Looking for a marketing advantage? Consider the digitally friendly T-shirt.
At Tee's Plus in Groton, these shirts are providing important fuel for growth for the promotional-products manufacturer.
With a simple scan of a smartphone over a two-dimensional barcode on the front of a T-shirt or perhaps on a sleeve, customers can watch a video of an amusement park ride they're about to take or consult a map of one of this nation's federal parks. Closer to home, a quick scan of a Mystic Seaport T-shirt with such a bar code will download an informative video about the historic Charles W. Morgan whaling ship, one of the Seaport's treasured attractions.
The technology behind the "scannable" T-shirt is called a Quick Response code, or QR. The technology is becoming widely used, from scannable T-shirts sold at tourism venues and amusement parks to real estate companies using QR codes to scan information about a house for sale. There's even QR codes for in-store retail displays, event ticketing and billboard signs.
Leo Pond, the information-technology manager for Tee's Plus who's been instrumental in setting up the QR technology for the company's promotional products, says the two-dimensional barcode is very durable. The company's T-shirts that feature such a code can be washed multiple times - and the code will still work, he says.
For a company such as Tee's Plus, whose embroidered or silk-screened products range from T-shirts and sweatshirts to hats, pens and other corporate-type trinkets, the emerging QR technology is a boon for its business.
The QR technology is a growing part of Tee's Plus business and it involves a close partnership between its information-technology division and its plant operations on Route 184 in Groton, which each workday churns out silk-screened T-shirts, embroidered hats and other clothing items.
Roller coaster video
The company continues to grow its roster of clients using QR codes on its promotional goods. Even this nation's federal parks, including Yosemite, are considering using T-shirts sporting QR codes to market their parks or provide maps and other information.
Among those Tee's Plus clients are the Statute of Liberty park, the Seattle Space Needle and a huge roller coaster in Texas called, appropriately enough, the Texas Giant.
Locally, the company is developing a T-shirt for Mystic Seaport, whose front is lettered "Property of Mystic Seaport" with a graphic of the Charles W. Morgan whaling ship. A sticker on the shirt alerts a potential buyer to "Scan the Code," referring to the QR barcode tucked into one of the ship's sail. The sticker also teases: "Scan the Code ... And Let the Magic Begin."
That wording, in fact, has been service marked by Tee's Plus and appears on all its products featuring QR code technology.
Tee's Plus has a new website at www.QRcodegear.net that markets the technology, along with the various Tee's Plus QR-coded products.
Smartphones can easily access an app (or online application) to read QR codes, which are quickly becoming commonplace at retailers from Starbucks to BJ's Wholesale Club. Once the smartphone has that particular QR-reading app, it's easy from there: simply scan the QR code on, say, a T-shirt, and play the video or other online feature connected to the code, such as a web link or map.
Pond, Tee's Plus IT manager, says the firm can program a QR code to a particular web page, or perhaps a web page with a coupon feature, or a web page with a video that he can put together for the client.
"The easiest way to think of it (QR coding) is a real world (Internet) link," he says.
A T-shirt that the Groton company developed for the Cedar Point "Top Thrill Dragster" roller coaster in Ohio has a QR code on one its sleeves that brings the viewer to an enticing up-down-and-around video of a ride on the coaster.
Tom Craig, Tee's Plus vice president for marketing, points out that a teenager who buys the shirt can then show his friends who didn't go to the park a video of the roller-coaster ride, likely encouraging a return trip to the park so those friends can enjoy the experience.
Allen Graham, the company's president and chief executive officer, says Tee's Plus is excited about this new facet of the business.
"This technology is just taking off," he says. "And it's a great opportunity." Tee's Plus immersion into QR code technology by incorporating it onto its products is paying off with new leads and new business.
"It's a marketing opportunity for us," he says.
Craig, the firm's marketing maven, says Tee's Plus can put multiple QR codes on a long-sleeved T-shirt that could be used for a variety of marketing purposes. The company is doing work with the Sierra at Tahoe ski resort so its QR codes could feature a video of a enticing ski trail, or a ski trail map or even discount coupons.
"You have to keep adding value in order to stay successful in this business," says Craig. "And the way to do that is through technology."