During this podcast you’ll hear Brett Wiebel and Mark Momborquette, the founders of BelQuette DTG Printers tell their story.
A story that starts with working a full-time job together in manufacturing in Cincinati, OH. Of nights and weekends spent in the basement working on their vision. A story that starts with a trip to the mall to get a little girl’s fingernails done and ends with some of the most innovative products in the custom apparel business.
And we’ll discuss how building their business with an inventor’s mindset might just make your custom t-shirt or embroidery or sign business that much better.
BelQuette recently joined forces with ColDesi and Colman and Company after both competing in the digital direct to garment printer space AND collaborating on projects and ideas. BelQuette is widely respected in high volume, production oriented DTG businesses and help outfit the biggest online custom t-shirt sellers in the world with equipment… but not JUST equipment!
The BelQuette DTG Printer duo 2 of the very few people who actually engineer and invent new technology in this space. Their approach has always been to work with customers, watch processes and examine popular products used to make custom tees and find better ways to do it.
They’ve done this in the past by inventing the first printer with modular parts for better maintenance and repair, the only really TARGETED pre treatment system… oh, and a custom fingernail printing machine.. you’ve got to listen to Mark B’s story about how that started.
We discuss how Brett and Mark’s future in BelQuette Technologies means new products coming in the future and how they will continue to work with the biggest companies in the business on a variety of unique solutions.
Marc V: We launched multiple networks live, at the same time. So hey, folks. We’re not live everywhere, yet. What happens is, when we click this on, YouTube usually will pick it up. My recording software will pick it up next, and then as I click that button, that takes us live on Facebook, right now.
Mark S: And the good news is, if you’re not watching, you’ll never see this part!
Marc V: There we go! Well, they will on Facebook now, because here we are, folks. Mark and Marc here, with some guests. I’m going to let Mark do all of the introductions, but we’re live here on Facebook, YouTube, and this is our Custom Apparel Startups podcast.
As you hopefully know by now, if you’ve listened to the past few episodes, we’re going to be doing live. And I think this is going to be one of the last few unscheduled lives, so we’re getting ready to have a full schedule. But we’ll be publishing the times and dates, and all of that stuff.
So, Mark, take it away to the introduction of the podcast!
Mark S: You got it! Hey, everyone! Welcome to episode 71 of the Custom Apparel Startups podcast. My name is Mark Stephenson, from ColDesi.
Marc V: And Marc Vila, from Colman and Company.
Mark S: Today, we have two special guests. If you have not seen the announcement that’s been on the BelQuette.com website and on ColDesi’s website, and everywhere else on the internet-verse, ColDesi has joined forces with a company that is just across the bay from us, called BelQuette. Who you are looking at right now are the two founders of BelQuette, Brett Weibel and Mark Momborquette.
Publicly, first I want to thank Brett for not being named Mark. I really appreciate that, because now there are three of us on the podcast.
Mark M: Although we get mixed up a lot.
Mark S: Do you really?
Marc V: I just figured out what BelQuette meant, at this exact moment.
Mark S: There you go! The two names, combined.
Marc V: I was trying to figure out what that meant in French, or something.
Mark S: These guys are here with us today, not just because I wanted everyone to meet the new part of the ColDesi family. It’s because these guys are a small business success story. I mean, they’ve been in the direct-to-garment printer industry since there was one, and they’ve been principal in introducing some new technologies, and in growing not just their own business, BelQuette, which has a great reputation, but their customers’ businesses, as well.
What I would like to do next, if it’s okay with you, Marc Vila – I’m gong to be saying your last name a lot today, for some reason.
Marc V: I’ll tell you if it’s okay, after you say what it is.
Mark S: Okay. What I would like to do is kind of get you guys to introduce yourselves, and what BelQuette is. You can talk about the history a little bit, from a small business perspective. Because a lot of our listeners, or hopefully all of our listeners, are somewhere in the beginning stage of starting their own business.
They want to do t-shirts, or they want to do embroidery. We’ve even got some people that are doing awards and engraving now, from the UV printers, our customers. You’ve done a lot of things, and have got a really interesting story, so I’d like you guys just to tell us that.
Mark M: We’ll go back and forth, here. We started -.
Brett W: What’s your name?
Mark M: I’m the “Quette” side of the [inaudible 03:32]. We really started this back in ’96. Was it ’96? The inception?
