The ins and outs of fulfilling t-shirt orders through a third party company.
Over the past few weeks I have spoken lightly about Print on Demand. Last week in my post “How to Turn a T-Shirt Business into an Automated Income Machine” I shared that POD is a great option if you would like to migrate out of your cutting machine t-shirt business completely. I also encouraged you to find a reliable POD partner if you end up going this route. I know I know... I keep throwing out all these tips and hints on POD but I have not dove into this topic yet NOR have I answered the big questions.
What is Print on Demand?
Where do I start?
Where do I sell?
How can I find a Print on Demand partner?
By the end of this article, you will know the answer to each. I have not worked with all the companies I list but I will tell you my experience with the ones I have worked with and what I have learned while looking into others. I will also explain why I chose to sell on Etsy first. Notice I said “first”, *spoiler alert* I will be branching out to another platform soon! I will explain why I have waited until now to branch out and why this might be in your best interests as well - especially if this is a new area for you.
Let’s dive right in and Let's. Do. This.
First and foremost, let's go over...
What is Print on Demand and How Does it Work?
Print on Demand is using a third party company to apply a design for which you have the rights to items such as shirts, jeggings, pillows, mugs, etc. The company then packages the product and sends it to your customer. You never have to touch, see, store, or even ship the item. You do the designing (or outsource it, more on this later), list the product on a website or e-commerce platform, market your online store, and handle the customer service. That’s it!
The process goes something like this (from last week's post) when first starting out…
- Choose the selling platform.
- Partner with a fulfillment company.
- Connect the two systems together so they communicate automatically. Many times this is a simple plugin install to your site or store. Easy peesy! (Beware however, if they’re smaller this may not be as simple to setup.)
- Add your design products to the selling platform.
- As orders come in your fulfillment partner is notified automatically.
- Your partner then makes, processes, fulfills, and ships all the orders directly to your customer.
- Your customer receives the physical item as they normally do when ordering.
If you wish to simply do the design part and none of the hands-on (like me), it's perfect! All I want to do is market, handle customer service, and do what I enjoy most, design! I personally don’t want to ever touch vinyl, press shirts, or buy shirts. Even though I have a cutting machine and enjoy doing this occasionally, I much prefer not doing this every day. This is just me, but if you enjoy doing both hands on and digital design, then this could also be something you use when your vinyl business gets busy and you don’t have the time to fulfill all the orders yourself! Or if there’s vinyl you don’t have the color in, have your fulfillment partner ready to go! This is what I did when working through my sister and it worked great. Customize the POD option to fit you and your business!
Where to Start
I kind of already lead into this but I suggest to first start by deciding on your business model. Do you want this to be completely automated or do you not mind taking part of the communication with your fulfillment partner? Do you want to design everything or do you wish to design some and outsource the rest? Do you have a friend or someone you know who makes shirts? Ask if they’d be interested in fulfilling and shipping to your customers. Just because they aren’t currently doing it doesn’t mean they won’t be interested. Also ask yourself which platform do you prefer to sell on? You will learn some options below. Hopefully this article will get you thinking but I suggest knowing what direction you want to go before diving in.
When I first started down this road, I knew wanted everything to be hands-off minus the design part. I wanted to do all the designs myself instead of hiring a freelancer or purchasing them — and the fact I was already designing these on my SVG shop made it a no-brainer. Most of the work in designing was already done for me!
You can pick and choose which parts to be or not be hands on. You can be as involved OR as little involved as you want. Some business owners do zero with their POD business. And I mean zero.
What? How is that possible?
They outsource everything. The designs, the fulfillment and shipping, the marketing, the customer service. Everything. This is in and of itself a whole other post I could go into but it is possible to be completely hands free with this style of business. Purchase designs, hire a Virtual Assistant to manage everything, partner with a POD company, and you’re done. There are guys who do this with several stores or sites, which pretty neat in my opinion but you have to really have an incredible team and know what you are doing to be successful using this model. For me, I enjoy being involved with my business still but having the majority of it be automated so my time is freed up.
