News from Digital Main Street

Toronto Tees – Behind the Business with Owner Joe Taylor

FS Local | June 30, 2016

You can get t-shirts almost anywhere, it’s true. But a custom shirt…in five minutes? There’s only one shop in Toronto (with 2 locations) that can hook you up in a flash.

Toronto Tees has been pumping out unique tees since 2000 and they’re still at the forefront, making them fast, to order and in high quality.

As part of our series of interviews with businesses using cloud-based accounting software, we spoke to Toronto Tees owner Joe Taylor about how he got the business started, what he does to keep it successful, and what the future might hold.

So, what is Toronto Tees?

Toronto Tees is home of the 5 minute custom t-shirt. You can walk into our shop with your custom graphic or idea and we bring it to life on a t-shirt in 5 minutes. We also specialize in bulk orders for your company, team, or group. Our prices are great, and our turnaround time is lightning fast. Our customers are often creative, fun loving people, who get a real kick out of our process. Walk into one of our shops any hour of the day and you will see some really awesome creative collaborations going on between our staff and customers.

How did you get started doing this?

Toronto Tees actually started off just selling preprinted tees. We would come up with creative and clever designs and sell those designs in the shop. Within weeks we quickly realized that the customer is not looking for your idea of funny or clever, they really want their own ideas on a shirt. We made some large investments in the fastest and best quality printing machines we could get and the rest is history. It be said a million times, and we are just another bit of proof that the customer really is always right.

They say that to be successful you have to be passionate. Why do you love what you do?

No two custom shirts are ever the same, so it really is impossible to get bored at this job. We also feel like we are disrupting our industry and taking the jargon and effort out of t-shirt printing for the customer. We make it extremely easy to come in and print a shirt. You don’t need any special files or knowledge. You literally just need an idea, and we take it from there. Seeing the relief and surprise and joy this brings to customer’s faces makes the job quite rewarding.

Has it been smooth sailing or have you overcome adversity to get where you are?

There has been adversity but it has always felt like smooth sailing. The biggest challenge has been getting out the message about the speed in which we can print a t-shirt. People are still under the impression the process takes a day or two, and we have had to put a lot of effort into getting the message out that it takes 5 minutes. There is also a massive learning curve to do what we do, and the training of our staff can take upwards of a year. Because of this the first couple years of t-shirt printing involved a lot of late nights mastering everything.

We all know that crazy happens. What’s the wildest thing that’s happened on the job?

It’s happened more than once where I have been called late into the night by a customer who has an emergency order they need the next morning. We had a major credit card company call us at 11pm because the printer they were dealing with told them the night before they wouldn’t be able to complete their order on time for an event they were having the next morning (this happens a surprising amount in our industry unfortunately). Myself and three of my staff came into the shop and midnight and printed 800 totes bags for them by 8am for them the next morning, just in time for their 9am event. That major credit card company has given us years of business since then. It was a well worthwhile sleepless night.

What do you do with your time off? Are you familiar with that concept?

I’m a father of 3, so that takes up most of my off work time. I’ll also spend a lot of my social time at my golf club.

How important is social media to your business and how do you make it work?

Our business is a very visual one, so Instagram has been a great tool for us. We also have found we do a lot of communicating with our customers through Facebook now a days. Social media has undoubtedly been a great boost to our business. 

How are you involved in your community? What does supporting local mean to you?

Almost half of our business comes from school, and non-profit organizations. We do our best to work within the budgets of these groups, and have partaken in hundreds of sponsorship programs in the local community. We have benefited hugely from the shop local mentality that has thankfully taken hold over the last decade, so we are all about paying that back when we can.

We’re interviewing businesses that use cloud-based accounting software. Why do you?

Cloud-based accounting it a no-brainer. It makes me a laugh a bit when I think about how we used to do things before FreshBooks. Mailing out invoices, and calling customers every few days for payment used to be a part time job for me on top of my full time job of printing t-shirts. I was pretty happy to quit that part time job. The decision was easy.

Which platform did you choose and why that particular brand?

