Few things are more motivating than learning from another brand’s success. That’s why we’ve reached out to owners of successful print-on-demand stores to hear their stories.
9 brands have shared tips on marketing strategies that have worked for them. This article’s for you if you’re just starting a print-on-demand business, or you’re already selling products and have an online following. Experimenting with new marketing strategies will help you find what works best for your brand.
All you need now is a little push to get the ball rolling.
Sunshine was created by Frank and Terrie, but now includes multiple designers who share their vision. The store is all about self-improvement, growth, and spirituality. Each collaborating artist has added a touch of their artistic style to this idea, captivating the attention of every new Sunshine store visitor.
Here’s Frank on the story behind the brand:
“We started our shop on a whim and built it over a weekend. I was making some merch for fun, and my wife Terrie had a burst of inspiration and designed a dozen items overnight. It all just came together so quickly. We knew we had to take that feeling and run with it. I told myself I’d stop building when I hit a roadblock, and we’re still going three years later! Thankfully Printful and WooCommerce make a great combo and helped us to create quickly without getting stuck.”
The Sunshine Shop started strong with Terrie’s beautiful designs and expanded quickly with the help of an interesting organic marketing strategy. Frank and Terrie discovered that by providing their marketplace to other artists, they’d get an instant connection to the artists’ followers.
“Our most successful marketing tactic so far was a happy accident. We have $0 ad money to spend. We simply partner with like-minded creators and help them build collections. With their reach, we can use organic tactics to create a very strong top-of-funnel through all of our artists’ social media channels, ranging from Substack to Instagram to TikTok. With their combined reach, we have an audience of over 1.4M.”
If you want to collaborate with an artist that matches your store’s niche, reach out to them. But before that, consider if your goals will match the artist’s, and whether their following will support your revenue goals. Then, promote your and your artist’s work on Instagram, TikTok, or any other platform you choose.
“We partner with like-minded artists, usually underrepresented folks, women, and non-binary creators. Then we help our artists to build collections, and we support them with an extra revenue stream so they can focus on what they love to do—make beautiful art. Sometimes artists have their assets and ideas, and others start from scratch. It’s not a science, but more of a feeling. We decide who we work with based on their unique personalities, perspectives, and ideas, as well as the potential for merchandising their work, and of course, their social media following. That’s usually a good indicator that when we make stuff, there’ll be an audience who wants it.”
Printful has helped Sunshine to experiment freely with its products. They don’t need to invest in product stock and worry if something will be a hit or a loss of revenue.
“Print-on-Demand has helped us use an iterative process to experiment and test out our merch ideas before we go into full screen printing production. An example is Annika Izora-Hansteen’s merch, where we use a mix of POD, screen printing, and even stock our screen-printed merch at the Printful facility where they handle warehousing and shipping. It’s totally a ‘progress over perfection’ business where we prioritize getting things out and seeing how it resonates with people. With this setup, we can focus on marketing and not worry about packing orders for hours or having a bunch of dead stock in the garage. Three years later and we’re still having so much fun!”
Decide on your brand’s mission and niche
Partner with like-minded artists to merchandise their art and attract traffic from their social media following
Build your social media presence on various platforms
Don’t stop growing and improving your brand
DUMBCLUB offers embroidered apparel in blue, pink, and grey colors with adorable cartoon animals and fun texts (and they also have stickers!). Besides spreading positivity, DUMBCLUB’s mission is to support charities that protect wildlife and nature.
The brand currently has more than 594,800 followers on TikTok, and it’s been a game changer.
“By far our most successful marketing tactic has been natural growth on the popular social media platform TikTok. Short format, fast-paced content with a consistent and easily recognizable idea or message has drastically increased our brand recognition.”
Many of their videos have a “win a free hoodie” theme. People in public are given tasks like “finish the lyrics” or “get points with a mini basketball.” They’ve even dared strangers to dump milkshakes on their heads! It’s fun to watch people’s reactions to their antics. The videos are engaging, and they attract attention to DUMBCLUB.
