Marshall Atkinson provides some pointers on what it really means to be ‘lucky’…

With anything in life there’s a seemingly certain amount of ‘luck’ that goes with it. If you look around at the decorated apparel industry there is always a handful of shops that usually get the coveted jobs that everyone wants. They print for the status clients, or they win a print award… and it just always seems like things go their way. Jealous? Maybe you should be.

How did they get to be so lucky? Did they sign a pact with the devil? Rub four leaf clovers under their armpits every day? Eat rabbits’ feet for breakfast? What’s the secret sauce? Let’s take a look through the crystal ball and see what we can learn about how to be lucky…

It starts with hard work

Lucky people are in a position to capitalise on something because they are ready for it to happen. They focused on the details, learned their craft, experimented with techniques and ruined a lot of inventory in the process, making mistakes until they got it right. How did they land that large puff hat embroidery job or that big fleece fulfilment order? They spent time in the trenches building the skill and refining the workflow. Have you mastered your craft?

It starts with education

Top shops spend a lot of time learning the industry. They read trade magazines, articles and books. They attend vendor workshops, seminars at tradeshows, and any hands-on demonstration that is offered. Not just the top brass either, as great shops will invest the time for their staff to go to these valuable training sessions too. By placing the value on education, their shop has the firm foundation of best industry practices. Educating yourself on the primary details of your job makes it possible to refine your skill so you are in peak condition when you need it. It takes a lot of practice for Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to become as skilled as they are and to bring those skills to their team on match days: it’s the same for you and your business.

It starts with positivity

Like Thomas The Tank Engine chugging up the hill – “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can”, having a positive mental outlook can reinforce your direction. Brush off any negativity. Bad things are going to happen. You are going to make mistakes. You can’t win all the time. Clients will go elsewhere. Positive people realise this, but they keep on chugging ahead anyway. Got naysayers or negative people in your shop? It may be harsh sounding, but get rid of them and hire people that will help build your culture of getting things done. You can do it!

It starts with a clear purpose

Top shops have a culture where everyone knows and understands the expectations and has a purpose for their role. There are no hidden agendas. Lucky starts when everyone works together to achieve. Having a purposeful direction allows your team to sync together and work towards a vision. Your job as a leader is to define that vision and set the expectations. Are all your canoes paddling in the same direction? Lucky follows the bend in the river and you will get there shortly.

It starts with networking

Lucky people will talk to anybody about anything. They are open. Top shops welcome new ideas, and want the information to make good decisions. That means talking to new clients about their crazy project. Lucky shops are ready for that big job, as they had a discussion with one of their vendors six months ago and learned a new skill. They participate in online industry forums and mastermind groups. They travel to trade shows and chat about challenges in line for coffee. They go to local Chamber of Commerce events. They volunteer in their community, and help raise funds for a few good causes. Networking is the big end of the sales funnel. The more you network, the bigger that part of the funnel can become.

It starts with curiosity

Why does that happen? Can you foil over a direct-to-garment print? What happens if you spritz bleach onto a shirt and then print it? Is there an emulsion that could drop my exposure time so I can burn more screens in a day? How can I decrease my stitch count to make a 12,000 stitch embroidery job run faster without ruining the image? What kind of questions are you asking in your shop? Are you even asking questions or challenging your team? Mindlessly churning through orders without pushing yourself doesn’t lead to a lucky discovery. Lucky doesn’t start with an ‘L’ its starts with a ‘why’.

It starts with humility

Are you too proud to ask questions: don’t want to be seen as someone that might actually need help? Lucky shops get the help they need to improve: they are able to admit that they don’t know everything. Those shops that win all the awards every year…guess what? At one point they were clueless. They did what it takes to learn water-based printing, or high density, or appliqué, or how to sew on knitted hats, or how to texture foil, or whatever. Being lucky starts with asking questions. “Hey, how do you…?”

It starts by getting involved

Lucky shops don’t sit on the sidelines. They think differently and take action. They participate in discussions or change. Fearlessly taking action and getting involved with many projects will always lead to prosperity sooner or later. Even things that fail or become huge challenges are learning experiences. There are always take-aways that can be gleaned even from the most dismal failure. Diving in and growing leads to becoming lucky.

It starts by being hungry

What do you want? Are you willing to do what it takes to get there? Lucky just doesn’t happen, and there are no overnight success stories. Do you leap out of bed every day ready to face the world and take on new challenges? Are you pushing your shop to become better? Don’t wait until someone asks for something, go get it!

It starts by taking a leap of faith

One of my favourite industry stories is about my current employer, Visual Impressions. Long ago they were courting a big client and wanted their orders. At the time, they had only a manual press and wanted to grow the business. They kept meeting with the client, showing them that they could do the work and were willing to do what it takes to earn their business. The client just pushed them off, stating “Sorry, we only do work with shops that have automatic presses – you can’t handle our volume.” Not taking no for an answer the owners of Visual Impressions, Jay Berman and Todd Richheimer, pooled their money together and somehow found enough to buy their first auto. They then went back to the client and asked for the order. “Uh, you did what?” It was so unexpected, that the client relented and gave them the opportunity! A couple of decades later and they are still printing for this same client. Taking the blind leap of faith was the impetus to build their business into the success that they envisioned.

Have you jumped yet?


Marshall Atkinson is the chief operating officer of Visual Impressions and Ink to the People. A frequent article and information contributor, Marshall lectures on sustainability, and has participated in numerous industry webinar panel discussions. He is on the Board of Directors for the SGIA’s Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP), and serves on SGIA Leadership Committees as well.

Welcome new ideas and use the information to make good decisions

Having a positive mental outlook can reinforce your direction

Marshall Atkinson is the owner of Atkinson Consulting, LLC, a service firm focused on the decorated apparel industry for process improvement and efficiency, sustainability, employee training, social media marketing, and long term strategic planning. He has over 20 years experience in the decorated apparel industry and has championed two companies to become SGP certified sustainable printers. A frequent trade show and webinar speaker, he also publishes his own weekly blog.