While it's easier than ever today to launch your own t-shirt business, the reality is that some designs will be a hit and others will be a miss.
Relying on your gut alone can result in time and money spent on designs that no one is willing to pay for.
That's why you need a feedback loop that helps you ditch unpopular design ideas as soon as you identify them, and double down where there's real demand.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from an entrepreneur who built a 6-figure print-on-demand apparel business by identifying his winning designs early on.
Ryan McCarthy is the founder of Sugoi Shirts: a store that designs & sells streetwear inspired by Japanese pop culture and anime.
If I put an ad out and I’m not getting any bites on it within the first 3 to 4 days then I can be pretty much be sure that that’s not going to work.
Tune in to learn
- How to use Reddit to get feedback on your products
- How to test t-shirt designs with ads without wasting money
- How to create a fashion design brand without a design background
Listen to the podcast below (or download it for later):
- Store: Sugoi Shirts
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Recommendations: Upwork, Printful, Envato, Creative Market, Beautiful Abandoned Cart Emails (Shopify app), Web Push & Facebook Messenger Conversion Marketing by Push Nova (Shopify app), HelpCenter (Shopify app)
Felix: Today I’m joined by Ryan McCarthy from Sugoi Shirts, Sugoi Shirts designed to sell Japanese pop culture, anime inspired street wear, and it was started in 2015 and based out of Buffalo, New York. Welcome, Ryan.
Ryan: Hey, thanks for having me.
Felix: Yeah, so tell us a bit more about who is buying these shirts, give us idea of who your customer is.
Ryan: So, our customer is a pretty specific, we have the demographics locked down here. So, it’s pretty much 18 to 24-year-old males. And we do have females too, but definitely more of a male dominated industry, and mostly United States but we have touched sale’s over in the UK, Australia and other parts of Europe as well.
Felix: Nice. So, how did you identify that there was this market? Like, what’s your background? How did you decide on this particular niche?
Ryan: Sure. So, my background actually is, I am my audience, so I think it’s very important to be passionate about what you’re selling and what you’re doing with your brand. And so, it was very easy for me to identify the audience because I come from a background of loving anime and I’m also, I’m 25, so it’s easy for me to sort of identify with the audience already. Basically, I think a lot of it comes down to, I know what people like when it comes to the shows, and when it comes to fashion, and both of those are sort of in my background experience, so I kind of just combined the two together and went from there.
Felix: Makes sense. So you already, you are your customer, like you said, you’re already passionate about the niche and you would buy your own products already. So once you are sitting down and thinking about what kind of products, what kind of shirts, what kind of things introduced into your store, you start with a base of what you would like, would you go beyond that to understand like a way to validate whether other people would like it as well?
Ryan: Yes. So, it’s funny, one of the first things I did to sort of validate my audience and make sure that everything was right, was I went to Reddit before anything, and I just sort of was throwing out the designs that I had, and something I should note too is I do all the designs myself. So, a lot of times I’ll finish a design and make sure that people like it before I start advertising it, or kind of pushing it out there into the market in terms of sales. So, I like to ask people their opinions on the designs before I even begin remotely selling it.
Felix: So, you’re going to Reddit, which I think that’s a great place. Go into a community that exists and get their feedback. What’s your approach? So you have a design that you have in mind, you’re going to Reddit.com, are you going to a specific sub-Reddit, like how are you creating the post to get that feedback?
Ryan: Yes, there are, there’s specific sub-Reddits that I sort of came across that I didn’t even know existed. I actually didn’t really use Reddit a lot until I started getting into this, and Reddit just has a plethora of different sub-genres that you can just, you can tackle and if people are in those sub-Reddits they’re generally very passionate about that topic. So in my case, anime street wear, anime fashion, it’s a very niche subject, and I managed to find maybe 5 or 10 sub-Reddits where people were just able to comment on my designs and give me feedback and let me know “Hey, we liked this.” Or “Hey, maybe don’t run with that.”
Felix: Makes sense. So, you’re just creating a simple post with an image? Walk us through, what’s the, how do you solicit feedback? I think one of the reasons why people tread carefully with Reddit is that they can certainly help push your brand, but also rear its head at you if you’re approaching them incorrectly. So, give us the tips and tricks on how to approach carefully.
