Want to make more money in your screen printing shop? Build the right client intake process.
The correct screen printing client intake process means greater print quality, more consistent production, better jobs, higher profits, and happier customers.
This in-depth guide will show you how to begin asking the right detailed, specific, and actionable questions every time you take an order for screen printing and custom merchandise. It will also arm you with examples of two forms that will help you do this in your shop: a customer profile sheet and a recommended garments form.
Part customer success, part customer education, part production management, and part sales – building your client intake process is an extremely high-value activity for any print shop.
At Merch Monster, we ask all customers a standard set of questions each and every time they start a new project with us. This accomplishes two really important things: it helps my shop determine the scope of the project, and it helps us provide the most accurate cost estimate we can.
Our questionnaire is kept in Salesforce CRM, along with the answers captured from the customer. Completing the questionnaire is mandatory in order to get a quote.
If a customer says “I just want a general price” or “I don't want to answer all these questions,” that’s usually a red flag that they’re not a good fit for my shop.
If they're adamant, we tell them: "The price for a shirt is between $5 to $25." They have to answer all of the questions – otherwise it’s not worth our time to quote the project!
The first four or five questions are self-explanatory. They're required for basic record keeping. They give you the basic actionable info you’ll need to move the order forward. You want high-quality data to ensure every communication goes exactly where it should.
The next questions are qualifier questions. The goal is to determine whether this customer is a good fit for your shop.
If you weed out bad clients, unprofitable jobs, and unrealistic expectations early in the sales process, you keep your shop operating smoothly and build a far more satisfying customer experience.
Here’s how we do it:
Different events and businesses align best with different garments. When you’re taking a new order, you want to develop a profile that’s focused on their needs. This means understanding exactly what they're going to do with the shirts and merchandise you print for them.
You need to be specific so you don’t make the wrong assumptions. But there’s still some basic trends you can follow.
The simplest way to gain control over your intake process is to know exactly which garments you'll recommend to which customers. These recommended garments will act as your starting point for your intake staff. Standardizing your process reduces the time it takes to communicate with customers and improves profitability – you can recommend higher-priced garments and guide the customer to the optimal choice.
You can view our recommended garment sheet below. Here are the data points to consider when you're taking a client in:
Here’s a challenging task: reprinting a job that another print shop did.
You won't have specifications for the ink colors, art size, or the placements. In order to reproduce it correctly, you’ll need one of the following (preferably both):
How you talk about reprinted jobs is crucial to customer success. You’ll need to set reasonable expectations. I like to begin by explaining that if we get an example of the previous shirt, it’s going to be 90% similar. If they can’t furnish an example, it might be between 50% to 75% similar.
A picture of the shirt the customer wants to reprint won’t cut it. It’s helpful, but not helpful enough. You will not be able to get the exact specifications and dimensions from a photograph – there is not enough information there for you to accurately reproduce it.
When we get the shirt into our shop, we'll do the following:
Even if you’re reprinting a job, you can improve it. Always ask: “Did you not like something about the previous print?” Continue the conversation with specifics:
You’ll find that customers that want reprints are often unhappy with the first job (and that’s why they’ve come to you for their order). If you get the print right, you’ll likely earn a long-term customer. That’s why finding their problems with the original print is so valuable.
If the customer has “print-ready art,” make sure they send you the art file during intake even if the art isn’t finished.
The reasoning is simple. You’ll have a much better idea about what you are working with – and can stop problems with art before they start. A pre-print checkup during the intake process prevents headaches and back-and-forth with the customer over their art.
Here are the common issues we’ve seen with customer-supplied art that you’ll want to look for:
Here’s how to implement this: during the initial contact, task the customer with sending your shop their art. Ask them to send an email with the file attached to your help desk system. If it’s a larger file, they’ll need to upload it to their preferred cloud storage service (Dropbox, Google Drive, Box) and send a sharable link to your shop. Don’t issue a quote until you have some idea about what’s involved with the art!
You can write a quote without print ready art, but I like to let customers know that the quote is subject to revision based upon the final artwork. Your most accurate quote can only be issued once you’ve seen the completed art – so follow up if you received unfinished art from the customer.
