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Use Custom Offerings To Counter Online Sales

Thursday, September 7, 2017

By Joyce Washnik

Despite negative news reports about store closures and the growth of online sales, our reporting retailers are generally bullish about business through the end of this year: 61% describe themselves as “somewhat optimistic,” while 11% are “very optimistic.” 

That doesn’t mean they aren’t concerned about e-commerce. But retailers recognize that there are some things they can’t control — and others they can. They choose to focus on the latter. 

“We are going to do what we can to not only appreciate our customers but also to educate them about the importance of supporting all aspects of your community,” says a Colorado retailer seeing more online shopping. “We have to be cleverly persuasive, not negative and ‘preachy.’”

Part of being “persuasive” means focusing on quality, one-of-a-kind product that can’t be found online. Custom goods fit that criterion perfectly. From a Christmas towel that says, “Let it snow, let it snow, somewhere else besides Buffalo” to T-shirts celebrating local pride, retailers are promoting custom products to differentiate their stores and encourage customers to shop locally.

“It’s never been easier to get into custom products,” says a second Colorado retailer. “Minimums are a fraction of what they used to be, and sales are brisk. With these low minimums, jump in and experiment!”

Her peers concur. “I’m finding a lot of companies are willing to customize inexpensively, and I can create items that no one else carries,” says a Utah shop owner. As an example, she packages her own local taffy and caramels in clear bags with bows and a cute store logo sticker. 

Others offer custom T-shirts, towels, jewelry, signs, glassware and ornaments, with several lines cited: Mariasch towels (, My Word signs (, From The Heart jewelry (, Luba’s T-shirts and sweatshirts ( and Hestia ornaments (

“We do a lot of custom products to set us apart from the competition in the area and online,” says a New York shop owner. In addition to towels and signs, she offers Max and Oscar mugs, magnets and postcards ( “Customizing is fun and rewarding. I always ask companies if they will do custom work, and many will do it for small quantities.”

Here, retailers offer tips for those looking to get into the custom business:

  • Start small. Focus on one or two lines only and do them well. “Find a line where you can start small to test,” says a Minnesota retailer. 
  • Request exclusivity. “We like to make sure that our designs will be exclusive to our store and not be sold anywhere else,” says an Illinois retailer.
  • Artwork is key. “The best products will flop without good artwork and attention to detail,” says a Montana shop owner, who offers custom gourmet items and souvenirs. “Don’t be afraid to ask vendors to revise, or even pay for extra revisions, if something isn’t right.”
  • Watch timelines. A New York retailer notes that custom items are often purchased for milestone events, such as weddings and anniversaries. “You really have to stay on top of vendors to make sure that all arrives correctly and on time,” he says.
  • Know your clientele. What do people in your area take pride in? Where do they like to go? These are questions a Michigan shop owner asks: “Is it a ski area, a lake, something more general like ‘up north’? Try a few items — you don’t have to be all things to all people.”
  • Price appropriately. Be sure to figure art charges, etc., into the final price, advises another New York retailer: “Remember that your customer can’t purchase that custom design anywhere else in the world, so don’t feel bad about getting some extra markup.”

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Categories we're tracking
In This Month's

  • Spring/Easter
  • Wine-Themed
  • Made In The USA
  • Fabric-Themed
  • Fashion Accessories
  • Jewelry $10 & Up
  • Humor/Whimsy
  • Plush

The Fashion Accessories chart embraces the footwear category this month, from DM's Two Left Feet line to Snoozies to Simply Southern's socks.

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