Ryan: That’s right. So, I mean the first time I did it I was, like I said, I didn’t really have any experience with Reddit. So, I went through that whole process of getting roasted, I guess for lack of better words, on Reddit. I definitely didn’t approach it right the first couple times. It sounded too salesy, I guess. So, you definitely have to approach it with caution and just, you have to throw yourself in as if you are a really passionate member there, which I am and I just wanted to make sure that it came across that way. And, the best way to do that for me was to put up just literally a screenshot of my Photoshop file with the design I was working on. It wasn’t even on a tee shirt. I mean, it wasn’t anything like that, just strictly the design and the Photoshop file and just saying “Hey, I have this X design here.” It could be, I made sure it was very specific, like the wording that I was choosing was very specific to what I was talking about. And “Would you guys be able to give me some feedback on this? Do you like it? Do you not like it?” So that’s kind of how I went about it.
Felix: Got it. So you gained this feedback from them. Does this also turn into traffic and sales? Like where, once you have the designs figured out and you found what they liked, what’s next?
Ryan: Yeah. So, and this is very early on, this is back when I was first starting the business, I don’t, actually haven’t used Reddit quite as much lately, but definitely brought a lot of initial traffic, because at that point I did have the site up and I did have some preliminary designs for sale, and when people started realizing that some of these designs were actually pretty cool, and it started clicking with some of them, naturally without even saying “Hey, visit my”, having any call to actions or anything like that, they would just sort of naturally gravitate towards the site because they just wanted to see what other designs I had to offer. So, really it’s kind of like that saying of like, where your product is sometimes more important than even your marketing, like if you don’t have a good product or if whatever you’re selling isn’t clicking with people, then no matter how much advertising you do, it’s never going to fly. You know?
Felix: Yeah. I think there’s something to be said about going into passionate communities and if you can present a product that you know they’ll like, you don’t need to be too pushy because they’re going to be naturally curious. I think taking that salesy call to action approach is more important when you have a little bit, I guess colder traffic where they might not be as passionate as these communities. So, that’s a great point that if you come into a passionate community like a sub-Reddit, that the ones that you went into, you don’t want to be too pushy. It can actually backfire and it sounds like in your case it did backfire, and I’ve heard numerous other cases of the same thing happening. So again, passionate community, no need to be too salesy, just present a product that you know that they will like.
Felix: So, you mentioned that you design these tee shirts. Is that your background? Do you have a background in fashion design? Like what’s your background?
Ryan: Yeah. So, my actual background is in web design and digital marketing. So, I came from working at an agency where I would do search engine optimization work to sites, and I do a lot of design work in Photoshop, and putting some websites together. So I sort of had a little bit of a, I guess a head start you’d say, when it comes to that sort of angle because not everybody’s coming in with web design knowledge or something like that. So, that definitely helped me kickstart the store in the beginning because I already kind of had that knowledge going into it. And I mean, I still have a lot to learn. I mean, having run this for the past two years now, I didn’t realize how much more there was still to be gained from actually going ahead into it. But yeah, so that was basically my background, just working with websites, constantly being in Photoshop and one day I was just like “Hey, maybe I can give this a try.” You know?
Felix: Yeah. That’s great. So, when you are creating these designs, are the concepts from scratch or are the concepts kind of ingrained in the community? Like, where are you getting these ideas for your designs?
Ryan: Yes. So, a lot of the inspiration comes from other people that I see doing work out there. So, there’s a lot of cos-players that I follow. I’m also looking at different trends in the anime world, so like different memes that are out there, different, popular anime shows that are going on, and I sort of just pull inspiration from all those, and also then I go look into the fashion world and I sort of see what’s in that world as well. And I just sort of combine the two together to get the final product. So, a lot of times the actual physical ideas are actually pretty random. Like, I just sort of think of something that I genuinely like in the anime world, and something that I also like that’s happening in the street wear fashion world, and then, like I said, I put the two together and hopefully the design sticks.
Felix: I like that approach of doing that research and not just sitting in your lab without any outside influence. You are going out there, looking at other influencers, looking at memes, looking at popular shows, and then reducing your risk essentially, right? Because now you know that these are already popular elements, and you’re just going to create your own spin on it. Have there been times where you’ve have created something and you’re like “This is definitely going to be a hit because it pulls from all of these popular sources.” And then it flops? Can you give us an example of a time like that?
