Let’s talk about t-shirt availability, or lack thereof.
If you’ve been here more than once, you know our history with t-shirt inventory is a strange one. The very first version of United Pixelworkers had a normal inventory process. We’d buy a batch of tees and slowly—very slowly—sell through them. It turns out we couldn’t afford to do that, so we switched to a pre-sale, get-em-while-they-last model. While that worked pretty well, it was never perfect. If you missed the pre-sale—whether it was because you knew and couldn’t afford to pick up the shirt at the time or just didn’t hear about it until it was gone—you were out of luck. To fix that problem, we started buying a few extra shirts after the pre-sale ended. That worked even better, but what if we ran out and demand wasn’t sufficient to order more shirts? Surely those people also deserve the shirt they came to buy. In our zeal to make sure every last customer was satisfied, we introduced yet another twist: sign up to be notified when your shirt and size is back in stock. That helped us gauge demand for which shirts to bring back, but despite that improvement, many shirts still had only five or 10 people signed up. If you’ve ever tried selling anything, you know that even these extremely qualified leads aren’t going to convert well-enough to make that model work. We’d end up ordering 12 or so additional shirts, maybe a quarter of the people that signed up would grab one, and we’d be left with half-a-dozen assorted sizes that nobody really wanted. Six months later we’d be back in the same position. A handful of people would have signed up to be notified when a shirt was back, and we’d be reluctant to add to the pile of shirts on the shelves that weren’t ever going to sell.
So now you’re up to speed. Entering the holiday season last year (2013), we had hundreds of shirts that barely moved. Because we didn’t have the normal constraints of a physical store, we saw no reason to remove shirts from the site that we might, someday, maybe bring back. This is the Internet, after all, we don’t need to be bound by convention. You know what, though? Even Wikipedia has deletionists. In order to be honest with ourselves and our customers, we need to acknowledge that many (most) of the shirts we’ve ever released aren’t coming back. We’ve done three completely different shirts for every state in the union. We’ve done over 60 city shirts. We’ve had dozens of guest designers and partners. Some of those shirts have been incredibly popular. We’re going to keep making those ones. Some have been less popular. We’re going to let those ones go. If you look at the home page, you’ll see the ones we’ve chosen to stock up on first. We’ve got:
- The Standard Issue and its sibling the Standard Blackout
- Alignment from Evan Stremke
- New York City from Jon Contino
- Coffee + Pixels = Victory from Ethan Marcotte
- Black Shirt from Matt Stevens
- Heart, Bike, and Jolly Roger
- And #001 in our Labs series
That’s 10 shirts. As long as those are in the rotation, they’ll always be in stock. As soon as we get low, we’ll order more.
Does that mean there will never be any other shirts on the site? No. We’ve got lots of plans for new shirts and for bringing back old shirts that sell consistently. In addition to that, the local tee sponsorship program is up and running. If you’re interested in seeing your local tee back on the site, contact us and we’ll get you sorted.
Here’s what you can expect as far as products go in 2014:
- Our best-selling tees will be in stock all the time.
- New shirts on a provisional, pre-sale basis. Unless a shirt absolutely blows up during the pre-sale, that’s going to be your only chance to get it. This time we mean it.
- Lots of new, non-shirt products. Everyone loved the thermals and hats—which is good because we liked making them. Be on the lookout for more in that vein.
One more thing. Mystery tees. That’s right. Mystery tees are back. Get ‘em while they last. $6. Cheap.
UPDATE (12/19/13): We’re doing this thing. Oh, and we’re ditching the time limits. If you sponsor a shirt, it’s yours until stock runs low. If you contacted us about sponsoring your city, we’ll be in touch soon. If you want in, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope to launch in early 2014.
★ ★ ★
Over the years, we’ve made local tees for over 50 cities across the U.S., Canada, and the UK. It’s been awesome to see local design and development communities come together as we light up their town on the Pixelworkers map. But as you’ve likely noticed, almost all of our local shirts are completely sold out and, in all likelihood, never to return. Because we sell only 25-100 of these tees in any given year, maintaining inventory is, well, cost prohibitive. The thing is, we really love those shirts. They’re what started United Pixelworkers way back in 2010. When printed the final five local tees, though, we were pretty sure that was the end of the road. We’ve been scratching our heads ever since, however, trying to work out a way to not only keep existing locals around but introduce new cities too. Well, we think we found a way.
Here’s the idea: Local Sponsorships.
