Print On Demand products have been an elusive whale for drop shipping prospectors. The promise of combining the effortless stock and shipping management of the drop shipping business model with the shipping times superior to those of AliExpress has wantrepreneurs flocking en masse to POD platforms such as TeeSpring and Printful.
What is Print-On-Demand?
Print-On-Demand is just another type of drop shipping that lets you be a bit more creative with your products. You design the products ranging from clothing to accessories, you customize these products to your liking and sell them.
The POD service/app takes care of everything from printing to delivery while you focus on creating a killer design and selling the products. Check out our list of the best print on demand apps for Shopify.
POD Market Challenges
As is the case with drop shipping, the average side-hustling joe doesn’t know how the cogs in this particular machine work. Which leads to people jumping in with domains, storefronts, PPC budgets and designs without having done their homework.
There are a lot of questions that befall an aspiring POD-product marketer when at first getting into the biz. What kind of designs should I go for? Will my audience like them? How much should I spend on ads? Can’t I just slap a Disney character on a T shirt and sell it until their lawyers literally break my door down and get me?
The best bet in these scenarios is to investigate the roots of the biggest trees in the forest. I first came upon L.A. based POD-wiz Peter Fitzer when he joined our Facebook group for Shopify entrepreneurs and mentioned that he was printing serious green from POD products. I was immediately intrigued because I’d gotten a chance to examine the roots of the aforementioned metaphorical tree. Here are the results of an extended brain-picking session I had with him.
Peter has been in the POD game since 2014, and after veritable success ventured on to build his own apps and online tools alongside a successful drop shipping business. His spoils of success were $500K in revenue within his first year from POD products, since then he has ventured into apps and tools that help people accomplish the same, namely Sorting Social and Teespy.
Harris: Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.
Peter: My name is Peter Fitzer. I’ve been doing P.O.D. since 2014, having generated almost half a million dollars selling P.O.D. over a 1 year period. Owner of Teespy, the leading market research tool for P.O.D. sellers. Owner of Sorting Social, the only Pinterest sorting tool that can still sort by repins. You can also read my publications at PeterFitzer.com
Harris: So what’s the story of you getting started in this business?
Peter: It all started a few years back when I saw a shirt advertised on my feed that had my name on it. It was a Teespring campaign and I clicked the link. I saw that the shirt had thousands of sales! So I thought to myself: I can do this easily. I followed that exact path and a year later I was finding a tonne of success with Bernie Sanders T-shirts when the political climate was at its peak for this stuff. I sold over 25000 POD products in the first year of this business.
An early example of what was popular back then.
Finding The Right POD Products
So at this point I really wanted to get in on his process. To see what he’d do if he was in the same position as a newbie at square one.
Harris: So let’s assume I am a store owner who is pretty keen and energetic about getting into this business. What process do I build for researching a print-on-demand product and audience, and how do I market it?
He took his time before responding.
Peter: Interesting question. So I actually use(d) Pinterest the most. They had all these tools where you could sort by repins like PinOnTop and (now defunct) Pinkicker. This worked very well for me for a while. There was also Teeview (not great anymore)… So once the Pinterest tools stopped working (or working well, rather), I built my own at SortingSocial and also own a tool called TeeSpy, both of which let you do the same stuff now.
Sortingsocial in action
The apps in question help users research inspiration for successful POD product campaigns on POD platforms as well as social media.
PinOnTop in action, sorting T-shirt designs by engagements.
The POD market has kept on evolving, moving from just custom printed T-shirts to hoodies, accessories and even mugs and mouse pads now. I asked him if he had included those as a part of his strategy.
Peter: While it was mostly just tees and hoodies, the latter being VERY profitable at the time… I did always use an up-sell of the same design onto a mug on the TeeChip campaigns that I ran. It converted quite well at around 10%
So that was my initial way of searching things… I wanted to have an edge over other people running POD stores. The tools I used aggregated all the campaigns from all the platforms around the web that you can sort and filter the data by sales (for campaigns that have them), and social engagement data.
Then of course I spent a lot of time just searching Facebook for T shirt ads. There are these great search queries you can use on Facebook. Here is an example:
The Right Tools For The Job
Harris: How did you go about building your own tools?
Peter: “There was a tool called ‘Tee Inspector‘. Tee inspector could take a list of Teespring links and show you the sales data (and other data) for those links. This was super useful because you could see the top selling campaigns on Teespring and use them as inspiration. The issue was that you had to input your own Teespring links for the software to do anything.
TeeInspector in action
Peter: So I came up with a strategy where I could aggregate thousands of Teespring links pretty quickly. So what I did was aggregate those links and popped them into the software. Then I use the list to find hot campaigns. And I would sell those lists.
