You made it through one of your busy seasons. Allow yourself to take a few deep breaths, but now is the time to look forward and prepare for your next busy season on the calendar. It is a time to review your sublimation processes, and determine what worked and what did not. We always look at ways to increase sales, but with the increased sales, you have to be aware that you will need to be more productive to handle the increased volume. In the end, more productivity equals more profit.
MARKETING TO DRIVE MORE BUSINESS
Marketing is very important to any business. One of the tools you can use to market your business is a planning system named Sublimation Target Marketing. This is a multi-faceted program which combines a “Base Module” and several specific “Target Marketing Modules” that will help you find contacts to approach, and are broken up into three modules, one each for inner high school clubs (chess club, drama club, etc.) and collegiate organizations, team sports, and religious organizations.
These modules give specific information for the demographics of the different groups they are targeting, along with sample brochures; some even have signage you can put in your retail location. The modules, in combination with the organizations’ websites, will help you find local contacts. These contacts can then be approached about purchasing packages of products for several members of a team or group. If you are not sure if this is right for you, you can test drive six free mini business plans that are available at www.unisub.com.
The internet is a very powerful tool to market your sublimation business, and you should take full advantage of it. But where should you start? There are programs in place to help you out. The Full Color Network, or FCN, is a powerful advertising tool that can direct web traffic to your business. Anyone who has attempted to navigate the very difficult process of getting their website listed in the pay-per-click section on Google or other search engines knows how cumbersome such a task can be.
Those who have been willing to pay the most to be sponsors, or who have been getting a large number of clicks, typically move to the top of the list. How is it possible for a small business to compete with companies such as Wal-Mart or Shutterbug for search engine ad space? That is what the Full Color Network and pooled resources is all about.
IMPROVE ON YOUR PRODUCTIVITY
If you can improve on your productivity, you will increase your profits. You can break down your workflow into the design stage, the printing stage, and the pressing stage. In the design stage, it starts with good graphics. So where do you find really good-looking graphics to sublimate? While there are a variety of sources for artwork, there is only one that was specifically designed for sublimation.
Unisubgraphics.com was designed for sublimation decorators to have access to thousands of graphics already on templates for the hundreds of products available. The art collection is continually growing, and consists of thousands of high-resolution images themed from business use to sports teams to seasonal art. It is all royalty free, able to be downloaded and saved for future use, and most images will allow text to be altered. So customizing a stock graphic can be as simple as changing some text!
The world of photo gifts is growing rapidly today. This can make just about anyone who can snap a picture your artist. Since your customer is supplying the basic art, simply resizing and printing typically does not require much time. Today we have an extensive array of sublimatable products where simply adding a picture makes a very attractive gift. These are “no design products”, and once again, the less time you spend on design, the more revenue of a sale becomes profit.
If you are more proficient at your graphics program, you will create products with higher perceived value, and you will be able to take advantage of the many tools within the graphics program to be more efficient. CorelDraw and other graphic-design-program classes are generally offered at industry trade shows. Further, you can do a quick Google search on the internet and find graphic training either on-site, internet-based, or using DVDs.
In the print stage, there is a tool available for professional-series printers that can help with page layout, duplication, inserting variable items (names, photos, etc.) into a stock layout, reducing ink usage, and giving greater color accuracy and speed. This tool is printer RIP software. RIP technically stands for Raster Image Processing. RIPs generally are set-up as an after step from our graphic design program. You will still design your art in programs like CorelDraw or Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, but you will not be printing directly from them. You will instead export your image out of the graphics program and import it into the rip software.
Another option is to upgrade to a newer printer. The new Ricoh GX7000 is the first “Non-Epson” platform for desktop sublimation. This printer is by far the fastest desktop printer platform on the market, and compared to most current sublimation printers, it has the capability to double your print output.
In the pressing stage, one of the keys to producing a large volume of products is jigs. Jigs are designed to minimize time taping individual items to transfers, and are commonly made from either hardboard or MDF. They are custom-cut to a specific paper size, (8 1/2” x 11”, 11” x 17”, etc.), and they have cut outs for several individual products to fit into one jig. With this concept, we can simply orient a piece of paper to the jig with several products contained in it. Thereby, you have only one point of orientation and taping.
As so much of our work flow is determined by our heat press, certain presses or add-ons for presses can accelerate our production speed. A shuttle press has two base tables for the press and one heat platen. Either the base tables will move, sliding back and forth under the heat platen, or in the reverse, the platen can slide to the base-table locations. The concept is that while one set of products is being actively pressed, another can be staged simultaneously. This can greatly increase work-flow speed, as the press operator will never have idle time while products are in the press.
SETTING UP A WORK FLOW THAT WORKS FOR YOU
The best equipment in the world can only get you so far. Being smart as to how that equipment is used and how the production run is staged can be the difference from slow and labor intensive to true mass production. The work area for your press should have three stations: the prep area, the press itself, and the cool-down station. The larger the press you are working with, the larger the other two areas should be to match.
The prep area should consist of a good size table in which to load jigs and position and tape transfers to the jigs. Some of the products we sublimate do have a protective masking on them. Heat can help soften the masking and make it easier to remove. This can be a good use for either an old heat press that is no longer being used, or even something as low tech as a few hair dryers mounted over the station.
The cooling area should either be a metal or stone (slate, granite, etc) table, or metal shelving. The cool surfaces like metal or stone will help to quickly cool down the sublimated products, making the time they spend at this station minimal. Cooling fans can also help speed up this process.
With a work area set up to maximize your work flow, it is possible to produce in large volume. The more efficiently sublimated products are produced, the larger the profit margins will be.
ADDING SPICE TO YOUR PRODUCT OFFERINGS
One of the most exciting things about the sublimation industry is there are always new products entering the market. It seems like hardly a day passes without a new product. For you as a sublimator, it will help keep your product offering constantly fresh. You can always have new products available when a special occasion comes around for your customer, and that is what keeps them coming back to you. Everyone looks for good ideas for gifts and presentations, and they will look to you as their expert.
You can find new products via the internet. Trade magazines, like this one, are also a great place to find new products. Further, there are industry trade shows throughout the country during the year. At a trade show, you can get your hands on the products and get a good feel for whether they would work for your business. Look at the Upcoming Events calendar at the back of this magazine for a trade show near you.
Don’t delay, as it is easy to procrastinate. Your next busy season is right around the corner, and it will arrive faster than you think. Start a business plan today on how you will market your business, but don’t forget to plan to accommodate your increased volume of business through improving your production efficiency and work flow. In the end, you will see increased profits, and have enough energy left after the rush to enjoy it.