HOW TO FIND A FULFILLMENT PARTNER FOR YOUR T-SHIRT BUSINESS
If you run an online t-shirt shop and you use DTG (direct-to-garment) printing, until volume dictates and you can scale-up to owning your own printer (giving you the ability to produce your own tees), you’ve most likely chosen (or are in the process of choosing) a fulfillment partner who prints your t shirts and ships them to your customer. Most of these businesses offer shipping services, custom packaging, labels, tags, inserts, etc., which gives you the “big-boy” appearance – your customer never knows that you outsourced the production of your t-shirt to a third party. This, of course, is known as “drop-shipping”. And even if your sales volume does make sense for you to consider purchasing a printer to make your own shirts – potentially lowering your cost-per-unit – you’re probably busy doing other things like design creation, social media management and marketing. You may say to yourself “I’m in the marketing business, not the printing business” and maybe you’ll always be more comfortable using the drop ship model to run your tshirt store. There are obvious benefits to that, like not having to pay up-front costs to carry inventory, reducing your start-up cost. The drawback being a higher cost-per-unit and less profit on the table. If you are considering the do-it-yourself method, a good DTG printer can easily cost upwards of $10,000, never mind the cost of service, ink, training, etc. So, the drop-ship model fits a lot of small to medium sized shops. Which brings me to the point of this post – how do I find a solid, reputable DTG drop-shipper to partner with?
I spend a lot of time on t-shirt forum sites, asking and responding to questions from people in the industry. On the B2B side of things, one of the most common questions I see is “Can anyone tell me the name of a good DTG/Drop-Shipper that I can use?” I’ll admit it – I have asked that same question before. And if you spend some time reading the responses to this question, you’ll find that most people do not want to reveal the name of their drop-ship partner(s). And with good reason. Think about it – you are their competition. Why would they want to reveal their source to you, only to have you drawing on their most important resource? It would be like asking a fisherman for the map to his secret honey hole. It’s rarely going to happen. You will see some standard responses: try Print Aura, Tshirtgang, Printful, etc. But do a little more research and you’ll also find that generally, the bigger the partner, the lower the quality of the end product (big boys always trying to cut corners to maximize their profits), and more importantly, the big players are surprisingly expensive, meaning less profits in your pocket.
It’s easy to find a partner that can get a shirt printed and shipped to your customer for around $20. The question is – what can you charge for that shirt on your store? $25? $30? Maybe. The competition is extremely fierce out there. Even if you can get away with charging $25/shirt – by the time you back out fulfillment, marketing, store maintenance costs etc – what’s left on the table for you? You’d better be selling a crazy high volume to make it worth your while. And once you achieve that kind of volume, you’re back to the conundrum mentioned at the start of this post; considering the buy-a-printer-and-do-it-yourself model. Round and round you go.
So – where do you find a solid, reputable fulfillment partner who can produce a high quality product for you AND at a price that allows you to make a decent living? Cliché time: the easy answer is that there is no easy answer! Sourcing takes time, patience, and most-importantly testing to find the right partner. But, I will you give you a bit of a head start. Here is a link that lists over 500 DTG partners across the United States in alphabetical order.
Overwhelmed? You should be. You’ve got awesome designs. You’ve made your storefront. You’re ready to go to market. Newsflash: That’s the easy part. The hard part comes next – sourcing a supplier (or a small group of suppliers) to make and deliver products to your customers. One that represents you in the right way. And the only way to do this is to get on the phone, make the calls, speak to sales reps to get an idea of their level of customer service, and of course, order samples. DO NOT ever blindly partner with a drop-shipper without getting some of their products in your hands. Spend the money and have samples sent to you. Get an array of sample designs made for you. Test some black and white designs, some color designs, get them printed on a variety of t-shirt styles and colors. Get men’s and women’s tshirt styles delivered to you. Test the shipping process. How long did the items take to arrive? Did they arrive in good order? Remember that when you order samples, you’re essentially testing the fulfillment process. Your experience will be similar to the experience of your customers.
Short story long: do not expect to be hand fed the answer to perhaps the most important question your business will face: how to source the best fulfillment partner. And even if you do get a lead on a company, scrutinize the source of that information and test the supplier for yourself before you make a commitment to having them as a partner.
DTG drop-shippers are a dime a dozen and there are way more horror stories than success stories. Do your due diligence and spend the time and effort to source partners who do well by you and will help you grow. And although t-shirt forums can provide a wealth of helpful information, don’t expect them to spoon feed you the answers you are looking for in this regard. Just spend the time and embrace the challenge.
Have a wonderful second half to summer 2018.