Words have never been so true for us as screen printers. We live in the Wal-Mart world today. The Amazon world. Cheap, replaceable products are available at a whim. They have replaced the old ideology that our country was founded on, that through our hands we can make the best products on earth. With the loss of decent paying jobs, our mindsets shifted to being a price driven society, where quality came second.
The screen printing industry saw this like most craftsman and artist did. With the barrier of entry very low, everybody with a dream to start their own business saw this as their opportunity. I mean, I know the football coach, the PTO president, the guy who runs the baseball league, why wouldn't they buy shirts from me!? With a few internet companies selling the dream, a couple YouTube videos and a one color press and a vinyl cutter and you would be on your way to printing millions of t-shirts...right? We couldn't have been more wrong.
I was one of those people almost 5 years ago. Tired of the rat race, I left a job at General Motors to start my own printing business....because I knew everyone and everyone needs shirts! The struggles I endured (and still do) have forever shaped me. I wasn't prepared for the amount of competition their was. Who knew I had 65 printers within 50 miles of me! Who knew that my area had become a price driven customer base, jumping from printer to printer over five cents, without a care in the quality product and service we could deliver! Obviously, a little research before hand would have sorted this out quickly.
What I found was that this industry which I thought was made of craftsman, getting paid to create was becoming a race to the bottom. The years of competition, the influx of cheap products into our world had made this industry adjust, and that adjustment brought horrible practices. Prices went way too low, we allowed the customer to dictate everything we do (including paying us when they see fit). I see it everyday. "What do I charge for this?" "The customer wants to pay $2.50 for 6 colors, 3 locations, on 12 pieces...should I do it?" What the influx of dream chasers (and I do not mean that in a negative connotation) and the Wal-Mart economy has done is devalue what we do. We cannot charge what we should, because someone is always going to do it cheaper to try and build the business. We have to as industry stop this! We have to take it back!
Alas, there is hope. There is a renaissance of appreciating finer, hand crafted things. Thanks to sites like Etsy and Pinterest, and thanks to the current culinary movement and crafted alcohols, the younger generation is changing their thought process. They want fewer, but will pay more. They can appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into making an artisanal product. People are shying away from cheaply made products and looking for the extra quality and care, the hand crafted specialty item. It is up to us, the craftsman to show off our trade and bring back the value of what we do.
So, what do we do? Start with educating the consumer. Let them in on our "secrets" of how shirts are printed. I am always amazed at the reaction I get when I let people come back and see what goes into their shirts. They can never believe that so much is involved. Make videos, take pictures and post them to your social media site. Promote your business as selling art, not t-shirts. Set YOUR pricing, and stick to it! Do not let the customer dictate the price. If you do art for free, free screens, etc., make it a line item and mark it as $0.00 to show that you do charge, but they are getting a deal for being such wonderful customers!
It's easy to get lost in the price wars, and trying to build a business, but if we don't change the culture of our industry, the small businesses will be gone. Nobody wins the race to the bottom, including the customers. Continue to work on your craft, master it, and charge accordingly!