Coffee cups & glassware: Lots of organizations order millions of screen printed coffee cups and various glassware each year. A lot of shops that do even large volumes of engraving and sublimation, for example, don’t offer screen printing or if they do, they have a fairly basic setup for flat items only.
Although you may be able to sublimate or screen print coffee cups and glassware in-house, it is unlikely you can even come close to competing with the big companies that specialize in these products when it comes to large quantity orders. That’s where the specialty vendors and contract shops enter the picture. For example, The Allen Company, Blanchester, OH (www.AllenMugs.com), has a huge selection of mugs, glassware and related items that they can custom print for you. Production time can be as little as a few days and quantities as low as 72 (although 144 is the standard minimum order). SubliSource, St. Louis, MO (www.SubliSource.com), is a company that specializes in contract sublimation and can print coffee mugs, steins, beer mugs, shot glasses, flasks and a host of other products.
Promotional products: This is a huge category in and of itself which is one good reason why you might consider farming out these types of orders. There are literally tens of thousands of different types and styles of promotional products available, ranging from apparel to calendars to games and toys to flash drives, and so on. You can even have custom items made that aren’t found in any catalog.
Many recognition and personalization shops shy away from the ad specialty business because they have been told there is no money in it. They complain that they have to join an organization in order to place orders and that the supplier companies are difficult to work with. Well, there are hundreds of companies that offer thousands of products both online and through catalogs, and many of them are more than happy to work with award dealers. All you need to do is contact them, show them your business license and they will send you a catalog. As for the “no money to be made” argument, in reality there is a 30%-50% profit to be made on each and every order. All you have to do is place the order, submit the artwork and bill the job to your customer.
As for some being difficult to work with, I’m afraid that’s true. Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) actually rates supplier companies to give distributors an idea of how dependable a particular company is. Many of the “A” rated companies put this rating on their websites. If you stay with the larger, better-known companies, at least to start with, you should be fine. Here are a few companies you might consider starting with: The Allen Company, Blanchester, OH (www.AllenMugs.com), Fields Manufacturing, Saint Cloud, MN (www.FieldsMfg.com), Wow Line, Jericho, NY (www.WowLine.com), and Norwood, Clearwater, FL, (www.Norwood.com).
Two of the most popular promotional products that are really big sellers are custom pens and calendars. There are many companies that sell one or both of these products that will be happy to sell to you wholesale. Some that display at award-type trade shows are: iMark, Arlington, TX
(www.iMark-online.com), Hub Pen Company, Boston, MA (www.HubPen.com), and BIC Graphic USA, Clearwater, FL (www.NorwoodBiccom).
Ribbons & rosettes: One product you probably already farm out is ribbons. Only a few dealers still make their own ribbons in-house. It is just more profitable to let someone else do it and there are at least three companies I know of to call on: F & H Ribbon Co., Euless, TX (www.FHRibbon.com), Tower Ribbons & Awards, Topeka, IN (www.TowerRibbons.com), and FRS Industries, Fargo, ND (www.FRSInd.com).
Labels & stickers: The market for custom labels, stickers, decals, bumper stickers, refrigerator magnets, die-cut decals in special shapes, roll labels and the like is absolutely huge. Schools, churches, organizations of all sizes and businesses use tons of labels, stickers, etc., for a wide variety of purposes, including marketing and advertising campaigns and to promote causes and create awareness. The profit margin for these products is usually 50% of retail and many customers will re-order on a regular basis, making this one of the easiest of all products to farm out. The companies I turn to for labels are: Gill Line, Lenexa, KS (www.Gill-Line.com), and Stouse, Inc., Kansas City, MO (www.Stouse.com).
|Gemini, Inc., Cannon Falls, MN, offers cast metal plaques and signage, including ADA signage.
Custom certificates & diploma covers: Although it is possible to print basic certificates using a laser printer, more elaborate certificates with gold leaf or foil logos, seals and other design accents aren’t so easy to make in-house. And unless you have industrial-grade hot stamping equipment, you probably can’t produce custom diploma covers in-house, yet this can be big business among schools and colleges at all levels. Companies in our industry that specialize in providing these products wholesale include The Certificate Source, Irmo, SC (www.CertificateSource.com), Tower Ribbons & Awards, Topeka, IN (www.TowerRibbons.com), and F & H Ribbon Co., Euless, TX (www.FHRibbon.com).
