Clothing Your Way swapped gardening for garment decoration a year ago and is already reaping the rewards with a rapidly expanding business and a crop of awards

Just over a year ago, Dale and Samantha Triffitt were running a home and gardening service. They had enough savings to buy a van, or a Roland DG VersaStudio BN-20 printer/ cutter and a heat press.

The BN-20 won. A year later, their business Clothing Your Way, based in Torquay, Devon, has won a Best New Business award, Samantha has been nominated for Business Mother of the Year in the Venus Awards, they have 40 businesses signed up for their next networking event and they’re looking at taking on two apprentices early next year. It’s an impressive list of achievements in just 12 months, and it’s made all the more impressive by the fact the couple had no experience of the industry before buying the BN-20, and also have three school age children aged six, 13 and 14.

Dale, aged 33, had been a supermarket manager for 16 years when in 2014 he decided to leave to set up in business with his wife Samantha, 31. “We hardly saw each other, so we set up a home and gardening service together,” explains Dale. “We did that for a year, but it wasn’t what we wanted. What we had done was create a job rather than a business.”

It was when they went to get some clothes printed for the gardening business that the seed of an idea for a garment decoration business was sown. The couple felt that the local print shops in Torquay appeared to be aimed at tourists rather than professional companies.

“We started researching it, and instead of buying a van, we bought a BN-20 printer from Xpres and started from home. It completely wiped us out. It’s a scary thing to think that that’s it, that’s all your savings gone. But we knew we were capable of doing it. We’ve got the drive and the passion. We never sit still. We’re always thinking about how to drive the business forward.”

Dale and Samantha with their Best New Business award

The Roland DG BN-20 printer/cutter from Xpres

No website? No problem

Incredibly, for the first six months of the business they operated solely through social media. No website, no shop, just Facebook and Twitter. “Facebook was the main driver for everything. One thing we learnt was, there’s a load of networking groups on Facebook and if you go on them and don’t try to sell anything, you make the most sales. Just interact with people, have an opinion or offer advice – you don’t need to say what you do. We found we were interacting with people and they would then go and check us out, and then send a message asking for quotes.”

It is textbook behaviour on how to use social media effectively, although it’s rare to see it being put into practice as the urge to promote your business can be overwhelming. “It was difficult to get our minds around it,” admits Dale.

It wasn’t only online they were networking – they physically went out and took part in business breakfast meetings and similar events in their local area. Dale is convinced that’s why they won the #TorbayHour Awards Best New Business category: “I think if we hadn’t gone out there and networked, we wouldn’t have won that.” It was a complete surprise to them when they found out they were finalists – they later found out they had been nominated by 20 people for the award, which is then judged by an independent panel – and they were convinced they wouldn’t win.

“Sam and I thought ‘We’re never going to win this, but we’ll go because it’s good to get your name out there.’ We’re sat at the table and then they said our names – it was crazy.” In his impromptu acceptance speech, Dale said: “Every business wants someone to notice them, otherwise you don’t have a business. To realise that this many people have noticed us is really, really good.”

The couple is considering adding DTG to its current production facilities

The family’s dog settles down for a good read of its favourite trade magazine

After establishing the business via social media, they then set up a website and created a logo, because they knew right from the start that in the long term building a brand was imperative. The problem was, says Dale, “We had a really rubbish logo and a really rubbish website that we built ourselves, and there’s only so far you can get with that, isn’t there?” They came to the decision that such matters were better outsourced to the experts, and the result is impressive. The clever logo and clean website, which launched in September, have already attracted compliments. Dale’s philosophy is simple: “Don’t be too proud. If you’re not very good at something, don’t do it. You’ll get better results by paying out a bit of money, which will then hopefully earn its pay back.”

Powerful partnerships

Despite not launching the new website until September this year, the company has grown enough to merit a move from their set-up at home to offices in the centre of Torquay. The new offices include a showroom, a studio and a storage room, as well as a space for the children that includes a sofa and an Xbox. “In the summer holidays, the work-life balance was actually quite nice,” says Dale.

There are seven offices in total, allowing the company room to grow. They’ve already bought an A3 sublimation printer and mug press, also from Xpres, and will soon be adding a double mug press as well as a cap press.

The support from Xpres has been a big factor in getting their business off the ground, according to Dale. When the BN-20 was delivered, an Xpres technician spent the day with the couple, setting the machine up and showing them how to use it. “The next day we had a picture that we had to print out and I couldn’t get a contour cut, so I phoned Xpres up straight away and he talked us through it,” he comments. “It’s why we went with Xpres, because nothing is too much trouble for them. When we were getting our sublimation printer, we didn’t know too much about it, so to be able to phone up someone and get them to explain the different processes, how to do it, what the results are like, was a massive help for us.” The T-shirts of choice tend to be Gildan Softstyle, as Dale says that the quality is really good.

The Clothing Your Way offices in Torquay

At the moment Dale and Samantha are deciding whether to buy another BN-20 or a large format printer. They also offer embroidery to customers, although they don’t do that in-house – instead, they have a partnership with two local embroiderers. As to what services to offer next, direct-to-garment is the most likely route: Dale says they haven’t had many people ask them for screen print and there are already a few established businesses in the area offering this service.

The new website will allow them to carefully monitor what potential customers are looking for, especially as for the time being it won’t be run as an ecommerce site, although they have the option to upgrade as and when they want. “We looked around at some of the market, and what we prefer to do is price up individual jobs. What we didn’t want to do is give a bog standard price for a standard T-shirt based on a worst-case scenario. We’d rather they came to us for a quote as that way we might be able to sell them some mugs as well as T-shirts, and they get a fairer price.”

As well as teaming up with local embroiderers, Clothing Your Way has built a relationship with South Devon College to enhance their marketing skills. The college’s students have to demonstrate practical experience in marketing, and so the company is being used as a case study. In return, the couple will deliver some talks – both on Dale’s background in supermarkets and on creating a successful start-up. They’re also looking into taking on a couple of apprentices from the college in January or February next year.

That they have approached the business with an eye on the future is highlighted by their constant emphasis on building a brand. “We’ve got plans to potentially franchise the company, we’ve thought about Clothing Your Way gifts, and also Clothing Your Way workwear. Who knows where it can go, how big it can be, but we’ve trademarked the name, set up the foundations and put everything in place.”