In your incredible effort to get orders shipped, are you listening for new opportunities?

You may think you are doing a good job with keeping your ear to the ground, but for a lot of shops, they’re entirely focused on what’s currently on their plate.

Great ideas that could have an incredible impact to the shop are missed.

So what happens?

Be Receptive

All around us, there is a continual amount of “noise”.

Your brain can only process about 20% of the what is washing over you at any given moment. (…or about 15% for guys like me before the second cup of coffee)

Everything else your brain filters out.

Yet, inside that 80-85% remainder chunk lies the incredible ideas that you can use to separate yourself from the herd. If only you could filter out that noise to help you reach those important conclusions.

That trick is what I want to outline in this article.

The problem is simply listening. Your focus has been channeled into your immediate zone of awareness. Not on anything else.

For busy apparel decoration shops, all activity is built on processing orders. Not so much with the “how” or “why” we do things. Let alone, the “what next”

Let’s change that.

Create New Habits

The four areas of input that could affect how you run your shop are derived from listening to your customers, employees, competitors, and vendors.

Believe it or not, they are constantly giving you information that you can use to improve.

These ideas fly past your head with lightening speed, so unless you are keyed into them you might not even notice.

In your shop, you have the set way of working.

Most shops use the same type of shirts, ink, thread, screens, squeegees, equipment, technology, apps, software and anything else to get through the day. These have been purchased, and employees trained to use effectively.(Hopefully)

“Does this work?” is the question you should be asking constantly.

During your incredibly busy day, you bump into these “problems”. When these appear, what is your first reaction?

Instead of defensive posturing, what if you used that situation to pivot and accepted the circumstance as an opportunity to head in a different direction?

Growth is going to come from that change. Not from driving down the same bumpy road.

Customer Handing You The Answer / Learn From Defeat

For example, Shop XYZ is a small family owned operation that operates in a 2,500 square foot facility. XYZ has been in business for a number of years and has built a great reputation for quality. They have seen good sales growth, but things have stagnated in the past three business quarters.

Fred, the owner, typically handles all the sales calls and quoting. Fred finally bought an automatic press, as completing orders on time is a priority. However, he hasn’t invested any time or thought into the sales process.

Fred has a “one thing at a time” mentality.

One repeat customer just awarded a large order to another shop in town because they couldn’t get Fred on the phone to help them. Fred personally does all the quotes for the shop and has “his way” of doing things.

Lately, he’s been so focused on getting the new automatic press up to speed that he’s spending the majority of his time in the production area of his shop. He missed several phone calls from Bob, the athletic director from the local high school. By the time Fred returned the calls, Bob had already left for the day.

When Fred learned that Bob gave his business to another shop, he was fuming.

Don’t Get Angry

“We’re the best printer in town!”, said Fred. Lately, he’s been saying that more frequently to himself as he’s not getting the traction with potential customers he desires. How many missed opportunities have there been? Fred doesn’t know.

So, what’s going on here in our example story?

Does it sound familiar?

Get Traction

For starters, Fred is your typical shop owner.

He’s spent a good amount of time building his shop up from scratch and has decent enough sales to drop $60,000+ on a new automatic press. His limitation currently is that he needs to focus on working smarter.

When Bob placed that order with another decorator mainly because Fred wasn’t available, Fred should have noticed that Bob was giving him the answer on what to do next to improve his shop’s sales cycle.

Fred spent the money on that production equipment, because “they really needed it,” but hasn’t placed any effort on developing his website or an automatic sales tool.

Fred’s website could be a 24/7/365 salesperson. At a tiny fraction of the price of that auto, Fred could have a reliable system that could not only quote his customers, but also allow him to take orders directly from the students’ families.

With the Design Studio, customers could create the art they want without trying to track down Fred. Then, an online store with school gear would lock Fred’s shop to Bob’s school in a lasting partnership.

A web store would allow customers like Bob to be happy, as he has other things to do all day than worry about selling shirts to his students.

Change is in the Air

These days, it’s not enough to rely on saying “we’re the best printer in town” to drive business.

As Bob’s decision to use a competitor tells you, unless there is a solid connection with your customer, they may go elsewhere with their orders.

Fred’s shop has always produced great work, but XYZ lost the sale because Fred wasn’t focused on how to make sales easier for his customers. He’s not solving their pain points.

If Fred is listening, he’ll realize that the opportunity is to insert the connection piece in the sales puzzle to solidify the partnership between Shop XYZ and the local school. Having more than a glorified business card landing page on his website is the sales direction that Fred needs. Functionality is the key to success here.

What would you do?

The Value of Complaints

Believe it or not, complaints are a good thing. Sure, there’s the initial pain of dealing with them. However, repurpose those complaints into an improvement generator.

The value is in the topic.

In the example above, the complaint is that Fred wasn’t available for his customer. Bob tried to reach out, got frustrated and simply went somewhere else with his business. All Bob wanted was information, and couldn’t access it. You can’t frustrate customers and expect them to stick around.

If Fred was honest with the situation, he could see that he needs to make some changes. He could train other people to quote customers. Maybe even hiring more production staff, so he could focus on the sales work could be another direction to go.

However, bridging the gap between the school and Shop XYZ by building a proactive sales mechanism would work best.

In your shop, what are the complaints? These could be from your staff, customers or even vendors.