Brett W: Yeah, 1996.
Mark M: Our DNA is about making better tools for the industry. No matter what the industry, we’re wired that way.
Brett W: We’re an innovation company.
Mark M: Using technology, using whatever is available to us at the time, to make something more efficient, is what we’ve always done.
Back in ’96, at that point, my daughter was pretty young, ten years old. I saw her get her nails done, in a mall, using an air brush technique, with a stencil, commonly used in these salons. She had a Mickey Mouse put on her nail.
It was a two-part spray function. She moved a little bit. It came off, after 20 minutes or so. I walked out, and she was the happiest in the world. She just loved this little image on her nail.
Brett W: How much did that cost?
Mark M: I think it was like $10 for one image on the nail. But you know, it was worth it. It was just that I looked at the procedure, and thought that that was the most ridiculous thing. “How can they be making money doing that?” Because it took a long time.
So, I thought “Wouldn’t it be better, just to inkjet that on, and you could get really repeatable results?” So later, maybe it was the next day, I approached Brett. “I’ve got this idea.” He was like “Okay.”
We started working on this after hours, for several – how many years was it?
Brett W: About three years.
Mark M: Three years.
Brett W: We were working together, at a manufacturing facility in Cincinnati. Every minute, after -.
Mark S: Why is there always an Ohio connection in direct-to-garment? I don’t know what it is.
Brett W: Yeah, ,the heartland of the country.
Mark S: Okay.
Mark M: So, we started out using commercial printers, ripping them apart, and finding a platform that would work. We developed our own coatings. We developed a patent around it, and made a commercial product that was sold around the world, in salons. Later on, maybe we’ll pan over and look at the first machine.
The challenge about printing on a human subject and a fingernail, has to be the most difficult thing we’ve every done. But it made printing on static objects like t-shirts and tiles and canvas, kind of -.
Brett W: Pretty simple.
Mark M: Yeah, straightforward. It didn’t move. It didn’t change.
Mark S: That story explains the painting behind us. Because normally, when you see us, we’re in our Dale Mabry campus, over in Tampa. We’re across the bay, at BelQuette headquarters. That is a promotional photo for the nail process, because you guys have distributors all over the world. This was actually a commercial product that you developed and brought to market.
Mark M: Yeah. We built this tool, and it was sold around the world, in salons and small shops. And after that time, kind of being just, not an artist, but I like doing art as a hobby. I wanted to do these large images on canvas, but I realized that it was very difficult to buy the equipment, a roll-to-roll printer, and then trying to stretch canvas around a frame.
So, being the innovators we are, we just developed a flatbed printer that would print directly on this canvas. Around our office, we have large canvas images like this, that was printed right directly on a pre-stretched canvas that we just buy, and put the canvas down. That was our first flatbed printer.
So, it was something that was built to – and we sold these.
Brett W: Our second flatbed was the Imaginail. Right? This would be the second one.
Mark S: Okay, gotcha. I think one thing, so far, that you’ll see is kind of maybe that what is your story out there, is you’ve got a full-time job. And you get inspired about something. In Mark’s case, it was the experience with his daughter at the mall, getting her nails done.
Maybe for you, it was spending $45 for a cheer jacket, or it was having a great idea for some kind of an embroidered good, or you saw something on Etsy, or you went to a family reunion, and the shirts were terrible. And you decided that you could do it better.
The difference here is that we have some engineering and design talent here. So, one thing you’ll never meet, other than right now, is somebody in the direct-to-garment printer business that ever actually designed something. Right?
So, those guys are not here. They’re working in really large corporations. They’re working overseas. [inaudible 08:49] that has started from scratch, with an idea to manufacture something, and carried it all the way through.
That same kind of look at everything that Mark just described is what they’re bringing to the ColDesi table.
Marc V: The folks who listen, especially our regular listeners, but a few of them might be brand new, listening to this podcast – we have new folks every time. The purpose, I think, of all of this – the reason why these gentlemen are here, the reason why we’re live and doing all of this, is because if you are currently a small business entrepreneur, or it’s just a dream, or you’re not making it, or you’re not at the level that you want to be, you should be one of those things.