Source: DUMBCLUB’s TikTok
“To anyone looking to start a clothing brand or increase traffic/sales on their ecommerce website I would highly recommend investing in your social media presence as soon as possible. Identify your audience, create a posting schedule, and learn how to, or get help with, editing images and videos for your social media.”
How can you grow your social media presence? “Dedicate time to brainstorming new content ideas and focus on making the content engaging. When brainstorming, consider this question: what incentive do viewers have to like, comment, or continue watching? For videos, consider at what point the viewer might lose interest and how you can make that moment more engaging.”
The brand also insists that it’s essential to keep at it. “Most importantly, keep posting. Don’t let yourself get discouraged by disappointing results, especially early on.”
Identify your audience
Invest time in building your social media presence to grow traffic and increase sales
Invest time in brainstorming content that’s engaging to your audience
Stick to a posting schedule
Don’t let yourself get discouraged by disappointing results
Janina Rossiter sells ocean-themed merch on Etsy and on her website janinarossiter.com. The products range from swimsuits to hats, and stunning abstract art prints. Her goal is to raise awareness about the impact people have on our oceans and to support organizations dedicated to sea wildlife conservation. Janina has also found a fun way to educate people from an early age—she’s the author and illustrator of children’s books.
Her message to other aspiring store owners is simple yet powerful:
“Be authentic and honest. Starting a shop can be a challenging journey, but you should find your passion, find what you really love, and go for it. This is a journey that can be exciting and fulfilling, but at the same time very tiring and hard. Just remember that growing slowly is not always a negative, and that making connections with others is valuable.”
Source: Janina Rossiter
Believe in yourself and your mission and don’t give up
Connect with like-minded people who share the same values as you
It’s hard work creating a shop, but once people start loving your brand it’ll be rewarding
Take it slow, you’ll get there
Midcentury Style Shop sells home decor, mugs, caps, beach accessories, and more. As you can tell by its name, the store is inspired by the timeless mid‑century modern aesthetic. The store owner, Karl Rowley, is an award-winning graphic designer who puts his own spin on this well-loved style.
Midcentury Style Shop is characterized by chic silhouettes and fun touches. Their designs are wonderfully retro, with bright accent colors and throwback patterns.
Karl’s journey started with design skills, a unique niche, and a desire to let the world see his art.
“When I first opened the store, I turned to a colleague who’s a web expert for advice. He helped me understand SEO and how to use it. But the best advice was when he insisted that with my artistic background and such a fun niche, I should start a blog to drive traffic. Or even better, a YouTube channel. I was very reluctant at first and knew nothing about it. After extensive research, I found that do-it-yourself videos are quite popular. Since my niche is mid-century modern home decor, I decided to create DIY projects for my own home. When one video went viral with over 10,000 views in a short time, I knew I was on to something. I can never thank him enough for that advice.”
Karl knew he had to ride the social media wave. “My channel appeals to a small, specific audience, but they’re very dedicated to my niche. It took a while to grasp everything, but once you get over the technical aspects, it’s very rewarding and fun to do. I research and do everything myself: I shoot with my iPhone, edit in iMovie, and post it everywhere.” Being social media savvy has helped Karl elevate the brand’s presence.
Source: Midcentury Style Shop
Take your time to learn how to optimize your store with SEO, or get help from someone who’s an expert
Explore all of your options for marketing, like blogging or vlogging
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t know how to do something; take it step by step and learn how to master new skills that’ll help your brand grow
Prideletics is a mashup of the words pride and athletics. The brand’s creator, Paul, shared the three things that encapsulate the brand best:
Sports and Fitness
The LGBT Community
Fashion and Style
Prideletics celebrates LGBTQ+ people, diversity, and inclusion, offering t-shirts, long-sleeve shirts, hats, hoodies, sweatpants, and other sportswear products. The About Us page proudly proclaims: “We have established ourselves as a brand that consumers go to for our designs, comfortable clothing, and a sense of community. The mission is to create athletic clothing you are proud to wear around your city, gym, or home that celebrates who you are.”
