. I’ll let you know when you can pick them up.”

Titan Metalworks Production

Fred ordered the shirts and they were delivered a day later, as his shop is close to a distributor. The boxes sit unopened by the loading dock door after UPS drops them off.

While Mary’s event is being held on a Saturday, the 26th, the job isn’t started until just after lunch on the 25th. That’s when the press operator discovers that they weren’t sent all of the yellow shirts. All of the mediums are light blue in the box.

Mary pulls up in her car five minutes later to pick up the shirts. When she walks through the front door, Fred greets her with some bad news.

“Hi, Mary, nice to meet you. I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news to share. First, your order is being printed right now, so it’s not quite ready for you to take. The other news is that the mediums that arrived are light blue instead of yellow. As your event is tomorrow, there’s nothing I can do so we’re printing them anyway.”


“Yep. They are light blue.”

“But…but, how long have you had the shirts here? You are just telling me this now?”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

Fred says sheepishly.

An hour and fifteen minutes later the shirts are loaded into Mary’s car and she’s on her way. Fred promises he’ll mail her the balance of credit for the money her company has paid. His accounting person was out, and he couldn’t find the checkbook. He just shrugs off Mary’s disapproving looks.

Mary has a bad feeling in her gut.


Awesome Jack’s Screenprinting – The Good

The other side of the coin is how a shop that performs with best industry practices would handle that same scenario. Compare how this shop discovers Mary’s needs and see what happens.

Same Scenario, Different Shop

“Awesome Jack’s Screenprinting, this is Betty may I help you?” bubbled the voice on the line.

“Yes, Betty…my name is Mary Jones and I’m the HR manager with Titan Metalworks. We are having an employee event soon and I’d like to get a quote on some shirts.”

“Fantastic!” said Betty. “I can help you with that. Do you mind if I ask you some questions?”

Mary could hear the sound of a keyboard being used as Betty was typing. “Sure, go ahead.”

“Wonderful. Let’s get started first by opening up a new account in our system. Can I get information about you and your company and then we’ll dive into what’s needed for your quote?” said Betty confidently.

Mary lists her personal information as well as the company details. Betty enters the information into the system, including that Titan Metalworks usually pays with a purchase order. Betty finishes up outlining what’s needed for accounting to have Titan pay with a PO. She then asks, “Ok, let’s get some details about your company event. Ready?”


“Ok, describe the event to me. What’s going on?”

Same Setup – Different Way of Working

Mary says, “Well, we are having an employee picnic in about six weeks. I just need the quote now, and I’d like you to do the artwork. I’m not too creative and need some help. Do you have any suggestions? I’m new here and want to make a good impression. Can you do something cool?”

Betty excitedly exclaims, “Of course we can! In fact, there are two ways that we can work this. First, we have an online design studio on our website where you can go and create your own artwork, and it will mock it up on the shirt of your choosing. If you don’t feel confident in that, we have an art staff here that can handle it for you. But to go that route, I’ll need to ask you some questions to write a creative brief for them to do the creative work. We want to make sure we have all the details handled so they can nail the design for you quickly.”

“A design studio?” asks Mary, “What’s that?”

Betty asks, “Are you by your computer?”


Betty gives Mary the link to Awesome Jack’s online design studio and Mary types in the URL. The design studio loads.

“Got it.”

“Ok, great. What color t-shirt do you think would be fun for a picnic?” asks Betty.

“Maybe yellow?” responds Mary. “Our corporate logo is black and royal blue. Do you think that sounds fun?”

More Ink Colors

Betty says, “Well, blue and black will look good on yellow, but what about a few other colors too? We could use an orange, and a lime green would really spice it up. Maybe even a red too. A popular basic t-shirt we print for a lot of customers is the Gildan 2000. Let’s set that up for you to start, but for quoting we can give you a “good, better, best” scenario for shirt choices so you can decide.”

“Ok, that sounds great. How does the design tool work?”

Betty walks Mary through the easy to use instructions and gets her set up by uploading the corporate logo into the website design tool. She explains that there are templates she can use to start the design, so all she has to do is edit, or she can pick elements to add as she goes.

Fascinated by the process, Mary decides she wants to give it a shot.

Betty assures her that if she needs some design help, Awesome Jack’s would be happy to help.

The Next Day

Mary phones Betty and exclaims, “The design tool made creating the shirt art so easy, I liked how I could click and move things around. It was a lot of fun!”

“Did you create something you are happy with?”, asks Betty.

“You bet.”

“What about the quote feature, did you check that out, or do you need me to walk you through that?”

Mary says, “That was the best part. I could see how if I ordered more shirts the price reduced in cost per shirt. 72 shirts will be $10.54, but if I ordered 425 the price drops to $6.65. I also really liked that when I posted the design I created on our company Facebook page I got some great comments from our staff instantly. It really helped.”

“That’s right Mary! Now here’s the best part. We can set up an online store for you for this design and you can send your design to all of your employees. They can order from the online store, and it will keep track of who ordered, how many and what sizes. We can even password protect it if that is important to you. For this shirt, we can set up a countdown, so we can have the design available to order by the 15th of next month. After that, the website will aggregate the total and we’ll order and schedule the production.”

“I won’t have to do anything? I’m a little nervous.”

“Mary, it’s easy. I’ll help you set up the marketing for this to you can send to your employees. As you are paying for the shirts, no money will change hands in the store, but it will be super convenient for your staff members to order. We’ll take care of the rest!”


Order Totals

Mary sends out a link to all of Titan Metalworks employees and also puts a reminder to order on their paycheck stubs in the notes section. She does a great job of marketing the store to the staff, and this results in a whopping 503 shirts being ordered by the cut-off date. This drops the price to $6.48 per shirt.

Awesome Jack’s enters the order in their system and purchased the shirts from their main supplier. The job is scheduled to be produced on the 24th.

A curious thing occurs in that all of the mediums for the order come in as light blue instead of yellow. The receiving team for Awsome Jack’s discover this as they check over any incoming goods on the day they are dropped off by UPS.

The error is logged into their system, and they notify the purchasing department of the challenge.

All of the light blue shirts are boxed up and scheduled for pick up, and the partially received inventory is tagged with the order number and staged in the PAR area.

When the balance of the yellow mediums arrive, the job is marked complete in the system and staged in production accordingly.

The order is produced, and the same day each set of shirts for the employees are polybagged and a small sticker is placed in the upper left-hand corner of the bag with the employee’s name.

These are then boxed up, with a packing list for each box that details what employees shirts are in each carton. Everything is set aside for Awesome Jack’s delivery van to bring to Mary at her office.


Friday morning, Mary was delighted to see the event shirts delivered to her office, right on time. She was all smiles when Awesome Jack’s delivery driver took a picture of her holding up the shirt she designed.

The driver asked for the photo so they could post it on their shop’s Twitter and Instagram feeds. Mary was more than willing to participate and even posted a great comment underneath the photo.

She agreed to share a company group photo wearing the shirts too. The driver gave her instructions to use the hashtag #awesomejacks with the post, so it would help with the content marketing search.

The biggest surprise though was when the driver handed her an embroidered polo and baseball hat with the Titan Metalworks logo. She didn’t even ask for that! Attached was a personal note from Betty thanking her for her order, but also asking for a follow-up conversation to discuss setting up a Titan Metalworks company store for employee uniforms and branded merchandise.

Mary knew instantly that she found a partner that she could trust. Not only did they make her look good with the event shirts, they were thinking ahead with how to make her employee onboarding and retention programs easier.

What a find!

She had a great feeling about this…