You’ve got to listen to stories like this, and realize that that is you, as well. You are the same person. You can do the same thing these guys did. Not invent a printer, because maybe you’re not an engineer. But if you have opportunity to sell t-shirts, if you are connected within your business, if you just love art, and you want to be able to put them onto t-shirts, then you’ve got to do it, and you’ve got to make it a success.
It’s not just going to happen for you, because you thought of the idea, and you went ahead and you purchased a printer. Or you decided to just buy a vinyl cutter, and just told your friends about it. Do something, work hard, work after hours, put in the time. Think of ideas. Look for inspiration.
Then, when you have an idea that’s inspiration, like the nail idea, bounce if off of somebody who you trust. “I have this idea for how I can sell some more shirts. I’m going to do this.” Find some trusted advisors that you can tell that to. Find somebody who might be willing to help you do it, as well.
These are all stories how your story can make other people successful in this apparel decorating industry, and the custom apparel business. It’s awesome!
Brett W: It wasn’t just developing a fingernail machine, and then we’re off and running, and working full-time for BelQuette. It didn’t work that way. It was a number of years, six years before either of us went full-time with BelQuette. It was always after hours projects.
The Imaginail started it, but then we printed on inflated footballs, we printed on switch plates. We developed machines for all of these different inkjet applications. At some point, we printed on t-shirts.
When we first developed the initial t-shirt printing machine, which for us, was Flexi-Jet, we were both full-time with BelQuette. So, don’t be afraid to work on the weekends for an extended period of time, to realize your dream.
Mark M: You have to have a lot of failures, before that. But just persistence prevails, and we worked, and we kept at it, and made many iterations of our first generation machine, and a lot of things in between.
Brett W: Actually, the first generation Imaginail machine, we couldn’t get someone to try. So, Mark and I were walking around with colored nails for a number of years. Our co-workers and their family -.
Mark M: Hands in pocket, most of the time.
Brett W: Yeah, we walked around with our hands in our pockets for the first three years, until we had a machine that someone was comfortable putting their -. But we had to test the product, to know how it was going to last on fingernails.
Mark S: Think about how much easier, think about the difference. These guys were willing to walk around with painted nails for years. You have to be willing to wear the stuff that you print. You know what I mean? Put on a t-shirt, for God’s sake.
Brett W: Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.
Mark M: Full commitment.
Mark S: Yeah, that is a commitment.
Mark M: When you believe in something, you’re motivated.
Brett W: This is funny. The first image we ever printed on a fingernail, inkjetted, was Mark’s face, just his mug with this smile, leaning to one side! We printed it on his fingernail, and I think he wore it for a number of days.
Mark M: I rubbed it off really quickly.
Marc V: I think that’s great! This is what happens all of the time. I know you guys have dealt with it, with BelQuette ink and machine buyers, and we deal with it, with all of our customers. You’ve got somebody who gets into the business, and you’re listening right now. You’re into the business, and you’re frustrated, because you’ve not made a ton of money yet.
You thought you were going to get this one customer, and you didn’t. Then, you got a big customer, and you weren’t making any money from them. All of these little failures happen. But that’s actually what is part of really making a successful business. You miss this, you miss this, this one’s a huge win. You miss this, you miss this, this one’s a win.
You keep moving forward on that. You change with the times. So, do that. Beyond just the knowledge of the joining forces, the takeaway on all of this on this podcast, for me at least, from me to you – I like to give homework on all of these podcasts. What I want you to do is if you’re not where you want with your business, then you need to write down a bunch of different plans, ideas, thoughts.
How you’re going to sell, how you’re going to market, who you’re going to talk to. Go back and listen to the other 60-plus podcasts. Find some ideas, and then try them. Then, when you fail on two of them, and succeed on one, replicate that.
Mark S: Here’s kind of the example that I would take away from what you were just talking about, going through all of these iterations of equipment that doesn’t work the way you want it to, and just fails outright. We get posts in the Custom Apparel Startups Facebook group all of the time, saying “I printed on all these shirts. I put them in the wash. Customers are bringing them back, because they came apart. The print didn’t last.”
Or you’re doing embroidery, and the customer realized that it was the wrong color in the design, or you’re doing vinyl, and it peels. Something doesn’t work right. Just look at that as not the huge disaster that it is, but as a step that you’re going to have to go through. You have to learn these lessons.
We try to prepare you as much as possible. “These are the shirts you should use. This is what you should look for. This is how you should price your work.” But you’re going to get these mistakes. They may not be because you did anything wrong, just you haven’t perfected it yet.