We use FreshBooks because our customers know and trust the name. When they see the invoice in their inbox they are never afraid to open it up. We constantly get customers who tell us they use FreshBooks too, or that they are thinking about getting FreshBooks and want our opinion on it. We also find it incredibly easy to use.

What does this enable you to do as a small business owner?

We are excited about growing our business in the upcoming years and FreshBooks allows for unlimited scale. It is a clean, simple yet robust platform to view all our sales and expenses, and manage our customer base. I am also a serial question asker, and the folks at FreshBooks are extremely knowledgeable about their product whenever I have called them up.

Alright, so what does the future look like for you and Toronto Tees?

The future looks great. We have a large and growing loyal customer base that we continue to impress with each order we print. Our number one priority is quality. Customers may come to us for the speed of our printing, but they keep coming back because the prints continue to wash flawlessly for years to come. We’ll continue our efforts to get more and more people into our shop and spread their words about our unrivaled printing speeds.

Do you have any advice for aspiring business owners just starting out?

Spend a few months asking questions before making any large investments or decisions. The biggest mistake I made was assuming what I thought the customers wanted. Also, it hurts me to say this but physical retail shops are on a downtrend. It is much easier to scale your business, and keep your cost low if you are online only. Some of the most successful business are finding ways to bring online convenience to businesses that were previously retail only.

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Shopify Case Study - SoYoung Inc.

Shopify | June 29, 2016

Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?

A few years before I became a parent, and subsequently started SoYoung, I was unfulfilled in my career and had no idea what to do about it. My job, being in the financial industry, offered a measure of status and security that at least my parents could brag about. I had no other real skills that I could transfer to another field. Basically, I could leave my job but my only other options would really be to start at the bottom somewhere else. My then boyfriend (now husband) encouraged me to follow my interest, whatever that may be. I didn’t even know what I was interested in. So I started with Zen Shiatsu, studying with a Zen Buddhist teacher for a year. During that year, I found the courage to leave my job without being certain about what my next step was.

For the next couple of years, I struggled, trying different things, never really feeling a fit. Then I had my first child, Noah. While that was of course a huge event in my life, it was really the fact that my life was suddenly consumed with everything associated with having a child that gave life to the SoYoung line. I had repeatedly found myself in the same frustrating situation of holding a squirming, crying baby in one hand while digging through my deep, dark cavernous bag trying to find my keys that gave me the epiphany that I was going to design a diaper bag.

Initially we approached a bag maker in Montreal. He was very good but it would be far too expensive to work with them over the long term. It did allow us to do a small test run however that showed the products were viable. Next we worked with some local partners who helped us create specs for the designs and source reliable manufacturers overseas - primarily in China. We continue to work with North American based agents who assist with factory negotiations and quality control - especially with our more complex products. However, we are starting to build direct relationships with factories overseas.

How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?

We got started the traditional route by selling our bags at local retailers. We then extended our reach across North America by attending trade shows and finding sales reps to work new territories. By the time we got our website set up we had a bit of momentum, which made it much easier to get bloggers and press interested in our products, which ultimately led to increased sales through our website.

Retail is still our biggest channel - we have over 400 stores across North America selling SoYoung Products. We see retail at least in part as a marketing channel, because it gets our products and brand out there in front of our target audience. This in turn builds our online channel which has grown to represent over 25% of our revenue, and an even higher percentage of our profits given the increased margins of selling direct. We also have distribution agreements in 8 territories and growing - which is a good, low risk way to get our products into new markets. One great thing about being on the Shopify platform is that we can offer to quickly get a local store up and running for distributors, giving them an out-of-the-box solution and allowing us to ensure our brand is represented appropriately in foreign territories.

Tell us about the back-end of your business. What tools and apps do you use to run your store? How do you handle shipping and fulfillment?

Our goal is to automate anything and everything that can be automated so that we can focus on designing and marketing great products. Shopify's reach as a leading platform means that many of the other software products have built easy to use Shopify connections, allowing us to tie everything together. For instance, having Mailchimp integrated with Shopify has been great because it allows us to send segmented email blasts to customers based on purchase history and geographic location. We also have a couple of automated sequences that are triggered by a purchase or email subscription event.