Printed items: With the advent of online services such as Vistaprint, 123Print and a host of others, you might think the market for printed business cards, invitations, flyers, door hangers, stationery, etc., has dried up, but that just isn’t true. You can offer raised letter and flat printing through your business with a single phone call. Offering this service to your customers could bring in some great add-on sales. For example, a company purchasing awards from you for its annual awards banquet might purchase printed invitations as well.
In essence, you will be competing with the big box stores like Staples and OfficeMax by buying your printed merchandise from the same companies they do. One big wholesaler is BCT or Business Cards Tomorrow, Fort Lauderdale, FL (www.BCT-net.com), and they, or a company like them, are located in just about every part of the country and Canada, plus online. Most orders will be delivered within a couple of days and the recommended profit margin is 50% of retail. You can also buy and sell rubber stamps and wedding invitations from the same company. UPrinting.com, Van Nuys, CA (www.UPrinting.com), is another source for wholesale printing
Rubber stamps: A lot of shops in our industry manufacture and sell rubber stamps in-house, and you can buy a variety of equipment for doing that from companies such as Jackson Marking Products, Mt. Vernon, IL (www.rubber-stamp.com). If you can’t make marking devices like rubber stamps, notary stamps and impression seals in-house using either a photopolymer exposure system or a laser, you can certainly buddy up with someone who has these capabilities in your area. Another option is to become a reseller for a company like BCT, Fort Lauderdale, FL (www.BCT-net.com), or contact a wholesale producer of stamps such as Roanoke Stamp & Seal Co., Roanoke, VA (www.USAcustom.com). Unfortunately, not nearly as many stamps are sold today as in years past but even so, millions are produced each month.
Acrylic embedments: An acrylic embedment is a solid block of acrylic with an item such as a logo or other physical object suspended in it so the item appears to float inside the block. I used to have one that had several drops of oil floating around inside it. Others have medallions, miniature trucks, keys, pictures, paper, tiny airplanes, computer chips, coins and a thousand other things. (I’ve seen teeth, gallstones, glass eyes—just about everything.) All kinds of things can be embedded in acrylic and they make great gifts, mementos, awards and souvenirs. Three companies I know about are: Clear Image, Inc., Glendale, AZ (www.ClearImageInc.com), Century Manufacturing, Wichita, KS (www.CenturyMfg.com), and Acrylic Le-Bo, Jackman, ME (www.le-bo.net).
Custom medallics: There’s a big market for custom metal medallic items like medals, medallions, lapel pins, key tags, belt buckles, ornaments, golf products, bottle openers, police badges, military-style dog tags, jewelry, rulers, money clips, etc. A wholesale company such as ATdesigns, Indio, CA (www.ATdesigns.com), Catania Medallic Specialty, Avon Lake, OH (www.Cataniainc.com), and Classic Medallics, Inc., Mount Vernon, NY (www.ClassicMedallics.com), can create all of these products in custom shapes and designs for your customers.
||Mugs, glassware and items like water bottles can be personalized for any occasion through outsourcing. That’s My Pan!, Chippewa Falls, WI, offers personalized water bottles that are especially popular for fund-raising events.
Yard signs: Is your neighborhood riddled with yard signs advertising everything known to man? Well, those signs come from someplace and it might as well be you. If you work with a local screen printer, you could have him make them but if not, there are companies that specialize in these signs. These range from inexpensive paper signs to more permanent, multicolor vinyl signs of varying sizes. Typically sold in quantities of 100-144, they are perfect for a new business, politicians and to advertise a sale. Two wholesale companies I know about are: Gill Line, Lenexa, KS (www.Gill-Line.com), and Fire-Sprint Printing, Omaha, NE (www.FireSprint.com).
Custom badges: There are many customers who want to purchase customized name badges, not just special sizes and colors, but also special shapes and imprinted with multicolor logos. These are really big business, particularly when a large company or facility starts using your designs and then places weekly or monthly orders. It’s likely that you can fulfill these orders more cost effectively using a supplier’s material fabricating services instead of doing the work in-house. Suppliers such as Johnson Plastics, Minneapolis, MN (www.JohnsonPlastics.com), and Ability Plastics, Justice, IL (www.Ability Plastics.com), can provide custom colored engraving stock and can custom cut the stock, add beveled edges, rounded corners and multicolored logos through hot stamping, screen printing and engraving.
