Today’s entrepreneurs operate in a strangely conflicted world of opportunity and challenges. Success often belongs to those who are able to recognize, and capitalize, on growth opportunities–however unlikely.
In this article, I’d like to introduce one such opportunity. Print-on-demand is a business model with low barriers to entry, that can be up and running as a revenue stream within hours. I’ll cover what it is, how it works, and lay out some of the reasons that it’s an easy win for startups and small businesses.
What is print on demand?
In the simplest terms, print on demand refers to the printing of individual items to order. This means many of the necessary evils of online retail are no longer necessary. Rather than negotiating with suppliers, ordering (and holding) stock up-front–and hoping that inventory sells–orders are simply printed and fulfilled whenever a customer places an order.
Over the past decade, print-on-demand has taken huge strides in the world of self-publishing, marketing, fashion and, increasingly, custom merchandise. Tech solutions are now in place to fulfill print-on-demand orders anywhere in the world within days, offering a seamless experience to customers, and generating passive income for businesses and individuals.
For entrepreneurs and hobbyists, print-on-demand – with its low barriers to entry and minimal up-front costs – can be the foundation of a rewarding and profitable side business. Just create a slogan, upload it to a print-on-demand platform, market your products, and watch the orders roll in.
The same factors apply to startups and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and we’re increasingly seeing businesses of this profile embracing print-on-demand product ranges in efforts to free up cash, build brand loyalty, drive revenue and grow their brand.
Free up your cash flow
Any small business will appreciate the importance of cash flow to meet costs – both expected and unexpected.
No business owner ever feels happy about tying up cash in unsold inventory, but in the past that’s just been the way the game worked: I guess you could file it under “speculate to accumulate.”
With print on demand, you only pay when you take an order – and your customer is paying you. In other words, there’s no need to spend anything on stock, freeing up your cash to work harder in your business.
A potential revenue stream with no up-front investment has to be considered.
Build brand loyalty and advocacy
A lot has been written about brand loyalty and how it’s built. It’s a complex, nuanced issue and debate has raged about the extent to which loyalty is rational/habitual or emotional.
A recent Harvard Business Review report claims the majority of consumers make purchase decisions almost exclusively based on brand familiarity and convenience. It also claims that each time we make a purchase from a particular brand – reaffirming our original choice – it gains a further advantage over competitors. In other words, the gap widens with every purchase (unless we’re let down by the product we choose).
However, what’s clear is that, for many of us, the brands we love don’t just exist in a vacuum in our heads. For many of us, they become a part of who we are. A respondent to a MarketingLand survey illustrated the extent to which a brand can become tied up with our very identity.
“Athleta is the one [brand] I most connect to,” said Michelle, a lifelong athlete and avid trail runner. “It’s who I am; it expresses me.”
It’s the reason we see brand marks not only emblazoned onto physical products like t-shirts and phone covers, but even tattooed onto peoples’ actual skin!
Printed merchandise gives us a physical experience of our favorite brands – a ‘piece’ of that brand to hold, feel and carry around with us. That can help deepen customer experience, and create powerful brand advocacy that can help take businesses to the next level.
Grow your brand (and sales)
I hinted at it earlier, but you can create a print on demand product range in a matter of minutes. Once it’s up and running, you have another avenue to promote to your fans and offer them a piece of who you are.
You can add your product range to a Facebook Shop, promote them on your Instagram account, and more. And the aim is to become a lifestyle brand; a company that steps beyond its products or services, and markets itself to embody the interests, attitudes and opinions of a particular group or culture. You can gather user generated content (UGC) to help further build the essence your brand as your brand is tangibly worn and represented in environments and activities that reinforce that message.
The real value of print on demand
The team behind ((BOUNCE)) is living proof of the value of print on demand merchandise, and how seamlessly it can fit into your overall brand offering. These guys offer mini-trampoline fitness classes, an incredibly fun form of exercise that’s apparently backed by science. (Their website claims that NASA have described trampoline jumping as “the most efficient and effective exercise yet devised by man!”)
Like any small business, they desired to optimize revenue streams. So they added a print on demand offering to their website to give fans a chance to buy a range of branded merchandise. The range has been a real hit among their audience which gives customers a piece of the ((BOUNCE)) brand to have, hold and wear – whether they are bouncing or not!
Fionn Concannon is the co-founder and managing director of KITE. He is a lover of all things creative, inspiring, and innovative. After working in technology for many years, he co-founded Kite; a software solution for print-on-demand, zero inventory merchandise, and photo print goods catalogues. Fionn is a tech enthusiast, and remains fascinated by the disruptive nature of entrepreneurs, startups, hardware, and software. You can connect with him on LinkedIn, and follow him on Twitter.
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