Ryan: Yes, there’s definitely, there have been those times. There’s some designs that I have finished and I’m like “This is going to do great. Like, there’s no way this can fail.” And then yeah, it ends up failing completely, One of those designs was, it was, it’s not on the store anymore, but it was called Internet Famous. That was the name of the design. And it was basically like the blue verification check mark that you get on social media fused with like this sort of animated background, and people were at the time, two years ago, were talking about, there was this whole thing going on around that check mark. And then, in the anime world there’s like this meme going around. So I put the two together. I’m like “This is going to be great.” And nobody bid on it at all. It totally, totally failed, which actually really surprised me at the time, because I thought it was one of my better designs, but it did teach me that you can think you have the greatest thing in the world, but until you really go out there and test it in advertising, and again, just seeing what people think of the design, it can sometimes just not go the way you thought it would.
Felix: Yeah. Let’s talk about testing a little bit, because I think this is another place where people don’t know how far to push it, or they push it too far and waste a lot of money. You recognized, for this example of the flop, you recognized that you are going to be able to test it in advertising and it just wasn’t working, and then you pulled back the reigns, and you even removed the product from your store. How do you know when, like how much testing is required before you can make a decision on whether a product is to be a success or not?
Ryan: Yeah. In the very beginning stages of the business, I didn’t really have a general sense of how long I should test something. So in the beginning, I let things run way longer than I would today, so for instance, like with that design I was just talking about, I let a whole bunch of different ad sets for that across tons of different, on Google, Facebook, different outlets, I let a bunch of those run for probably a good two months just trying to scrape any audience and any data I could, and nothing was sticking, and I should have realized sooner that it wasn’t working and just caught it. But, today my sort of rule of thumb is if I put an ad out and I’m not getting any bites on it within like the first three to four days, then I can pretty much be sure that that’s not gonna work.
Learn More: Get ideas for things to make and sell online.
Felix: Got it. And if you were to go back, would you take that same approach for someone that’s just starting out? Should they just be testing three to four days, and like can you give me an idea of how much budget you would typically allocate towards testing and tee shirt design?
Ryan: Yeah, I would say maybe in the beginning it is worth going a little longer because you might not be hitting that right audience right away. Like, now I know exactly, like different, exactly what different groups and what different subsets of audiences work perfectly well for me. But back then, two years ago me, I didn’t really realize that. So I guess in retrospect, that probably is worthwhile, like just testing for a little bit longer periods of time. Maybe a few weeks. I don’t know if maybe two months, that was a little expensive, but yeah, maybe try a month or a couple weeks, and just set maybe five or six different ads with totally different audiences that are generally related to what you want to do.
I mean, you can get specific with it, but try that, and then I’m one of those guys where I also learn from other mentors and everything, and looking around the Internet and I’m watching YouTube videos, as I’m sure many other people do, and a lot of people said like a general rule of thumb was try $5 a day, and I definitely stick to that as well. I totally agree with all those people that say that. $5 a day is a really good number to test, at least in the Facebook, Instagram world. Adwords is a little different, but Facebook, Instagram world, I think $5 a day on ad sets is perfect because it gives you a very good idea very quickly if something’s working or if it’s not.
Felix: And what you’re saying earlier I think is important, is that you don’t know yet what your audience is early on, but now in your experience you do know what it is, because what you’re saying is that sometimes an ad could flop because it’s not the right product or the design people just don’t like in general, or it just might be because it’s matched to the wrong audience. But now you’ve figured out the audience piece, that’s kind of the control, that’s stabilized, now you can just throw some products at it and if it doesn’t work, then you know it’s most likely the product and not the audience, because you’ve already got that dialed down. So I think that that’s like, people can make the wrong decisions, right? Because they think that it’s flopping because of the design, but it might be because of the audience, or vice versa. Talk to us about the approach that you took to really nail down the right audience to target for your products in the ads.
