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How to score big returns on your custom embroidery program investment.


Large-scale custom embroidery has been an expensive option for brands to extend to consumers in the past. But new automation tools are cutting costs like never before.

bigtruck hats - custom embroidery

Processing custom embroidery orders, programming machines for custom production, and managing the logistics of fulfillment used to be deal-breaking pain points. 

Why? Because too much of the process had to be handled manually. 

Today, there’s a much better way to scale up custom embroidery programs.

We’ve identified the hidden costs. With the right tools and processes, we can cut them down and achieve the ROI on custom embroidery – and all kinds of product customization – that other forward-thinking brands have already experienced.

The hidden costs of custom embroidery.

Consumers love being able to add a small stitched element, like a monogram, custom text, or an interesting design, to personalize a product. Businesses appreciate the ease of customizing with embroidered designs through direct-to-consumer ecommerce portals.

But unless you’re prepared to handle these custom orders, with a potential batch size of one, it can be costly to offer this service.

Let’s go over a few of the most significant costs. Then we’ll tackle how to cut them.

1. Digitization.

In a standard order, let’s say for a baseball cap, the design is pre-loaded into the operating system that runs your embroidery machine. The operator needs only to ensure the repeated process runs smoothly.

Orders for ball caps with custom embroidery generate a new design. Someone has to digitize this design – translate it into a “recipe ID” that your operating system understands. The time and effort it takes for the operator or designer to do so for every custom order adds up.

2. Stoppage.

Standard orders on embroidered ball caps are easily repeatable. Production stoppages are minimal, only occurring when your embroidery machines need maintenance, or between runs

But when order management, operating systems, and/or embroidery machines aren’t set up for custom orders, frequent stoppage time is inevitable. Even if you have a machine dedicated to custom production, the unproductive dormant time between orders is a significant cost.

3. Shipping.

Large batch order shipping is a fairly standard, predictable cost. If you’re used to processing retailer orders, or standard-only direct-to-consumer orders, you know how to contain that cost based on anticipated volume.

Shipping small batches of custom ball caps is – well, another ballgame. Custom orders don’t always fit into standard shipping procedures. 

For example, small-batch orders are often treated as lower in priority in order management logic. This can cause major delays for custom orders, which often result in costly alternative shipping solutions or order cancellation.

Let’s cut these costs with automation.

Now that we’ve gone over the problems that make starting or growing your custom embroidery program feel like a square peg/round hole situation, let’s talk solutions.

In a word, automation is the key. But let’s break down what that means in this ball cap scenario.

1. From manual digitization to web-to-stitch.

The first thing we need to automate is this time-consuming effort of translating what the consumer wants into something your embroidery machine understands.

We call this web-to-stitch automation. It’s exactly what it sounds like. A consumer or business personalizes a ball cap online, and their design instantly becomes a machine-readable recipe.

PRO TIP: Another related hidden cost is setting up SKUs for each variation, like a cap that says “World’s Best Dad” vs. one that has the customer’s town name on it. 

Without our
Silhouette™ software, you have to create a SKU for every variation, e.g. hat_color_”worlds best dad,” hat_color_”every town name,” etc. 

With Silhouette, all you have to do is set up “hat_custom” and all the rest flows through in our recipe token appended to the order.

2. From stoppage time to dedicated, integrated machinery.

Part of the solution here is in order management automation. Custom order recipe IDs should be automatically routed to dedicated custom embroidery equipment.

On the receiving end, your dedicated equipment’s operating system should be set up to handle custom requests. And of course, the machine must be able to produce every possible combination of programmable custom features without human intervention.

3. From a standard shipping model to a flexible, automated approach.

Again, the cost here is in human intervention. You can only scale up a custom embroidery program profitably by minimizing the need for manual manipulation of the fulfillment process.

An order management system (OMS) set up for custom will know how to properly prioritize your custom-embroidered ball caps, slot them into your shipping logistics flow, and avoid costly delays.

This is how Vera Bradley scaled up their custom embroidery program.

A few years back, premier handbag brand Vera Bradley had a problem. 

Their customer base was getting older and smaller. They needed to attract younger generations, and they recognized that growing their customization program was a way to woo them.

Vera Bradley had long provided consumers with the option to personalize their product with a monogram. At the time, it was pretty basic. A customer could order a bag with up to three initials in a standard font and font size.

They wanted to turbocharge this customization program. That’s when they partnered with us.

With the help of JTB Custom, Vera Bradley increased the size of embroidered monograms from three to 20 characters, in 10 different fonts. We also helped them expand custom offerings to what we call “whimsies” – icons such as hearts or unicorns to further personalize.

Their customization program got more sophisticated as we went along, step by step. We helped them enable consumers to decorate their bags with different color combinations, and even choose from a variety of fabrics, trims, and quilting patterns.

The results? In six months, Vera Bradley experienced five times their typical custom sales volume.

Not every brand will expand its customization program to this extent.

What’s important is how they got started. They set up a custom product line built to automate their custom embroidery orders, cut costs, and maintain a healthy profit margin.

Not sure how to expand or get started with custom embroidery? JTB Custom can help.

Figuring out a profitable custom embroidery program is just one way we help brands like yours succeed with product customization.

We’ll help you:

• Get set up for custom product manufacturing.
Create a lean manufacturing process flow map.
• Procure the right machines (for custom embroidery, direct-to-garment printing, etc.).
• Determine how many people you need.
• Set up multi-purpose operator stations.
• Train factory personnel.

In addition, we’ll help you integrate our Silhouette automation software with your existing systems to ensure efficiency at every step of the production process.

The Silhouette OMS integrates with most ecommerce platforms, enterprise resource platforms (ERPs), manufacturing resource platforms (MRPs), and shipping systems.

In other words, it helps ensure seamless transitions from the customer’s online experience to the factory floor to shipping, ultimately delighting your direct-to-consumer/B2B customers.

What kind of help do you need to get started?

We can help in a number of ways. 

• Want us to help your manufacturer transition into made-to-order production?
Would you like us to handle production in-house with one of our vendors? 
• Maybe you’d like to start with one of our vendors, and transition into working with yours down the road?

The first step is to reach out and explore what we can accomplish together. Talk to an expert today