So, you’ve got to be ready. Maybe think a little bit about what you’re going to do, when that happens. If you are the one person that has been in the business for over three months, and haven’t screwed something up royally, whether it’s your fault or not, then sit down and figure out what you’re going to do when that happens, so you’re not panicking.
What are you going to do, when you’ve got an order due out in two days, and the company you’re buying blanks from ran out of that shirt? What are you going to do, when the color comes in wrong? What are you going to do, when the customer changes their mind, or doesn’t pay you?
I don’t know what the answer to any of those things are, but you should. You should know, because you’re going to fail, before you move through to the big success.
Marc V: Yeah. It’s solutions, not excuses, always. I run into things with Colman and Company. I have to make sure the websites are working well, and marketing is going right, and we’ve got happy customers. Every day, there’s a problem with something.
Some people walk into my office, freaked out. I say “We’ll fix it.” “How?”
Mark S: “I don’t know, yet.”
Marc V: “Don’t ask me that question, because you just told me the problem. But I’ll tell you this. We will. Then, I’ll let you know when it’s fixed, and then move on.”
Mark S: And there’s like almost 5,000 products on the Colman and Company site, right?
Marc V: Yeah, over 5,000 SKUs.
Mark S: So, I guarantee something is broken right now.
Marc V: Thanks for reminding me!
Mark S: Your next test is to go through every product and look, to see if something’s wrong.
You had said that the last thing that you did was kind of build a flatbed printer, and you were talking about doing t-shirts. Right? So, you figured that out. How did that translate into BelQuette becoming a company, and coming out with its first printer?
Brett W: Well, one thing we learned from the fingernail experience was the print area was really, really small. And the substrate is hard, so it doesn’t take up a lot of ink. So, the Imaginail didn’t really go through much consumable, in the amount of years.
Mark S: Let me just interject. A substrate is whatever you are printing on. It can be a t-shirt or a canvas, or whatever it is, a fingernail. Whatever you’re printing on is the substrate.
Brett W: So yeah, we were looking around at other graphics opportunities where inkjet could fit nicely in. At that point, it was the late 90s. There was no one really commercially inkjetting directly onto t-shirts, at that time.
Mark M: I think there was one machine. Mimaki came out with a very large machine, very expensive, very heavy. I don’t think it had white ink in it.
Brett W: They were bleaching the shirts.
Mark M: That’s right, discharge.
Marc V: Oh, yes. I remember that.
Mark M: Which is kind of a nasty fluid, to touch or to run through a printhead. But that’s how they were doing it. It was kind of a grayish sort of, not white. So, white became a challenge, to keep it suspended, to keep it from clogging. So, we spent a lot of time on coming up with solutions that would avoid the problems plagued with white ink, in the early days.
We had come a long way with that, and made our own [inaudible 19:30] solutions in-house, because there was really nothing available. You had to just invent ways to keep it -.
Mark S: So, if somebody wanted to go into the custom t-shirt business, they were not doing inkjet. They weren’t doing direct-to-garment printing at all. You were a screen printer, basically. Right? Or you were tie-dying shirts, or something.
Brett W: Yeah. The transition was first off, to realize some of the failure points of the business of Imaginail. Not that it was a failure. It was a good success, but we had licensed our intellectual property to a company in Tampa. That’s what brought us down to Florida, with Imaginail.
They had built the company, and we were consultants. We weren’t running the company, but we were integral in starting it, and we were there day to day. So, we were looking at other opportunities, because this one was done. This was up and running. Someone else was running it.
What next? – type scenario. The interim was direct-to-canvas, DTC.
Mark S: I love that!
Brett W: But we were producing the end product, selling them to artists and photographers.
Mark M: We had local museums that would give us art, and we would produce pieces, because we could do one-offs. That’s the beauty of anything digital, doing unique pieces at one-off. But very high quality. The artists demanded giclee. It’s a word that they use for fine art.
Mark S: If you’re fancy, you use giclee.
Mark M: Put a French name around something, and it’s worth more.
Mark M: So, we produced a lot of pieces for local art galleries. We decided that this direct-to-garment thing seemed very interesting. We felt that this was a direction that we thought would take off, and it has. We feel that going from an [inaudible 21:54] technology is like going from a film camera to a digital camera.