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When you hire a carpenter, you don’t ask them whether they’ll use a hammer or a screwdriver. It’s exactly the same at a print shop. You should use the tool that will provide the best outcome for the specific job at hand. It’s not the customer’s choice. They don’t have the expertise you do – and may ask you to use a technique that will produce a subpar product (and consequently blame you for the poor quality). Trust your experience when choosing the type of decoration. - Mike Chong
If you spend some time during intake to communicate about the screen printing process, you can dramatically improve customer expectations. There’s a handful of topics that most customers don’t fully understand, but explaining them is an easy process.
Print locations: Most customers don't understand that multiple print locations increase the amount of labor required. Carefully discuss how multiple print locations will raise their price, and show why this is the case. Explain that a front-only print is the most affordable, and how each location adds time and effort to the process.
Colors: Screen printing labor costs are directly correlated to the numbers of colors in the design and the number of screens you’ll need to produce and setup on your printing press. This is simple to explain: a three color print costs more than a one color print, because there’s two additional screens to create and two additional impressions required. If your customer doesn’t know how many colors will be in their design, have them guess. They don’t need to give you an exact number right away, but it’s a helpful starting point.
Matching ink colors: Make sure you ask the customer if an exact color match is required. Some brands (particularly larger and more established brands) have strong and exact requirements for the colors they use. For example: if you’re printing for VISA, you’ll have to use Visa Blue PMS 280C and Visa Gold PMS 130C. If you don’t get the right colors, you’re going to have a costly reprint to process when Visa’s creative design team finds out you’ve botched their 5,000 shirt order. Have a specific and exact conversation about color and branding requirements. If the person you’re talking to doesn’t know – find out who to communicate with to get the info you need.
Type of decoration: Our intake form has a box for what type of decoration they need – we don't usually ask them about it. Instead, we just mark it down as we go through order intake. For example: if they say they want to print a full-color photo, we’re going to use DTG. Team names and numbers, we’ll mark down vinyl. Simple one-color logo, it’s a screen print.
Shipping details: You need to know if it’s being shipped for 2 reasons:
Shipping is a great example of how building a client profile helps you anticipate their needs. Here's an example: In the Bay Area, people are super busy and getting around takes a long time. Most of my clients don't want to come pick up their order – but their company will gladly pay for shipping. Customers purchasing orders for themselves or their small business typically pickup to save on shipping charges. When you know who you're printing for, you can plan to accommodate their unique requirements.
The last questions you ask are the most sensitive. They revolve around the customer’s expectations about pricing, their budget, and whether they’re being realistic about what’s possible. Objections and other challenges can crop up here, so tread carefully.
You can tailor your quote to meet the customer’s expectations when you know what their budget is. If a customer tells you their budget is $500 and your quote balloons to $750 once you take the job’s details into account, you know there is an issue before you send the quote out. Begin planning your strategy to discuss ways to bring the cost down when you arrive at this situation:
The conversation goes something like this:
“Hey! I built a quote based on the conversation we had, and it came out to be significantly more expensive than what you were budgeted for. But here are some options for bringing the cost down.”
Some customers may be hesitant to let you know their budget because they feel like it puts them at a disadvantage. If the customer says their budget is $1000, but the project was only going to be $500, they assume that you're going to inflate the cost of the project to fill their budget. You have to make them feel comfortable and convey trustworthiness before you ask about their budget.
Here’s how to go on the offensive when you encounter wary customers: “By telling me what your budget is, I can ensure that the proposal I give you aligns with your expectations.”
The last question that you want to ask them is not really a question. It’s an offer. Upselling and cross-selling are critical to increasing your profits.
Always let your customer know that you sell more than just t-shirts.
It typically goes something like this: “Hey, we thank you so much for all of the information that you gave us to help build your custom project. I’m confident we’ll knock it out of the park for you. But did you know we craft all kinds of custom branded merchandise? Signs, banners, and all varieties of promotional items. I’d love to help you get everything you need for your event or project. What else could we help you with today?”
If you don't ask, you'll never know. Even if they don’t need anything else now, you've shown that you offer all kinds of services – and you can help them in the future.
Once you've bolted down your intake process, you’ll have a fast and systematized way to:
A standardized, profit-driven client intake process is the first step in building a lucrative screen printing business.
Mike Chong owns Merch Monster in Oakland, CA. He's focused on providing highest-quality custom apparel and merchandise for business leaders across the US. He regularly produces video content for Printavo, which you can find in our Tips & Tutorials playlist on the Printavo YouTube channel.
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