Sewing Success, One Stitch At A Time
Written by: Henry Ma, CEO of Ricoma and Garmeo
Machine embroidery has been around for more than a century. And while what we do is not rocket science, it is highly competitive. Still, it’s not uncommon for one of our customers to grow seven-figure businesses— even though only 10-20% of them have prior sewing or embroidery experience.
As CEO of Ricoma, an international embroidery machine manufacturer based in Miami, I’ve helped thousands of people build their own custom apparel businesses. By helping entrepreneurs purchase the right apparel decoration machinery while offering a wide variety of affordable product options, Ricoma has been successful in helping countless start ups get a foothold on the industry.
Learning a trade may only take only a few months depending on your commitment, but building a successful business is a years-long process of investing your time, energy and effort correctly. If you have a passion for what you’re doing, no one can tell you you’re not successful, no matter how big or small your business, and no matter where you are in your journey.
The first step is to develop your network, even if you don’t realize you have one. Pick off the low-hanging fruit first—the people you know or the people who can refer you to people you don’t know. Then, provide them an excellent product with excellent service..
Don’t be intimidated that you have to find new clients; every new business has to! However, it takes a certain process to get there and starting in your local area is a proven strategy.
Apparel decoration and customization is a $60 billion industry that happens one stitch at a time and one customer at a time. Start by approaching the local fire house or school and offer customized uniforms. Do some small orders until you’re ready to showcase your work and start promoting your products publicly.
Scaling Social Medias
After you’ve hooked your initial customers, gather your photos and open social media accounts (they’re free!) and start posting. Showcase your work and what you can do. Don’t worry about running paid posts or promotions. As long as you’re doing good work and tagging your customers, people will find you. If you want to move faster, do a quick hashtag search and find out how your customers are looking for businesses like yours. Using this hashtag approach, make sure to start liking similar posts and following people related to and interested in the industry. Also free!
What should you post? We consider social media an important pinpoint that helps us understand our customers. If you listen to the feedback on your posts, ideas for engaging content will come to you naturally.
Live streaming has become a social media phenomenon. It’s more involved than posting a photo or short video, but also more powerful. This month, a single marketer in China sold $2 billion of lipstick in less than a few hours of live-streaming. You can do live streams simultaneously on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram to maximize your reach, I do this every month on Ricoma’s platforms , and all of our followers, subscribers and potential customers can ask me anything, whether it’s about our products or building their businesses in general. It’s the most effective way to get feedback in real-time, help current customers, entice potential customers and get the word out about promotions and upcoming news and events
But before you do anything, make sure you’ve developed a process to follow through. For example, whenever you receive an order from a new client, make sure that you ask for referrals, whether in person or on their social media accounts. And make sure to get a good review from them. Social media is a multi-pronged approach.
A lot of folks try to speed up the process by paying for ads or promoting their posts. We steer our clients away from Google Ads and Facebook ads. Even in a competitive business like embroidery, we just don’t think they need to be spending money on marketing if they can utilize free avenues to succeed. Pouring money into generating traffic and interaction can be effective for larger companies—we spend hundreds of thousands in advertising a month—but smaller businesses don’t have the size or manpower to make it worthwhile. Advertising is a lot more nuanced than word-of-mouth marketing. Remember, there must be a process to generate leads and then follow up effectively meaning you need to be able to take on every single order you generate through these ads without turning people away. Otherwise, your profits will quickly disappear into a virtual black hole.
Becoming an Authority
Before becoming CEO of Ricoma, I spent several years as chief operating officer. During that time our sales quadrupled. This taught me an important lesson: once you’ve gained some hands-on experience and had success, don’t be afraid to assert your authority.
Use your knowledge and your story to attract others and create a community online. You should constantly be engaging with your current and potential customers.
I’ve recently done live streams teaching our clients how to increase their AOV, or average order value, by upselling. This helps them gain more business with little extra effort, and helps establish me as an authority, and it costs nothing. It’s all about being creative and thinking of ways to maximize your profits without acquiring new customers or orders..
One powerful lesson we learned during COVID-19 is that you can’t worry about things outside of your control. While social media is a powerful tool, it can also be demoralizing to see others who constantly seem more successful. If you stop comparing yourself to others, you’ll find the grass is already greener. Rather than be intimidated, be grateful that you can start smaller than the big guns. When you’re small, you can be more proactive and high-touch. Focus on your attitude, your effort, and above all, on your customers, and you’ll succeed, one stitch at a time.
NYU Stern School of Business graduate Henry Ma began his career in the finance industry with Investment Banking at Goldman Sachs. Joining the Ricoma team in 2015, Ma grew into the CEO role after helping the company quintuple its revenue in five years as COO. Featured in industry publications, such as Impressions Magazine and Printwear, and on podcasts, including Entrepreneur’s Action & Ambition and the SocialPros podcast, Ma now hosts the Apparel Academy show on YouTube and continuously strives to be a thought leader on entrepreneurship, digital marketing, and social media.