People are very resistant. “There will be nothing as good as film. Film has infinite resolution.” But now -.
Marc V: It’s a challenge to develop film, and purchase a camera. You have to get it online, first. You can’t buy it in a store.
Mark M: It took many years to transition, and now, it’s really not talked about.
So, screen printing is still an [inaudible 22:25] technology. It’s still used. It still will be used for quite a while. But there is a transition, moving into digital. As the chemistries get better, it’s going to open up the substrates that are printed on.
Brett W: And the equipment.
Mark M: And equipment. This is where our focus lies. The equipment to be able to do this hasn’t been invented yet, to do things in maybe a smaller format. To look at some of the specific problems that plague what’s currently available. That’s where our focus is, just naturally. It’s what we do, and we’re very excited to keep doing that.
Marc V: That’s awesome.
Mark M: This team that will allow us to focus on the things that we’re really ingrained to do, and not have to be in the marketing, and the other things that can be distracting to focusing on where our core is.
Brett W: We can share those responsibilities, and that’s huge.
Marc V: That’s fantastic. I’m a great idea guy, so here it is. You guys are good engineers. You can do this. You build like a time machine within the DTG, and then you can print faster than a screen printer ever could.
Mark M: We’ll have to think about this.
Marc V: So, do that! I don’t have any of the solutions on how, but that’s your expertise.
Mark S: That’s the way people think about marketing. They say “You know what you should do? You should take a 3-D picture of this, and put it on the website!” You know.
Mark M: It’s about coming up with ideas that feed us. It’s ironic, since we’ve joined forces, and this has been a progressive thing for a little while, just talking to the folks, and watching some of the steps that you need to go through, for different areas of applying, whether it be a transfer, whether it be direct-to-garment.
We already have some new innovations in the works, just from the feedback from your own team. We’ve looked at it, and “Wow! You know what? That is a problem. Let’s fix that.”
Mark S: Talk about that, because you’ve got some – we’re in the BelQuette kind of showroom, and there are some innovative products in this room. So, I just want you to talk about, for a second, like what that process looks like.
I’m looking at the T-Treater, which is a completely unique kind of pre-treat machine. So, walk us through kind of problem/solution there, because I find that really interesting.
Brett W: The T-Treater, it wasn’t the first pre-treat machine for direct-to-garment, on the market. But the machines that were on the market, and before that, people were just using a paint sprayer and spraying shirts. The old paint sprayer coated your environment with this nasty pre-treat. It rusted everything around. It stuck to everything.
So, the early pre-treat machines, and even the current pre-treat machines were in an enclosure. Your shirt went in, and sometimes the shirt sleeve got stuck in the mechanical device, going in and out. They were trying to contain that overspray. So, that was one of the things that we wanted to address. Let’s build a machine that doesn’t have overspray, that 100% of the pre-treat went onto the garment. There was no waste.
That was the first box we checked. Then, we said “Well, talking about waste, if you have a graphic that’s this size, but you’re pre-treating this size, there’s this waste here.” We said “What if we target the general area?” So, we did a targeted system, the second checkbox.
And there were a number of other things. Small, compact. So, we came up with a process that does targeting pre-treat, with no overspray. Everything goes onto the shirt. It’s a good feel. It has a touchscreen display. It’s easy to load, mount, easy to swap platens out.
Mark S: I want you guys out there, that are watching or listening, to kind of think about that process that Brett just outlined. What is it in your business, or what are the opportunities? I mean, they looked at a couple of ways to accomplish something, and looked at what was broken about it, what was messy about it, and spent the time to fix it, to come up with some good alternative solutions.
So, that’s everywhere in your business, too. You can talk about that with the people that you interact with. We talk about going after whales, occasionally, in these podcasts. You know, where you’re a small embroidery or small t-shirt printer, and you’re trying to figure out a way to get into the University of South Florida.
Or you’re trying to figure out a way to get into the electric company, or somebody big that you really want to go after. When you’re sitting down, when you’re in front of those people, have them explain their problems to you. Because you can’t follow them around their business, and see what the problems are.
But you can ask them the questions, like “What’s the worst thing? What don’t you like about when you order something? Tell me about your job, and what bothers you.” “Well, I’m in Purchasing, and I order caps from one place. I order shirts from another place. I order uniforms for our janitorial staff, from another place. So, I’ve got to manage like eight vendors.”