Embroidery: Embroidery is considered a very high-quality garment decorating method that customers are willing to pay more for which makes this a very high profit opportunity. It has a beautiful, handcrafted look that is very durable and it can be used to sew intricate, multicolored designs on a wide variety of products, including polo shirts, sweatshirts, T-shirts, aprons, towels, blankets, jackets, caps, hats, tote bags and more.
If you don’t have embroidery equipment of your own, or if you have to fill a large quantity or complicated order that your equipment can’t handle efficiently, this is a good process to job out. There are many companies that specialize in contract embroidery that have state-of-the-art, high-capacity embroidery equipment. You can buy the merchandise to be personalized wholesale from these vendors or supply your own. In addition to embroidery and personalization services, these companies typically offer other services including digitizing artwork, warehousing, special garment prepping, blind shipping and rush orders. Some of the contract embroidery companies include Atlas Embroidery & Screen Printing, Fort Lauderdale, FL (www.AtlasEmbroidery.com), Target Decorated Apparel, Naperville, IL (www.TargetDa.com), and 5 B’s Embroidery, Zanesville, OH (www.5bs.com).
Screen Printing: Screen printing is a versatile printing process that is capable of creating sharp, colorful images on a wide variety of products. It’s popular for printing images on garments such as T-shirts, hats, tote bags, golf shirts and more. The process can also be used very effectively to imprint awards, tags, name badges and signs in addition to glassware.
The process itself is messy and requires a lot of workspace, not to mention equipment and know-how. Like embroidery, unless you have a screen printing operation in-house, or if you do have the equipment but it can’t handle a particular order, this is another good process to job out. Several plastic supply companies, such as Johnson Plastics, Minneapolis, MN (www.JohnsonPlastics.com), offer this service for products like name badges. There are many other companies that offer contract screen printing for the trade. Many of these companies also offer embroidery services, including Atlas Embroidery & Screen Printing, Fort Lauderdale, FL (www.AtlasEmbroidery.com), and Target Decorated Apparel, Naperville, IL (www.TargetDa.com), and many offer other decorating services as well, such as direct to garment printing and sublimation. There are plenty of other wholesale screen printing businesses, including Kinteco Screen Printing and Embroidery, Temple, PA (www.Kinteco.com) and Express Screen Printing, Tempe, AZ (www.ExpressScreenPrinting.com).
Vinyl lettering & banners: Another great process to farm out is vinyl cutting. Banners, signage, magnetic car signs and vehicle wraps in general are often best done with vinyl. Most sign shops have their own vinyl sign-making operation and are not threatened by your wanting to add banners and related products to your shop. In fact, many will welcome the opportunity to sell to you wholesale so why not take advantage of it? There are also companies that offer wholesale vinyl sign printing and vinyl cutting services as part of their business, such as Ordway Sign Supply, Van Nuys, CA (www.SignSupply.com), and Sunrise Signs, Gloucester City, NJ (www.SunriseSigns.com).
||SubliSource, St. Louis, MO, is a contract sublimation business that can sublimate a wide variety of products. Shown here is a box designed to hold a wine bottle.
Sublimation products: If you don’t have sublimation equipment, this is another product line where you can buddy up with another local dealer. Or, if you need to sublimate items that your equipment can’t handle, such as large bath towels, car floor mats or murals, you can work with a supplier such as Condé Systems, Mobile, AL (www.Conde.com). They will sublimate products too large for a conventional heat press for you for a small up-charge. American Printhouse, Phoenix, AZ (www.AmericanPrinthouse.com), also offers wholesale sublimation printing on a wide variety of items, including textiles, ceramic, metal, murals and more.
Sandcarving: Sandcarving is another excellent process to farm out if you don’t have the capabilities in-house. You can offer customers beautiful sandcarved products such as crystal vases, glassware, awards and more without having to invest in the equipment or the learning curve that goes along with it. This might be a service that you could job out locally to another shop. Some of the glass and crystal suppliers in our industry also offer sandcarving services for a small up-charge when you order their products. Crystal by Design, El Monte, CA (www.CrystalByDesign.com), is one company that does this. Or you might try a company that offers some wholesale sandcarving, such as American Etching Company, Hewitt, NJ (www.AmericanEtching.com), or Crystal House, Darien, IL (www.Chazerly
Etching & Metalphoto: There’s a huge market for items such as industrial nameplates, control panels, ID plates, machine labels and tags, long-term outdoor signage, etc. The common thread here is that these products must be extremely durable and able to withstand harsh environments. The customer’s requirements often call for metal nameplates in brass, aluminum, stainless steel or zinc. The other common thread is that there is good profit potential in selling these types of products. Two of the most popular methods for making metal nameplates include etching and Metalphoto, both of which are good candidates for farming out.
