Dropshipping custom printed t-shirts, often referred to as printing t-shirts on demand, is a subject about which we receive a lot of questions here at Fifth Column. Hence this short piece, dropship print on demand t-shirts, which should give you most of the answers. For all of the purists out there, we realise that there are differences between dropshipping and print on demand. We’ll touch on the terminology in due course.
Language aside, there’s no doubt that printing t-shirts on demand has seen a significant increase in recent years. This increase, like so many modern growth areas, is a result of technological development. Firstly, direct to garment printing (known as DTG) is what makes the production of a single printed t-shirt financially viable. All well and good in itself, but not enough to fuel what amounts to a whole new industry. You need the world wide web in order to turn this type of product into a potentially profitable business. The web is an ideal vehicle for marketing and selling t-shirts that are entirely dependent on unique design concepts. Even those two together need another ingredient. Once you add in the proliferation of reliably integrated systems, you’re more or less ready to rock and roll.
So, is it for you? Does your future prosperity lie in setting up an online dropship t-shirt company? Read on and you’ll be in a far better position to make a decision.
Although we’ve called this piece Dropship Print on Demand T-Shirts, strictly speaking, drop shipping and printing t shirts on demand are not precisely the same things.
Drop shipping is a retail fulfilment method where a merchant doesn’t keep the products that it sells in stock. Instead, when a product is sold, it places an order for the item from the supplier and has it shipped directly to the customer. Contradictory as it sounds, the merchant never touches the merchandise it’s selling. This system rose to prominence with mail order firms who relied on printed catalogues and couldn’t hold stock of everything that they included in their brochures. Drop shipping was an ideal solution for certain specialised, bulky or expensive items, or those instances where they were unable to predict sales volumes. An approach which was easily transferred to the web and these days is used by several big name retailers. Dropshipping designer t-shirts is simply a version of the practice. An elaboration on the concept where the supplier is a third party who prints your design, holds your stock and fulfils your orders.
Print on Demand T-Shirts.
Abbreviated as POD, print on demand is an e-commerce model. A more customisation specific (and contemporary) interpretation of drop shipping. This sort of selling usually employs a platform provided by a third party within which the merchant brands their ‘site’ and offers their designs on products that are pre-agreed with the platform provider. Customers order a t-shirt and the artwork is only printed in response to that order. In reality, the product doesn’t exist until the sale is made. There are several variations of the POD system. For example, a brand may develop their own standalone website and link production and fulfilment to a garment supplier and printer.
All great, call it what you like, but does it work for your situation? Well, let’s give some consideration to the pros and cons.
The Positives for Dropship Print on Demand T-Shirts.
There’s no doubt about it, drop ship print on demand t-shirt businesses have some appealing features. Some of which are going to be game changers, depending on your personal circumstances and experience.
1. Investment and Operating.
Reducing initial outlay is a very attractive part of taking this route into the market. Buying stock and paying for printing are probably the two biggest traditional up-front expenses and these are wiped out in a single stroke. Finding the right staff can also be a load of hassle and the wage bills that come with them a headache that doesn’t go away. Again, another saving with the print on demand model. The need for staff is minimised, quite possibly removed.
Time management is greatly simplified when you’re laying off a most of the workload on other people. The brand itself becomes your key focus. Artistic ability and a talent for marrying that ability to a strong marketing message are perfectly suited to this kind of commerce.
3. Testing the Market.
Taking the dropship print on demand route also gives you a low cost opportunity to test the market. Start-ups are notoriously prone to failure and the failure is all the more bitter when you’ve ploughed a small fortune into the venture. Adopting a minimal initial investment approach is a safer way of seeing if your idea has legs. Plus, it allows for experimentation with artwork and style, perhaps even apparel beyond t-shirts. Migrating to a more conventional way of working, buying blank t-shirts and getting a garment customisation specialist to print your designs onto them, is the next logical step if you get a good reception.
The Negatives for Dropship Print on Demand T-Shirts.
Any budding entrepreneur out there can be forgiven for glancing at this commercial arrangement and rubbing their hands together in anticipation of a soon-to-be bulging bank account. Surely, it can’t fail? Success is within easy reach, literally a couple of clicks away. Whack out a few designs in photoshop, spend a day or two setting up the online store and sorting the admin side, and Bob’s your uncle.
On the surface of it, dropship printing on demand does sound like the best idea since sliced bread. However, it’s not quite that straightforward.
1. Cost and Profit.
Be prepared to make pennies per shirt because the ecommerce platform provider will take most of money. They’re in the driving seat and their profit level is non-negotiable. Which basically means you get the end of the stick that’s covered in smelly stuff when it comes to profit.
What the customer pays for your t-shirts and how much profit that delivers to you is absolutely crucial. T-shirt businesses are no different from any other enterprise in that regard. An aspect that is distinctly problematical with dropship print on demand. Do some random searches of the big POD sites and you’ll see that this type of t-shirt isn’t cheap, they rarely come in much below twenty quid. Your cut of that is eye-wateringly small. The brutal truth is that you’re going to need to shift a hell of a lot of t-shirts to make any significant cash out of it. Unless you can somehow create a premium brand from scratch and therefore charge even more. Odds are against both of these scenarios.
Irrespective of what you decide to charge for the shirts, the quality of printing isn’t in your hands. Sample shirts may be available for purchase, but you’ll never really know what your customers are receiving. Inspecting and sending from your own stock is the only way to be completely sure of the quality.
3. Lack of Control.
Relinquishing control over vital aspects of your activity is simply something that you have to accept as part of the deal. In reality, your entire business is contingent on the decisions of the platform provider. Ultimately, if they go down, you go down. Something that may seem somewhat trivial at the outset, but can become a genuine concern as you build your customer base and reputation.
4. Blank Merchandise.
The choice of blank t-shirts is normally limited when you choose to operate through third party print and fulfilment sites. Only to be expected, these suppliers have their own business plan and the selection of blank tees they offer will fit into that plan. It doesn’t mean that it will fit into yours. Your brand identity may have specific requirements with base merchandise, maybe something like organic GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) approved garments, which are unavailable via a POD third party.
Sales data is a precious commodity in modern business. When someone else processes your sales, all of the information involved in those sales is at best being shared. Full details may not be available at all. Customer data is a hard earned and enormously valuable asset. Whatever assurances you may get, granting access to what are effectively corporate giants might be something that gives you pause for thought (if not sleepless nights).
6. Some Roads are Closed.
Sales channels are obviously limited when your stock doesn’t exist until an order is placed. Forget about shops and market stalls, rocking up at a convention or selling shirts after the gig has finished. Virtual really does mean virtual in this instance. Your t-shirt is made out of pixels, not cotton, pending completion of the online transaction.
7. Express is Out.
Order fulfilment generally takes longer. Whichever way you dress it up to your customers, they need to be ready for a wait. Grabbing a t-shirt from a shelf, running off the delivery note, and getting the parcel in the post is always going to quicker than printing on demand.
Hopefully the above offers some insight into the world of dropship print on demand t-shirts. Click HERE to visit our frequently asked questions page where you’ll find more detailed answers to specific questions about the printing process. Our BLOG also contains a number of informative articles on printing, embroidery and related topics.
We offer an extensive range of services – screenprinting, DTG printing, embroidery and garment finishing are our areas of speciality. However, we don’t currently dropship or print on demand because they’re actually more to do with ecommerce and logistics than premium quality garment customisation. That may change for us in the future and it doesn’t mean POD won’t work for you now. But after decades of decoration, printing with love and still loving it, dropship print on demand t-shirts feel too much like compromise and dilution.