Ryan: Yeah. So, with the audience it was a little tricky in the beginning because I thought, when I went into it I thought I knew exactly, like I said in the beginning of this interview, I am pretty much my audience. Like I am very passionate about the stuff I sell and I would buy this stuff that I sell. So I thought right away "Okay, let’s tackle the 18 to 24-year-old male who likes anime. And, I thought that would be enough, and it turns out that it wasn’t, it was close, but it wasn’t quite quite there yet. So, it’s interesting you can think you know your audience right off the bat, but until you really test that, you don’t know exactly. So, I pretty much nailed down the audience by, like I said, starting with that generic 18 to 24-year-old male who likes anime.
And then, when I started seeing some things come back data-wise from those ads that I was running, that weren’t really making money, just so people know that too off the bat, expect to lose a little bit of money in the beginning. It’s one of those you have to spend money to make money concepts. So don’t be afraid of losing money, because the data you get back will be valuable in the end. Very valuable. So, in terms of, if we’re going to talk like specifically Facebook ads, I looked at the data coming back from the general audience that I started with, and I started getting some feedback from like the Facebook Pixel, and I started looking into the insights that were coming in, and Facebook Insights. And I could see it was giving me different breakdowns of very specific Facebook pages that I would have never known about without having that data come back to me. So, from there I was able to look at those specific Facebook pages and sort of branch out from there and say “Well, people are liking this, then maybe they’ll like this page or this page.” And kind of go from there.
Felix: Got it. So, when you’re doing this kind of testing, do you try to keep the product the same? How do you know? Because I think goes back to the other question about, their two very major variables swing a successful work to a failure really easily, which is the product, it might not be liked by anybody versus the audiences might not be correct. So, when you are testing these different audiences out to try and develop and understanding who your target audience is, did you keep the product the same? Like, how do you know that it wasn’t the product that was the issue? Especially early on?
Ryan: Yeah. Especially early on, I definitely kept the product the same, only because I already had, at that point if I’m advertising it, I’m sort of committed to that. Like I have, I have made that product, it’s on my site, I should give it the proper chance, I should commit to it. So, I think that was important, holding true, standing by, if you have a product and you believe in it, I think it’s important to stand by it and hopefully you find people that also stand by it. So yes, I did not change the product at all. It was all about changing audiences and getting that data back from Facebook to work and kind of comb through different sub-sections of audiences, so that way it would really let me know, if I went through all those audiences and none of them bit then it’s probably the product at that point, if that makes sense. You know?
Felix: That makes sense. So, to kind of reiterate, when you first started off, you committed to a product and to some degree you have to use your gut instinct as an entrepreneur to commit and decide that this is something I’m going to put everything into. So you picked the product, you stuck with the product, you changed up the audience to figure out what is your audience, you discovered other varieties of your audience because you noticed other interests, other pages that they liked through your Facebook Insights, and then once you’ve really nailed down who your target audience is, now you can start switching up the products and testing out different designs.
Ryan: That’s correct.
Felix: Got it. And what’s your approach to targeting, especially with Facebook? Is it mostly targeting specific pages? Like, what’s your research process behind, I think, I guess now it’s slowed down, but when you’re first starting out, any recommendations on how people can play around and try to nail down who their audience is?
Ryan: Yeah. A lot of it is, I mean, well, if you’re in my situation and you have a gut instinct of what your audience might be, generally go with that gut instinct, and hop into Facebook, into their Insights section and search different pages that you can research and find out that might be related to your topic, or also look at like, Facebook has different things for behaviors, like shopping behaviors and stuff like that. It can get very specific. So, look in Facebook, if you don’t have a gut instinct, I would say go to Facebook Insights and look around in there, and sort of just kind of go off of, I mean, you should have a general idea of, if you’re selling something, start, with a keyword or something like that that you can search in Facebook Insights, and see what you can find with that.
Also, just look around, like I was saying in the beginning too. Keep up on trends, and look around at what else is going around in the world with your specific niche. So, make sure you follow other, in my case I followed a lot of other brands that inspired me to do what I’m doing now, and seeing what they were doing, and so I guess competitor research is also important, and just looking around at different blogs, news articles, like just look around as much as you can, on social media, everywhere.
