These days, it’s super easy to get a design printed onto a product and shipped directly to a customer after they place an order online. It’s feasible to build a print-on-demand store in full within a few hours, so long as you have some cool designs to toss on some t-shirts, mugs, hats, and a never-ending list of other potential products. While some businesses have generated an entire product line around a print-on-demand (POD) manufacturing process, you can also use print-on-demand services to create swag or free gifts with purchase of your regular product inventory. It’s a great way to create a community around your brand, with a low cost model that makes it easy to integrate. In this article, we’ll review how print-on-demand works, some examples of successful businesses that use it, the advantages and disadvantages of the technology and set up, as well as the creative ways you can incorporate it into your existing DTC business.
What is Print-on-Demand?
Print-on-demand is a business model where products are created at the time the order is made. For example, if an order for a T-shirt is placed on the website, an order is placed with the print-on-demand manufacturer (usually automatically) to actually produce that specific piece. On an Ecommerce website hosting tool like Shopify, you can directly integrate a print-on-demand app, such as Printify or Printful to seamlessly add these custom products to your website. These apps allow you to generate high-quality mockups for products that you can display on your site, too, taking the burden of product photography out of the equation. This means you can also display hundreds of products on your website without taking up any upfront investments or valuable storage space in your warehouse. Once the order arrives at the manufacturer, they handle production, packaging, and shipping while the seller earns profit from each sale. At the time of set-up, you determine exactly how much profit you will make on the sale of each product. Print-on-demand has become very popular due to its convenience, affordability, and vast flexibility in the types of products you can create and sell very quickly!
Some Print-on-Demand Stores are Winning the Game
Who’s the hardest to buy for? Dads. What’s the easiest way to make him laugh and buy him something he probably wouldn’t buy for himself? Well, a fine T-shirt with a cheeky little saying, of course! Classic Dad makes shirts with sayings like “Thermostat Police” and “Grillin’, Chillin’, & Refillin’” as a couple classic examples of Dad-approved perfection. By choosing a very tight niche, Classic Dad can make the most of their advertising budget by targeting the appropriate buyers. By making this operation print-on-demand, Classic Dad doesn’t have to worry about their top-selling product going out-of-stock right before Father’s Day (which is likely Classic Dad’s Super Bowl). They can take all the orders, provide accurate production time to the customer, and allow the manufacturer to deliver on their end of the bargain without a lot of additional cost.
What about a Classic Dog Dad? Crown & Paw specializes in creating custom pet portraits in a Renaissance style, which is both adorable and hilarious. The website allows the customer to do a lot of heavy lifting by choosing the portrait type, uploading the image, and approving final edits of their custom portrait. This business experienced some explosive growth, and had minimal overhead costs to worry about while pulling successful sales numbers through mastery of Facebook marketing.
What Are the Advantages of Print-on-Demand?
I’ve mentioned this a few times, but the lack of overhead costs when it comes to print-on-demand stores is a gigantic advantage. Running businesses are expensive, especially when you have to toss commercial rent into the mix. The print-on-demand model allows flexibility in several other ways, including:
No upfront costs: It’s cheap to get started with print-on-demand, whether you create a whole new brand or use it to beef up your existing inventory. You can start an operation with literally zero dollars (or just the cost of managing your online store). Another benefit is that you also don’t have any costs unless someone actually makes a purchase. This makes it easy to start up with minimal financial risk.
Customization/Personalization: The world is your oyster! Whether you design your own products, hire a designer, or allow the customer to upload their own content, there are thousands of different ways to make money using this technology.
Wide Product Range: It’s more than just t-shirts and prints! You can create mugs, phone cases, hoodies, leggings, pens, mouse pads, and more with a print-on-demand integration. With this variety of items, the seller is able to cater to different customer niches and create multiple products with little additional effort.
Low Risk and Scalability: You don’t have to worry about unsold inventory, because the item is only produced once it is purchased. Also, as the business grows, it’s very easy to scale production up since there’s no production constraints.
Global Reach and Fulfillment: Print-on-demand services often are able to go global with their shipments, which allows the seller to reach customers worldwide without dealing with the complexities of international shipping.
