Left to right: Owners Jim & Jane Sweeney along with their daughter Allison Everett (Production Manager) at their Minuteman Press franchise in Houston, Texas. Jane notes that Allison “is a vital part of our DTF program.”
HOUSTON, Texas – 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 Sweeney have built their business in a very successful way over the years. Recently, they have really excelled in increasing their apparel sales.
Jim summarizes: “The past 2 years have certainly been interesting. As of July 2023, we were 30.5% ahead in 2022, which is up 35% from 2021. It seems like the world (or our world anyway) came out of its 2-year long malaise in 2022.”
Jim shares more specific details about his center’s booming apparel business and how he and Jane’s Minuteman Press franchise in Houston have accomplished such strong growth in their apparel sales. The center is located at Clear Lake City; Houston – Clear Lake City TX 77058, 1040 Hercules Ave.
Grow Your Business
On growing the business over the past two years, Jim says, “During the early pandemic we pivoted to personal protection products, which naturally led to custom face masks. Jane was busy sewing 1000 masks while I provided custom logo cloth face masks to schools, hospitals, medical offices and service providers. We sold 40,000 masks at that time. They were either heat pressed or sent to an area screen printer. We also donated a lot of masks to schools, non-profits, etc.”
He continues, “Finally, in 2022, our traditional printing was finally starting to climb back to pre-pandemic levels. As trade shows and marketing calls increased, promotional products also grew. There was a huge surge in large format printing, but it slowed after the initial rush. EDDM has also grown to be a greater portion of our print sales. We definitely noticed a large increase in our direct mail once we registered with the USPS as EDDM suppliers. The Graphic Whizard’s slitter cutter and creaser have made business card printing 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 to build a successful apparel business
Minuteman Press offers custom branded clothing as a way to help businesses build their brand and market themselves. Jim explains:
“We really started getting serious about apparel about 8 years ago when we purchased a commercial embroidery machine. Jane created a wonderful lobby presentation about five years ago. This section features clothing, large format and promotional items.
The Epson F570 added dye-sublimation capability, and we then added DTG printing to produce one-offs (we sold the DTG machine). We used a lot screen-printed transfers during this period, usually from 613 or FM expressions. Turnaround time became an issue. We would have to wait up to two weeks for those transfers to arrive, and then we’d need to press them.
We purchased a second, and then a third Stahls’ heat press during this time. We decided to start a Direct to Film (DTF), printing business. We purchased our first DTF printer with dual printheads and large format about 2.5 years back after we tried several desktop converter printers in order to print our own transfer. Our capacity allows us to not only produce transfers for in-house usage, but also sell them to other printers. This includes screen printers. sign shops. Facebook Group/Etsy owner. 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).”
Jim continues: “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.”
He adds, “Concurrently with this growth in transfer sales, the embroidery business was taking off. We get regular orders of 10-50 polos and button-down shirts. Our customers included a local hospital and two grocery stores. Each order consisted of 150-200 shirt. In the past, we have completed a $24,000 jacket embroidering order and delivered $32,000 to the same client. 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.” -Jim Sweeney, owner, Minuteman Press, Houston/Clear Lake, Texas
Three tips for growing your apparel business
Jim shares 3 tips to help you grow your apparel business.
“1. The lobby display is what we believe is driving the most apparel sales. This is in addition to wholesale transfer sales. We put up this display of clothing samples, promotional products, and some large format samples several years ago in our shop. This display is always the first thing that a customer notices when they enter our shop. About one in five people who come into the shop inquire about a product they saw on display. About 85% of these inquiries are converted into sales.
2. Our CSR knows all about apparel and all about our services. Allison, our CSR/production director, worked as the store manager in our Galveston branch (which we will sell in August 2022) and has been involved in all aspects of our business. It’s true that not everyone has this kind of luck, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t train your employees and give them the tools to succeed. SanMar offers great apparel catalogs that include swatches, and their marketing tools allow you to create a simple website for apparel. All your employees should also wear logo shirts in order to show off your company’s capabilities.
3. Attend a local trade show in the apparel industry, ASI, or the MMP International World Expo if you can. You can educate yourself, ask for samples, buy a good press and start with your own shirts. Then, visit your clients to demonstrate your new abilities. Apparel is the perfect complement to all other services we offer to our customers. Apparel sales spur printing sales, just like printing sales should spur apparel sales.”
Jim shares how he met the needs of one of his customers, a local specialty hospital. He shares: “One of our regular ordering apparel clients is a local specialty hospital. They also have 15 physical therapy centers around Houston that they own or are partners with. We began by providing them with printing and large-format products. Then, we contracted with them for new building signage in each of their outlying offices. Finally, we grew to include apparel. We have them set up on 2 Stahl’s Spirit Sale websites. The hospital can purchase clothing for its new employees and employees of the hospital. In addition to standard corporate apparel, each department has their own branded t-shirt.”
Jim continues, “At least once or twice per year, this hospital does a bulk purchase of 430 t-shirts for all the staff members. This could include rain jackets or backpacks as well as t-shirts, jackets and other special items. We’ve 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 that I mentioned earlier in the article, who has just taken delivery of their second large jacket embroidery order.”
Other People’s Advice on Apparel
When asked what advice he would give to others businesses about utilizing custom apparel, Jim answers, “Apparel is an easy sell. Wear your logo. Wear your logo. Ask for recommendations. Don’t be afraid of it just because you haven’t done it before.”
For more information on Jim and Jane Sweeney’s Minuteman Press franchise in Houston/Clear Lake, visit https://minuteman.com/us/locations/tx/houston27/
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