How to Use Corporate Uniforms in Your Marketing Mix

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Arn Betteridge owns a corporate uniform business so who better to break down everything a small business owner needs to know about getting more branding visibility and traffic to your business through your company attire.
Arn Betteridge talks about what small business owners need to know about uniforms

Custom shirts, hats and uniforms provide another medium to get your offers in front of local customers.

Think about the about of time that you and your staff spend grocery shopping, picking up school children, at sporting events or even just out and about in the course of your normal work. These are possible opportunities for extending your brand recognition and (likely better ROI) presenting a call to action to visit your website or to ask you about an offer.

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02:36 Different types of uniform signage and their pros and cons

08:20 Why you should skip embroidery for the rear of shirts/uniforms

09:31 The average size of a logo for a shirt

10:00 File requirements when passing your graphics to a clothing printer

14:00 What information to have on a shirt (and what to skip)

18:10 What you should expect to pay for custom shirts and uniforms

24:00 Effect of scale on bulk pricing

28:50 The minimum text height for readability

23:30 Computer screen colours vs what you get on the garment

Arn makes listeners of the interview an offer to save up to $85 on the next logo setup for their shirts when you mention this page.

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Mick: Welcome back. It’s Mick Cullen from Redcliffe Marketing Labs. In this interview, I am talking with Arn Betteridge of Signature Clothing and we’re going to learn all about how we can use t-shirts and uniforms in your marketing. So Arn, thank you very much for giving us the time and chatting with us today.

Arn: Thanks, Mick. Thanks for contacting me and I hope we get some benefit to your listeners out of this.

Mick: Awesome. Well, I am pretty much a newbie when it comes to using shirts for the marketing side and what, I guess we want to get out of here is for business owners who are looking to go back and get their shirts redone or their uniforms redone or someone who hasn’t actually had some kind of clothing or hats done before for their business. What other things do we need to know? What do we need to bring to you or to a company that does this and what’s the best way to go about it? So I guess we’ll circle back around on those, but can you tell us how you got started in the shirt business or the clothing business?

Arn: Well, I actually started this commercial embroidery business, started in a back bedroom at home with one single head machine and it grew from there. We were partnering with a lot of uniform and sportswear suppliers, we’re doing logos on their clothing. As those relationships soured a little, we were not feeling loved, we decided that we could do the whole job of supplying uniforms better. Most of the feedback we got from customers who brought embroidery to us was “Oh, wish we could buy the shirts and the clothing from you.” So it was sort of just a generic growth.

It was back in 2001, so 13-odd years ago now. Denise set up Signature Clothing, broken away from the embroidery operation and specialized in corporate wear, because she’d spent a lifetime in corporate management. We just contacted a lot of our suppliers and said “What can we do?” Then the business just grew from there. It started from nothing and now it’s a million dollar business and still growing, but we have just been looking after customers’ really well, getting great advice from my wife and her sales team who specialized in this area. That’s basically the background where it started from.

Mick: Look, you mentioned embroidery there. If we get down to real basics, when you’re looking at people wearing uniforms or a shirt that’s been donned for a business, I guess there are different types of printing or different ways they can get it done, so embroidery then for the novice would be where it’s like a 3D where it’s actually using the thread?

Arn: Yes. If we go right back to the basics of decorating any garment, so if someone wants to equip their business out with a uniform and regardless of what the garment is, there is just a handful of decoration methods that put your logo and business information on it. The basic one is screen printing, which everyone is sort of familiar with, from the surf shirt to the sort of t-shirt with a screen-printed name on the back that the concreter or the builder wears around.

A few advantages of screen printing is that it’s reasonably cheap as the numbers grow. For singles, it can run at a little expensive. It does have some disadvantages in that it won’t last as long as the garment normally. It’s going to wash off. Being an ink process, it’s just basically stuck onto a piece of fabric, it will wash off and fade and what have you. So it’s not permanent, but tradies, for example, are turning out of the garments quite often because they knocked them around so much, then it may be the most suitable way to decorate.

Another way to do it is a vinyl transfer, which is like a full-color logo put on a vinyl substrate and then that’s heat pressed on to the garment; quite permanent. It’s very flat though, but you can do multiple colors; for reasonably small numbers, maybe for 10 or 15 or 20 garments. It’s a suitable way of doing it.