Let’s say you want to sponsor the shirt from your city (or commission an entirely new city that we haven’t done yet). You’d send us your pledge, and we’d use that money to directly fund a print run of your city’s t-shirt. You’d get a prominent listing with your name, logo, bio, links, etc. on the shirt page plus the opportunity to include any small swag with the purchase of the shirt (stickers, pins, etc.) You’d hold the sponsorship for set amount of time, or until stock ran out (whichever came first), then the sponsorship would open up again. Oh, and your company gets a 15% discount on any United Pixelworkers merchandise for the life of the sponsorship. Here are the sponsorship tiers available:
- $250 for 25 shirts or 3 months (for smaller cities)
- $500 for 50 shirts or 6 months
- $750 for 75 shirts or 9 months
- $1,000 for 100 shirts or 1 year (for the NYCs and SFs of the world)
It’s a relatively small amount of money, but allows you to give back to your local web community in a unique way, and pretty neatly funds a print run for us. We quietly ran this by some friends and they encouraged us to go for it. The plan is to kick this off right after the holidays if everything falls into place. We’ve already got several cities lined up, but the majority of cities are still wide open. If you want to make something awesome happen, this is your chance.
We’re officially calling all studios, agencies, start-ups, Build Guilds, AIGAs, Refreshes, conferences, accelerators, freelancers, and tech giants. Are you ready to step up for your local community? Leave us a comment or email email@example.com.
The United Pixelworkers back catalog has gotten a bit too big for its britches. We’ve released something like 300+ unique shirts over the years each of which came in nine or more sizes. It’s time to say goodbye to a number of old and dear friends. We would like, however, to send these fine threads out in style. Allow us to introduce you to something we’ve decided to call “12 Days of Pixmas”.
Starting today, we’re slashing the price of every tee on the site from $28 down to $20. Pretty good deal, right? Of course. But it gets better. Tomorrow the price goes down to $19, and Sunday it goes down to $18. When you come back to work on Monday, it’ll be $17. By the time this is all said and done, every shirt that’s left on the site will be marked down to a ridiculous $9.
We hope you didn’t miss the key word in that last sentence. Ever shirt that’s left. You see, we’re awfully low on many of these shirts. There’s a really good chance the one you like is going to catch someone else’s eye as well. Probably smart to grab it while you can.
To make things easy for you, we’ve added filtering to the home page. Just head on over and select your size on the right. You’ll see everything we have left for you and nothing we don’t. Oh, and one more thing. We’ve timed this whole thing so that we can still ship everything in time for the holiday (provided you live in the US). Awfully nice of us, huh?
That’s it. Pick up a gift for someone you love or maybe just treat yo’ self. Once these guys are gone, most of ‘em ain’t never comin’ back.
Well, hello there. You probably have a lot of shopping to do, so we’ll keep this brief.
Buy anything. Use the coupon code MERRYPIXMAS to get 20% off. You’re welcome. Spend $50 or more. Use the coupon code MERRYPIXMAS25 to get 25% off. You’re even more welcome. Spend $100 or more. Use the coupon code MERRYPIXMAS30 to get 30% off.
UPDATE: All sales now expired.
For the rest of you that are still here, we’re gonna take you on a leisurely tour of the new stuff.
We teamed up with Coal to bring you some fantastic cold weather gear. Extremely limited quantities (we literally bought out Coal’s stock). We’ll be back with more next year, but if your head can’t wait, you’d better move fast.
T-shirts are all well and good when it’s sunny and 75°. Not so much when the mercury starts falling. Pick up a classy asphalt grey thermal or two. Stay warm and look good doing it.
One thing has been on our to-do list longer than any other (no, not 59Fifty hats, we did those): kids tees. We’re breaking the seal big-time with four brand-new, comes-in-all-sizes designs. You’ve got the Standard issue plus three of our favorite, kid-friendly pixel art tees. The Jolly Roger, the Bike, and the Heart.
Jackets & New Era Caps
If none of the above strike your fancy, we’ve got patches, stickers, notebooks, gift cards for the whole family, and everything else that’s still in stock over on the collection page. Don’t forget about the discount codes. Merry Pixmas!
Thanks again for making this all possible. Hope you like the new stuff. We sure do.
Several weeks ago we noticed a curious new tab in our Shopify interface, Gift Cards. Well, how about that. We turned ‘em on and gave them a spin, but quickly realized we needed to turn them back off until we could make a few changes to the site to make them work properly. We’ve still got a few areas we’d like to improve, but if you’re one of the many people that’s been waiting patiently the last few years for gift cards, we’re happy to announce they’re available now. If you notice any issues, please let us know. This is a new feature from Shopify, so it might need a little breaking in.
We’re not going to lie, things around here have been a little… slow. If you’re not familiar with the United Pixelworkers origin story or only stop by every so often, this might come as a surprise. After all, the store is stuffed to the gills with shirts and all manner of paraphernalia. Fortunately for you—and us—we don’t think that’s good enough.
