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7 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting A DTG Business

By Jay Busselle on December 23, 2020

Avoid these common mistakes and learn to run a profitable Direct-to-Garment business.

Starting a small apparel decoration business can be dream come true! In can also be a total nightmare. With a relatively small initial investment, a proven quality printer, proper training, plenty of drive, and a solid marketing plan – you can build your own apparel decoration business and create a positive cash flow in your first month. To help you achieve that dream, here are 7 common mistakes to avoid:

  1. Buying a DTG printer & package without understanding the learning curve.The claim has been made before that one could buy a DTG printer and make money printing t-shirts in your spare time or from home; however, running a successful apparel decoration business requires more than finding the cheapest machine, press or printer. The skills and knowledge required to be a successful business owner and apparel decorator can’t be learned in a day. Understanding what the printer was built to do is critical to the outcome. Managing artwork and the graphics process is essential to DTG printing. Knowing the relationship between a high quality substrates and specific types of garments with the correct amount of pretreatment is essential. Mastering the basics of graphics, file types and resolution will have a direct effect on your printed image. There are hundreds of variables to know and details to master in order to achieve professional results. Don’t be fooled by sales reps that’ve never owned their own business and don’t know how to use a DTG printer. Guessing won’t work and experimenting is a waste of time and money. A proper expectation of the learning curve and knowledge base is important.

  2. Not having enough space for all of the necessary equipment. Operating professional direct-to-garment equipment safely and efficiently requires space. In addition to your DTG printer, you also need room to properly pretreat your garments. We don’t recommend a manual power sprayer process. However, if that’s your starting point we strongly encourage you to manually spray the pretreatment outside. You also need room for a conveyor belt dryer or a heat press to properly cure your apparel. Most startups will begin with a heat press. Having some space to store extra ink, pretreatment solution and specialty platens will help you stay organized. Consider a station or area where you can unpack, sort, fold & pack the finished decorated apparel like t-shirts, hoodies, tote bags… etc. Large commercial printers and dryers may require special electrical wiring, ventilation and air compressors. However, most entry level DTG printers and heat presses do not have those requirements. Make sure you have a printer that is easy to move. This is more than a convenience if you want to rearrange your office or set up. This is also a giant opportunity to increase awareness for your business when you take the printer to an event for on demand or on-site printing!

  3. Thinking you can print on anything.There are limitations to what you can successfully print using a DTG printer. Different fabrics and substrates require different formulations of ink and heat to cure the image. What one DTG printer can print – they all can print. Being able to print something and selling a garment that will last, won’t fade or wash off are two different things. The DTG ink chemistry was created specifically for 100% cotton and high cotton blended textiles. What about 100% polyester? Printing on 100% polyester is possible but the amount of extra work required with the standard ink and the limitations in the longevity of the image make it unrealistic. In other words, even if it is technically possible – it’s NOT profitable. Play (or print) to the strengths of the DTG printer. What about tri-blend tshirts? Yes, some tri-blend shirts work really well and others we don’t recommend because of poor past performance. It is also possible to print other organic materials like canvas, bamboo or leather with your Epson F2100 DTG printer and produce high quality images because they are organic substrates; however we suggest you test them first.

  4. Trying to be all things to all people. Knowing who buys what you’re selling is a key to building a successful business. At the beginning of your business you will feel anxious and want to say yes to any job. Learn to say, “Maybe,” before you say, “Yes!” Some jobs were not meant for you or your business. It’s essential to find one or two niche markets in your local area where you can dominate. When thinking about your target audience, be as specific as possible. Examples of specific target markets that might be a good match for you include other local small business owners, sports teams, high schools, restaurants, printing live at music events, custom birthday presents, insurance agents, nurses… etc. The more specific you get with your niche, the easier it will become to develop an effective marketing plan and sell your products. Some buyers will request one of something and ask, “Can I just get one t-shirt with a picture of my cat on it?” YES, is the correct answer! Other clients or prospects may ask for a quote on 5,000 t-shirts and need them in 3 days. While the Epson F2100 DTG printer is perfect for printing 20-40 custom apparel items in an hour it won’t be a great solution to print 5,000 shirts in 3 days. That would be a job that’s too large for you to manage. The goal is to find the sweet spot of service and profitability.

  5. Forgetting to focus on solving your customers marketing challenges. Your customers will often be other local small business owners who have marketing and advertising challenges but can’t afford a big time advertising agency or professional marketing company. You will bring the most value to the table when you become a resource for your customers and help solve their marketing challenges. The clarity of knowing how your product and service eliminate your customer’s challenges can’t be overstated. Sometimes it’s obvious – the soccer team needs practice apparel before a specific date with the team name and logo. Other times you have to work harder to uncover what the challenge is for another local business. Work backwards from the purpose or objective and the target audience. Who will actually be receiving the branded merchandise? For example: internal employees, students, prospects, customers, trade show attendees… etc. Once you know the objective and who the audience is, you can define a message and create a custom graphic to help tell the story. That graphical message, theme and logo is what you will print on a t-shirt, bag, towel, hoodie… or dozens of other items. Help eliminate the friction and solve their marketing problems and they will come back again and again!

  6. Not proactively promoting your business (self-promotion).One of the biggest challenges to achieving your dream as a successful entrepreneur and owner of a successful apparel decoration business will be finding and keeping customers. How will customers find you? You need to effectively market and advertise your business! What’s your story and why should a customer buy from you? Step one is to know your story. Your logo and brand should evolve from your story and know what makes you different in your market. We would suggest you work with a professional graphic designer to help you design your logo and image. Your logo will be one of the first things people see. Your logo is one of the most important tools in your marketing tool box. You will use your logo EVERYWHERE. On business cards, letterhead, invoices, your website, any social media platforms... but don’t forget your own apparel! You need t-shirts, hoodies, bags, hats, can coolers, stickers and magnets just to name a few items that should all be branded with your logo and possibly a marketing message and graphic that helps you stand out. You need to be prepared everywhere you go with self-promotional item to give to a prospect. They need to see the proof that you can do what you say. The power of a tangible promotional product can’t be beat – you’re literally putting your brand in their hand!

  7. Not delivering on time. If you can’t deliver on time – this business isn’t for you. This is your customer’s biggest concern. They will need their printed t-shirts, branded merchandise, promotional products for an event. This is an event driven business with important deadlines. You will not be able to keep customers if you can’t deliver on time.

Becoming an apparel decorator and starting a digital direct-to-garment printing business is easier and more affordable than ever before. How much less stress would you go through if you started your business with experts guiding you at every step from the company that has sold more Epson DTG printers than any other company in the US? You will avoid more than the 7 mistakes listed above when you start your apparel decoration business with the correct tools and the proper training. Of course we are talking about us – Equipment Zone! And it shouldn’t be a surprise that we would strongly recommend an Epson F2100 direct to garment printer, the SpeedTreater-TX automatic pretreatment machine and a professional heat press.

For more information about pricing, how to get started - email [email protected] or call the sales team at 800-408-0040