Felix: Got it. And you mentioned that when you were testing out these ads, you wanted to get a bite within three to four days. What’s considered a bite for you? Like a conversion, someone actually purchases, are you running like a conversion type of ad or just trying and drive visitors? What’s the approach?
Ryan: Yeah, for me it pretty much comes down to conversion. So, if I’m doing conversion tracking, like I was saying, if I don’t see, so I guess if I don’t explicitly see X amount of conversions within three to four days, then I know for a fact that that’s probably not gonna work out. So yes, conversions are what I’m really looking at, purchases.
Felix: Got it. Now, one thing that you mentioned earlier that I think is a different approach than what you would find in most kind of tee shirt or fashion brands that pop up, is that you are not only creating these designs but you’re combining with what you see in the street wear fashion world. Can you say a little more about this, and what are some examples of combinations that you’ve come up with?
Ryan: Yeah. So, different things I did, I mean the hardest part was making some of this stuff cool, because that’s kind of the whole thing with street wear is that it’s very different. It’s kind of edgy. It’s cool, how can I merge, basically I was trying to come up with how can I merge the anime world and make it something that’s really cool, like even if you don’t like anime to some extent, you still might like the designs because they’re just cool. So, that’s a lot of my thought process with all of my designs, is how can I make something look cool for people in their 20s that they want to wear in a city or something like that. So, that’s pretty much, that’s a big angle that I come from.
Felix: Got it. And so, for anyone out there that wants to also start a tee shirt brand or some kind of a brand that designs concepts for fashion, and they don’t have a design background like you have, what recommendations do you have here? Like, where can they go or how can they enter this world if they don’t have that background that you have?
Ryan: Yeah, definitely. I mean, one of the biggest things, especially when it comes to fashion, is having good designs. So you really want to find someone, in my opinion that’s one of the most important things, is finding someone that can work with you and shares the same vision that you have. So, a lot of different ways you could find, I mean, there’s designers out there that you can find quite easily. I mean, I know a lot of other designers just from my background, there’s plenty of freelancers out there that are looking for work, and I’m sure they’d be more than happy to come on and tackle projects like that if you’re in a similar situation. So I mean, ways to find them are through different sites like Upwork, if you’ve ever heard of Upwork.com. I mean, there’s a lot of freelance designers on there. I was one myself at one point in my life, so I can tell you that Upwork has some really great freelance designers if you’re looking there, and also just look around locally. I mean, look in your area. There’s bound to be some talented designers in your area too. So, people will post on Craigslist, and everything like that. So check around.
Felix: Yeah, it’s great that you have experience of both sides and that you’ve been the freelance designer, also now that you’re doing the designs yourself for your on your own brand. So, for anyone out there that wants to work with a freelance designer, what are some ways that you found it best to work with an entrepreneur? Like, if an entrepreneur comes along and they want to get some designs done, they don’t have a design background, how can they effectively communicate to a designer?
Ryan: Right. So, it’s not necessary to meet in person, but I always think if you can, if it is in any way possible meeting in person is, I think there’s something to be said about that. It’s huge and you can really explain a vision better because you’re just, you can get hands on and you’re right by each other, but if you can’t, there’s plenty of other ways to go about that. You can do chats online, you have Skype, Facetime, all these things that make it certainly just as easy to do, but working through designs with an entrepreneur, like what I had done in the past, it’s very important if you’re the entrepreneur, you have to really explain that vision of what you want to them. So, by that I sort of mean you need to, if you can like, I mean even take a piece of paper and try and sketch out something, even if you have no artistic talent whatsoever, just to get like a basic idea so they can visually conceptualize what you’re going for. I think that’s very important, to make sure that you both understand exactly what you’re looking for from the get go.
Felix: Yeah. I think that’s something I hear over and over again, about being visual with a designer, showing them examples of other things that you like, things you don’t like, or even try sketching it out. I mean, the last thing you want to do is tell them “Hey, make it pop.” Or something like that.
Felix: Don’t use words, use actual visuals, if that makes sense. So, you mentioned a couple of times now about how you don’t like taking the salesy approach and it hasn’t helped you in the past. When it comes to the Facebook ads, and anywhere else you advertise, is that your approach there as well? Do you try not to be too salesy?