Helpscout, our customer service software draws contact and purchase history directly from Shopify making it easy to address and track inquiries from a single view. The Google Shopping App has made it simple to keep our products up to date for search based marketing. Finally, we are in the process of switching our accounting over to Xero which, as a cloud based solution, will save us a ton of inputting as it will draw all of our sales data (both retail and wholesale) directly from our four Shopify Stores.

We used to handle Canadian fulfillment ourselves while outsourcing US orders to our warehouse in Los Angeles. Prior to moving our online store to Shopify, the latter still required us to manually enter each order into their system. We have since outsourced all of our fulfillment. So, when an order comes in now - whether through our retail or wholesale store - we don't need to touch it. The only exception is when a retailer phones or emails in a request, which we then enter into our Shopify wholesale site for them.

What are your top recommendations for new store owners?

While having an integrated online store/brand is the ultimate endgame, unless you have a lot of resources at your disposal, launching a pure online play is extremely risky and challenging. For us, retail has proven to be a great launchpad that has allowed us to grow awareness of our brand and build our online presence. Marketing begins with product design. Unless you have a truly unique product, it will be very hard to differentiate and gain brand traction, especially online. Getting out to trade shows has allowed us to get a better idea of where the market is headed, what products are doing well and where the potential opportunities lie. It's also been a great place to make friends with like minded entrepreneurs and learn from their experience. One of the most valuable things we've done is build a network of relationships through mastermind groups and shows. We try to help out other business wherever possible and have benefited tremendously from our friends.


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10 Affordable Small Business Marketing Strategies

Pam Baker | June 7, 2016

The Internet is the great equalizer in that it gives small businesses marketing opportunities on par with their larger competitors. It can still cost money to market online though and, if you aren't careful, the total costs can totally blow your budget.

The good news is that a number of inexpensive small business marketing methods can help you achieve your goal—and some are even free. We surveyed small business owners to find the top 10 tactics for marketing your business on a shoestring.

Small Business Marketing Tips You Can Afford

1. Post videos online

"The main marketing problem for any business these days is getting found, and online video is the solution," says Alfred Poor, who owns The Center for Small Business and is the author of Power Marketing for Small Business: How you can boost sales with low-cost video

"Video has been shown to move an existing site to the first page of a Google search within 30 minutes of adding it, and move it into one of the top two positions within a day, says Poor.

 He adds that video also helps your business even after prospective customers find it online. "A study found that customers who see a video on your site are 172 percent more likely to buy your product or service."

Poor says you can make the video yourself or you can hire a professional to make one for $500 or less in most markets and about $350 in NYC. "Nothing delivers the same bang for the buck."

2. Post case studies on your website

"One inexpensive practice we use is to create case studies of our happy, successful clients," says David Render, chief operating officer at AccountMate Software, a small software company.

"We conduct a short phone interview with the customer, and then fill out a standardized template, which we then post to our website," said Render. "It would work for a business of any size, and if you have an in-house person with writing ability, it doesn’t cost anything."

Render says case studies don't have to be extensive, but they do need to contain useful information. "It's a matter of explaining the customer's particular problem, how your product or service solved that problem, and then be sure to include a quote from the client about their satisfaction."

3. Use your blog to reach out to prospects and customers

"We use our blog to share news about our company, news about our clients, awards we have won, and other content like our videos on YouTube  that we're pushing out," explains Hassan Bawab, founder and CEO at Magic Logix, an interactive digital marketing agency.

Don't have a blog? Well, it's easier than you think to start one.  "Businesses can set up a free account with WordPress to launch their own blog," says Bawab. "The blog is a great tool to position us as thought leaders in digital marketing. When combining high quality content with a strong social media presence, we extend our reach to media and clients."

4. List your company on Google Maps/Local

"A company presence on Google Maps/Local is as extremely important, and it's completely free," says David Hudson, managing director at EasyClear, a family run house clearance business in London.  