A new technology that’s out now is Direct Digital Print, sometimes called DTG, Direct to Garment. It’s basically like putting a shirt or a piece of fabric into an inkjet printer rather than the piece of paper and just print it straight to the garment. That works quite well.

Mick: So that would be better for small runs rather than the big runs or does it scale up?

Arn: It is suitable for doing singles, because instead of having to have like a template to make it from. It’s basically just like you would print a piece of paper with picture on it, one file with a JPEG-style file. You can then just go to that printer and print it. Obviously, as the numbers increase, then there’s efficiency gains there, so it becomes cheaper. But virtually colors are limitless, so it does have advantages like that. The disadvantages are that like the other screen printing, it is still a print, and so it is not a permanent fixture under the garment. It’s just something that’s just sort of stuck on the outside, so there are some durability issues with it. So something that’s being washed often, you’re not going to get a very long life out of it. But it has its place in the market.

In the printing style of thing, the most permanent way is dye-sublimation, which is a process, they print it under a piece of paper – it’s a dye, not an ink – and then that paper is put against a sheet of flat polyester fabric, which must be white to start with, and then under extreme heat and pressure, the dye turns to a gas and it impregnates the fabrics, then dyes the fabric; then as it cools down, solidifies back to solid; never fades, never washes out. The only disadvantage with that is it must go on a sheet of white, so if you want a blue shirt, then you have to dye the fabric…

Mick: The entire shirt.

Arn: Yes, but you can have multiple logos. Well basically all the sporting team, football or cricket, you see the multiple logos on their shirts. They are all dye-sublimated. 100% polyester, so it’s a breathable fabric, but more towards a sporting fabric rather than a durable working fabric. It has its place. If it’s someone who is in a business where they’re not doing physical labor and putting mechanical wear and tear against the shirt, then it’s suitable and it has its place as well.

So the final one, which is what we do in house, is embroidery. It can often be the cheapest method, bet I would surprise as most people to find that out. It has some advantages where it has a much more professional look. You can get some 3D effects using stitches to create the picture. It is permanent. It will generally outlast the garments. It stands you apart. It will be the most professional look of all.

Mick: How big would you go with your embroidery? I am imagining for the logos and the name on your shirt, things like that, embroidery sounds like the obvious choice. But if you’re looking at the back of a t-shirt and words and pictures, where would you say “Okay, now let’s cut off the embroidery and go to one of the other methods”?

Arn: I avoid embroidering the back of any garment. A jacket’s okay because there’s usually a shirt underneath it. But a shirt that’s directly into the skin with embroidery, you’ve got a sheet of like tissue paper on the inside where the bob and thread is on the inside, because there’s a sewing process, it goes through the garment. So it is not terribly comfortable to wear on your back. It’s fine on the front. The position on the back is what I call on the yolk, which is just underneath the collar, we can often put either a phone number or more often a website address across there; or up on a shoulder, it works fine there. And say on the front of the garment is the proper placement or sleeves where embroidery works well.

As far as size goes, on a male shirt, a pocket is about 140 mm wide, so when we’re doing an embroidered logo or any logo of any form, it’s basically the guideline we use. We try and not make one wider than that. A 140-mm wide logo is a big logo. But the most common size is usually between about 60 and 90-mm wide, just above a pocket on a chest and just below the collar if we’re going to do something on the back. If someone wants something else done on the back of a shirt, then generally we pick one of the other methods to do the back of the shirt.

Mick: Okay, fair enough. As far as getting the files to you guys or actually getting the design done, if people are bringing their own design, what type of files do they need to have? Is it sort of vectors or JPEG’s or how does work for you guys?

Arn: Any artwork file will work for us. It can either be a JPEG, Bitmap, GIF or an AI, Adobe Illustrator or PDF. Basically, what we need is the highest resolution we can get. Very often, a customer will say to us “Yes, I can send you my logo” and they’ll just snap the photo off their website and send that JPEG to us and I say “That’s great, but I could have got that myself off your website. It’s too optimized for the web.” The better artwork you start with, the better result you finish with, regardless of what decoration method you’re using. Your printer, your graphic artist, whoever set up your stationary, even if it was done in house, those people will know where to get the original art file that is fully sized, because when you’re setting up the artwork for any of this decoration methods, you have to blow it up to a massive size on the screen to drill down into the detail, and especially when you’re digitizing for embroidery, it’s critical.

