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Nicole Pape

3 Keys to a Successful 2023 for Apparel Printers

In the face of economic uncertainty, sustaining your business may be the best thing you can do this year.




IT’S JANUARY. The holidays have come and gone, the winter break lull has been lingering a week too long, the temperatures have dramatically dropped, and the economy is looking rather precarious … Yet here you are. Just another day, rolling up the dock door, closing that last box, awaiting UPS, contemplating the year ahead, and it hits you: How do we sustain?

At some point, this rolls past every entrepreneur’s mind, whether it’s “How do we sustain?” or “How do we grow?” They are both rooted in the desire to continue on the path to success. There’s no better feeling than knowing you are in control of your business’s destiny and yet, there is no scarier feeling either. As an entrepreneur, it becomes a “do or die” mentality of survival of the fittest. We sit in our jumbo jets, 50,000 feet above our businesses, and look at all the ways to optimize, strategize, and propel growth. But the truth is, without a plan to put into action, the best thing you’ll do this year is sustain. As in most industries, you have two choices: You either grow sustainably, or you die slowly.

Let’s be real. Dying ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. We didn’t incorporate a name, secure a space, finance equipment, train employees, and offer services all to sustain and one day shut the doors. We started this as a means to an end, as the beginning to forever, as the only thing that matters, so let’s give it the priority it deserves and map out a trajectory with your 2023 Top Three.

Set Realistic Financial Goals

1. Make this the year you shift your gears and challenge yourself to do things differently. If you’re the type of entrepreneur who is comfortable where you’re at (don’t be), dare yourself to go outside of your comfort zone in 2023. Setting goals can seem trivial. You may feel like you’re not “big enough” yet, or you may “know your numbers” already, but without structured goals written down annually, your business’s goals are just lofty dreams. We can all set a goal to “make millions of dollars,” but setting a goal isn’t enough. It takes transparency, a plan, valued action, and willpower to persevere when the going gets tough.

Goals should be strategic and based on how long you’ve been in business, how profitable you are to date, and your overall variety of services as a company. Combining where you stand today with where you want to be tomorrow is the only way to create key metrics for your business’s growth trajectory.

What KPIs (key performance indicators) do you want to get laser focused on?

Recommendation: Make a list of key objectives with optimal results in each department of your business: sales, production, graphics, accounting, HR, logistics, etc. Create an equation of measurement for each objective and quantify it on a report for the business. If your objective is to see an increase in efficiency (aka profitability) from your screen printing department month over month, simply take the daily revenue divided by your daily payroll in that department to understand how efficiently you are operating with your payroll COGS. Tracking small metrics like this goes a long way in helping you forecast your business, stay agile when things need to tighten, and keep you moving in the upward direction of growth. The most effective way to establish new goals is to take your blinders off, sit in your jumbo jet 50,000 feet above your business, and take a good look around. You’ll be shocked at the goals you will surpass.


Automate, Automate, Automate

2. It’s time to let software and automation do the heavy lifting so you can focus on other ways to grow your business’s pipeline. If you haven’t already, consider implementing shop management software to improve your visibility and assist with day-to-day operations of the company.

I’m guessing most of us know this stuff already and utilize some sort of software to keep things organized. Well, it’s 2023, and your New Year’s resolution should include further automating certain departments to better service your customers, the business, and the bottom line. Departments like production, graphics, HR, accounting, and even time and task management all are ready, willing, and able to be the next things you automate.

Based on your investments thus far, what is the ROI on these departments today? Are you going to need to replace any equipment to increase efficiency? Are you going to need to hire new staff to offset the growth? Based on your forecasting, do you have the right pipeline in place to support growth this year or do you need to find more resources?

Recommendation: Let software help you drill down these questions, fill in the blanks, and give you a pathway to capture additional profitability. Whether you’re in an area that struggles to find good staffing or your current staff isn’t generating the ROI for growth, it’s time to utilize other tools to your advantage. Try outsourcing some of the following areas in your business to reduce overall payroll and overhead needed and streamline efficiency: accounting, project management, graphics, HR, and even more micro with staffing schedulers, task management software, and more.


3. Standardizing your services, processes, and individual job roles is part of operating lean and efficiently. Saying “yes” to everything only works when you have the proper protocols in place for customer success and, ultimately, profitability. One of the things I leaned into was the advantages of cross-training my staff in different roles and departments. Not only did this give them a way to obtain metric raises, but it was also a way for our operations to sustain and flow with the seasonality, and for us to stay edgy with a lack of available labor.

Implementing a standard process of learning multiple roles or departments can be daunting as the owner – and as the employee – but once you create a specific training structure surrounding department movement, you’ll find you’ve created a leaner, stronger team that generates increased efficiencies with “eggs in multiple baskets” instead of just one.

Vacuum efficiency is the idea that once you start improving one area of your business, the next area to adjust will start to show itself, allowing you to make consistent calculated improvements. Essentially, you want to work to 3S: Sort, Sweep, and Standardize your departments individually and collectively.

Recommendation: Pick a department to start. Look at the individual job roles, their functions, and how they interact with one another. How can each process improve or go away within this department? How can you facilitate streamlined communication in this department? How can you dedicate time each day for cleaning with constant, small improvements? What daily meetings should be integrated for increased performance? Can you cross-train your shipping and receiving departments? What about screen printing and embroidery, heat transfer and sewing, support and project management? Where do you need to focus on cleaning, maintaining, and organizing differently for easier operations? Ask the questions. Get deep. Overturn the stones less touched. Involve your staff. Recognize change and appreciate the improvements as you become more aligned in culture and profitability through standardizing your operations.

Final Thoughts

Work on your bottom-line numbers, figure out where to continue automating, and standardize as much as you can for sustainable growth … and general sanity. Sit in your jumbo jet 50,000 feet above your business and simply look at what you’ve built. Pilot the plane to the next phase of the business’s growth by empowering development, adopting new ideas, and increasing visibility for the whole team.

It’s your screen printing world. Keep building it. Cheers to a prosperous 2023!




Let’s Talk About It

Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Screen Printing Industry

LET’S TALK About It: Part 3 discusses how four screen printers have employed people with disabilities, why you should consider doing the same, the resources that are available, and more. Watch the live webinar, held August 16, moderated by Adrienne Palmer, editor-in-chief, Screen Printing magazine, with panelists Ali Banholzer, Amber Massey, Ryan Moor, and Jed Seifert. The multi-part series is hosted exclusively by ROQ.US and U.N.I.T.E Together. Let’s Talk About It: Part 1 focused on Black, female screen printers and can be watched here; Part 2 focused on the LGBTQ+ community and can be watched here.

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