For today’s video I want to talk a little bit about 3rd party “Print-on-demand” services for t-shirts from a Canadian perspective – which unfortunately means that as Canadians, we don’t have a lot to choose from when it comes to a 3rd party t-shirt printer/shippers at the moment. Hopefully this will change in the near future.

So what exactly is a 3rd party drop shipper and fulfillment website?

1. Customer buys something (like a t-shirt) from your website
2. The order gets sent automatically from your website to the drop shipper
3. The drop shipper prints and packages your t-shirt (with your logo on it)
4. The t-shirt gets shipped to the customer.
5. You receive a royalty per sale

Why would I need a drop shipper?

When you integrate your website with a 3rd party drop shipping and fulfillment website, each order is printed and shipped out as it’s received. The big advantage here being that you don’t have to order and keep extra inventory. If you’re just testing out your designs, or you don’t know if they’re going to sell – or if anyone will be interested in your t-shirts, this is a good way to get your feet wet without much risk.

The major downside is that your profits are approximately cut in half when compared to bulk screen printing your t-shirt designs.

To be clear, these 3rd party “Print-on-demand” websites I’m talking about here offer an API, which is a way for them to integrate with your current website, and print and ship the orders directly to your customer (and you get a profit without having to do anything). The whole experience, from the website to the checkout to the packaging and shipping labels appears to come from your business.

I’m not talking about websites like Wordan’s or CaféPress – websites that simply sell your designs printed on their products and take the customer away from your website and over to theirs to choose and order your products. These sites are generally thought of as lower quality and less of a premium brand experience.

So, what are some of the top current “Print-on-demand” services out there (in the USA)?

– Printful
– PrintAura
– TeeLaunch
– and more popping up everyday…

You may be thinking this method seems like a no brainer – why wouldn’t I want to use a “Print-on-demand” website to fill my t-shirt orders while I sip a MaiTai on the beach and get paid? The short answer – USD conversion and shipping times & unpredictable border import fees.

Unfortunately – this type of service is only currently profitable if your customers are in the USA. And as I mentioned at the beginning of the video, I’m talking about this from the perspective of a Canadian business.

All 3rd party printing and fulfillment companies currently operate in the US, and once your t-shirt is mailed to your customer in Canada you’re faced with 2 major problems:

1. USD/CAD currency exchange rates (Canada is generally on the losing end of this equation)
2. border and import fees – these can be hidden and/or random fees causing your customer a bad buying experience from your brand (example – your customer pays $25 +HST +shipping for your t-shirt, for a total of $35, and when their shirt arrives they are hit with a $25 import fee at the border on top of that. Now your customer is on the hook for $60 for a t-shirt – which sounds ridiculous but it happened to me when I ordered from one of these websites, and it’s something that Canadians, unfortunately, have come to expect.

As Canadians we all grew up here watching American tv shows, Hollywood movies, American news and so on – and we’re used to having to to either pay extra, or wait years for access to these kinds of American conveniences and innovations.

Being able to open your own “Print-on-demand” t-shirt website for your Canadian customers is an example of one of these American conveniences that hasn’t quite made it’s way up to Canada yet.

So what are you to do if you want to sell t-shirts on your website in Canada?

Currently in Canada, selling t-shirts still means buying in bulk from your local screen printer. While it’s true you may end up with some leftover or unsold t-shirts, it’s not a real big problem if you keep your first order low (for example our minimum order here at Printworks for printed t-shirts is only 24 pieces with the same design). Like anything else, you have to go through the experience of ordering and selling t-shirts before you can really understand the ups and downs like hidden costs and time requirements, the difficulties of collecting and delivery of orders, dealing with returns, customer service issues etc. before you can really understand where the opportunities lie for you in this type of business.

Overall, there’s a lot of potential in selling your brand’s own line of custom printed apparel. But just like any other business, success doesn’t come overnight, and you’re going to have to invest and experiment in your t-shirt designs and the garments you choose before you find the ones that suit your brand and resonate with your customers. And right now in Canada, this means committing to an order of custom printed t-shirts from your favourite local screen printer.

I think there’s a need in Canada that’s not currently being met in this space, and I think there’s a business case there (and if you know anyone looking to invest in some high end printing equipment and looking for and local expert in the t-shirt printing space to consult with – send them my way). 🙂