We can interpolate a lot of things. I’ve worked with some pretty ordinary artwork in the past, but we say to our people if you really do want the best result, then give us the best artwork you can and we will produce a perfect replica of that in stitches.

Mick: Okay. Let’s move down I guess towards the walking billboard type of shirt. So whether it’s as a tradie or a PT, a personal trainer, and they’re out and about and they’re using it to actually drive traffic back to their website or a call to action, have you got any tips for folks who are just trying to go for the minimum amount of words or a larger size? Does that look funny on a shirt? Have you got any advice for folks like that?

Arn: The game has actually changed a little back to original. Back in the old days when it used to be your listing in Yellow Pages, I used to advise people firstly your logo is the most critical thing because it was the most memorable thing. It was what distinguished you from the bloke next door doing the same thing as you. Then people would want to put their Yellow Pages ad on the front of their shirt, the phone number, their website, the address and all this and I would say “Look, keep it really simple because when people are looking for you, they’ll go to Yellow Pages, they’ll recognize your logo or possibly your business name and that’s all they’ll know within their head.” You’re say a builder, a plumber or whatever, they’ll be looking under building or plumbing and then they’ll see your logo and snap in and say “That’s the guy I saw on the shirt.” What’s happened lately, people never ever carried pen and paper around in their pockets generally; maybe women would in their handbags, but most blokes wouldn’t. But today, we’ve all got an information capture in our pockets. It’s called our phone and it’s got a high-definition camera on it. People will pull tradies and people like that up in the supermarket and just snap a photo of their shirt because it’s got their phone number or their web address on it or the business name.

So it has come around full circle where I used to advice against putting too much detail on a shirt. Now when people do ask for a phone number, I see the sense in it again, where there was a period there where there was no sense in it, because I said “Look, people will now look you up on the web and whether that means they’ll find your directory listing from local directories or Yellow Pages or whatever, or they find your website listing,” but today that has changed a little bit. Simpler is better, still with a graphic logo, business name. If your business name is the same as your domain name, then I suggest that with the business name just put the .com or the .com.au after it, whichever is appropriate for you and drive the traffic back to the hub of your business.

Today, in most cases, the website is the hub of a business. It’s no longer just the spoke out there that captures usually the home base now for most businesses. If you don’t have a website, then sure, put your phone number on there. It does come down to the people who benefit the most from that are people like tradies and like you said personal trainers or someone that’s out and about and the contact would generally be via phone call. If you’re in a professional services business, I would strongly recommend against having contact details. Maybe the web address, but generally I would say just have the logo and the business name and keep it simple, keep it clean, and make it look as professional as you can. People will have the trust in you, they will recognize the business name or they will recognize the image of your logo, and then when they go searching for lawyer or solicitor or whatever business we’re looking at in that case, then they’ll find you by searching that and hopefully you come up in the search results.

Mick: More a branding-type thing, so in fact when they book later on, it’s that recognition factor that they’ve sort of seeing that logo or they’ve seen that business name beforehand.

Arn: Yes. That’s right. Any bricks-and-mortar shop, for example, in retail or services like solicitors, doctors and what have you, we do an awful lot of uniforms for professional service businesses and almost 99% of them, they do listen to our advice and they do keep it very clean, very simple, minimal amount of writing, just enough information that someone can recognize that’s what their business is and it gives some hint as to what the business does, and then allow the process to happen from there. If you went to a solicitor or doctor for example and he came out and he had a t-shirt on with a screen print saying “Oh, I am Dr. Joe and my phone number is this and my website is this,” you’d be a little worried because you’d be thinking “Is this guy a doctor or is a brick?”

Mick: I am interested in trying out and I don’t know if you’ve seen anyone do it, but you’re familiar with the e-mail marketing, the idea of having that lead magnet, the free info giveaway or some kind of offer. It wouldn’t be an office shirt you’d wear, but if you’re out and about doing your shopping or school run, actually driving traffic to an opt in off the back of the t-shirt and see how that works. So I don’t know if you’ve seen anyone who has done that before.

Arn: I have and I think it works, but I think it works better if it’s done as a campaign rather than as an everyday uniform.

Mick: I think it would be gold for tradeshows.