Ryan: Yeah, it’s really funny, and I’m sure this is different for many other niches, but with my niche in particular, being salesy hurts me. So, and I’ve learned that because I’ve tried it over and over in the beginning, and it doesn’t work, because that’s what, you hear a lot of that from reading and watching different YouTube videos and everything that is, you need call to actions, and they’re definitely important. It’s definitely important to have a Shop Now button or something like that on your ad, so people are directed to go to the proper place and everything. But, at least with my niche, I found being honest with people, and just being a little more, just trying to like connect with them on their level.
So, a really good example of a Facebook ad that was really successful for me, and that I’m still running to this day actually, it’s been running for almost a year now, is just a, I wrote this joke that was really, really relatable as the Facebook ad copy, and then I had a picture of an actual person with the piece of clothing on, so it wasn’t just like a, your typical shirt on a hanger type of thing, and it just, it took off. I mean just by, it was literally a one sentence, one liner joke, and the amount of people that were tagged in it, or people that found it hilarious were just, it was overwhelming, so I mean something, I mean get creative with the Facebook ads. Don’t stick to the typical methods, because you might find something like that works. And it certainly did for me.
Felix: It was a joke related to the tee shirt?
Ryan: It was a joke related to the shirt itself, because the design itself actually was sort of a joke, and so I was kind of able to play off of that in the ad copy.
Felix: Got it. And you mentioned that the image was the shirt being worn rather than just laid out or on a hanger. Have you found that that’s more effective for in general?
Ryan: Yeah, that’s interesting. Sometimes it is and sometimes it’s not. So, if your picture is very clear. So, if you have some, like a model wearing the piece of clothing, you want to make sure it’s clear because I have had it backfire in the past where the picture is maybe not, like you can’t see the design as well because the model’s turned a certain way or the lighting wasn’t right or something like that. So sometimes, just having like a template mock-up file of the shirt with the design like facing you forward, totally clear, does actually work better if you’re trying to like for instance, get the design out the first time. Like usually, the very first time I present the designs they’ll just be on the mock-ups of the shirts. Just because people, like I want to make sure that they can clearly see what the design is right off the bat, and then from there I can get a little more artistic with like having models and doing more artsy shots and stuff like that.
Felix: Got it. So, what’s your approach to creating that Facebook ad in terms of the image and the ad copy, if someone wanted to take the same approach of just trying to be relatable rather than trying to be salesy. Do you, maybe not necessarily have a formula, but do you come into it with a particular framework that you try to work with, that has been effective for you?
Ryan: Yeah, there’s no real set formula for that because for me every design is different, but I have sort of tested around enough that I know what works, like what boundaries I can push and what not to sort of touch. So, I go in with it, I think copy is, in my opinion is not crazy important, even though I know that’s sort of contradictory to what I said with that one ad, but I still think visuals are super important, especially when it comes to Instagram. So, for me it’s really locking down that picture, and then the ad copy just sort of supplements, like that just makes the picture better. If you can have witty or unique copy that goes with that great picture, then it’s going to be, it’s going to really hit home.
Felix: Got it. So, kind of what you’re saying then is that a visual can make or break an ad, but the copy cannot.
Ryan: in my opinion, yes. The copy just adds, I shouldn’t say adds to the ad, it supplements the ad. I think the copy is just, it’s important but most people are going to see the picture first probably.
Felix: Makes sense. So, on Instagram are you also just running ads through the Facebook Ad Manager and targeting Instagram, or is your approach differently with ads on Instagram?
Ryan: Nope, that’s exactly how I’m doing it, is through the Facebook’s Ad Manager. I’m just setting up Instagram ads in there.
Felix: Got it. Do you work with any influencers?
Ryan: I have. Yeah. And that’s interesting because I was, again, Instagram wasn’t really something that I was super big into before this, which is funny because now I’m on it 24/7 practically. But, that definitely has played a good part, especially in the world that I’m working in, with fashion and anime, there’s a lot of cos-players out there, there’s a lot of fashion enthusiasts, and even if they don’t have a crazy huge following, it’s worth sending a few pieces of clothing to them if they’re willing to tag your page and show it off, because you will get some really honest, kind of almost organic traffic from anybody that follows them and is like “Hey, if they think this is cool, then maybe I should check it out too.” You know?
