What Is the Value of Art Work in the Custom Apparel Industry and Should I Charge for It?

How valuable of a resource is custom artwork in the printing industry and are you being compensated for your time? With the advent of online printing companies, and the cascading decline to the smaller markets, more companies are cutting costs and consumer responsibilities when it comes to art and design. The message being sent to the consumer is two fold. Fiscally, customers are expecting to not have to pay for premium custom design services. Secondly, we as an industry are losing the ability to capitalize on quality design as an asset to increase profit and marketability.

In a price driven market, the custom screen printing industry has become its own worst enemy. In any business, you are only as profitable as you price your self to be. Of course there are mitigating circumstances such as: operating cost (overhead, labor, materials, etc) and elasticity of the market. However, in an effort to obtain and maintain business, we have hurt our own bottom line. Margins are down and it’s not an unwillingness on the part of the consumer to pay. It’s the institution’s willingness to drop its collective pants to take business from one another. In stead of setting a firm price across the board (or at least a consistent and respectful range), many companies are satisfied with a minimum profit (often less than 3%). As a result, we have neglected to charge for services that where traditionally expected of the consumer to be charged. In order to show a more pristine price, we have essentially eliminated design and art as a line item and grouped it in with the assumed labor.

Unfortunately by striking it from the bill, we have lost our leverage as companies to utilize art and design as ” a deal” in anyway. For instance, I had a customer not to long ago who hounded a sales man over pennies within a rather large job. When the sales man in question attempted to show the customer that he was actually not being charged for a number of consultation hours (2-3 man hours in the design process and changes), the customer just assumed that was arbitrary and wasn’t really worth all of that much. Under that same idea, if as a salesman I come into a job say $1 more per shirt then my competitor. Traditionally, that customer is going to come back to me and leverage the difference in order to get me to either drop my price lower or equal to my competitor. Now let’s say that the customer wants to create a multitude of custom touches to the garment in question (maybe a custom font.) If the customer is willing to pay for the advanced specialty of my company vs my competitor’s, I should be able to leverage that artwork consultation and the inevitable edits into justifying my slightly higher costs. This is not the case.

Design is not a commodity that should be lumped in with production. At the very least it should be considered by the consumer as an added cost and a bonus if a company is willing to forgo the additional cost of custom artwork. As an industry, we should be pushing to enable ourselves to make fare and obtainable margins no matter what the size of your company.