Arn: Yes. If you were doing a tradeshow or even if you’ve left the office and you’re just dropping down to the supermarket to grab some goods; sure, throw on the promotional garment that says “Free offer. Call this number or whatever it is and we will delivery to you whatever the benefit’s going to be.” But when that person turns up to your business, they want to see someone that is… They don’t want to see the billboard then. They want to see someone who is delivering the goods. There’s no harm in having two garments as separate uniforms for different purposes.

Mick: Which is an awesome segue, because let’s talk general cost. For someone whose thinking “Oh, gee, I don’t want to go and get two different shirts,” obviously price is going to change for the different artwork and different processes, but if folks are looking at $20 or looking at $100, what’s the outline really?

Arn: Talking ballparks, if you started right down at the base of say a t-shirt with a print or an embroidered logo on the front and maybe a printed message or business name or whatever on the back, then they’re probably looking in the $12-$20 range, depending on how much they had done on it. A Polo shirt, which today is probably a little more appropriate even for the people who like t-shirts, simply because you’ve got a collar there to protect your neck against the sun; we’re all a little more aware of skin cancers and what have you. And a Polo shirt will certainly look more professional. Popular Polo shirts, in our case, we include our embroidered logos for free, so when someone comes and buys a business shirt from us, whether it be a Polo or proper dress shirt, their logo gets embroidered free. So if I am talking about including logos here, a Polo shirt can vary anywhere between, a good quality one, between about $18 to $20 up to $45 for something that’s premium. When I say that, I am talking about a Ralph Lauren-style Polo that you’d pay $85 or $90 for in the department store, then the equivalent quality that we do for corporate Polo’s. I think the most expensive one we have is $45. Generally $25-$35, in that range, would be neat, and I am talking fairly premium quality, which you would expect to get two years or so wear out of for just a couple-of-times-a-week wear. So it’s not horrifically expensive.

Mick: I would say that return on investment wise, it’s almost hard to argue for any business not to have some kind of a personalized shirt.

Arn: It is. The more you pay the better quality you’re going to get. Our biggest bugbear, the store is like rivers and people like that who you often see selling the $5.95 Polo shirt and that’s exactly what you get. We can’t compete against that because there’s no way in the world we could sell that garment because we’d be refunding money because people would be coming back and saying “Look, it didn’t last, it didn’t do the duty” and what have you. Even though we’ve positioned our business more towards the premium end of the market, it doesn’t mean premium pricing, it just means that we’ve looked at things and said “It must be durable, it must have a good look to it, but it must be able to perform the duty and the last thing we want is someone coming back to us and saying “It fell to bits,” “washed out its color” or what have you, so we just won’t sell that rubbish. I think you’ll find most reputable people who specialize in uniforms would be in the same boat. The idea of the $2 t-shirt, you go to the dollar shop or the Crazy Joe’s, or whatever they call themselves these days, to buy that stuff. It has its place in the market for people who are just looking for something to wear once or twice and throw away, but that’s all you will do with it.

Mick: But even then, the time involved in organizing the artwork and getting things done, it’s almost counterproductive.

Arn: That’s exactly right. Sometimes that’s a little difficult to convince people of that, but it is right. If you added up the total cost of your time and organizing this and putting some thought into what your logo is going to be, then the cost of the garment becomes a lot less relevant and really comes down to something that can last. My wife who runs the whole sales side of the business, she says the biggest problem we have in our business is that people say “Do you get repeat business?” and we say “Yes we do, but the repeat cycle is about every second to third year.”

Mick: So you need to… Was it in-build obsolescence, where the things break early?

Arn: Yes. But that generates a problem of having returns. We have a 100% guarantee. We’ve got no problem with replacing anything that was faulty in any way, but that’s the last thing we want to be doing, simply because it’s just not good for business. We even got an e-mail today, a lady reordered from a very large client we have, we do all the uniforms, and she said this lady Bronwyn needs to reorder and she said it was seven years since she last got shirts from you. That’s how long she’s been wearing them. We said that’s not good for business, but it’s great for business, because it’s a great testament that the garments that you’re selling are quality products. It is worth your while to just spend, not a lot more, just that little bit more, and get a quality garment that is going to make your business look good and is going to last the time as well.

