Trailblazer CustomInk started up in 1999 offering custom shirts and has grown due to its innovative business model and powerful t-shirt design editor.
Customers and organizations can sometimes be intimidated by the t-shirt making process. By making the process seem easy and visually interactive, users are engaged instead of put off. As a result, CustomInk crossed $100 million in sales just last year in 2012. Other companies offering similar services such as Zazzle and CafePress (reaching 100M+) along with other smaller companies ($3-12 million) fill the gaps of this market.
When competing, smaller businesses shouldn’t see it as “taking on CustomInk”. Operating a business that is too focused on a larger competitor will just encourage replication and recipe for disaster.
Smart challenges to address consist of differentiating your business. You should strive to offer low prices, an effective design editor and great customer service, but small businesses can come out even further ahead when focusing on their own unique strengths. This usually includes quality, flexibility, and developing personal relationships. This can help small businesses carve out a niche even in the most competitive markets.
Chances are larger companies could have you beat on price. Other factors you can compete on are specialized value and service. Possessing the flexibility and adaptability needed to meet the needs of your customers will help you rise up as a lovable business.
DON’T GO TOO BIG TOO SOON
Whether or not you currently have a small local print shop, you serve as a middleman, or you already operate solely online, make sure you do not build anything large scale in the beginning. Building a website from scratch – especially one consisting of multiple features and advanced editors – can quickly cost your business. After you launch this business, you should also expect to make changes according to your customers’ wants and needs. By not putting in all your resources in the beginning, you can easily make changes down the road. Consider using a premade script, especially in the beginning (but make sure it is open source so you can alter it later without issues). An example of a complete solution (one that includes ecommerce and design editing capabilities) is iScripts PrintLogic. This online design and printing software can give you all the features you need at a significantly reduced price and timeframe compared to building from the bottom up.
DEVELOP YOUR NICHE
If you haven’t already, you should define your target and only sell to them. Don’t try to be too many places at one time or plan to sell to the masses. Dedicate your attention to a specific niche. Once you conquer there, you can move on to higher levels and develop more products and services. Aim high, but make sure the target is right.
BREAK DOWN YOUR EFFORTS
How many things are on your “to do” list? “Which ‘to do’ list?” you ask. You could try a multitude of different marketing techniques, but which ones are most important? Which ones can you already do well? Instead of learning a variety of new skills and spreading yourself (and resources) thin, focus on your strengths and simply work up. Always focus on what takes you the least amount of effort first. If you lack the ability to move further beyond this point, you could also consider outsourcing some of your efforts to get the biggest bang for your small business buck.
OFFER BETTER CUSTOMER SERVICE
Be more personable than the big guys. Typically larger companies do not have as much time for one-on-one customer interaction. Hear your customers and respond in a friendly and helpful manner. Go above and beyond (but within your own means). Sometimes this is your best marketing investment as a small business.
DON’T OBSESS OVER OTHERS
While you may be peeved that larger competitors have more leverage to gain contracts and reach larger organizations, don’t let their actions guide your own strategy. By reacting instead of innovating, you will always be a few steps behind.
OWN YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE
It is almost a guarantee that your customers will be checking up on your social networks and reviews before doing business with you. Trust is a segment all its own – from online reviews and comments to forums and social media, all eyes are on your business. This is also an opportunity for your company to shine.