Top 10 Apparel Sales Challenges – and How to Conquer Them

Top 10 Apparel Sales Challenges –
and How to Conquer Them
Jimmy Lamb, Sawgrass Technologies &
Dana Zezzo, Pro Towels Etc.
Tuesday, July 13
4:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m.
Room 180
All education handouts are available to download at
Top 10 Apparel Sales Challenges
And How To Conquer Them
Jimmy Lamb & Dana Zezzo
This is an interactive presentation that includes role-playing by the Instructors. You are encouraged to
focus on the “details” of the dialogue, as this is where you will get the most value out of this class. Both of
the Presenters are highly experienced Apparel Decoration Professionals with over 40 years of experience
between them and the points that will be covered are the results of many real-world encounters.
The class handout should be considered as a supplemental resource as the presentation will not follow
the sequence or structure of the information contained herein.
Brand Names Are Everything
Many of your customers will be hung up on brand names and demand that you supply them.
Unfortunately, many brand name items are not available to you, so of course you are unable to comply
with their request. There are a couple of points to consider with this challenge.
The first is that brand name does not mean exclusivity in terms of garment construction. Thus, the more
you know about popular brands the better, as it will arm you with the information you need to counter their
request and to find alternate items. Let’s use Under Armor as an example. They use 100% polyperformance apparel, moisture wicking fabrics in their garments (exclusively). Thus, finding alternative
sources (such as Vapor Apparel) that manufacture the same types of garments is the key to complying
with a request to supply Under Armor.
The second issue is that alternative brands are usually much lower in price, yet higher in quality. Brand
name does not mean high quality, but it pretty much guarantees higher pricing. So you are doing the
customer a favor by coming up with different “lesser name” options.
The third factor is that most name brands are manufactured by the same companies that produce most of
the blanks for the decorated apparel industry. Though this information is highly confidential and hard to
come by, you may be able to deduce some of the sources simply by becoming very familiar with blank
apparel choices and name brand choices, and making some hands-on comparisons. Visiting Industry
Trades is a great way to do this. Useful Hint: VF Brands does a lot of work for name brand companies.
Apparel Is Unisex
True, many blank items such as sweatshirts and t-shirts are traditionally uni-sex in nature. But when it
comes to quality garments that are a bit more form fitting such as polo’s and dress shirts, there is a
difference between male and female versions. This is especially important in regards to staff uniforms,
where the goal is to present a professional image.
Let’s face it, men and women are built differently, so with more high end products, manufacturers design
two different versions for many of their products, so as to create a better fit for the intended user. In
addition, styling tends to be different between the sexes. What appeals to women may not appeal to
mean and vice versa.
If you are dealing with a man, he will be more inclined to focus on unisex merchandise, because in most
cases he doesn’t know, care about or want to deal with the difference in male and female versions of
apparel. (A woman will know!) That means education on your part. Bottom-line, people will happily wear
what they like and avoid what they dislike.
Price Is Everything
No matter what you are selling, price always seems to move to the forefront. But there is a lot of truth in
the phrase “you get what you pay for.” So how do you counter this challenge? The list is long, but here
are a few things to consider:
1. Provide samples of low – medium – high quality for each item you are presenting. This lets the
customer feel and touch and make a logical decision based on reality rather than conjecture.
2. Point out perception is reality. If you use products that “appear” to be cheap in construction, the
impression is that your company is cheap in nature.
3. ROI. In most cases, better quality items are actually lower in cost in the long term. If they spend $500
and get 3 years of wear-ability, versus $250 and 1 year of wear-ability, the tables are turned on cost.
Creativity Is For Art Class Not For Apparel
More often than not, a customer chooses the most boring combination of apparel style, garment color and
logo placement. The end result is mediocre at best. The key here is to create excitement! The reality is
that most customers are just too conservative and boring themselves, thus their ideas reflect their
personality. However, if you are able to “jazz up” the offering without being too extreme, it can easily
translate into a larger first order and plenty of successive follow-up orders. If people are excited with their
products they tend to buy more!
The first order of business is to figure out what the purpose of the garment is. In all likelihood promotion
is a key element, thus the item must deliver the message. Thus, it’s important to prominently display the
logo or message and to use colors that catch the eye. Color is important in both the logo and the
garment itself. Too conservative with either and the messaging is lost.
The second concept is to identify who is wearing the garment and choose styles that work for that type of
person, yet deliver the message. In the case of polo’s for example, its customary to place a small logo on
the left chest using embroidery. Spice that up by adding something on a sleeve and also right below the
collar on the back. Back locations are awesome, because when standing in a line, the message is
delivered to the person behind you. Also, front, back and side locations mean the message is going out
360 degrees.
Apparel Is An Expense, Not A Benefit
Wrong! On a cost per item basis, apparel could certainly be considered as an extravagant expense, but
when you look at the effectiveness of the medium, the cost versus benefit changes dramatically. Many
traditional promotional products get put in or on a desk and thus have limited exposure. Apparel on the
other hand is large in size compared to many other products and thus more prominent. Plus it gets worn
in public which means a high level of visibility.
