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 done a tremendous job building their business over the years. Most recently, they have truly excelled in growing their apparel sales.
The past 2 years have certainly been interesting. We are currently (as of July of 2023) running 30.5% ahead of 2022 sales, which was up 35% over 2021. It seems like the world (or our world anyway) came out of its 2-year long malaise in 2022.
In the below interview, Jim shares more specific details about his centers booming apparel business and how he and Janes Minuteman Press franchise in Houston have accomplished such strong growth in their apparel sales. Their center is located at 1040 Hercules Ave (Clear Lake City); Houston – Clear Lake City, TX 77058.
How have you grown your business in general over the past two years?
During the early pandemic we pivoted to personal protection products, which naturally led to custom face masks. While Jane was busy actually sewing 1000 face masks, I was providing custom logo cloth masks to hospitals, medical offices, service providers, and schools. We sold about 40,000 custom masks during that time, and we either heat pressed them or sent them to a local screen print vendor. We also donated a lot of masks to schools, non-profits, etc.
Finally, in 2022, our traditional printing was finally starting to climb back to pre-pandemic levels. Promotional products also grew as trade shows and marketing calls became more the norm. We also had a big spurt of large format work, but that actually slowed down a bit after that initial spurt. EDDM printing has also become a larger portion of our print sales. Once we registered as EDDM providers on the USPS website, we definitely saw a very large increase in direct mail in general. Business Card printing has always been big for us, and the addition of the Graphic Whizard slitter, cutter, creaser has 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 have you grown your apparel business? What have you done to get your apparel sales going?
We really started getting serious about apparel about 8 years ago when we purchased a commercial embroidery machine. Then, about 5 years ago, Jane put together a great lobby presentation. This area features apparel, large format, and promotional items of interest.
We added dye sublimation capabilities with the Epson F570, and then we added DTG printing for one- offs (we eventually sold the DTG printer). During this time, we were using a lot of screen printed transfers, mostly from 613 originals or FM expressions. The issue became turnaround time. It would take up to 2 weeks to receive those transfers, and then of course we had to press them.
We purchased a second, and then a third Stahls heat press during this time. That is when we decided to move in to the Direct to Film (DTF) printing business. After going through several desktop converted printers to try to print our own transfers, about 2.5 years ago we purchased our first large format, dual printhead DTF printer and finisher. In addition to producing transfers for our in-house use, we have enough capacity that we sell transfers to other printers, screen printers, sign shops and Facebook Group/Etsy owners. 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).
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.
Concurrently with this growth in transfer sales, the embroidery business was taking off. We regularly receive orders for 10-50 polos or button-down shirts for embroidery. We landed a grocery store chain and 2 local hospitals, and the orders became 150-200 shirts at a time. This past fall we completed a $24,000 jacket embroidery order, and we just delivered $32,000 jacket order to that same client, a hospital. 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.
What are 3 tips for other owners on growing their apparel business?
1. We feel that the #1 thing that is continuing to drive our apparel sales, in addition to the wholesale transfer sales, is our lobby display. Several years ago, we put this display of apparel samples, promotional items, and some of our large format samples in our shop. Whenever a new, or even an existing customer comes into the shop, invariably they are drawn to this display. About 1 in 5 people who walk into the shop asks about something that they see on that display. We turn about 85% of those inquiries into sales.
2. It also helps that our CSR is very knowledgeable about all aspects of apparel, as she is about all of our products and services. Our CSR/production manager, our daughter Allison, was the store manager at our Galveston location (which we sold in August of 2022), and has worked in every aspect of our business over the years. I realize that not everyone can be this lucky, however, that does not stop you from training and providing your staff with the tools that they need to do their jobs well. SanMar has great apparel catalogs with swatch samples, and you can put together a simple apparel website using their marketing tools. Of course, it also goes without saying that everyone on your staff should be wearing logo shirts, to further showcase your capabilities.
3. If you have the opportunity, attend a local apparel industry trade show, an ASI show, and most especially the MMP International World Expo. Educate yourself, request samples, purchase a good heat press, start small, with your own shirts, then visit your current clients to show them your new capabilities. Apparel is a perfect tie in to all of the other services that our shops provide to our clients. Apparel sales spur printing sales, just like printing sales should spur apparel sales.
At least once or twice a year, this hospital does a bulk purchase of 430 t-shirts for all the staff members. The purchase might include jackets, rain jackets, backpacks, other specialty items, or t-shirts. Weve 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
Can you provide an example of a client who has used you for apparel?
One of our regular ordering apparel clients is a local specialty hospital. In addition to their hospital facility, they also own or partner with 15 other physical therapy centers in the Houston region. We started out providing them with the usual printing and large format products, then contracted with them to provide new building signage for each of the outlying offices, and then grew into apparel with them. We have them set up on 2 Stahls Spirit Sale websites. One of them is for employees to purchase branded apparel, and the other is for the hospital to purchase apparel for new employees. In addition to standard corporate apparel, each department has their own branded t-shirt.
Is there anything else youd like to share?
Apparel is an easy sell. Wear your logo. Talk it up. Ask for referrals. Dont be afraid of it just because you havent done it before.
For more information on Jim and Jane Sweeneys Minuteman Press franchise in Houston/Clear Lake, visit https://minuteman.com/us/locations/tx/houston27/
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Minuteman Press International
Minuteman Press International Inc.
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