Finding and Securing a Network of Contract Decorators

September 28, 2021

It is 2021. It is not what any of us could have predicted even a year ago. Staffing is tight. Product is scarce. One of the resources that is also growing in scarcity is the availability of Contract Decorators. Many would consider this group to be the engine or work horse for our industry. Unfortunately, they too have been hit hard with labor shortages and so supply is low, while demand is high.

So what can be done? The key to moving forward lies in adapting to these new realities. We can chase our tails…or we can start adjusting our perception and approach to make the best of a tough situation. As the Decorator and Digital Solutions team has been listening to, collaborating and offering counsel to contract decorators for over a decade, we want to share some insights and tips that might help you find and secure your new contract decorator.

  • PRICE – The old days of feeling like the one needing service magically has a power over a decorator regarding price are long gone. It’s time to recognize that with the shortage of available decorators, both parties need to work together. Reports have already been coming in about shared accounts paying 10 to 30 percent above a decorator’s published price list to secure services. This is not terribly surprising as some decorators have not increased their prices for years and are now playing catch up.
  • NETWORK BUILDING – We receive quite a few decorator finder inquiries, with a peak in August of over 600 emails that came into our team. Most of these were looking to find a decorator, singular. What they should be looking for is a network of decorators. Establishing this means getting to know them and sharing about yourself. It pays dividends to have a Plan A, B, C and D and even E. One might not be available right when you need them, so keep available options open. Just as you are having to be flexible about available product right now, keep the same perspective with your decorators. Maybe embroidery is backed up, but heat transfers are not. You can pivot to what is available and get the job finished in time.
  • TIME=MONEY – A contract decorator’s time is their money. Contract decorators are built for volume. They are trying to receive as many jobs in one door, process them with the fewest number of delays, hiccups and hurdles, and then try and get the job out a second door, successfully. The shared accounts bringing the most dollar volume to a decorator are not as greatly valued as those bringing them the greatest time savings through organization.
  • ORGANIZATION – Your team’s process for submitting work to a contract decorator needs to be dialed in. Now is not the time to be a “Changing Charlie,” constantly adjusting their work order variables. Or a “PO Ghost” sending in product to be decorated but with no PO or communication ahead of time. Connect with the decorator ahead of time. Utilize any organized order receiving system they have established (a growing trend) and if there are changes, communicate them effectively.
  • COMMUNICATION – Intertwined with organization is communication. If you cannot succinctly share what your needs and wants are, then you are costing time, aka money. The key to this is establishing a strong understanding of a process from the onset of using a decorator. Have your artwork or embroidery file built correctly and double check it. Stick as much to their desired communication plan as possible and you will find yourself as a starting quarterback on their team in no time.
  • BE NICE – Stuff happens. These are stressful times. Things are certainly not always going as we would like or plan. When there is a disconnect or breakdown in communication, it can be easy to snap and emotionally vent on those you thinkare at fault. Be calm. Be nice. Take some deep breaths. Realize that wasting too much time on who is at fault only makes things worse. Suck up a loss and work toward a solution. This is the way.

Contrary to countless conspiracy theories found on YouTube, contract decorators are actually humans. They are like you and me. Well, except they are probably more process and production-oriented than you and I will ever be. Help feed their need for working with kind people who communicate effectively, with well-organized orders, valuing their time and paying healthy margins in a timely manner.

Pro Tips for our Contract Decorator Finder process:

  • While we have extensive service details, currently it might be best to only choose variables of the greatest importance.
  • If you are trying to find a decorator in a specific state, consider broadening your reach to within a one-day shipping zone to allow for more options.
  • If your initial list has too many decorators on it, then you can always narrow down by a more specific service or location.
  • Once you receive a list, consider BCC emailing all the contacts with your bio and proposal.
  • Your initial outreach is your first impression. Avoid the “What is your best price?” approach. Time to be authentic, creative, and sincere. This will increase your chances of getting a response.
  • Review the websites of those on the list to start to get a sense of their company, culture, and history of work. This is still a two-way interview after all.
  • Plan to follow up your initial email with a personal call. The human voice is an amazing compliment to the written word.
  • Once you have engagement, consider them as part of your larger “team” and treat them with courtesy and respect as you would the people you work with.
  • Finally, send them compliments and cookies. Mostly cookies.