top of page

Why Starting a Print On Demand Business Might Not Be a Great Idea (Part 1)

Whoa, what a freaking ride it has been.  I sold my ecommerce brand BombTech Golf in February 2022 and was officially done working for new owners in August of 2023.  I’ll be honest, I was really excited to golf, fish and ski everyday…

The reality is, that you can only do some much of that!  Maybe, I am just a weirdo but I wanted to get back to work and put my hard earned time building something that could be BIG.

But, I didn’t want to go ALL IN like I did in 2012.  I wanted to see if there was traction with certain products before I invested too much time and more importantly money.  This conservative approach is not one I was use to. 

Since the last time, I started an ecom brand…I cashed in my 401k and was fired from my day job…With a newborn on the one, success was the ONLY option.  

This experiment did NOT have that pressure, which I believe is a key part of the success or failure of any ecommerce brand.

Print on Demand - It’s just too easy and that is a problem (kinda)

Printify Men's T-Shirt Prices

Honestly, I am very impressed and shocked with how easy it was to build a legit print on demand product catalog.  The ease and speed to make a product is truly the definition of a double edged sword.  Since it is so easy to make a product, there is WAY more competition than in previous years. 

But, that doesn’t mean that everyone will design products that customers will actually want.  It took me awhile to realize that I am not a very good graphic designer.  Although, Canva is an absolute game changer and makes it yet again too easy for anyone to get started…

That doesn’t mean you will succeed. 

Problem 1 - Heavy competition for t-shirts, sweatshirts, coffee mugs (The entire POD catalogue)

POD - The REAL problem and why it is really hard to scale a POD business to any meaningful income 

One word, Margin. There are a few ways to sell your new designs, but all of them have there pros and cons.  

Here is an example of what it costs me to sell a T-shirt.

Keep in mind my sales price was $19.

That leaves me with less than $5 to run ads! Even if I tried to charge $29, that is only around $14 for margin (not including other fees too)

For me, I initially wanted to try selling on Etsy. I figured, this is great…I Can throw up some cool designs and let the algorithm get me traffic and sales. I was so excited to see how many I would sell! Not such a big surprise, but I sold 0….

Etsy sellers have been growing insanely fast, which makes it very difficult to be seen on their search engine. There are so many established sellers that make their own products and have thousands of 5 star reviews.  It makes it nearly impossible for a new seller with OK designs using POD to get a foot hold.

Ok, I thought…Well the algo won’t help me. I’ve got some cash, let me run ads! Ads will do the trick for sure.

I turned on that beautiful Etsy ads machine and quickly got my account Suspended…With no appeal option…

Platform selling isn’t for me (etsy, amazon)

That suspension brought back a flood of memories of why I always preferred selling on my own website.  You are in control, you get the emails, you can build a REAL brand. Just like I did with my previous ecom business.  

So…After getting suspended on etsy and having A LOT products already designed. At least I was getting a little better at making realistic mock ups and designs customers may actually want.  

I figured, well I know how to sell stuff via Facebook ads.  Ill do that!

Building a business, even a third one is truly a roller coaster ride.  The ups are kinda high and the lows are REALLY low!  The nature of the best for sure. 

Print on demand via facebook ads 

At this point, I had put in probably 100 hours or more designing different t-shirts, hoodies, longsleeves, mugs. Pretty much anything you can make using a print on demand platform like Printify. 

Which again was so cool to be able to do. It was addicting, but let’s get real…Who cares if you design 100 t-shirts if you sell 0! 

I updated my shopify store to include 20 new designs that I thought were “decent”.  20 out of 100, not very good percentage, but it was go time.

Although my last ecommerce store spent many millions on facebook ads, this was a totally different product and different category.  Not to mention the fact that I had expert media buyers and creative teams that had dialed in that ads manager over 11+ years!

To my surprise, no one wanted to really help run  my ads…And the ones that did, were unfortunately not qualified. 

I dove head first into Facebook ads (First time since 2017) 

Luckily, I had some high level guidance from a few ad expert friends.  My daily budget was limited by facebook at only $50 a day, making it painful to really test quickly to find any winners.

