There’s so many ways to go about customer retention & brand loyalty. One way is giving away custom printed t-shirts, mugs, pens, merchandise, or “swag”. Not only does it reward your existing customers, it also helps spread the word. Here’s a step-by-step guide to quickly & easily putting together a t-shirt giveaway.

Step 1: Get Custom Printed T-Shirts

I contacted two local screen printers and went online to the popular screen printing website CustomInk. Below is a breakdown of how much it costs for a light blue, single sided, 2 color print. We got quotes for five, ten and 20 shirts for each company (as we’re not quite sure how many tees we want to giveaway):

# of shirts Local Printer #1 – Advantage Screen Printing Local Printer #2 – Rocky Mountain Screen Printing CustomInk.com
5 $106 $82 $110
10 $142 $95 $183
20 $214 $117 $255

The above pricing includes the shirts, printing and screen setup costs. This pricing only works if the artwork is formatted for screen printing. The local printers had an art department available for $40-$50/hr if the artwork was not already in screen-printing format.

Step 2: Get Addresses & Shirt Sizes from Customers/ Fans

In order to send the free shirts to your best customers, you’ll need their shipping address. Depending on your relationship with them, you might not have their most up-to-date mailing address. To collect and verify their shipping address, you should probably ask them for it. Email, tweet, or facebook message the winners asking for their t-shirt size and shipping address. There may be some complications if they didn’t provide a way to contact them back, forgot their shirt size, or misspelled something. If that’s is the case you can always pick someone else to give the shirt to.

Step 3: Fold, Package & Label

Mailers and envelops are available at Office Depot and Office Max . Or you can pick up mailers while you’re at the post office.

I recommend a mailer or envelope at least 8 1/2 × 11″. Otherwise you’re going to have to get creative with your folding for anything larger than a medium. The cheapest option for packaging I could find was a box of 25 9″ × 12″ brown envelopes from Office Depot for $5.99. Keep in mind the chances of a damaged t-shirt arriving are higher since the brown envelopes aren’t waterproof. Nor really meant for t-shirts.

Let’s assume we’re on a tight budget, and we are going to risk it with the brown envelopes. To prevent hand cramps and illegibility from poor handwriting skills we also got some address labels for $5. We can now package and label up to 25 shirts for $12.56 (including tax).

Step 4: Shipping

There are quite a few options for shipping out packages. The local post office is fairly inexpensive and they have an online service at USPS.com where you can print postage from your computer. It’s free to use and you can save 14% on postage (this might not be worth it if your printer is an ink hog). There’s also UPS and FedEx. The UPS store also ships USPS and offers packaging solutions, just like the post office.

Below are the shipping costs for a 1-pound package going from Colorado to New York:

USPS Priority Mail $5.35
UPS Ground $11.08
FedEx Home Delivery $10.20

USPS First-Class Mail from the US to the United Kingdom is $10.56 and from the US to Canada is $4.81. When shipping internationally, make sure to fill out customs form PS 2976 or PS2976-A (based on the class and weight of the package).

Shipping Tip: If shipping from the local post office, call before arriving if you have a lot of packages. Depending on the post office they can limit the number of packages you ship per transaction (basically make you go stand in line again until everything is shipped). Don’t believe me? This happened to MailChimp, and they wrote about it on their blog:

The real hero in all of this is our office manager April. She developed what you might call a rather special relationship with the employees at the post office down the block. Apparently they have a rarely enforced rule that you can only mail fifteen parcels at a time. And since April was a “chronic offender,” she had to endure dirty looks and lots of attitude while spending hours at a time standing in line, sending her fifteen parcels, and then standing in line again.

Step 5: Adding it All Up: The Total Estimated Cost

We decided to giveaway 10 shirts to our best customers. Eight of them were from the United States, one from the U.K. and one from Canada.

The total cost averaged $16.57 per recipient, not including any of my time. The breakdown is:

Item Cost
Shirts $95
Packaging $12.56
Shipping (USPS) $58.17
Your Time/ Labor ???
Total $165.73

Some Final Thoughts & Advice

Some issues that may come up are incorrect addresses, extra inventory, lost or damaged packages, and shirts that don’t fit your recipients. What good is a free shirt to your best customers if they can’t even wear it? Shipping out a replacement will add to the overall cost. Especially if their size is out of stock! To make sure you have the right number of each size you could award the participants FIRST and then order the shirts. The downside is the turnaround time for traditional screen printing is 1-2 weeks, plus the repackaging and reshipping time to the individual customer. By the time the item arrives, the previously-excited recipient of a free shirt might be frustrated! Nobody wants their best customers frustrated by a friendly promotion-gone-wrong.

One of the biggest things not accounted for in the above calculations is your time. As we all know, time is money. Just finding a good price on screen printing can be very time consuming. Not to mention the time working with the printer, interacting with customers for sizes and address information, folding & packaging the shirts, filling out address labels and customs forms, and taking the packages to the post office.

An alternative to doing giveaways yourself is to look into a service provider. There are fulfillment companies (usually for larger quantities), promotional & campaign services, random winner selectors (for contests) and of course Printfection’s very own giveaway service.