Felix: You mentioned a little bit earlier about how there are certain boundaries that you can’t push up against, you don’t want to cross. Is there a certain tone that you need to establish with your brand, like can you give an idea of what that is and how you came to establish it?
Ryan: Yeah. So, the tone again, as for me at least, I’m not being too salesy or pushy. For me it’s really just, like when it comes to posting on social media, I try to just ask questions, like sometimes, it’s actually not sometimes, a lot of times I’m not even posting about my products. I would say a good 75% of the time, I’m actually talking about like, just anime with people, like asking them “Hey, what shows are you watching now?” Or “What’s your favorite anime character?” Just something that gets the community talking and engaging with each other. And then, they’re sort of naturally excited about that, and they think that’s cool that a brand is talking about that stuff, and then they kind of just go to the site because they think that’s neat that you’re engaged and you know all that. So that’s been my approach with the tone on social media, is just posting things people will like, and then now and then it’s important obviously to showcase your products now and then. But I just, I don’t push it down their throats, I guess is what I’m saying.
Felix: Yeah. That makes sense, where you have to balance content that’s not product focused, but content that the audience actually likes. Because I don’t know about you, but I think for most people when they are checking out a brand’s Instagram page, if it was just constantly products, you’re probably not going to go back and look at it frequently, but if it’s interesting content that’s just beyond products, that covers more breadth, I think it tends to pull people back into it more, because there’s more variety essentially due to content, so that makes a lot of sense what you’re saying.
Felix: And so, are these products that you have on your store, are they all, do you hold inventory or they print on demand, like what’s your supply chain look like?
Ryan: Yes, that was, for anybody looking to get into this, that was the absolute hardest decision in the beginning. And it still is a decision that weighs on my mind to this day, because there’s so many different ways you can go about it with the clothing world. Right now, currently I am print on demand, and there are definitely some serious pros to that, but there are also some cons as well. So, I don’t hold any inventory, and to me that is one of the major pros is that I never really have to completely worry about getting all this inventory sold. It’s sort of just okay, it allows me to test designs a little more freely, and I don’t have to stress so much about like, if this design flops, uh-oh, now I have 100 shirts I have to sell, something like that. So, to me that pro in itself weighed out any other con of print on demand. So, that is sort of my approach to why I went print on demand.
Felix: What kind of cons have you experienced, though?
Ryan: So with the cons, definitely there is a little bit of a margin, a profit margin, take back that you get from going to print on demand because it is a little more exclusive, that convenience does affect your profit margin slightly, but for me it’s worth it just to not have to worry about a massive amount of inventory that I have to hold. And it also offsets any expenses of having warehousing, any fulfillment, stuff like that, like all of it’s taken care of by one company that I work hand-in-hand with, and they’ve been incredible with me.
Felix: And can you tell us a little about the vendor applications that you use for print on demand?
Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. So, I actually worked with a company called Printful and I would say they’re pretty popular now. When I started with them, they weren’t quite as huge as they are now, but they are absolutely amazing to work with. So, like I said little, it gets a little expensive with print on demand sometimes, just because again, you’re paying for that convenience, but for the customer service you get with Printful, for the fulfillment times, I mean they, when an order gets placed on my site, it’s almost always sent out within, in two days. And if someone’s in based in the US, they get it within the week. It makes my life so much easier, and then it lets me focus on the things that are important to me, like actually designing the shirts, and focusing on the website and the marketing and all that. So, it takes all that stress off of me.
Felix: Makes sense. So, I think one thing with Printful and other print on demand services is that they provide a variety of, I guess base tee shirts, or whatever kind of clothing you’re looking for. How do you decide which one to go with? I think this is a point where there’s some analysis paralysis about which base tee shirt or which base hoodie or whatever to go for.
Ryan: Yes, also something very tough to decide early on. And again, that’s also something I still think about to this day is how can I make my shirts better? What material can I use? But, one of the biggest things I did was I ordered blanks of every single shirt they offered in the beginning. So, I just took the few hundred dollars and I just said I’m going to test every single shirt and feel it in person and look at it in person, so I can really understand what I’m working with here. So, I think that’s really important is don’t just go off reviews or eyeball it online, like when it comes to clothing you really want to feel