Okay, moving on…
Choosing a Platform
After deciding on your business model then its time to decide WHERE to sell your shirts.
The top platforms include:
- Personal Website
The first option Amazon, is the leader here. There are guys (and girls ;) ) making bank through selling shirts on Amazon. However, the Amazon system is more complex and there’s a bit of a learning curve. Whether you sell through Merch (explained further below) or simply sell ON Amazon.com, they take more of your profit than the others listed. Plus they control your pricing as well and just made changes to the royalties you are able to earn. They also have some listing rules that are a bit of a headache if you already have images created as I do. For instance, they require all listing images have white background instead of including props. You also have to be “approved” to sell on Amazon and the approval process can take a while.
Now having said this, it also has the most potential. Amazon is the big dog online. Succeed on Amazon and well....you get the picture.
This as you know is where I currently host my print on demand shop. If you are already selling on Etsy, know the platform and are just getting started, this could be the option for you. You don’t have to pay any upfront costs, just like Amazon but the competition on Etsy is far less than what it is on Amazon, also anyone is allowed to start a shop. The rules Etsy are also far more relaxed. You can list at whatever price you’d like, get creative with your listing images and immediately launch your shop the same day.
Ebay is another option. This is one I am not hugely familiar with. I sold jeans and garage sale finds on eBay back in the day and had some success here, but I have not tried selling t-shirts specifically. I was however surprised at how easy it was to get started. Ebay is definitely another place to sell that I know would be an easy setup and might be worth looking into.
It is easier than what you may think it is to launch your own site. Platforms such as Shopify, BigCommerce, Wordpress, etc. offer e-commerce, pre-built sites that are fairly easy to setup and use. The perk to going this route is that you wouldn’t be paying additional fees to eBay, Etsy or Amazon. The obvious downfall is traffic. You would need to market like crazy if you don’t already have a following. If you do go this route, ads on Pinterest, Google, Facebook and wherever else would be needed to get traffic to your site and therefore make sales sooner than later.
Your Print On Demand Options
Options for print on demand companies keep growing and I expect it to continue to grow with how many people are shopping online more and more. The three larger Print on Demand companies include:
- Merch by Amazon
Each of the above sites do not charge you up front which is nice, only when you make a sale. Mercy by Amazon has an approval process (They say its invitation only but it's a simple form). This could take a while to even hear back, which could be month, though many sources say several months. From my experience they have really shortened this time. They can be pretty picky with who they allow. My first attempt I was declined. Even having a successful Etsy shop selling t-shirt designs I was still declined! I’m still bitter about that BUT I applied again after launching my apparel shop and was accepted! So this is a new project in the near future that I am super excited to dive into and share my experiences with you all!
Printful + Printify
These two are also immediate acceptances. You just need to create an account and hook up their system with your POD and you’re good to go. The instructions for each on how to tie in to your system is fairly easy. When I set up my Etsy shop with the Printful system I had it up and running that same day!
A note on costs and pricing.....
As far as fees go and to give you a ballpark on how profitable these two can be. Printful took around $10 a shirt, shipping not included, and Printify is around this same price. I was allowed to list the shirt on Etsy at any price I chose, unlike Merch where they have a base price. I found that $20-$22 is the top end of the price range while around $15 is the very bottom, or at least on Etsy. Right now I price my shirts around $20 a shirt and I will probably back it off to $19. I like to see a little more shirts coming in than having them priced higher with fewer orders. Its definitely a price and demand balance that you need to decide what works best for you.
You can also find a private company or individual that fulfills shirts. The best way I have found is by asking friends or family and through your network. This is what I have done after going through a not-so-good experience with Printful. I changed to first my sister and now to a company I heard about through my business mentor. Sometimes these companies, though they may be smaller, can still tie into the larger platforms such as Etsy. So you receive great customer service with all the bells and whistles of the larger companies. Score! But still, some companies do not tie in to these systems so be sure to know exactly what will be needed on your end before diving in.