In addition to their signature styles, they plan to release special edition shirts in partnership with various LGBTQ+ charities as a way of giving back. And focusing on community plays a big part in their marketing strategy.
“What’s worked best for my business is focusing on building a community. You can create dozens of amazing designs, but if you don’t have a strong community of advocates or followers, you won’t sell anything. Find a topic that you resonate with, that you can speak to easily, and build your community organically around that.”
Work on a brand that you’re genuinely passionate about
Concentrate on building your community organically
Rebel Youth is the brainchild of Samantha Sotomayor. This alternative-style clothing store sells hoodies, shirts, shorts, swimwear, and accessories. It has a striking style that mashes up alt culture symbols with bold colors, fire design trends, neon checkered patterns, and occult imagery. But alternative apparel has never just been about what you’re wearing.
“The idea behind the brand Rebel Youth is based on the roots of owning your individuality. It’s about embracing yourself, your style, your voice, and your identity. Our clothing designs are bold because we are. I created Rebel Youth during a dark time in my life when I was laid off from my full-time job. I was always pretending to be someone I wasn’t to fit into the mold of the retail company I used to work at. I was suppressing myself, so when I finally decided to take a leap of faith and start my own clothing brand, I made sure the designs and the messages represented who I am. Rebel Youth is a brand for the outcasts, the people who love darker and more alternative designs. It’s for people who want to be themselves unapologetically.”
The brand’s individualistic culture seeps into its marketing, from product promotion to customer communications. And this is what has helped it grow.
Source: Rebel Youth's TikTok
“My most successful marketing tactic thus far has been creating TikToks that showcase my brand and myself. Emphasis on myself! Putting a face to the brand is so important. It’s the gateway to creating personal connections that lead to long-term customers. People want to know who they’re buying from; it makes the whole process more human. Just showing an item isn’t going to make someone want to go ahead and purchase it. Showcasing a lifestyle or a feeling based around the item is what’ll hook potential customers in.”
Source: Rebel Youth
Embrace your brand’s character and use it in your marketing strategy
Don’t just sell your products, sell the lifestyle and values your brand represents
Put a face to your brand so your target audience can connect to it
Alice Potter sells products bursting with pastel colors. She offers children’s book illustrations, greeting card designs, and posters. Alice also designs furnishings like pillows and blankets that match her artwork and prints, so customers can decorate a whole nursery or room with one theme.
In our Interview with Alice Potter, she said that putting drawings on different products really captures people’s imaginations. If you or your kids are into a particular theme, for example, you’re more likely to look at all available product options that feature it.
Alice also revealed that, as a creative, what makes her happiest is having people connect with her work. It’s important to her that what she designs is what her audience wants.“If you’re thinking of opening up your own store, my advice would be to utilize the opinions of your followers on social media. Get them involved early on, even before you open a shop. This tactic is great for new sellers. For everyone else, I’d say not to be afraid to ask for the sale and keep shouting about your shop and products all the time. People need to see your things and you multiple times before there’s some trust and a transaction might follow.”
Source: Alice Potter
If you’re selling home decor, create design themes so your customers can snap up various different products
Seek your target audience’s opinions on what they’d like to see in your work
Don’t be afraid to ask for the sale
Whether you’re just starting out or have made some sales already, keep promoting your products
Starrypaige offers adorable illustrations of reptiles on stickers, prints, t-shirts, hoodies, accessories, and more. The brand’s creator, Paige, loves creating art (especially snake-oriented art), and hopes the artwork will help inspire people to look at reptiles in a different light. Paige wants people to realize that these scaly creatures aren’t as scary as they may have been led to believe.
“The main focus of my store and my artwork is to celebrate the ‘creepy and scary’ animals that I love so dearly—reptiles! Reptiles are immensely vital and an under-appreciated member of our world’s ecosystems. By drawing them in an approachable and beautiful way, I hope to help change the opinion of the average person who may not have been a reptile fan to begin with.”
