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Warning to All T-Shirt Businesses: Do You Really Know Your Customer? 

in Market Research, Marketing

So you’ve got 1,001 really cool t-shirt design ideas that you can’t wait to print on tees, but before calling your graphic designer for an all-nighter, let me ask you this: how can you be so sure that those t-shirt designs would sell? How can you be sure that you’re not just delusional or overly optimistic in thinking that the design that you love would be loved by your customers, too? Does this confidence spring from your knowledge and familiarity about your customers or does it just come from mere gut feel?

I may sound like a party pooper but do hear me out. My intention is just to save you thousands of dollars! If you’ve done your research and you have your numbers, then maybe I can’t do you any good because you already know what you’re doing. However, common sense tells me that you are still on your way to figuring out the t-shirt business code (or else you wouldn’t be reading this article).

Confidence in creating t-shirt designs come from experience, knowing the t-shirt design trends, and familiarity with your customers. If you are not equipped with enough experience, then it is absolutely necessary that you get to know your customers from head to toe. This is not only useful in designing t-shirts, knowing your customers by heart is essential for you to run a successful business.

In order to have a successful t-shirt business, here are the things you have to know from your target customers:

What Shirt Designs Do They Love?

First and foremost, do find out what your niche wants to wear. If your niche comprises of 25-30 year-old millennials who are nostalgic about the 90s, then track them down either online (Pinterest, Instagram, forums, etc) or in real world and find out what t-shirt designs catch their eyes. I’m pretty sure they have different tastes but you’d at least get an idea of the kind of box you are working on. That means that you have to identify the t-shirt designs that they would never want to see and the t-shirt designs that they’d pin and share on social media.

This is important when it comes to doing t-shirt artwork and in choosing the other elements of your tee (fabric, length, t-shirt design,etc). So for the sample niche mentioned above (Nostalgic millennials), you also have to identify what types of fabrics are a hit for them or if fabric even matters to them. You have to know whether most of them love minimalistic t-shirt designs or over-the-top ones. Apply what you learned from your research to your actual t-shirt designs!

What Shirts Are They Willing to Buy?

This one is different from the one above. Interestingly, how you design your t-shirts doesn’t end on what customers find lovable. Find out what t-shirts they actually buy and wear! This has a little to do with design and more to do with their preference when it comes to the fabric (Again, does it matter a lot to them or not?), to the price (Are they willing to pay $25 or more?), to the store location (Do they usually buy in malls or they prefer to buy at kiosks or online?). Research your niche’s behavior when it comes to purchasing clothes. This will help you a lot in creating your tees as well as marketing them.

Where Do They Usually Hang Out?

Does your niche usually go to indie concerts with their gang or to the flea markets with their families or to the golf course with business partners? Finding out where your niche usually goes and what they usually do are a must when it comes to marketing your t-shirt business. There is a theory in sales that, in general, you need to have at least seven points of contacts (meaning, you have to be visible at least seven times) before someone considers buying your product. Knowing where they go and what they usually do will give you clues on how to make your ads and where to post them. Not knowing the facts about your niche’s whereabouts would be like walking in different directions, without anyone noticing you.

This also applies to the online sphere. Find out which pages in your website they usually stay longest and which ads on your Facebook get the most response. The information you gather from your research will give you clues on how to improve your t-shirt business one day at a time.

I’m pretty sure you want to know all of these but the question is…how should we do it?

Here are some ways to gather information about our customers:

  • Ask them directly. In your Facebook page, you can post your t-shirt designs and ask them to like the designs they like best. If you see this as something that could affect your online brand, you can just message a few (maybe 200?) of them and ask them to participate in your research. Make sure you offer them a small token for participating like a $5 discount on your online store. This does not only apply to the t-shirt designs, you can also ask people certain questions like “where are you headed for the weekend?” or “ Who is your favorite movie icon?” etc.
  • Read up statistics. You can pull out statistics online about your niche whether you want to know more about their personalities, spending habits…anything you can think of. You must also read up statistics (and other facts) about the t-shirt business in general so you’ll be more equipped in dealing with the challenges of operating your business.
  • Conduct surveys. This one is similar to number one but it is more formal and could have more than 10 questions. You’ll be giving away questionnaires rather than just the informal votes on social media. You should give a small token or compensation to the participants of your survey because you’ll be really using them. If this is so much work for you, you can hire someone to do it for you or you can hire an agency to conduct research for you. This can be conducted online or in actual locations like schools, malls, etc. Ask them as many questions as you want but make sure you’ll be using those findings in your t-shirt business so you won’t put all of your effort and money to waste.
  • Study your competitor. This is a shortcut. Go buy the biggest magnifying glass you can find and point it to your competitor. The reasoning for this is simple: If your competitor is much older than you, then they must have learned more than you’ll learn about your market. Look for the best ones who are also selling t-shirts for your niche and monitor what they’re doing – from t-shirt creation to marketing. You might argue that you don’t really want to be like them. Of course not. You want to be much better than them! But in order for you to achieve that, you have to learn how and why they are succeeding and apply the same rules to your t-shirt business.
  • Read your Web Analytics. If you have a website, chances are you have a tracking tool that shows your website’s performance. But there is tons of information that you can learn from studying your web analytics. Using Google Analytics and Facebook Ads Analytics, you can learn which pages get the most visits, which pages get the longest and shortest visits, how your visitors found your website, what times do they usually visit, what ads do they like to share, and a whole lot more. Knowing about these things is very important for you to tweak how you market your t-shirt business to get maximum results. Do check your web analytics often (at least once a week) to make sure you’re on the right track marketing-wise.

After reading all of this, you might get a bit exhausted and just want to throw everything to the wind. Maybe a part of you just wants to skip this and just go right ahead make shirts and see if they sell. “Too much blah, I just want to make shirts,” you might say. That’s alright if you really want it that way, but don’t be surprised if you lose big money and come back to this very point where you’re reading this article and learning the basics of customer research.

If you want to have a successful t-shirt business, there is no way you won’t do this step. This is step number one of your 100- step t-shirt business. If you skip this, there’s a chance you’ll fall to the ground on your 20th step. Do this now and you’ll find that succeeding steps of your t-shirt business becomes much smoother and safer than you can imagine.

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