Make it Personal
The beloved Dr. Seuss once asked, rhetorically, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” And why, indeed, when, in this mass-produced world, there are a myriad of options for making something uniquely yours.
Personalization of giftware items is on the upswing, and some gift shops are creating these items in-house.
One store that has seen great success with personalization is Absolutely Southern Designs in Prince George, Virginia. Though personalization is seeing nationwide popularity, owner Samantha Previs said that it is has always been a southern tradition.
Denita Benson-Walker, co-owner of HattieLu Embroidery in Greenville, South Carolina, agreed. “Personalization was originally used to show position, status, customs and beliefs; now it has moved into a niche market for gift retailers,” she said. The popularity has ebbed and flowed, but it has exploded back on the scene.
Cool Ideas/Hot Commodities
The market for personalization is wide open, as virtually anything can be personalized.
At Absolutely Southern, Previs said that they are able to monogram everything from clothing to jewelry, pocketbooks, Corkcicles and vinyl decals, which is especially popular during back to school time. “There are ladies who come in and buy tons and tons of decals for school notebooks,” she said. Lately, duck boots and riding boots have become popular objects to monogram, though she predicts that as soon as the warm weather comes back, sandals will be the next big thing.
At HattiLu Embroidery, which sells an A-to-Z assortment of products, Benson-Walker reported that Charles River Raincoats is the most popular item for personalization, especially with the middle school girl set. Also popular are wedding gifts with etchings of initials or names on glassware or cutting boards. The store personalizes just about every material, from metal to gold, glass, wood, fabric, leather products, and so forth.
While very popular, personalization is not limited to monogramming.
Heartstrings, an Alabama-based manufacturer and marketer of a vast product line of personalized gifts and jewelry, will take orders for personalizing anything from zip codes to dates and fun sayings. Virtually any item can be personalized, too, such as their spring collection of bags, totes, beach and baby items.
Aunt Sadie’s is a wholesale scented candle manufacturer in Lunenburg, Vermont, that maintains close to 200 stock labels of all different shapes, designs, colors and categories that can be affixed to their candles. So if a retailer likes the Kate Nelligan brand Sand Dollars candle design, for example, and wanted the name of a local beach on that candle, Aunt Sadie’s will create it in-house for a six-piece minimum order. “It’s almost as if a retailer has a private label candle for their own store. For a retailer, it’s a win-win; when we personalize, we do not charge extra to change the text,” said owner Gary Briggs.
The Nuts and Bolts
Absolutely Southern has one single-needle and two multi-needle embroidery machines. Previs finds it helpful to have a multi-needle machine because if you have a variety of colors to embroider, you would not have to stop and change out the colors. “If you have a single needle machine, you can only have one color on the machine at a time. It is helpful to use a multi-needle machine because you can have a variety of colors which automatically changes to the appropriate needle, so we don’t have to be there at the machine, rethreading the needle,” she said.
Multi-needle machines are also the backbone of HattieLu Embroidery’s business. In addition to the professional embroidery machines on site, Benson-Walker said that they contract with a local laser engraver to personalize glass, wood, gold and silver.
At Aunt Sadie’s, all of the label personalization is done via software — they can change colors and texts and fonts; they also have a high quality Xerox printer that prints six color designs.
If personalization is something that a gift store retailer is considering offering in-house, starting small and building up from there is the way to go, though an upfront investment in equipment is a given.
“You want to determine what the market is for the items you want to carry and who the target market is; those are the two biggest things. You can’t become too big or you will be lost,” said Benson-Walker.
“You might want to start with a hobby machine, which gives you what you need,” suggested Previs, rather than buying a top-of-the line machine. She believes that the majority of gift shops who do in-house personalization run on the hobby machines. Nonetheless, “With more commercial grade machines, you can do leather, heavier knits, canvas, jackets, etc.”
Benson-Walker said that different machines do different jobs. For example, she uses an 8-by-11 inch embroidery hoop for larger, more bulky items such as shower curtains and comforters.
In addition, she said that you will need to invest in supplies to go along with the machines, such as fast frames, clamps, and/or hoops; water soluble, tearaway, and cutaway stabilizers; thread; and embroidery needles. There are different size clamps and fast frames available for embroidery machines, though the most common size for monogramming is a 4-by-4-inch clamp or a 5-by-6-inch clamp.
Previs also suggested investing in a vinyl-cutting machine if vinyl is a material that you will be using often, or even consider a plotter if you are doing volume work. If using vinyl, it is important to connect with a good supplier because you will likely need decal vinyl — vinyl that adheres to notebooks and windows — and heat pressed vinyl — the stuff that adheres to fabrics. “If you go that route, you really need to get a good heat press. Some may start with an iron, but I’d advise against it, because you’ll get a lot of returns,” Previs said.
If a retailer does not want to invest heavily in inventory or equipment or prefers to bypass the learning curve for using various equipment, a great option is to work with a wholesale company, such as Heartstrings. Their unique business model “…is great for the retailer as there isn’t an inventory investment and they do not have to spend time and money learning personalization equipment,” said Lauren Gossett, product development and marketing manager. Authorized Heartstring dealers simply purchase samples of a product category to display or can showcase samples online. The customer orders the product from the store, which then submits the order to Heartstrings; Heartstrings personalizes the item, then ships to the retailer or drop ships directly to the consumer.
“Personalization equipment can range from fairly affordable to extremely expensive,” said Gossett, who said that vinyl is the most affordable type of equipment, while embroidery and laser are most expensive. Nonetheless, prices vary with models.
Benson-Walker said that to use the machines, it is important to have basic computer knowledge, as all higher-end embroidery and personalization machines are run by computers. “You have to be able to align products correctly on the embroidery machine,” she said. And though she does have an extensive sewing background, both she and Previs do not believe it is deal breaker if you do not. “I cannot sew a straight line to save my life,” joked Previs.
For Previs, local sales reps can provide instruction or newcomers can check out online tutorials, and Benson-Walker added that many companies will teach you how to use their machines.
“I would recommend that anyone wanting to get into personalization need to find an expert in whatever field they decide to start with. There are lots of people, online resources, and outlets of experts that can make the process easier,” added Gossett.
Another tip for newcomers is that you showcase multiple options in your store that demonstrate the range of possibilities. “Different fonts, colors, sizes, etc. shown will allow your customer to make the connection quicker of how they can get gifts that will truly represent their style and taste,” said Gossett.
“One thing to remember is that monogramming and personalization is always evolving,” said Benson-Walker. “You must be willing to adjust and to always be receptive to what is big in the market. Your biggest ally is social media; that is part of the skillset, too. You want to constantly push your product, you want to be relevant.”
— From GIFT SHOP magazine, a sister publication of Museums & More.