If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed a little announcement we made on Friday. For the past three years, United Pixelworkers has been a side project of our web design shop, Full Stop Interactive. No more. From now on, we (Nate, Jay, and Matt) will be working exclusively on making United Pixelworkers (and its offspring, Cotton Bureau) as good as they can be. In the short-term, we’ll be focusing on sprucing things up around the site and pushing United Pixelworkers gear into uncharted territory (more on that later). You can also expect more frequent posts like this one. There’s really nothing we enjoy more than sharing what’s happening behind the scenes. The writing we have been able to do over the last few years had to be squeezed in between everything else that was going on. That’s going to change.
Over the next 12 months, we have three main priorities: better products, better content, and a better on-site experience. On the website side, you’ve already seen some evidence of our rejuvenation in the form of a faster (so fast it’s now usable) collection page. There’s a fair amount of refactoring that can and should happen under the hood. Plenty has changed on Shopify and in CSS best practices since we built the most recent version of the site a little over a year ago, so there’s no shortage of work to be done.
On the content side, aside from more writing about what’s happening behind the scenes, we’re going to be publishing new Origin Story podcast interviews. That’s one of the (many) initiatives we had to table while attending to clients, and it might have been the one that hurt the most. (In related news, we hoodwinked Paul Armstrong into bringing his horrible podcast under our umbrella, so if an hour is too much time to learn about someone, you can always spend five minutes finding out which designer he or she would most like to travel back in time to kill and replace in history.) Finally, as you probably noticed if you’ve been following on Twitter, we’re trying to use what little platform we have for good. If you’ve got something worth sharing, please let us know so we can send it around.
Comfortable, fine-looking t-shirts have always been our bread-and-butter, so a big part of the comeback will certainly revolve around new and better tees. (We’ll absolutely be re-stocking some old favorites, don’t worry. If you’ve been waiting for a particular shirt to come back in stock, be sure to sign up to be notified.) But we’re actively talking with partners about bringing more quality goods your way as well. If things break right, you might see some samples of what’s cooking very soon. Let’s just say it’s getting colder, and we’re exploring all our options for keeping you warm.
We are stuffed with ideas for what to do with United Pixelworkers going forward, but what we’d actually like to know more than anything else is: where do you want this to go? It’s not a coincidence the word in front of Pixelworkers is “United”. Please hit us up on Twitter, email us, or leave a comment below with your thoughts. As always, we read every tweet, email, and comment.
Finally, If you stuck with us through all that, let us just take a moment to send out a massive thank-you for your patience, your moral support, and not infrequent deposits you’ve made into our little bank account. We’re exceedingly proud to be able to serve you. Dropping clients cold-turkey is not going to be a painless transition for us. We’re taking a big leap here, and we’re doing it because you’ve made us believe we’ll land safely. If you’d like to support us as we make a go of it, we’d be eternally grateful.
- Step 1: Go buy something. We brought the Original Standard back just for the occasion with a reduced, one-time-only price of $25, but we’ve got lots of other great stuff too including the hats that we had to wait an eternity to get and as many track jackets as we need. (If you pre-ordered a jacket, hang in there. The labels are being attached as you read this.)
- Step 2: Tell your friends. As much as we appreciate you picking up a t-shirt or a notebook or a patch, we like it even more when you say nice things about us to your friends. If you already helped us spread the word on Friday, take it easy, let someone else do the heavy lifting. All the rest of you layabouts get to work.
- Step 3: Come back and buy more things. Just kidding about Step 3. Ha, ha…haaaa (not really, though).
Thanks, guys. We’ll be seeing ya.
(One more thing. If you need help with Kickstarter t-shirt fulfillment, give us a holler. We’ve earned our stripes with the Retro Game Crunch and Thermodo campaigns [we're teaming up with Macaw too], and, hey, we’ve got more time on our hands these days.)
You might be familiar with arch-Pixelworker extraordinaire Paul Armstrong from his impressive work on Flickr, his relentlessly childish tweets at @wiseacre, his sweet family blog Armstrong Family Circus, or his rapidly expanding startup ChoreMonster. We don’t care about any of those things.
Instead, please welcome Paul and his ADHD-driven podcast Pixel Recess to the union. If you’re not familiar with Pixel Recess, you might think of it as the anti-Origin Story. It’s short instead of long, funny instead of serious, and hosted by Paul instead of Jay. About the only thing in common is its focus on us as an industry that could benefit from a little less talk about “design” and “development” and a little more talking to each other.
Don’t forget you can subscribe in iTunes or via RSS to catch up on previous episodes and have new ones automatically downloaded. Go do it now before Pixel Recess + Jory Rapheal drops on Monday. And, of course, your life is hollow and meaningless if you aren’t following @pixelrecess on Twitter for the latest
show news nonsense.
That’s it. Back to work.
Pixelivery—our line of simple pixel art tees—is dead, and we killed it.