Reduced Time to Market: With quick turnaround times for production, the seller is able to respond quickly to market trends and customer demands. It’s never been easier to make a shirt from a meme and make a quick buck while it’s still trending.
Easy Integration with Ecommerce Platforms: As mentioned, many apps integrate directly with online selling platforms like Shopify, which makes it seamless for sellers to automate the ordering and fulfillment process.
Minimal Maintenance: Set it and forget it (okay, not entirely). The print-on-demand model allows a seller to do the initial set up and then move on to other pressing items, like marketing and growing the business!
The Disadvantages of Print-on-Demand
It’s not all perfection, there are some slight disadvantages to the print-on-demand model, as well as some things to simply be aware of:
Lower Profit Margins: Keep in mind that print-on-demand manufacturers are also operating a business. All of the ways you save on overhead, production, shipping, and logistics has to be rolled into the cost of the service you pay for when you use print-on-demand, and the unit cost per item tends to be higher than traditional manufacturing methods. To combat this, make sure you’re pricing your products appropriately to keep a healthy profit margin.
Limited Production Control: Since you’re not doing the manufacturing, you won’t have a finger on exactly how things are made, including print quality, color accuracy, and quality of materials. Make sure you choose a reputable provider to ensure consistent quality, and remember to order samples so you know how the items will appear to your customers.
Print Limitations: Sometimes, you have an innovative plan for a product that the manufacturer simply can’t deliver on. Printing methods, available colors, placement options, and some complex printing techniques just might not be feasible for print-on-demand operations, so it’s something to take note of.
Shipping Costs: Since the print-on-demand supplier handles all of the shipping for the products, they might be higher than a bulk shipping rate a company could get as a large scale manufacturer. This can hurt the final cost for a customer, or if you don’t adjust your own shipping fee and it ends up costing more, you’ll eat into your profit margin.
Less Inventory Control: With no direct management of inventory, the seller themselves is at the mercy of the supplier. When the supplier has delays in fulfilling orders or runs into supply chain issues, there’s nothing you can do about it, and you might have to deal with some unhappy customers.
Branding/Packaging: The generic and often unbranded packaging the print-on-demand supplier uses might not align completely with your product’s brand. There are very limited custom packaging options, which can affect the customer experience and negatively impact brand awareness.
Market Saturation: Since print-on-demand is so incredibly easy, literally everyone is doing it. It can be a challenge to stand out from the crowd, and in order to do so, a seller would need to invest significant time and resources into marketing and differentiation.
Get Creative With Print-on-Demand to Elevate Your Brand
Now that you know the ins-and-outs of print-on-demand, let’s cover some ways you can use it as an enhancement to your existing business, marketing, and brand strategy. Some ways you can use print-on-demand could be:
Merch: If a customer loves your brand, they’re going to really love wearing it! Use print-on-demand to beef up the offerings on your brand merchandise store so your fans have some great options if they want to wear your goods. We’re not tooting our own horn too much, but the Triple Whale Store has some hype products to have you looking seaworthy.
Customer Rewards: Besides selling merch, you can also use it as a giveaway or promotion. Giveaways on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are typically well-received, and a great way to increase and reward engagement. Using print-on-demand for these items can really reduce your overhead costs!
Community Exclusives: A great way to increase the perceived value of a piece of swag is to only give it away. If a customer can’t buy the product but can only win it through engaging in the community, it becomes a highly sought after item.
Influencer Kits: A great way to get your swag/brand seen is to send a branded kit to an influencer and request they post an unboxing on their social media. By displaying your high quality and attractive swag to the correct target audience through an influencer, you’re exposing your brand to the right people!
In conclusion, print-on-demand offers an incredibly flexible, scalable and affordable method to build an ecommerce business or supplement an existing one. From branding opportunities to wider product ranges, customization options, and global reach, the advantages of print-on-demand are copious. With a little bit of creativity, a solid understanding of your market, and ability to leverage the powerful tools available, you can effectively differentiate your brand and thrive in this market. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a start-up, print-on-demand allows you to stay agile and responsive to market demands while providing a low-risk way to engage with customers, reward loyalty, and expand the reach of your brand. So, don’t be afraid to get started; there’s very low risk and high potential reward!