SWF Success Story – Yellow Llama Custom Shirts
Company: Yellow Llama
Owner: Milo Pinckney
Year Established: 2009
Type of business: Contract & Retail Apparel Decorating
Could you please give us a bit of your background in the apparel industry?
That’s funny. I buy and wear clothing, that’s about the extent of my prior experience in the apparel industry. However, my wife and partner is a graphic artist with twenty plus years of visual marketing. Her history combined with my experience in business development and operational analysis consulting, has positioned us well for this endeavor. I think the union of our combined skills has enabled us to have an uninhibited approach to the apparel decorating business. This has played a critical role in our successfully identifying a market niche that we could develop and deploy an appropriate business model to address the market opportunity.
Yellow Llama is an online artist community fortified by more traditional brick & mortar retail outlets. The project came together with a defined objective to solve a problem that adversely affected so many visual artists. We sought to address the inherent difficulty associated with translating their creative work effort into marketable consumer products, while maintaining a cost effective low production volume levels. Our project is not unique by default of its existence, or even what kind of products it offers for sale. What makes Yellow Llama special is its mission and executed proprietary methodology. We may be a bit naïve, but we actually believe that every artist should be able to live on his or her individual artistic work product.
Sounds like you’ve created your own niche in the marketplace. Any advice for folks looking to find a good niche?
I would have to disagree with your use of the word “created”. I don’t believe that we have created the niche. At most, I think we can be credited with correctly identifying, micro focusing upon and successfully exploiting a niche that already existed within the larger marketplace. Yes. I think our advice would be, not to look to create a new market but instead to effort to identify exploitable marketplace voids, synergies and nuances that already exist within the current market environment. We have found this protocol to be more productive and results in metrics that are quantifiable when integrated within our final market deployment strategy.
What sort of things do you think are important for someone considering starting up a business based either partially or fully on DTG?
EQUIPMENT, EQUIPMENT, and EQUIPMENT! First, you must be able to develop a working relationship with your equipment manufacture/supplier. Ultimately your business model will live or die based upon this relationship. We looked at many different equipment manufacturers and found gaping pluses and minuses with each machine and supplier we evaluated. We knew our long-range objective was to develop a multiple unit business plan and needed to know that we would have a partner on the equipment side of the business model. Fortunately we made the correct selection on our first choice. We have already added to our production capacity and have been able to easily secure needed additional working considerations from our equipment partner. Second, flexibility! You must remain flexible and expedient in your response to customer driven use and need changes. Our business experienced noticeable ebbs and flows in our equipment use and needs. We had to be both flexible and quickly responsive to these identified changes.
That’s an interesting story. Our customers span a wide spectrum. We have a significant B2B volume, a rapidly growing online customer base, a direct B2C market as well as a very promising branded contract and third party supplier segment that’s developing nicely. We have gone to great measure to educate our customer to know that we are not just a garment decorator, or apparel merchant. The scope and capability of the DTG technology far exceeds simple garment printing. We have consciously exposed our customers to the breath of our product development capabilities and the evolving changes in our business scope of service.
I see that Yellow Llama has a nice website. Tell us a bit about the importance of a website, especially for a new business.
One word comes to mind. “CRITICAL” The current site is our V1.0 V2.2 will be released in early May 2010. The site is critical to giving your business a qualified market presence. Today, more of your customers are going to Locate, Identify, and Qualify your business on the web before they seriously consider using you as a service or product resource. But, even more important than web presence is the potential marketplace reach provided by a solid web initiative. Our marketplace reach far exceeds our local capture area. The web is clearly the most cost effective marketing resource we have in our collective business resource arsenal. We have made such a significant commitment to our website development that we have sufficient surplus capacity that we are now providing web development services to some of our customers and very shortly some of our competitors. This has had a tremendous impact on our business growth velocity.
That’s simple… We know what we don’t know…! All too often entrepreneurs go into a business with the belief that because they enjoy an interest or some tertiary historical knowledge of some product or service, that somehow that minute knowledge base qualifies them to be pros; sufficient so as to create their new business. The truth more often than not is that they are grossly under qualified. This is not to say that they should not pursue the planned business, in fact the contrary is more often the case. They should go into the business with a demonstrated vigor armed with the knowledge that they need to study their target and develop a clear understanding of what they don’t know. Only after this exercise can they have a real shot at meaningful success. As I said, we know what we don’t know. Consequently we have a greater opportunity to ask the correct questions and secure the needed answers. Our relationship with our equipment supplier has played a meaningful role in providing us direct access to many of the industry and equipment related answers we have needed thus far.
How long have you been doingdirect to garment printing? Are you using it now as you anticipated using it when you first purchased the machine?
We bought our first DTG machine in April of 09 and took delivery in late June. We spent a fair amount of time learning the machines limitations and strengths. We began business operations in early August and opened the first Yellow Llama studio/retail store in late November 09. In February 2010 we put our mobile unit on the road and began booking its services to some of our contract customers. It’s now April and we are in the site selection process for store two and will be licensing our business model in a hybrid franchise opportunity in late July 2010. So the answer to the second part of your question is no, we are not using it as we had originally planned. Our short tenure with the technology has exposed us to so many additional possibilities that we have had to rethink the limitations of our original business model. Mind you we have no complaints… We are having a blast!
Any advice for new DTG users? (Stumbling blocks, hurdles?)
Take the time to develop a sound plan that is responsive to your local market nuances. Once you have developed and tested that plan be prepared and willing to make quick adjustments to it in response to market variances. If you draw a line in the sand you will likely not have the flexibility to be responsive to the market that you encounter. DTG technology has many more deployment applications than simply printing tee shirts. There are so many business opportunities that DTG can be integral component of or the foundation for.
What kind of services does Yellow Llama offer that would be useful to other apparel decorators? (If they want to contact you, is that O.K. and what is the best way to reach you?)
We have original art content provided by member artist that is available under license for third party commercial use.
We have partner businesses that share resources with our affiliates and us. We have digital file storage and sharing resources available to members of the trade.
We have web design and hosting services that independent shops may use to affordably develop a productive online presence.
Business planning and associated consulting services. We have in-house collateral material production capabilities that we are always willing to share with other businesses.
We can be contacted via the contact page on www.yellowllama.com or via phone (770) 493-8030
Do you think that the current economy will stimulate any changes in current apparel industry business practices?
Yes, most definitely. The non-corporate, independent and mom & pop businesses currently operating within the apparel industry are going to have to learn from the operative behaviors of the larger regionals and online global merchants. No longer will the small business be able to compete or continue to enjoy the local market as a secure carve-out marketplace. The larger brick & mortar and online players are looking at these smaller localized regions as their new market development opportunities. The web has played a defining role in this trend and has made the once isolated local market part of the greater playing field. To be territorially competitive the local small business is going to have to combine resources with complementary businesses operating within their existing sphere of opportunity. They will have to engage current and former competitors within their operating region to maintain any meaningful marketplace dominance in these once protected markets. This will seem counterintuitive at first, but as their market experience develops it will clearly become the only long-term defense against the larger national and online players’ market expansion initiatives. Yellow Llama has integrated this modality change in its core business model and execution plan. We are currently and openly sharing our resources within our marketplace and look forward to doing so on a greater scale within other markets as our model continues to unfold and prosper.