My advice moving forward…
Whoever you go with be sure to choose a dependable company to work through. Take your time deciding, do your research, ask LOTS of questions. Ask for order samples so you can experience them from the customer perspective and so you can see the quality of their shirts. Look into their processing, fulfillment and shipping times. How do they compare with others? How do their costs compare to others? And most importantly, how is their customer service complaints/problems? How do they handle defects, refunds and exchanges? It can be easy to overlook this last one but this is vital to the success of your business. SO take your time, pay attention. The more reliable they are as a company the happier your customers will be, the better your reviews and the more comfortable people will feel from buying from you
If you do not know how to design, I teach many people how to do just this. The Designer’s Guide to SVG course is where I take my students from start to finish on how to create designs from scratch in Adobe Illustrator.
Other options include hiring out and finding a freelance designer to make the graphics for you. I haven’t seen much success in doing this for when I needed help. Designers are expensive and not very good sometimes. But if you go this route, make sure to find a really good designer because once again, this can make or break your business. I have used UpWork or Freelancer to outsource work such as this but if you know of a designer I’d definitely recommend this route over Upwork or Freelancer. I have found that the designs in my business are much more important to do myself than hire out.
You can also purchase your designs through sites like Etsy. If you follow me, you might have started following me through the designs I sell on Etsy and you probably already know this is how I got started with online business. If you buy your designs online, be sure to buy from a seller who includes unlimited commercial licensing with their designs. You don’t want the designer to limit how much you are able to sell using their designs. That’s why I have no limits to the designs I sell. I have always figured there is no point in limiting the use of my designs when businesses are the whole reason for me to create them. Other than no digital sales in any way shape or form, my customers can use my designs on however many physical products they sell (shirts, mugs, decor, etc.) there are no limitations. Purchasers can even edit my designs and sell them on physical products, though editing digitally and selling digitally is not allowed. I feel this is just the way of the business, so why limit? Should you take my designer SVG course you learn how to create cut file designs from scratch, how to edit and manipulate images you own, and how to set these up to work correctly in any cutting program. Adobe Illustrator is a graphic design software that speeds up your design time and enables you to create ANYTHING. You would never ever need to purchase designs unless you wanted to. It’s that amazing peeps. The sky is the limit! Which is exactly why I use this amazing program to design and then sell my own.
Why I chose Etsy...
You might be wondering why I personally chose Etsy to sell on. Here’s why....
1) I was already on Etsy so it was an easy given to launch another shop
2) I believe Etsy is a lot easier to get started on when first starting out. No upfront costs, no pricing restrictions.
3) I believe it's important to focus on ONE platform at a time. Become an expert using it. Put all your time and focus on succeeding on this one platform, master it and THEN move on to another if you choose to. Instead of jumping from one to the next, when you do this you are spreading yourself thin even if it’s mostly automated. You don’t really get to know how to sell on the current one and you will spend more time setting up your stores rather than focusing on areas that will directly effect your sales
As mentioned I will however be on Merch before too long. I simply feel it is time. I am consistently in the top selling shops on Etsy. I have mastered this platform. It is now a dependable income. I have over 500 products that are just sitting there waiting to be sold somewhere else. This last one is why I love selling online designs so much!! Why not, right?? Amazon is the Walmart of online shopping so being here makes sense. Even though they have a lot of rules and regulations, its worth it if you can essentially create an automated income once its all setup. Amazon we know will continue to grow as online shopping continues to grow and grow. I am excited to share with you the Merch experience AS I go through it! Soo excited. Be sure to sign up for any of my freebies to stay in the loop on my new findings!
I hope this article has helped you understand how to get started with Print on Demand and the options you have moving forward. I really believe this is the way everything is going, which is also why I have gone this route and why I have chosen to teach others to do the same! So learning how all this works, learning how to design your own graphics, jumping on board now.....definitely not a bad idea!
I hope you had a great week, see you next week!