An important aspect of the sales process involves educating the customer, and sometimes this can include the sensitive topic of personal taste involving the artwork. There are times when a client brings in artwork that you know as an experienced printer is just not going to look very good.
Whether it’s the design itself or their choice of shirt and ink colors, you are put in the difficult position of deciding whether you want to simply shrug your shoulders and do what they are asking or try to persuade them to consider some alternatives that you know will result in a better-looking shirt.
First off, you don’t want to offend them because you don’t know where the art came from. It may have been created by their child or best friend, and they may have a personal attachment to it.
I suggest making a diplomatic comment such as “Can I show you some things our art department has designed that are similar?” and maybe that will prompt, “Oh, I really like the way this part looks, maybe you could do that for me.” And that hopefully helps you avoid saying “Hey, that’s super ugly.”
The downside of not saying anything is if you print the order of 300 super-ugly shirts, you know there will never be a reorder, because no one will want to wear them. I suggest asking how the shirts are going to be used. If the client is intending to sell them, you might say, “Have you test marketed this design or gotten other people’s opinion who you don’t know?”
Obviously, when you show it to your mom, she’s going to say “Oh, that’s great, honey,” as opposed to someone on the street who is more likely to honestly say, “Ugh, that’s horrible.”
Sometimes, it may be a good design, but it’s on the wrong type of shirt. For example, you don’t want to put a super busy graphic on a digi-camo pattern shirt because nobody is going to be able to see it. So you want to make sure you match things up aesthetically.
People sometimes have iffy taste so try to suggest alternatives. Show them what works as a way of pushing them in the right direction.
The Cost Conversation
Cost oftentimes needs to be a part of the conversation too because people don’t understand what it takes to produce a shirt. You may need to explain how many colors it is going to be, or that on a digi-camo pattern, you will need an underbase.
It really helps to have some examples, a price list or some sort of reference. Price is always going to be a factor. Ideally, you can educate customers and steer them in the right direction to make a good decision.
In the long run, you’ll have a better customer because they’ll understand what it takes to do things. Then you can say, “If you’re trying to raise money, maybe you don’t need a four-location print. If we do only one location, your cost per shirt is cheaper and more of that money goes to the charity.”
I have found that a lot of time when I make suggestions, people are open minded. It depends on where the art came from. Some people want help to improve it as long as it has the same flavor as the original art.
What you don’t want to do, as the printer, is invest six hours of your artist’s time to “fix” a client’s artwork and not charge for it. There is a difference between cleaning up someone’s artwork to make it printable and actually making a design look better. Making the design look better is dependent on the creative talent of the person doing it and can require a lot of time. So you have to strike a balance.
About Marshall Atkinson
Marshall Atkinson has an art degree from Florida State University. He started a T-shirt company to fund his graduate studies in architecture, outsourcing his screen printing. His proficiency in AutoCAD and self-taught abilities in Photoshop and vector programs led to him serving as the print shop’s art director for 14 years.
He went on to become vice president of operations at T-Formation, Midway, Fla., which was followed by a year of consulting, before becoming chief operating officer at Visual Impressions, Milwaukee, Wis., a contract decorator offering screen printing, embroidery and digitizing primarily to the promotional products market.
Having left Visual Impressions in 2016 to start his own company, Atkinson Consulting, Atkinson is in the process of starting a business-to-business apparel service called WORK and will continue to share his knowledge as a contributor to industry publications and as a seminar speaker.
In March 2017, Marshall Atkinson joined InkSoft, Albuquerque, N.M., applying his 24 years of experience in the decorated apparel industry in a new environment. He is working on a new module for InkSoft called Production Manager. It will be a comprehensive production scheduling and metric analysis tool to help make better decisions, stay on schedule and increase profitability.