With the right customer, apparel products can be sold to the end-user, which means they are paying the
business to advertise for them. Think about Hard Rock Café. Their entire promotional campaign is
based on promotional products, with apparel being one of the most successful advertising products.
Fabric Is Of No Concern – 100% Cotton Works Fine
True, 100% cotton is very popular, but its only one piece of the fabric puzzle. The reality, is that the
garment and fabric needs to be chosen based on the user. For example, 100% cotton breathes well and
is ideal for high temperature conditions. But it also wrinkle very easily. 50/50 (poly cotton) may not be
quite as cool, but it is truly wash and wear. In actuality, advances in fiber technology have produced poly
based fabrics that are every bit as cool and comfortable as 100% cotton.
Poly-performance products are 100% polyester, yet they are cooler and more comfortable than most
100% cotton and 50/50 garments on the market. Today’s poly products are not in the same league as
those of former years – they have advanced tremendously, but require a bit of convincing when trying to
introduce to older clients.
In addition to fabric content, you must also look at the fabric surface. There are a lot of popular styles as
jersey, pique, microfiber, moisture wicking, scupltered knits, corduroy, etc each with a different type of
surface texture. The texture may affect the type of decoration.
For example, uneven surfaces can be a challenge for embroidery. Moisture wicking fabrics depend on
small pores to allow the process to work, thus surface printing applications such as screen-printing, directto-garment, and heat transfers may cause interference. (Sublimation is the best process).
So in addition to affecting wear-ability, fabric content may also affect the choice of decoration.
Headwear Is For Teenagers
Headwear is a very cost-effective method of delivering a message with apparel and it’s not limited to
teenagers. Plenty of adult men and even some women wear caps and visors. They key is to match the
style of headwear with the targeted end user. Teenagers definitely wear different styles from adults.
If you have a message targeting a teen demographic, then you want to invest in styles that they like and
then find a way to get it on their heads. The same goes for adults. Headwear is a marketing strategy, not
an apparel decision!
BTW – 75% of what teens are wearing today (headwear that is) will find its way onto the heads of adults
within 2 years.
One Style – All Seasons!
Unless you live in the desert, it’s not likely that you wear the same type of garment year round, as
different seasons many different weather patterns. The effectiveness of apparel as a promotional tool
depends on it being worn as often as possible. A polo shirt works well in the summer and even gets worn
in the winter. But in a colder climate it gets worn UNDER a jacket or sweater during the winter, thus the
promotional value drops to ZERO.
You must emphasize to your client that they will need to different garment for different seasons for this
reason. In addition, variety is good, as people get bored with wearing the same thing all the time. Being
able to mix it up, means the chances that a garment gets worn frequently increase dramatically.
Green Is More Than A Label
Providing eco-friendly garments is much more challenging than it may seem. And in the long run, items
that seem green may not be. Just like the term “sale”, “green” is overused and abused with very few if
any standards that define how it is applied or what it means. So with that in mind, be aware that truly
finding eco-friendly apparel may be much harder than it seems, with the end result being something that
costs more but is not necessarily any “greener” than anything else in the long run.
For example, a product may taut that it’s composed of organic cotton, wool or bamboo. But what kind of
dyes were used to color the fibers? Technically, the dye process may have negated the green
characteristics of the fabric. Same thing goes for the decoration process. Some inks are environmentally
friendly and some are not. Embroidery threads oil based for the most part. Because there are so many
details that go into a garment from beginning to end, it’s nearly impossible to really guarantee that the
final product is truly environmentally friendly.
With that said, from a marketing perspective, eco-friendly products are hot, so it pays to become as
familiar as possible with the concepts so you use them to your advantage. For example, organic t-shirts
printed with water-soluble digital inks.
Embellishment Is More Than Decoration
The type of embellishment is a critical part of the puzzle. Not only does it affect price, it also affects how
the garment feels and looks. It should also be appropriate for the situation. For example, embroidery
conveys an image of higher quality and is perfect for higher-end garments and headwear. But it’s only
cost effective in small doses, meaning large designs are prohibitively expensive to produce. Embroidery
also works much better on heavyweight fabrics than lightweight fabrics.
In contrast, t-shirts by their very nature are not considered to be high end garments, so embroidery is not
really necessary, nor is it cost effective, as t-shirts make for an ideal billboard when to comes to
decoration. Think screenprinting, digital, sublimation and heat transfers.
Another aspect is logo detail. Embroidery is not capable of reproducing photo-quality graphics and
struggles with small details. Screenprinting can produce minute details, but has color limitations. Digital
can typically produce high resolution images, with precise details, in millions of colors. However, digital
printing typically costs more than screenprinting, especially in higher quantities.
So embellishment is important, but needs to be selected carefully.