They sold pretty well and I realized that there was a huge demand for this data. As niche as it was… And so I approached a developer to help me expedite the process. I wanted to be able to better automate everything and I also wanted to be able to get data from other sites as they were not becoming popular (Teechip, Viralstyle, Teezily, etc…) The developer suggested that we partner and sell the software as a service. The rest is history!
It’s important to find a partner that does well the things your weakest at.
As for SortingSocial.com… So me and that developer were now partners with TeeSpy, but as we worked together more we realized that we made a pretty good team. So we decided to start making some other apps that people in our industry might need. It’s important to find a partner that does well the things your weakest at.
Pinterest sorting was always one of my main ways of doing research, as I’ve mentioned… and I noticed that all the chrome extensions that allowed it were pretty hit and miss lately. Then the final nail in the coffin came and pinterest stopped publicly showing the repin count, and could not be sorted anymore. At least not with a chrome plugin. So we went to work again seeing if we could figure out a way to get the sorting back. And we were able to do that. That’s how sorting social came about and is now among the very few tools that let you view that stuff.
Another app we made out of necessity is Copycatcher where it would help you find people who were outright stealing your designs and selling them yourself. I knew that it was a big pain point. A kid stole 2 of my designs once and sold thousands the month I was on my honeymoon. I was out of the country and wasn’t monitoring for copycats like I normally did. So we built this to help with weeding out copycats and filing DMCAs.
Spending, ROI And Ad Strategy
Harris: “Which POD platform do you think is best suited in terms of profit margins using all of these strategies?”
Peter: Teechip by far had the best profit margin, but they had horrible customer service and sometimes items wouldn’t get delivered and whatnot. Teezily is the best one I’ve used in terms of a balance of profit and customer service/delivery. Although I have heard that Teechip has gotten much better recently.
With the cost of Google and Facebook ads rising, influencer marketing is becoming our go-to strategy for customer acquisition.
Harris: What would be your recommendation for people who are getting started with POD products in terms of ad spend strategy?
Peter: Well back in the glory days when you could use PPE (pay per engagement) ads and make sales on Facebook it was the best perorming ROI I’ve had on anything I’ve ever done. Some campaigns would sell 10 shirts with a $10 ad spend. But FB put an end to that and started figuring out how to charge more per purchase. So as that happend the ad cost started going up. With the cost of Google and Facebook ads rising, influencer marketing is becoming our go-to strategy for customer acquisition. PPE ads don’t work for sales anymore. You basically have to run a PPE ad and get social proof on your ads, then use the data from the PPE ad to run a Website conversion ad to try and get purchase conversions.
This was before the time when Facebook had rolled out aggressive changes against pages that reduced their reach. This was a time when a popular Facebook page could boost its reach by an order of magnitude if it generated enough engagement.I still have a relatively popular page with fans in the 6-figure range. Just sucks that FB has crippled organic page reach.
Since the Facebook ad landscape had changed, we moved on to video ads on Facebook which are now outperforming other media type ads
For ad spending, I’d say you budget yourself $30 per design you want to test. So if you plan on testing 10 designs. Plan on spending $300 minimum. These days you have to run ads for a couple days before knowing if you’ve got a winner. It takes time for FB to optimize. I’d also say if you’re not sure about an audience or a design then run some cheaper PPE ads to it. Look for a CPE of less than $0.10. If higher, than go back to the drawing board with your design or your audience.
Since the Facebook ad landscape had changed, we moved on to video ads on Facebook which are now outperforming other media type ads, and providing the best ROAS (return on ad spend) so far.”
He wasn’t wrong to lament the change. According to Buzzsumo, Facebook would go on to continue crippling organic reach for pages over the coming years.
Keep trying, be patient, reinvest. Not all will be winners.
Harris: They’ll probably keep retooling it in the future and maybe they (Facebook) will find a balance some day.
Peter: Hopefully. It’s pretty bad at the moment. Groups are the way to go.
Harris: Another common problem newcomers face is in unexpected costs that completely shatter their revenue expectations. Such as paid apps, ad budgets, payment processing, etc. What would be your advice for people who are struggling with these issues?
Peter: Unforeseen cost. Yep. Legal costs. I had to consult with lawyers a few times regarding copyright and trademark. Had a guy who claims I stole his design (I didn’t), and he was hitting me with cease and desists. So I hired a lawyer to respond for that. Other than that, though. No unforeseen costs. Now a days it takes more money to get started with ads because they’re more expensive.
Harris: Lastly, what would be your advice to struggling entrepreneurs out there?
Peter: Keep trying, be patient, reinvest. Not all will be winners.
Harris: Thank you for your time, Peter!
You can check out Peter Fitzer’s blog at https://www.peterfitzer.com/