How can you simplify that? How can you take this messy sprayer for pre-treat, and at least put it in a box, so it doesn’t get everywhere, and you can do it inside your office? It’s not necessarily that you’re going to invent something, but listening to how this thought process works, and applying to what you’re doing, is a win.
You’re listening to the podcast now, because you want your business to be better. Right? So, you’re already ahead of the game. Just take that next step, and apply this kind of problem-solving approach to whatever you’re doing in your business.
Marc V: And it’s how you’re going to win new customers, is exactly that. You started to mention that example, about asking them. What you should be doing, if you’re listening to our podcast, is you’re attending community events, you’re a member of local small business agencies, you go to networking meetings. Wherever you go, you go to events, you meet people, you talk to people, you’re on the phone, talking.
But when you run into somebody, oftentimes, especially if they’re in business and they make shirts already, they have somebody that they work with. So, you say, “Okay,” and whatever approach you want. If you’re aggressive, say “I want your business. What do I have to do?”
But not everyone is as aggressive, as a salesperson, as that. Especially because people in the direct-to-garment and t-shirt printing and embroidery business, they’re often more along the lines of they’re technician-style people. They’re artists. They like making things. They’re not always the aggressive salesperson.
So, use that as your approach. “Okay, I’m trying to improve my business. I’m trying to grow, and I want to do something better. Tell me like two or three things that you don’t like about who you do business with.” And they’ll tell you what you can do, to sell them. They’ll tell you right then and there.
So, what you do is maybe you don’t have a way to do that yet. “I wish I could order this way online,” or “I wish there was an easier way for my team to try on shirts, and get the right sizing.” What if you come up with a solution for that?
Then, you come back to them, and you say “Hey, you mentioned to me – I want to thank you, because you gave me a great idea. You told me that finding sizes for t-shirts for all of your staff was always an issue, especially season to season. Weights change, styles change, all of this. So, I thought of a way where actually I come and I bring to my customers a whole set of options. I give them like good-better-best, and I bring sizes from extra-small to 4X.”
“Then, I set up like a little mini-fitting room. I bought a spray-tan booth thing that I hang up, that’s a shower curtain,” whatever you think of. “And I actually bring a fitting room to your office.”
Mark S: That’s a great very involved idea. I like that.
Marc V: Yeah. Look for stuff like that. Ask for what the problem is, start thinking of a solution. The next thing it made me think about is you might not be an amazing problem-solver. Not everyone is. Everyone has a strength. Some people are really fast at t-shirt production. They can sit there, and they can just pop a shirt on a direct-to-garment printer and hit go.
And they’re doing it so fast, and I’m like “Man, if I were doing it that fast, I’d never get it on straight. I would always have wrinkles.” But they’re really good at that. However, they’re not great at figuring out a new way to do that. They’re great at implementing.
So, if you’re not great at that problem-solving, still find out what the problems are, or the problems you have are, and consult with someone you know, anybody. If you know an engineer, cool. That might be a solution. But it also just might be a friend of yours who builds a bunch of stuff in his garage.
Brett W: Marc, yeah. Your vendors. Reach out to your vendors, like ColDesi and Colman and Company. Because without interaction with our customers, we wouldn’t know the problems to solve. As a small business owner, you need to resolve problems. But you don’t have to be the sole source of how to figure them out.
Marc V: Yeah, that’s great.
Mark S: I think that one of the things that we’re all looking forward to, incorporating more into ColDesi, is if you are a BelQuette customer, and you’ve got a Mod1, or you’ve got any of the other direct-to-garment printers, it’s almost like you’ve found the Mod1, because you’re technically oriented, and you’re kind of an advanced user.
You’re looking for those unique problem-solving solutions that BelQuette came up with. So, I’m really looking forward to taking some of the best of what you guys have done with the BelQuette line, and applying it to future generations of what we do, not just in DTG, but everything else.
One of the great things, one of the first things that it seems like you guys did was just kind of – we all wandered around the showroom at ColDesi. Because ColDesi, we sell the DTG digital brand of direct-to-garment printers, which of course, we still will. We sell the ProSpangle spangle machine, the SpiderMini Pretreat, we sell a CAMS automatic rhinestone machine, we sell a variety of different heat presses.