I decided to run a traffic campaign across my 5 “favorite” designs to one audience.  The goal was to see if there was any signals that would indicate that a design could be a winner.  I was measuring my cost per clicks and click through rates.  I prefer to spend more aggressively to learn faster, but with facebook that was not an option.

Luckily, I had a few designs that had pretty high CTR’s over 5%.

From here I took those and ran an audience test to see which audiences could work.  Again, I didn’t have much pixel data. So, I knew it was going be kinda painful and expensive at first. 

(This is not a recommendation of how to run facebook ads, just a documentation of what I did)

At this point, I took what appeared to be my best designs and ran conversion ads to them.  Hundreds of dollars out the window. 

Then it happened…I sold something! 🤑

Shopify sale screenshot

Finding a winner for your print on demand store and the ultimate problem I would face…

There is nothing better than hearing that sweet Cha-Ching on the Shopify App. I had turned that sound off years ago for my other store because it was constant all day…And turned me into pavlov’s dog ha…But for this new store, I wanted to hear it too see if there was any traction at all.  

I tested more designs, got a few more sale…

I tested more audiences, got a few more sales than previous…

I tested more creative, got even a few more sales…

My CPA was dropping, and fast! 

Facebook ads CPA

I talked to my facebook ad friends, and they were pretty impressed and thought I was onto something.  

Although, I kept hearing that sweet cha-ching and had a CPA that was pretty solid.  

I was in the RED…And here is the truth that the POD gurus won’t tell you.  There just isn’t enough margin to sell print on demand products.  Especially if you want to run facebook ads and have profit fon sale one.  

But…What about selling on Etsy and Amazon. For sure, you can go down that road, but even if you get a few organic sales which is really hard to do from the level of competition, you only are going make a few bucks per sale. The MARGINS just aren’t there because the COGS are too high…

And for me, I want to run a business that I can scale up and have more control over.  Facebook ads or Meta ads are still so POWERFUL! 

What could I do from here with my print on demand Shopify store 

Well, since I had a couple solid winners. I had 2 options, close up shop and let my apparel dreams die.  Or go at it the hard and expensive way, which is to manufacturer and stock our own products.  This harder way, is the only way to get enough MARGIN to make this store be profitable and scale.  

So, although there are soooooo many POD gurus out there teaching you how to start a POD or printify store.  I would be careful.  The margins are so tight that you either need to sell at an insane price or “hope” you can crush it on an algo you don’t own like Etsy.  With the risk of getting suspended like I did! I never want to be that out of control in a real business.  

One other word of caution, if you have success selling with POD at any scale your customer service is goinng suffer and your not going have a sustainable brand.  Since each order is printed to order, even for the fastest POD companies they are still too slow for today’s customers.

This was the last nail in the coffin alongside the margins. I need to be able to ship out products within a day, not wait up to 5 business days to get it printed then shipped out. If you had success and started doing real volumes of orders, your repeat order rate would suffer and your customer service would be out of control. 

Print on demand is fantastic for testing designs…

So, my thoughts on POD.  The software companies like Printify are surprisingly great at what they do.  Overall I am super impressed with the connections to Etsy and Shopify.  Making your own POD store is great way to hone your skills at product design, mock up and building a store.  Yet, the biggest con being Margin and ship time make it very difficult to build a business worth building.  

I “May” continue to use it simply to test new products in ads in very small batches to gauge winners.  Not sure yet, if I will…but for me that is the only viable way I could use a platform like this. 

In the back of my head, I kinda got this feeling that POD couldn’t be that profitable and great if there are TONS of people that “teach” how to do POD and they don’t make their full time income with there store.

This is a broad comment, but usually if someone is teaching and selling a course on how to do it…It’s not really that big of an opportunity.  Why would I teach someone exactly how to do what I am doing, step by step via a paid course…If it was so profitable and awesome?!  

I hope that I didn’t crush any hopes and dreams for starting a print on demand store, but wanted to give you my real take and experience using it.

Want to launch bigger and drive more profit from your Klaviyo email marketing? 🚀

Must be doing at least $50k a month to qualify

bottom of page