Why my T-shirt Business Didn’t Grow and How to Make Sure Yours Does

Why my T-shirt Business Didn’t Grow and How to Make Sure Yours Does

In a bid to launch a t-shirt business I failed to grow. There are excellent reasons for that. I’m going to tell you all about it.

When it comes to launching a t-shirt business online the barrier to entry is super low. This is great if you want to get started, but it also means you’ve got heaps of competition.

With no experience, you can literally start selling t-shirts online within 10 minutes. This is due to the presence of great websites that facilitate this such as Spreadshirt and TeeSpring.

T-shirt Business Websites

These websites make it super easy to display your designs on whatever items you like. They look after the materials, the printing and the postage and packaging.

You have to look after the design and the advertising and marketing.

It sounds too good to be true. Usually when something sounds too good to be true it is. Amazingly this is true. This is one of the best things on the internet.

Obviously just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you’ll make much money from it. Remember you’re competing with some serious players. Getting your designs online is easy. But are those designs good? Do you have an audience? Can you get them in front of people?

These are questions that must be answered.

The Old-School T-Shirt Business

When I start selling T-shirts, websites like Spreadshirt and Teespring weren’t really present. This meant I went old school. I sourced the materials and printing. Purchasing them in bulk to maximize my profit margins.

I cultivated an incredibly large audience on social media. I had a distinct niche and I was able to get those t-shirts right in front of their faces.

To a layman, I had everything going for me. 99% of people selling t-shirts won’t have what I had. I had all the ingredients for success but somehow only managed to sell around 10 t-shirts per week. Maybe making $10 USD per T-shirt before tax. That was a good week.

The T-shirts would sell, but hardly enough to sustain a business.

So what did I do wrong?

1. Too Many Assumptions

I thought to myself my niche is so specific, that I just have to do basic designs and put them on sale. These T-shirts would sell themselves I thought. At no point did I think to understand segments within my audience and how I could connect with them.

I literally had a one size fits all solution.

My niche was landscape architecture. To the layman this probably means gardening. To a landscape architect, this can mean so many things.

It could mean ecological design, urban design, modern, community, private, minimalist, it could mean outdoor revolution, it could mean freedom, it could be about student design life, being a freelancer, working in an office, and so on.

The number of niches within a niche should not be ignored. I ignored them all. I had no interest in defining my prospective customer and in turn, they had no interest in buying my generic t-shirts. BIG MISTAKE!

2. If 1 customer = 1 sale then you’re an idiot

Sorry to be harsh, but you are an idiot if you think this. And yes, this is exactly what I thought.

Listen you don’t get old and wise without first being young and stupid.

You’ve got to think of each customer over their buying lifetime. You’re not going to make a lot of profit if one customer equals just one sale.

You’ve got to think about customer retention and how you are going to increase the average sale of each individual customer therefore raising the price tag above their head.

This is not a new strategy, this is as old as business itself, but newbies in their naivety, don’t think of this.

But take a moment and think about it. If you buy a t-shirt in Tommy Hilfiger, you don’t walk out of there never to return to the store ever again. It’s very likely you will return and pick up more items.

Think Like Tommy Hilfiger

It’s very important for a company like Tommy Hilfiger to understand what the average customer will spend over their lifetime. This allows them to understand how much money they should spend on advertising and marketing to gain new customers.

Most likely if you are selling T-shirts at the $20-$30 USD mark, you’re going to need each customer to buy between 5 to 10 shirts in order to have a profitable advertising strategy.

If you advertise and get a new customer that buys one t-shirt, that’s not something you can scale up and you will in fact be operating at a loss.

Getting your customer details, understanding them, and catering to their needs is what’s going to get you that return business. This is how you go from 1 customer = 1 sale to 1 customer = 5 sales.

3. Think Big, no BIGGER than that! REALLY BIG…ok now you’ve got it

Most people get into the T-shirt business because they see the prospect of easy money. The truth is you can easily make money, just very little. There’s always going to be a friend or family member out there that feels sorry enough for you to purchase one of your designs.

You need to think about the BIG picture for the simple reason that it’s going to take a while before you in fact make money from this.

Are you really covering your expenses?

While it may seem easy to cover your expenses, it’s very likely you are not covering expenses and the only reason you think you are covering expenses is that you’re not taking everything into consideration.

The biggest oversight is your time.

If you want to even earn a basic minimum wage and you’re selling t-shirts at that entry-level price of between 20-30 USD, you’re going to have to sell between 50 to 100 t-shirts per week, just to get the minimum wage.

Perhaps you’re ok working for free because you’re fortunate enough to be supported by other means, that’s wonderful and lucky you.

But there are still lots of things to consider, such as design software, taxes, hardware, commission (if you use a partner website), materials (if you are sourcing them yourself), and of course postage and packaging, marketing and advertising budget, stationery, travel expenses, hardware, and other unforeseen expenses.

When it comes down to it, you’ll be lucky to make $4 USD on a t-shirt in the 20-30 USD price range. And that’s without taking a wage and before tax.

Doesn’t look like such easy money anymore, does it?

Perhaps you’re not in it for the money, perhaps you have more lofty goals of starting a revolution and making the world a better place through your powerful T-shirt slogan. Well, guess what, you’re not going to be very effective if you can’t make a profit regardless of your motivation.

The Greatest Way to Cover Your Costs

The single greatest and most effective way to cover your costs is to make your business a profitable and scalable venture. Anything else is a disservice to yourself.

If you want to make a profitable T-shirt business and you have everything in place, meaning you have quality designs, a market, and an effective strategy for growth accompanied by a budget for advertising and marketing it may take you a year to start seeing a true return on investment and that’s providing everything goes to plan.

No Budget, No Problem

A lot of people won’t have an advertising and marketing budget, so it needs to happen organically, in which case it’s going to take between 1 to 3 years before your start seeing the results of consistent effort.

This is why you need to keep your eye on the big picture, so you stay motivated while you’re working that 9 to 5 and keep plugging away at it.

Doing it just for the fun of it

There are so many big players in the T-shirt business and you may want to enter just to have a bit of fun, if that’s the case, go ahead and do it as a hobby. If it gives you pleasure then let it.

For those of you that want to turn it into a business. You need to strategize. You must have the following:

  • A targeted niche
  • Ability to segment, understand and connect to individual groups within your niche.
  • Marketing and advertising strategy for customer acquisition
  • Strategy for customer retention
  • Budget/time
  • Basic design ability
  • Scalability

Anybody can set up a T-shirt business, it literally could not be any easier than it is today. However making a business of it requires dedication, hard work, and a killer attitude.

If you want to swim with the fishes, you better become a shark.

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