Remember, it costs six to seven times more to acquire a new customer than to retain a previous one. Spending the effort to take complaints seriously and eliminate a problem can be incredibly beneficial.

Even the small, inconsequential hiccups.

Work it.

Show That You Care

Showing empathy is a very human trait.

Empathy is essentially the ability to experience and personally relate to the thoughts, experiences, and emotions of other people. It isn’t sympathy, but expressing genuine caring, support, and understanding.

Caring about your employees and customers can lead to potentially new positive directions. All you have to do is ask.

  • What is important?
  • Tell me what is going on?
  • How can I help?

For example, in Shop XYZ, Fred’s receiving and shipping manager Martha seemed a little depressed all week. At the end of the day, Fred brought Martha into his office for a quiet chat.

During the discussion, Martha revealed that her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She hasn’t been sleeping much. Over the next few months, Fred allowed Martha some time to help her mom with her treatments. At the end of the year, they even participated in the ACS Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk and the entire shop supported Martha with her team fundraising.

They printed shirts for their shop’s walk team, of course.

Being Open

During the walk event, they ran into other business owners that were showing their support too. The following year, they handled their walk team shirts too. An added benefit was the fundraising webstore platform that made raising money for their client’s efforts easy.

Three of these customers liked the process so much, that they moved their online corporate store to Shop XYZ as well.

The fork in the road was just being human and supporting their teammate, Martha. Positive efforts can lead to positive results.

“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Get Feedback

One way that works great is to spend a small sliver of your time reaching out and asking for information.

The Ben Franklin effect suggests that when you ask someone for a favor, they tend to like you more. You don’t even need to offer anything in return. In fact, when you let your customers or employees know that their input is helpful to your shop, they are more willing to share their insight than if you offered an incentive.

How often are you doing this in your company? That feedback can generate many wonderful ideas for change.

Here’s a test. I want to ask a favor of you.

Below in the comments section, write a short anecdote about how paying attention to something has generated more business for your shop. It can be about anything. Be as detailed as you want, but I’m just looking for a few sentences. A few minutes of effort tops.

No random drawing for an iPad, or a free box of cookies.

Can you help out and describe an experience that helped your shop grow in some way? I want to demonstrate that you have to be brave enough to ask for feedback, you will receive it.

Thanks in advance…


Many owners or managers struggle with engagement in the activities in the shop. Sure, there’s a huge slice of folks that are present and active in the everyday happenings. But there are plenty of others that sit and judge in the corner office too.

Want to know what’s really going on? You need to get your butt out of your chair and take a tour. Keep your eyes, and probably more importantly, your ears open.

“Manage by walking around” is actually a term in business.

For our industry, it is a highly applicable. But you have to be receptive to seeing things with an open mind. Walking around isn’t managing unless you are noticing improvement opportunities.

Open Your Eyes

A few years ago, I was in a very large shop that had about a hundred employees on multiple shifts. This particular shop worked out of a historic building and had several floors of production.

The owner constantly patrolled the shop, looking for efficiency challenges.

During a tour of the production floor, the shift change occurred. This is where one shift leaves and the next one comes in. We turned a corner and there was a huge line of people. The line was the time clock queue. People were either punching in or punching out.

I immediately started asking questions about that process and he gave me a funny look.

“Don’t you see the problem?”, I asked. “You are paying all these people to stand in line to clock out. Ten to fifteen minutes a day, every day…for each person in line. How much do you think that costs you a year? Not to mention all the people coming in that can’t get to their workstations quickly because of the traffic jam.”

One time clock for about two hundred people. Everyone in the company walked past this problem for as long as anyone could remember. It’s just “how they did things”.

Open your eyes.

What goofy thing are you walking past every day that could make a significant improvement in your shop?

Are You Listening for New Opportunities?

To sum up, making positive changes in your shop requires an open mind and being receptive to the ideas that flow past you every day.

You have to grab them!

These shoot by us constantly. You can create a new habit of listening for these. Start writing these ideas down. It doesn’t have to be anything too complex. Record the ideas on a special notepad or a whiteboard.

Then schedule thirty minutes or so a week as an appointment on your schedule to dive into the best idea on the list and see where it takes you. Do it at 10:00 on Tuesday’s for example. When you schedule by blocking off the time, you are building the habit that will lead to significant improvements year after year.

Playing the “What If” Game

For that opportunity, “what if” you were doing it better?

  • What would it cost? How much would you profit? Would you save time?
  • Are you making someone’s life better? Think about that time clock example.
  • How can you measure the “before” and the “after”? What metrics make sense?
  • Are there best industry practices that other companies use? How can you learn these?
  • To change something for the better, what do you need? Equipment? Technology? Training? Time?
  • Can you reach out to someone to learn how to do it, or to get more information? Who would you call?
  • If you change something, what could go wrong? What could go right?
  • You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Can you implement something already set up?
  • Is it a system or process that needs to improve?
  • Listen out for excuses made by your staff. Every excuse is an opportunity to change something for the better.

Pay attention. Be brave and work the problem.

You can do it.

Hey, don’t forget to leave your comment below on something that you found that made a difference in your shop!



“He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.” – Ben Franklin

“If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” – Maya Angelou

“Change is the end result of all true learning.” – Leo Buscaglia

“To improve is to change; to be perfect, is to change often.” – Winston Churchill