Simply stated, etching is a process that uses chemicals to chemically “engrave” or remove unmasked portions on metal sheets. One of the best characteristics of the process is that it can be used on nearly any type of metal, including brass, stainless steel, copper, bronze, steel, aluminum, magnesium and zinc. Pella Engraving Company, Pella, IA (www.PellaEngraving.com), is one industry company that offers etching services for the trade.
Metalphoto is a photographic imaging process that involves exposing artwork to photosensitive anodized aluminum and then sealing the plate to create a permanent image. Because it is a photo-based process, it is capable of producing extremely fine text and halftone photographs and creates a product that is UV-stable, weatherproof and incredibly durable. FRS Industries, Fargo, ND (www.FRSInd.com), and Metalphoto of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH (www.mpofcinci.com), offer this service or you might find someone locally to outsource these jobs to.
Ceramic art: This is a new process to our industry that is used to print full-color images on ceramic and porcelain products such as dinnerware, serving dishes, tiles, mugs, pet products and disks/ovals for murals, tombstones, coasters, etc. The process involves using a modified Ricoh printer, special transfer paper, special ceramic toners and a kiln. Equipment is available to do it yourself in-house (I have a system in my shop) but if you choose not to, Enduring Images, Golden, CO (www.Enduring-Images.com), and Digital Ceramic Technologies, Glendale, AZ (www.CeramicDecalPrinters.com), both offer the service.
Large format digital printing: Large format printers are used to print full-color images on banners, posters and signage. If you think about it, nearly every business, organization, school, etc., has a need for these types of products at one time or another. If you have occasional customers who are interested in these types of products, this is a good service to job out. Digital Print Solutions, Kensington, MN (www.Digital-Print-Solutions.com), and Graphic Zone, Philadelphia, PA (www.GraphicZoneInc.com), are two other sources to try.
|Sports memorabilia is often bronzed for posterity. Photo courtesy of The Bronzery, San Dimas, CA.
||GW Crystal, Rancho, Cucamonga, CA, specializes in crystal products as well as 2D and 3D laser imaging.
3D subsurface crystal engraving: Three-dimensional subsurface laser engraving, often referred to as subsurface laser/crystal engraving, is a process that involves using a very special computer-controlled laser to engrave an image as a series of dots inside a crystal or glass product, such as a cube, plaque, paperweight, etc. The result is a stunning three-dimensional image that appears to float inside the crystal. These are high-end items that can be sold as gifts, awards, mementos, promotional products and more. The perceived value of these pieces is very high and customers will be willing to pay for them. One company that offers 3D laser engraving services is GW Crystal, Rancho, Cucamonga, CA (www.GWCrystal.com).
I HAVE A DREAM
All of the processes I have mentioned here are viable and can produce an endless string of profit opportunities. In my shop, I offer quite a few in-house personalization processes. I probably have a broader range of equipment than many shops, but fewer than others. Still, each of us has a limit as to how big of a commitment we wish to make in money and time into all of the diverse personalization techniques, given the market we serve.
Even if we can’t do it all in-house, it is very easy to make it all available to our customers through outsourcing. Most contractors require nothing more than for you to sign up to become an authorized reseller and they have no minimum number of orders per year or other criteria that would hinder you from partnering with them.
Since I have already disgraced one of the most famous of all lines in theatre, I might as well do another, Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream.” My dream is not nearly as lofty as his but I dream that one day, the awards and recognition industry that we love will morph into a much larger and grander industry that can only be categorized as the “Personalization” industry and hundreds, if not thousands, of shops around the country will offer most, if not all, of the many services covered in this article.
In the meantime, you can certainly offer many of these products in your shop. You don’t need 10,000 square feet, just a place to put a sample or two and a catalog. It won’t cost a fortune and it won’t take much time to learn the product lines. All that it takes is a commitment on your part that you are going to do it and a few phone calls. Give it a try. Add at least one new product line before you go home today.