Before we get to why, let’s talk about how. How was Pixelivery conceived? Having accumulated gigabytes of pixel art (the file size irony isn’t lost on us), we had to ask: wouldn’t our friends outside the industry like a nice pixelated graphic tee? After all, everyone we knew grew up playing 8-bit video games and watching blocky videos on VHS. Maybe a line of shirts based on nostalgia and designs we already had in the can would be a hit. Pixelivery tees could be for anybody. A real t-shirt brand! Surely we’d sell thousands and Urban Outfitters or Target would be calling any day to take the whole thing off our hands.
Still, we had other priorities, so Pixelivery (or whatever it was called then) never really got off the ground—until our pal Dave Rupert said he would be first in line to buy a pixel Texas tee, and, hey, why aren’t you selling those anyway? With that kick in the pants, we began plotting.
We previewed the brand on United Pixelworkers last summer with three shirts—the Bike, the Anchor, and the Ampersand—then launched Pixelivery as a standalone site with a 50 states series of its own. Things started off well enough. The Bike tee sold like crazy, the 50 States series moved about 1,000 shirts in two weeks, and we were linked by Swiss Miss, NOTCOT, Typekit, and Laughing Squid. Not a bad beginning.
But after the launch rush, and once we took the Pixelworkers training wheels off, traffic—and with it, sales—slowed to a drip. We’d sell a few dozen shirts per month, punctuated by intermittent rushes from the odd link here and there (looking at you, Uncrate). We ran flash sales on MightyDeals, Huckberry, and Fab (an experience that warrants a blog post of its own) trying to goose our numbers, but the sales didn’t cross over. We advertised on The Talk Show, Evening Edition, Let’s Make Mistakes, and Fusion Ads, but none made a long-term difference in traffic. When we rolled out a new 50 states series a few months ago to a chorus of crickets—a move that historically brought tons of traffic—we knew the end was nigh.
The problem was, building a brand takes real work, and Pixelivery was last on our list of priorities (with client work, United Pixelworkers, and the brand-new Cotton Bureau ahead of it). We were never able to give it our full attention, and we always hoped in the back of our minds that maybe it would take off on its own. We didn’t develop many new products. We didn’t put much effort into a blog, our email list, or Twitter/Pinterest/Instagram/Facebook. We didn’t perform any meaningful outreach to bloggers. We didn’t offer wholesale to brick-and-mortar shops. We certainly didn’t adopt any more aggressive online retail strategies like re-targeting, emailing people about abandoned carts, or blanketing the site with share buttons. In retrospect, we kicked it out of the nest and crossed our fingers. It’s no surprise that it didn’t fly for very long.
Just because it wasn’t working doesn’t mean it couldn’t have worked. And we weren’t without our successes, namely the Jolly Roger, Heart, Camera, and Coffee Mug tees. We still think Pixelivery is a monster concept; we’ve simply decided our time and effort are better spent elsewhere. So starting now, Pixelivery is back home on United Pixelworkers. We’ll be phasing out the “Pixelivery” moniker from all products—replacing it with the simpler “pixel” prefix. We think anyone who likes pixel art tees is welcome to come to United Pixelworkers to buy ‘em. We’re betting most people won’t even notice there’s an entire story behind the store. For the rest of us, it’ll be our little secret.
We’re not finished with the transition, but we are currently running our annual 50 states sale—this time in full-color—and there are only a few days left. Don’t miss out.
- Conceived, April 10, 2012. Born, October 5, 2012. Killed, July 4, 2013.
- Traffic: 75,723 visitors, 258,863 page views, 2.72 pages / visit, 79.49% new visits.
- Conversion: 1.81%, 2,040 transactions
- Social: 1,153 MailChimp subscribers, 1,069 followers on Twitter, 213 likes on Facebook.
- Money: $55,108.92 in revenue, $7,500 ad spend, ~$40,000+ inventory.
- Bottom line: Big time commitment, negligible profit.
Even on cruise control an online t-shirt store has orders to fulfill, customers to service, inventory to buy, and a site to maintain. We could have limped along for years. Maybe we would have caught a break or made a splash before the holidays. We chose not to take that path. We sold our byproducts. Now we’re pruning the dead wood.
What do you want to know? Ask us anything. And while you’re at it, tell us what we did wrong.
When our friend Kevin Hoffman—organizer of the IA Summit on April 3–7 in Baltimore—asked us to print the t-shirts for his conference, we jumped at the chance. When he told us that Scott Thomas—aka Simple Scott, design director for the 2008 Obama campaign and co-creator of The Noun Project—would be designing them, we were even more excited.
The tees feature the conference slogan—OBSERVE BUILD SHARE REPEAT—on the back, and illustrated in icon form on the front. You can buy the tees at the conference…or we’ll be selling them on United Pixelworkers during the conference. The IA Summit tees are printed on super-soft heather black American Apparel poly-cotton. Don’t miss out.