Finally! You’ve made the choice to put your company’s name on physical items. Great idea, but how will you get it done when you’re unsure how to even begin? You could ask your cool entrepreneur friend who’s done it. Her T-shirts rock and her startup is new. But having gotten no email reply in weeks, you guess she was just too polite to tell you to Google it.
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You’ve probably also failed to consider some of the other factors involved in handling creation of promotional items — stuff like minimums, hidden fees, physical space for store inventory and, oh yes, the big one — shipping. If shipping turns into a frequent task, nobody at your small business is going to volunteer to do it, especially in a startup culture.
Small Business Trends emailed Davis Siksnans of Printful to find out how his company uses technology to help you design and sell various items with a one stop experience. This includes not needing to do any boxing or shipping with your own hands, or burdening an employee to do it. The company says it will print and ship everything under your brand with custom labels, pack-ins, and other branding options.
Siksnans’s obsession with tech began when he saved enough money to buy his first Macbook at age 13. A few years later he began his career working in IT and project management at Draugiem Group, one of Latvia’s pioneering tech companies. As the CEO of Printful, he’s passionate about ecommerce and being part of the industry’s growth.
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Small Business Trends: How does Printful help companies? What category are you in?
Davis Siksnans: Printful is a drop shipping, fulfillment and printing company founded by myself and my colleague Lauris Liberts. In the beginning we offered just three types of products: t-shirts, posters and canvas. Today we do sublimation, embroidery, screen printing and more on thousands of items for over 900,000 business customers. We’re happy to say we’re on pace for over one million registered users by the end of 2018. We feel we offer the most reliable, seamless service for small e-commerce businesses who need to make and ship custom merchandise without ordering mass quantities at a time. Our customers include niche entrepreneurs and solopreneurs too.
Small Business Trends: Let’s talk more about that, because I know you regard solopreneurs as a trend.
Davis Siksnans: Millennials in particular are seeking more custom apparel now, and the market share of name brand companies — such as Abercrombie & Fitch — is decreasing. Solo entrepreneurship is a growing trend. Individuals who are small niche businesses on platforms like Etsy are all over Instagram and other social media. We love catering to these individuals.
Small Business Trends: Why did you choose to get into this space?
Davis Siksnans: The idea for Printful actually came out of another business Lauris started called StartupVitamins, which sells motivational posters, clothing, and other items for the entrepreneurial community. The fulfillment partners we were using back then weren’t very reliable; for example, they’d drop orders or take weeks to fulfill them, or run out of materials and not tell us. That all left a negative relationship with our buyers. They also lacked an API, which meant we couldn’t submit orders automated from our system.
So we thought if we can’t find a company that fits all those criteria, we should start one ourselves. Our thinking was “If we have this need as StartupVitamins, then there must be thousands of stores out there with the same exact need.”
Small Business Trends: What kinds of printing are most in-demand right now? It’s easy to forget you grew this much out of a “motivational posters” brand.
Davis Siksnans: When we started the company, we offered three products: posters, canvas, and t-shirts. We still print tons of those products now. T-shirts are our most popular item, and posters come in second. However, we also offer a lot more options for customizing them. For example, in 2014 we started offering sublimation, or all-over printing, for t-shirts, tank tops, tote bags, and a lot of our other popular items.
We’ve also expanded to offer products like leggings, dresses, skirts, and pillows that are cut and sewn in-house. These cut and sewn items are now our third most popular product and then hats are fourth. Really, we’ve seen an all-around increase in demand for printed apparel, especially from younger people. They’re not buying as many items from name brands – they want to stand out, and increasingly that means buying from smaller brands or buying custom-printed products.
Small Business Trends: Can you talk more about how automation has been an ingredient to success? And what success tips do you have for foreign companies who want to serve the U.S. market?
Davis Siksnans: Absolutely. One of the most important steps has been integrating our services with the e-commerce platforms our customers use. Our biggest partnership is with Shopify, which is used by thousands of active sellers worldwide. We provide automatic order fulfillment for Shopify stores — this means sellers don’t have to coordinate any of the logistics when a customer makes an order.
In 2015 we rolled out our push generator, which allows sellers to publish the product mockups they create on our website directly to their stores. Last year we took another huge step by launching our warehousing and fulfillment service, which is a way for customers to store their entire inventory in our warehouses and let us handle all the fulfillment.
We’re always working to become even more of a one-stop shop for sellers so they can spend as little time on printing and fulfillment as possible and focus on growing their businesses.
One of the most important early things that Printful prioritized was building trust with American consumers. In my personal opinion, a lot of companies attempting to enter the U.S market forget that American consumers are not used to seeing a Baltic address, or Baltic languages. So we hired American, Canadian, and Australian Latvians to provide an authentic and accurate writing style. You’d be surprised how important it is to use the correct punctuation or put a dollar sign in the correct place when referring to prices. We still focus on hiring great communicators. We made sure our company invested in familiar U.S.-based payment methods, such as Amazon Pay, PayPal, etc. We made sure we had a U.S. based address. All these small steps increase trust with American consumers and helped prove that we’re legitimate and trustworthy.
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Custom items are now getting more and more popular. And they are designed more elegantly as well.