Left to right: Owners Jim & Jane Sweeney along with their daughter Allison Everett (Production Manager) at their Minuteman Press franchise in Houston, Texas. Jane notes that Allison “is a vital part of our DTF program.”
HOUSTON, Texas – Jim and Jane Sweeney are the owners of the Minuteman Press franchise in Houston, Texas for the last 29 years; they first joined Minuteman Press in June of 1994. Jim and Jane have been incredibly successful in building their business. They have excelled at growing their apparel sales in recent years.
Jim summarizes: “The past 2 years have certainly been interesting. As of July 2023, we are 30.5% in front of our 2022 sales. This is a 35% increase over 2021. It seems like the world (or our world anyway) came out of its 2-year long malaise in 2022.”
Jim shares more specific details about his center’s booming apparel business and how he and Jane’s Minuteman Press franchise in Houston have accomplished such strong growth in their apparel sales. The center is located at Clear Lake City; Houston – Clear Lake City TX 77058, 1040 Hercules Ave.
Growing Your Business
On growing the business over the past two years, Jim says, “During the early pandemic we pivoted to personal protection products, which naturally led to custom face masks. Jane was busy sewing 1000 masks while I provided custom logo cloth face masks to schools, hospitals, medical offices and service providers. We sold 40,000 custom-made masks in that period, which we then either heat pressed or sent to a screen printing vendor. We also donated a lot of masks to schools, non-profits, etc.”
He continues, “Finally, in 2022, our traditional printing was finally starting to climb back to pre-pandemic levels. As trade shows and marketing calls increased, promotional products also grew. After the initial surge, large format work actually slowed. EDDM printing is also a bigger part of our sales. Direct mail increased dramatically after we registered on the USPS site as EDDM providers. We have always had a strong business in printing Business Cards, but the addition of Graphic Whizard’s slitter-cutter-creaser made it even more profitable. Our marketing efforts consists of: heavy community involvement; direct mail postcards, especially this year with the Deal of the Month art provided by MMP corporate; SEO/SEM on the Minuteman.com website, and social media, specifically as it relates to Direct to Film Transfer sales.”
How to build a successful apparel business
Minuteman Press offers custom branded clothing as a way to help businesses build their brand and market themselves. Jim explains:
“We really started getting serious about apparel about 8 years ago when we purchased a commercial embroidery machine. Jane created a wonderful lobby presentation about five years ago. This area includes apparel, promotional items, and large format.
We first added dye sublimation with the Epson F570 and then DTG printing (which we eventually sold). During this period we used screen printed transfers. These were mostly 613 originals and FM expressions. It was the turnaround time that became a problem. We would have to wait up to two weeks for those transfers to arrive, and then we’d need to press them.
We purchased a second, and then a third Stahls’ heat press during this time. Then we decided to enter the Direct to Film printing business. About 2.5 years ago, after trying to print our transfers on several desktop printers, we bought our first dual printhead DTF large format printer and finisher. We have the capacity to produce transfers not only for our own use but also to sell to other printers and screen printers as well as sign shops, Facebook Group/Etsy users. We added additional capacity with a 4 head DTF printer in January of this year (we will most likely be adding a third printer in the third quarter this year).”
Jim continues: “Wholesale Transfer printing is now approximately 20% of our monthly sales; we ship all over the country, with a daily capacity for printing thousands of transfers. Adding embroidery and our in-house t-shirt sales makes apparel approximately 30% of our monthly revenue.”
He adds, “Concurrently with this growth in transfer sales, the embroidery business was taking off. We get regular orders of 10-50 polos and button-down shirts. Our customers included a local hospital and two grocery stores. Each order consisted of 150-200 shirt. In the past, we have completed a $24,000 jacket embroidering order and delivered a $32,000 jacket order. Both clients are hospitals. Of course, we use a trusted local vendor for larger quantities of jackets.”
“Our apparel business continues to grow weekly with more, and larger, in-house turn-key t-shirt sales really ramping up.” -Jim Sweeney, owner, Minuteman Press, Houston/Clear Lake, Texas
Three tips for growing your apparel business
Jim shares 3 tips to help you grow your apparel business.
“1. Our lobby display, along with wholesale transfers, we feel, continues to be the main thing driving our apparel sales. This display, which includes apparel samples, promo items, and large format samples, was put in place several years ago. The display always attracts new customers, and even existing ones, whenever they come into the store. Around one in five people who come into the shop inquire about a product they saw on display. About 85% of these inquiries are converted into sales.
2. It is also helpful that our CSR knows all about apparel and all about our products. Allison, our CSR/production director, worked as the store manager in our Galveston branch (which we will sell in August 2022) and has been involved in all aspects of our business. It’s true that not everyone has this kind of luck, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t train your employees and give them the tools to succeed. SanMar offers great apparel catalogs that include swatches, and their marketing tools allow you to create a simple website for apparel. It goes without saying, too, that your entire staff should wear logo shirts to showcase your abilities.
3. Attend a local trade show in the apparel industry, ASI, or the MMP International World Expo if you can. Start small with your own shirts. Educate yourself. Request samples. Purchase a heat press. Apparel ties in perfectly with all the other services we offer to our customers. Apparel sales spur printing sales, just like printing sales should spur apparel sales.”
Jim describes how he helped meet the clothing needs of a local hospital, one of his clients. He shares: “One of our regular ordering apparel clients is a local specialty hospital. They also have 15 physical therapy centers around Houston that they own or are partners with. We began by providing them with printing and large-format products. Then, we contracted with them for new building signage in each of their outlying offices. Finally, we grew to include apparel. We have them set up on 2 Stahl’s Spirit Sale websites. Both websites allow employees to buy branded apparel and new hospital employees to purchase apparel. In addition to standard corporate apparel, each department has their own branded t-shirt.”
Jim continues, “At least once or twice per year, this hospital does a bulk purchase of 430 t-shirts for all the staff members. This could include rain jackets or backpacks as well as t-shirts, jackets and other special items. We’ve provided $200,000 or more in just apparel and high-end promo items to the hospital in the last 3 years. This hospital then referred us to the hospital that I mentioned earlier in the article, who has just taken delivery of their second large jacket embroidery order.”
Clothing Advice for Others
When asked what advice he would give to others businesses about utilizing custom apparel, Jim answers, “Apparel is an easy sell. Wear your logo. Spread the word. Ask for recommendations. Don’t be afraid of it just because you haven’t done it before.”
For more information on Jim and Jane Sweeney’s Minuteman Press franchise in Houston/Clear Lake, visit https://minuteman.com/us/locations/tx/houston27/
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