Mick: Last one of the processes, Arn, how do they scale? So obviously we’re talking businesses with three or four small staff, but once you start getting 50, 60, 100 staff, does the process sort of decrease rapidly or it plateaus?

Arn: Yes, sure they do. We try and set our retail prices at or below our suppliers’ and manufacturers’ recommended retails. If we put an RRP price on, then we include the embroidered logo for free, so that’d be something that would normally cost anywhere between $5.50, $7.50, $9.50. We include that as our giveaway rather than go about discounting. If people buy as few as five or six shirts, then we’ll apply a discount to that because obviously there’s some savings for us. It’s the same amount of work for us to source the shirts, whether we get one or five or ten or a thousand. With certain suppliers, we do get price breaks ourselves as the volume goes up.

Also in the embroidery operation, we have multi-head machines. So if we have to use the machine to sew one or two shirts and the same machine can do six or eight at a time, then obviously there is a cost saving to us there as well, so we pass that on by discounting that back as well. We give discounts off our retail pricing up to 25% depending on the size of the order. Of course when the numbers go up to in the hundreds, then we sort of throw our recommended retail away and what we is just look from a business case, say “What do we need to earn to justify doing that work,” divide that by the number of garments and that’s the price per garment. Some of the larger corporations that we do work for, like JetStar, Qantas, Lion Co, BHP, we’re up in the mining areas, so BHP and Rio Tinto, Xstrata, they come in the hundreds all the time, so the pricing that we give them is extremely advantages.

If a person comes in and they want one shirt, we’re happy to do one shirt. Every customer is a customer. We don’t know who they know and all we need to do is keep them happy and the business just keep feeding on from that. We think we have very competitive pricing. It’s just a case of asking what’s the best we can do for them and then we’ll certainly do the best deal we can.

Mick: What haven’t I asked you that general folks should know about doing shirts? Are there other mistakes people make or how else can they tweak it. Offline we spoke with you about the artwork, like sharp corners or particular fonts, is there things that just don’t work well or you should try to avoid?

Arn: Yes. Very often we have to manipulate a logo, especially lettering is the hardest part, believe it or not. The graphic of the logo, we can add or delete detail as need be to make sure it sews picture perfect. A little guideline I can give is for every increase or decrease in size of the logo by say 10% is about a 25% increase or decrease in detail. In embroidery, basically the bigger the logo goes, then the more stitches you can put in and that’s an exponential figure because it’s two dimensional. As more stitches go in, it means you can give more details to things. We try and not make logos too big.

When it comes to lettering, you’re basically limited to 20 characters in any one line and that includes stops and spaces and hyphens and commas and all that sort of thing. So if someone comes to us and the business name runs out 30 letters long, then we say “Look, it’s just not going to fit on one line. It’s going to look ridiculous. So what we need to do is maybe break your business name and your tagline up into two or three lines of lettering, just so that we can keep it at or under 20 characters. You get a much nicer balance. The logo doesn’t go too wide. The minimum size for lettering, we can do down to about 2½ to 3-mm high, but that’s virtually unreadable from anymore than about 300 to 400 mm away. So we try to keep lettering at around 5½ to 6 mm as the minimum.

Mick: So I’ll put you on the spot then. So on the front of a shirt, how would you do Redcliffe Marketing Labs? Would you do that one word per line?

Arn: It could be done on one line. I’d probably be more inclined to put the Redcliffe above and Marketing Labs underneath, so put it on two lines and split it that way. Having said that, we can also, say if there was the logo to go with it, then we may set the logo into a corner and have the Redcliffe word offset with the logo on one…

Mick: Have it float and fly around it.

Arn: Yes, and have the Marketing Labs just underneath it. What we’ll do is when people come to us with a logo, we say “Look, we’re the professionals.” I’ve been doing logo design for over 25 years. I rate myself fairly highly at it. The program we use is the absolute ace program in the world. It’s actually Australian-developed Wilcom program. It costs almost $50,000 to buy, so it’s got a fair bit of power in it. What we say is “Look, just give us your logo. We will work it and I will send you…” because the program will output like a stitch picture and I’ll say “I’ll come back to you and I’ll might give you four or five options. I’ll lay it out,” because once we’ve set the actual logo up, it’s really just a case of cut and paste, scale up and down. The program is extremely powerful like that, so I can produce several versions of the logo and different color ways and everything quite easily. It’s just a click and snip operation once I’ve set up the basic logo, so I can come back to people with a whole lot of options and say “You choose what you think you like. Here’s what I recommend the width and height. We’ll try and stick within those boundaries” and especially if they want to do caps as well.