Source: Starrypaige's TikTok
“One of my favorite marketing tactics is simple—use my own products. For example, I love using my stickers and washi tape to decorate store orders. I wear t-shirts with my designs on them and show myself wearing them on my social media accounts. I also hang prints of my artwork around my office, where they can be seen in the background of my videos. Small things like that can get potential customers imagining your products in their own home or using it themselves.”
Source: Starrypaige's Instagram
Focus on developing a niche that you’re genuinely passionate about
Show appreciation for your own products—wear them, use them, and talk about them
Think about how you can use your designs to personalize product packaging
Own Your Stigma was created to help all of us have more open conversations about mental health. They sell apparel with text designs like “Your story matters,” “Be kind to your mind,” and “Mental health is health.” These are powerful messages that encourage people to share their story, while inviting others to think or talk about their own.
The brand’s owners Allison and Brian also donate a portion of their proceeds each month and contribute to various mental health charities on behalf of the Own Your Stigma community.
They also spread awareness about mental health on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. When you’re part of the OYS community, you can just feel that the creators truly care about this topic, and their products are useful tools for broadcasting the message.
Allison and Brian’s marketing advice focuses on three important areas:
Choose something you’re passionate about when creating your brand. Do you love photography? Teaching others a skill? Sharing your thoughts and opinions? Start there!
So many people have amazing ideas that they either don’t follow through with or don’t follow up on. Consistently work on your brand; tweak your products, try out new products (use your sample orders from Printful), post on social media, and keep your website up-to-date.
Good communication is huge. Maintaining communication with team members and customers is a must. Reply to emails, messages, and DMs within 24 hours. A simple, ‘Thank you for reaching out to us, we’ll respond back within 24 hours’ works. Also, reach out to Printful with any questions and concerns. Printful has truly helped Own Your Stigma grow the community into what it is today.”
Source: Own your stigma
Tune into your passion, be consistent, and maintain good communication with your teammates and customers
Finally, let’s take a look at another example of merch designed for a cause.
Project SIRIN started in 2022 as a Ukrainian and Western network aimed at supporting Ukrainian troops in the fight for freedom. One of the ways it raises funds is by selling merch. On Project SIRIN’s website, you’ll find t-shirts and patches with empowering military iconography and the project’s main symbol, the Sirin, a beautiful-yet-deadly mythological creature.
As of June 2023, the organization has raised over $590K, which it has contributed to the Ukrainian army by providing mission-essential equipment.
The project’s merch, sold around the world, builds a sense of community and shared purpose. According to the organization’s representative, Patrick, it’s a way to bring out positivity at a time of war. “When we were first starting out, we were really interested in fostering a sense of community, not just among the Western NGOs, but also among the units we were supporting. It was about reinforcing the positive things amidst war.”
Source: Project SIRIN
Project SIRIN found a way to align its core message with popular aesthetics. Combining a “retro surfwear vibe” with the symbols of fight, freedom, and unity, the project’s merch conveys a striking visual message.
You don’t have to be a design expert to create merch that resonates with your audience. “I don’t think anybody on our team had a merch background. We knew what we liked on t-shirts, and we knew what we didn’t like. Many of us are middle-aged, so we might not be really attuned to what the 20-year-olds want.”
The organization teamed up with a graphic designer to bring its ideas to life. “We started with our symbol Sirin, which is a mythical owl that leads its enemies to death, but is also considered a harbinger of good luck. We were fortunate to get a good graphic designer to create our logo and its variants.” As a result, Project SIRIN has a visual identity that captures the essence of its mission in a simple and comprehensible visual.
Listen to the full story in our Ideas. Fulfilled podcast episode.
Merch can be a tool for sharing an important message globally and creating a sense of community
This is the message these successful print-on-demand store owners want you to take from their insights. They all offer slightly different approaches to brand marketing—which is normal. There’s no one magic formula to achieve success at running your own store, but there’s definitely something out there that’ll work for your brand.
So, keep trying new things, experimenting, and showing off your products to the world with excitement.
Let us know in the comments what advice you’ve tried and how it’s worked for you.
SEO Content Writer
Lilija is an SEO content writer at Printful. She's passionate about ecommerce, and in her spare time, she's an avid reader of various book genres.