We just kind of walked around that room, and found opportunities for improvement in almost everything that we touched. That kind of approach, that taking a look at what’s happening now, and figuring out why is it done that way? Why, on a platen for a DTG printer, do you actually have to tuck the shirt underneath the mat, like you do a sheet on a mattress? Why do you have to do that?
Why are heat presses so heavy? Why does the Spangle machine need oiled as frequently? Why does the cutter work like this? We even brought a prototype cutter in, to take a look at, and just took it apart, basically saw all of the things that we would improve about it or change about it.
At Colman and Company and ColDesi, beforehand, we would just say “No, we can’t sell this, for the following reasons. You guys can try again if you want to, and send us something new.” Now, part of the future, what we’re going to do together, is you guys get to look at that, like any of those opportunities.
Nothing specific was leaked, but any of those opportunities, and say “Oh, this is really something that we can get behind.”
Marc V: Besides the time machine idea. I did leak that. I apologize.
Mark S: But it won’t matter, because we can go back.
Marc V: They’ll go back in time, and erase it.
Mark S: I guarantee we’re going to get at least three people asking us about the new time machine.
Marc V: Yeah. I can’t wait! Please send all of those inquiries to me.
I wanted to just kind of address the supplies, and the Colman and Company side of things, because any time that you’re purchasing this ink that you know is really good. You continued, and you purchased a lot, for the ink technology, in addition to the machine technology. So, we’re taking that onto the Colman and Company side.
The BelQuette store is basically kind of within the site. All of the same processes are being brought into the ink. We’re taking technology that we have, to be able to produce things faster and simpler. Not the ink, but maybe how we label it and how we box it, and how we store it.
Mark S: Those efficiencies.
Marc V: These efficiencies, because we’ve got over 5,000 SKUs in the store, so we’re used to having so many SKUs. We also have agents on the phone, on live chat, on email, that all they do all day is talk to folks about purchasing all of their supplies.
So, one of the coolest things that I just saw the other day is somebody ordered their bagged BelQuette ink and their embroidery supplies at the same time. So, you’re going to get to do things like that. You’re going to get to buy other technologies, because people who do digital garment printing are also doing heat transfer vinyl, because they want glitter.
They do embroidery, because they want to do embroidered caps. So, you’re going to get to have more of those things. At Colman and Company, one of the things we always do is we’re always looking for a new product to solve a problem our customers are having. There’s always something interesting and new being brought in.
There’s always new product lines we’re looking at, whether it’s more colors of something. So, as you’ve got the opportunity to shop for the same exact supplies you’re going to get, literally your ink, bags, everything will be exactly the same, so you’re going to get the same exact quality.
But you’re going to get the benefits of Colman and Company, like our free shipping options, and agents that are on the phone all of the time. So, if you email or call in, 99% of the time, you get somebody right then and there, who is going to fix that problem right then and there, which is really cool.
I think it should be exciting for everybody.
Mark S: Yeah. You’ll get to order vinyl, you’ll get to order embroidery supplies. You should look at the Colman and Company site. If you’re a BelQuette customer, you should really spend some time on the Colman and Company site. There’s a lot of very cool stuff.
Marc V: Yeah. Look at some stuff. We’ve automated out everything. Some of you listening right now may have been in some special, like you had something special that you ordered from BelQuette, for whatever reason it is. If you did, then we’ve already programmed all of that into the website, so that’s available to you.
So, you log into your account, and boom! It’s right there. You don’t have to pick up the phone and call, or email an order, or send a purchase order, because you did something particularly special. We’ve programmed it into the website for you.
Almost all of those are done. So, if you haven’t purchased yet, you just log into your account online. We’ve already sent those emails out. If you happened to not get it, just give BelQuette a call. They will send you over to an agent that’s going to work with you, and we’re going to take care of it.
It’s going to be really cool. Our goal is to make sure that all of you just are more than 100% happy with the new stuff that you’re going to get to have. Also, currently at this moment, and it doesn’t mean that when you watch this a year later, it’s the same, but currently we’ve done some temporary price adjustments, as you bundle up bags of ink. So, you actually get a little bit of a better deal right now.
Your first order, if you spend $200 on your first order, you’re probably going to save a little bit of money on ink, and get free shipping. So, you’ve got an opportunity just right out of the gate, for a little bit of happiness, to just save some money right away. That’s kind of just one of the things that we wanted to do your you in good faith, saying “We’re going to take care of you.”
