Sublimation is a great add-on to many types of businesses, especially anything having to do with product decoration. Michelle Rudiman, owner of Company Twenty Six, was already well versed in the embroidery and heat transfer vinyl business when she decided to add dye sublimation printing to her business.
Since then, she has seen her sales grow and grow to the point where sublimated products account for the majority of what she sells. Sublimation Today caught up with Michelle to talk with her about her success in working as a full-time product decorator specializing in gift items that are by and large either customized or personalized.
ST: Where do you sell? Locally in a store, festivals, online, Etsy, Amazon, etc.
MR: My primary shop is on Etsy. I have been selling there since 2010. We also sell on Amazon in the handmade section, have our own Shopify store and sell locally in a retail location we opened three months ago.
ST: How did you get into product decorating as a business? What drew you to embroidery and then to sublimation?
MR: We were selling pillow covers at the time, and decorating was a way to differentiate us from a lot of companies that were selling the same items. I purchased a small one needle embroidery machine to test market demand for monograms on pillow covers back in 2013. Within a week, I traded it in for a commercial 6-needle machine and then added a second one a year later when the back to school season nearly killed us.
Embroidery is still a large part of my business, but you can’t always accomplish what you want with embroidery. For example, you can’t embroider large-scale metallic monograms, which were and continue to be popular.
When I saw new opportunities to bring different types of designs and effects to my products, I added heat transfer vinyl to my shop. Both embroidery and HTV have their limitations, so when I saw that I could do even more with sublimation printing, I invested in that, as well.
ST: When were you able to pursue product decoration as a full-time business?
MR: I have been selling since 2010. It started out as a part-time thing while working full-time in my marketing career. I traveled a lot and couldn’t devote myself to really promoting what I was selling.
Three years later, we moved out of the San Fransico area to a region with a much lower cost of living. I gave up my first career and started doing this full time. As a result of devoting myself to the business full time, it grew exponentially and I was able to keep expanding with new types of decorating techniques.
ST: How long ago after adding sublimation did your business start to grow?
MR: Almost right away. There are just endless options for sublimation. The number of available blanks continues to grow at a rapid pace. Graphic designers are also becoming more prolific and focusing on creating designs suitable for sublimation.
ST: What are your more popular sublimated products? Does their popularity surprise you?
MR: My biggest sellers are textile products, like pillow covers, kitchen towels, pillowcases, etc. However, those are the products I largely focus on. Even when I add more products, they gain traction fairly quickly.
For example, I currently only have one ceramic ornament for sale now. It’s a baptism ornament that is complementary to my high-volume embroidered baptism items. This year, I will add a lot of Christmas ornaments, and I expect them to do very well. I have a good customer base, and it seems the hours in the day is the only thing holding us back right now.
ST: What kinds of designs do you find to be popular among your customers?
For me, larger-scale watercolor designs seem very trendy right now. Funny/sarcastic designs that are fun to gift are also popular.
ST: What kinds of support and resources did you need to be able to focus on your business full-time? A lot of sublimators are still in the “hobbyist stage,” but want to become a full-time business. What worked for you and what advice would you give them?
MR: There is so much more to selling than just creating! Some days, I just want to play and make new stuff but that isn’t practical. But, it depends on your goals. A lot of people do this as a hobby and that’s fine because it’s what they want to do. To grow beyond the hobbyist stage though you really need some marketing fundamentals.
The market is so competitive that it’s important to be able to understand how to price your products, take quality photos, create compelling descriptive content, learn the ins and outs of social media, as well as be able to sell into boutiques and retail locations.
It can be intimidating if you’ve never done a cold call, written a pitch letter or developed a script about how to approach potential new customers. Selling online has its challenges too. You need to find a way to stand out in the crowd.
Also Read: What is Good Quality?
ST: Where do you see yourself going in the future with your business?
MR: We just opened a small retail location that is equal parts storage, workspace and showroom. We really want to expand our local business and that is very difficult to do from your home when customers want to see your products and then drop off and pick up. Focusing on a local market makes you rethink your product offering so there is no doubt we will be adding a lot of new product types and even new technologies.
ST: Any final thoughts about sublimation for your fellow product decorators?
MR: One of the best things about sublimation is that you are not limited to the standard blanks all the typical vendors sell.
Since you can print on pretty much anything polyester or poly-coated, you can experiment and find creative commercial products to sublimate on.
Some of the newest ones are doormats, golf umbrellas and plush toys like Easter Bunnies. The possibilities really are endless.
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