Have you ever considered opening up your own ecommerce shop?
Maybe you’ve heard of print-on-demand and dropshipping but aren’t really sure what the difference is (or what they are at all).
Perhaps you have previously begun looking into ecommerce but got overwhelmed and decided it must not be right for you.
Or maybe you’re a service-based business and just don’t know how you could incorporate products into your client experience.
I hear ya! Adding on a new product-based section to a service-based business (or adding print-on-demand options to an already established product based business) can seem scary enough. Starting from scratch with zero knowledge or experience in ecommerce can be even scarier!
Let’s start with the basics- what’s the difference between drop shipping and print on demand?
Drop Shipping vs. Print on Demand
We’re going to default to the experts on this one! According to Printful, here is the difference between drop shipping and print-on-demand.
Essentially- drop shipping involves selling and shipping other peoples’ items while print on demand involves the printing of your own designs, or designs that you have purchased and have the rights to redistribute, and selling them.
Now that we have those definitions, I’ll specify that the way I sell my items is through print-on-demand. It may still seem confusing and intimidating, but I’ll walk you through my journey to print-on-demand and then tell you some of my favorite (and least favorite) things about utilizing print on demand.
Is Print on Demand for me?
Wondering if you can utilize print on demand for your own business? Trust me- I’ve been there!
When I first started my Etsy shop, I was hand-making each and every shirt that went out. Here’s what my process looked like-
I would get an order on Etsy, place my own order from a wholesaler (paying for both the shirt and the shipping to my house), wait for the shirt to arrive, cut out the shirt design with my Silhouette, weed the design, place it on the shirt, hand-press it using my heat press, fold it up, package it (in a sealed plastic bag to protect it from moisture, wrapped in tissue paper, with a hand-written thank you card and business card included, all wrapped in twine and sealed with a sticker), and then go to the post office to ship it out.
Here’s an example of my packaging (this was a wooden wall hanging, not a shirt, but you get the picture.)
As much as I wanted my Etsy shop to be a success, I dreaded hearing that little ka-ching! sound because I knew how much work was ahead of me.
And honestly, I was maybe profiting $5 per shirt between the vinyl costs, the shirts themselves, wear and tear on my Silhouette, packaging supplies, shipping both ways, etc.
It definitely wasn’t worth it! So, after a lot of hemming and hawing, I made the jump to print-on-demand. (You can read all about that in this blog post.)
It was really hard for me to let go of control and there have definitely been some drawbacks, but I’m so glad that I did it! I’m going to let you in on some of my favorite things about print-on-demand.
Then I’ll tell you the drawbacks, too! I’m not trying to sugarcoat anything.
There’s no need to carry inventory. In my own Etsy shop, I have over 100 shirts listed but guess what- I don’t have any of those shirts at my house! They are all printed at the fulfillment center, so when someone places an order for a shirt, the shirt they have ordered actually doesn’t exist yet. When the customer places the order through my Etsy shop, the print shop gets a notification and automatically begins the fulfillment process. They print the shirt, do a quality check, package it up, and ship it out for me- I don’t do anything. It’s completely automated. This is so much easier than the old process I mentioned above!
You can have fun with the designs! When I was working with vinyl, I had to be very careful with the number of colors I was using per design. If I used more than one, I had to very carefully line everything up and pray it didn’t shift while I was moving it over to the heat press. I never used more than two colors and it was kind of boring for me! With print on demand, the shirts are screen printed so I can use as many colors as I want.
It’s low-risk. If I make a design and it doesn’t sell, who really cares? The only thing wasted is a little bit of my time, which I undoubtedly would have spent designing something anyway. There is basically no financial risk involved because you don’t need to carry inventory.
You can repurpose designs. With Printful, the print on demand company I use, you can easily take one design and put it on many different products- shirts, hoodies, tank tops, leggings, backpacks, hats, mugs, pillows, and more! I could probably have a store selling 20 different products with all the same design. (I wouldn’t advise that unless it’s a really killer design, but you technically could.)
It’s quick and easy to learn! Once you get the hang of the layout of the site you choose, it’s very quick to upload new designs and create new products. At this point, I can upload a design to the print site, list it on Etsy, and make a sale within 15 minutes.
It’s truly passive income. While it does require an up-front effort (whether from you or from a designer you hire) after an item is listed, you can sell it over and over and over again with virtually no effort on your part. Your time is freed to work on other aspects of your business, spend time with family, or take a nap!
No control over packaging. This was a big drawback for me, as I mentioned in this post. I used to take so much pride in packaging my orders beautifully and perfectly, and I wasn’t willing to give that up for a long time. Now, my customers receive their apparel in plastic mailers (that contain my logo and brand name). It’s not pretty, but I don’t have to do it so I’m not complaining anymore.
Shipping times can vary. During the beginning of the Covid crisis and until about mid-August, the shipping times for my items was about 6 weeks. It was an awful feeling to know that my customers were waiting so long to get their items, and I am 100% sure that I lost out on a lot of sales because of the long shipping time.
You have to trust them with your quality control. Probably 97% of the items that I sell come out beautifully… but then there’s the other 3%. I have had customers contact me with crooked designs, designs where the layers don’t match up… and one very patient customer even waited 5 weeks for her hoodie and it arrived completely blank! Luckily I was able to get another one shipped to her the next day (I believe it was thanks to a very strongly worded email I sent to Printful) and she was happy with the new one.
You have to expect the unexpected. The best way to explain this one is through an example- last month, I launched my 50 States shirt collection. It contained 50 shirts, one for each state, and I planned on releasing them 5 at a time, every weekday for two weeks. However, on the third day, I got a notification that Printful was no longer allowing new apparel items to be added because they were so far behind on fulfillment. I was in the middle of a launch here, people!
I completely panicked but quickly moved to a new print on demand site for that particular collection. It was a lot of work, but I was able to finish the launch only 2 days after I had planned to have all of the items listed.
The profit margin is lower. It’s definitely true that there isn’t a ton of room for profit with print on demand. I prefer to sell the soft and high-quality Bella+Canvas shirts as opposed to regular, cheaper t-shirts and, as a result, my cost is higher. I make less profit per shirt than I presumably could if I made the items myself. (As a counter-point, keep in mind that this is completely passive income. Though I only make a small profit, I can sell the same products over and over again and not have to do a single thing.)
Is it worth it?
In short- YES. I absolutely think that print-on-demand is worth the small risks you run. I’m not joking when I tell you that my quality of life has improved, knowing that I can continue to make designs and sell them on items without having to actually produce those items myself. I have much more time to spend with my family, on my full-time job, and making new designs.
If you want to know more about the behind-the-scenes of my business, be sure to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Instagram!