The embroidery on a cap front can basically be a 120 mm wide by about 50 mm high. It sort of restricts us there. So I say “Well, the cap doesn’t necessarily have to match the shirt in the layout of the logo, as long as they’re both recognizable as being the same business.” So very often, we’ll vary the thing around from that. But then if people want to go for custom-made caps where we embroider the fabric before the cap’s actually made, then you can embroider the whole top of the cap.

Mick: And then get them to make the cap afterwards.

Arn: Yes. We’ve got quite a few customers who have those custom-made caps. The restriction there is because it’s something that gets made in China and there’s minimum orders of 12 dozens so 144 caps to be made in any one order. For the bigger customers who just want something unusual and different and they’re ordering sometimes 500 or 1,000 of them, then it’s quite buyable for them to do that. It also works out extremely inexpensive.

Mick: And you just reminded me then, something about colors and I’ll make that the last question in because we’re running out of time. Often when you’re taking a look at your artwork and so many times these days if you’re working on the screen when you’re looking at your artwork and things like that, I know printers are quite specific because they print on the ink with the different color set to what you normally have on your screen. Is there any issues about matching the same color where your shirt background is embroidered and the color palette is different to what you would expect from seeing your logo on the screen.

Arn: Yes, it is. I hate graphic designers for that, because they’ve got about 12,000 colors they can work with in the PMS grading and we have about 520 colors in threads that we have to work within. But we have charts that compare PMS numbers to thread color numbers. We can get very close most of the time. Basically if someone has got to be very particular about the shade of color, just give us the PMS number. Ask their printer or sign writer to tell them what that is, because they certainly work with those numbers. That way, we can match the thread to that color number. It’s within the limits of the threads that are manufactured.

Just with colors, for example, most graphic artists will set up a logo on a white background. It’s just the way they do their art. But someone will come to us and say “Oh, we want black shirts.” I’ll say “Oh, your logo is all black.” What we’ve got to do is reverse it. So very often we’ll just have to substitute. Say the logo is black, gray and red on a white background, then we would go red, gray and white on a black background. But we can lay that all out for them and send it through and make sure the customer is exactly happy what we’re doing there. It really just comes down to trusting our professional judgment to give them a good result and then just making sure that the client is happy with the way we’ve interpreted their brief.

At any reputable uniform place, there are some good operators out there. They should be able to do that. If they don’t ask you those questions and don’t deliver, then I would suggest you go on to the next one you found in the listing.

Mick: No problems. Alright, Arn. Look, thank you. That’s pretty much the end of the questions I have, unless there’s anything else really you want to cover off.

Arn: No. The only other thing I was going to say that mostly garments, the best value you’re going to get is obviously with ready-made garments that come from the suppliers that are done in large volumes. But there is always the option there to get a garment custom made. The numbers don’t have to be huge to do that. It’s just a case of drawing your brief down on a piece of paper if you know what you had in mind, then a decent uniform supplier should be able to tell you if that’s possible to make and a rough budget to do it. It’s not frightfully expensive. Obviously, you’re paying a premium there for small runs as a specialty garment. Custom make is an option as well. People just need to be brave enough to ask and use your imagination a little when their looking at their uniform needs.

Mick: And how can folks get a hold of you if they have more questions?

Arn: Well, they can go to our website, which is signatureclothing.com.au. I’ll make an offer to any of your listeners, Mick. Normally there’s a setup cost with setting up logos for embroidery in that but if they come to us via this podcast and just mention that it was from Mick or from the podcast, then we’ll do that logo setup for free. Normally it’s something we would charge $45 or $65 or $85 for, depending on the amount of time it takes to do it. I’ll give that to your listeners for free.

Mick: Thanks very much for that. That’s a pretty good offer. So folks, if you’re listening and you’ve got questions about uniforms, then do consider giving Arn a call and heading up there. So it’s signatureclothing.com.au. Thanks very much. We’ll catch up soon, I am sure, and we’ll close that one out. Thanks very much, Arn.

Arn: Mick, thank you.