 When it comes to small business marketing, Google Maps/Local presence is important for many reasons, he says. It directs customers to your establishment when they are in the area, and your business typically appears higher in Google search rankings. "Finally, because customers can review the company and leave comments, it is also a tool to evaluate the efforts we made, and it helps us to understand customers better."

5. Search forums for customers

Mark Rushworth, head of Search at Blue Logic Web, and IT support and network solutions company, recommends using forum search services such as, and "They let you search for individuals who are interested in your products and services and respond in kind," says Rushworth. "One other tip - don't sell online: offer a solution and make sure you're replying to new or recent topics only."

6. Share information all over the Web

"The most inexpensive way to promote small companies nowadays is to share what you do and what you love," says Tomasz Smykowski, CEO at Websoul, a small social media marketing agency in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

"You have a new project completed? Write about it—on a blog, on Twitter, on Facebook or on whatever. You took a new great photo? Post it. You are reading articles about your job to get better at what you do? Recommend them to others on the Internet. Have you found out something new and surprising for you and for your clients? Write about it and post it publicly."

While Smykowski says he knows it sounds crazy and fruitless, he insists that the opposite is true. "It will help you become better at what you do, and it will inspire and help people find you and your company," he said.

According to Smykowski, he used this strategy for years when he first started a career as a software developer. "I got many clients without spending a single penny on ads. Moreover, all my contacts were strong and long lasting, which is better than any I could get through cold calling."

7. Use content curation to drive interest in your products

"My favorite inexpensive marketing strategy is content curation," says Robert Melton, founder of Funtober, an ecommerce company that sells Halloween costumes.

"We're currently compiling information about every Oktoberfest, corn maze, pumpkin patch, fall festival, haunted house, and ghost tour in the U.S.," says Melton. "People are looking for the information. It only costs our time to put them together and hundreds of thousands of people come to our website looking for the information in the fall."

8. Use online services to re-target lost sales and to list products

Steven Bessellieu, vice president of operations at, a small online fashion boutique, offers this small business marketing advice: use services offered from specialty marketing sites.

For example, at, you can choose apps to get your business noticed according to your own specific needs. "Lexity manages 'apps' for your online shopping cart," says Bessellieu. "Apps can list your products on Google, TheFind,, and Facebook, as well as manage your adwords campaigns, and even put incentives on your site to Like, Follow, +1, or subscribe to your newsletter.

Lexity is a free service that's very easy to manage, says Besselleiu. "The apps cost between $19 and $399 a month and they're backed with a large, attentive support staff."

9. Use Facebook's sponsored stories

"Ever since Facebook changed its EdgeRank to allow only about 10 percent of your page's followers to see your posts, using sponsored stories has become more and more important," says Jayme Pretzloff, the online marketing director for Wixon Jewelers, a high-end, luxury jewelry and watch store in Minneapolis.

"Sponsored stories let you show your post to a larger audience than you would if you did a regular post," says Pretzloff. "We have seen huge spikes in engagement with our fans by using promoted posts."

This marketing strategy offers more than direct sales, he says; it's also a powerful tool to increase awareness and word of mouth advertising. "Facebook can be a powerful advertising tool if used correctly," Pretzloff says. "Try out some ads, test them, and then figure out what works for your organization.

And no, it doesn't have to be expensive. Pretzloff recommends allocating $50 to test the marketing vehicle and to start out spending between $5 and $10 a day. "I think you'll be pleased with the results and ROI of your $50."

10. Use online services to get the media's attention

Every news story that features you or your company amounts to free publicity. You can sign up for free at (HARO) and answer source queries posted by reporters from top publications there. The service emails you with a list of reporter questions several times a day making it easy for you to spot opportunities.

You can also get the word out to media through a variety of inexpensive online services such as "PRWeb is an excellent resource for publicity and improving brand awareness," says Bessellieu. "A basic press release costs only $99, and we plan on releasing all the latest company news, sales, milestones, etc. once every quarter."

Not every marketing tactic listed above will work well for every company, but a combination of several of them—or adaptations to any of them—should be helpful to just about any company.


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