Mark S: Everyone from BelQuette that you’ve talked to in the past, is now working at ColDesi and Colman and Company. You guys, though, are participating, but you’re also kind of – I don’t know if you’re familiar with BelQuette printers. Even if you are familiar with BelQuette printers, you might not be familiar with the kind of industry consulting and product development that you guys have done in the past.
Do you want to talk about those kinds of projects, and what you’re capable of and what you can do?
Brett W: Sure. We’ll talk about anything. What’s on your mind?
Mark S: We talked about some of the things that you’ve done with -.
Brett W: Innovation from scratch.
Mark S: Yeah, from scratch. So, a big company comes to you, that’s in the industry, and says “We have this problem.” Or they pick up the phone, somebody from Ford, or whatever company picks up the phone and says.
Brett W: Yeah. We’ve had those calls.
Mark M: We like those calls, because it’s a challenge. They’re coming to us with an issue that they’re looking for a real solution for. It gets us thinking and working together. Maybe to backtrack on the Mod1, we didn’t really talk too much about that. Why Mod1?
Well, one of the problems, when Brett talked about the pre-treatment, and spraying being not contained and getting all over the place, we addressed that. The next thing we saw was these digital printers were fairly large, and difficult to ship. And when there was a problem, sometimes, there was no choice but to have a technician go to the onsite to fix it, or ship it back.
To ship this printer back required a skid, and a shipping company, it’s original box, and they might not have it. So, we thought, we need to break the jetting part out of the printer. Hence, “Mod” is a short term for modular. So, the platen mechanism and the frame is not the problem. It’s the inkjet side of it.
Mark S: That’s what needs repair. Mostly, that’s what needs repair.
Mark M: So, we decided, let’s break that part out. It literally can be shipped overnight now, weighing only – what’s the weight? 60 pounds, maybe? Very light, so a person can pick it up.
Brett W: 45 pounds.
Mark M: Can pick it up and ship this thing anywhere, overnight. That was one of the things we offered, that we could give them a new printer module, hence a brand new printer overnight. It had never been done before.
Brett W: That was 2007. Back then, you’ve seen modularity work its way into the industry since. But 2007, they were all big floor-mounted machines, or tiny desktops. But still, it was all encompassing and heavy. This was much smaller packaging.
Mark M: We had to make sure that the owner of one machine was never stuck for days on end, when they had orders. We needed to be able to reassure a single owner that we could get them a new printer module sent to them the next day, without a lot of hassle. They could even keep theirs, and send it back to us when they had time.
The most important thing, up time for them. So, this was the reason for the Mod. It’s just basically how we’re wired, to look at things that are out there. We watch, no matter what the application is, and try to figure out what’s a better way to make that person, what they’re doing, more efficient?
Brett W: Actually, the Mod, we worked with some of the largest fulfillment companies in the business.
Mark S: You know their name.
Mark M: Probably the largest single installed DTG base in the world.
Brett W: That was one of them, and a few others. They all had problems, manufacturing problems, logistics problems, quality problems. The output wasn’t exactly what they wanted. So, on the Mod1, we went into these companies, installed a number of them, but then worked with their engineering team, to figure out, okay, the software needs to do this.
Mark S: The workflow is different here, than over here.
Brett W: Absolutely.
Mark M: We watched the operators, how they interacted with it.
Brett W: As a small company, there’s a lot of massive companies now making inkjet printers overseas. But as a small engineering company, we can go in, sit down with the engineering team, sit down with the management team. Hear what their issues are, work them out together.
That’s the thing. It was always a combined effort. We weren’t just listening and coming back to them with this great contraption that fixed all of their problems. It was always a solution where “What’s your issue? Does this fit your bill? Let’s work together, to figure it out.”
Mark M: We would actually change the way our machine worked, to suit their needs. And someone else would have a completely different set of needs. We were able to address it, because one box doesn’t fit all. So, it was an advantage we have, and we will continue that way, working with entities that need something a little different than what’s currently available.
That’s where our strength has been.
Mark S: So, if you’re used to dealing with BelQuette on that basis, if you are the CEO or the President or the head development guy for a company that’s in this general industry, and you’re used to dealing with BelQuette, that’s what Mark and Brett are going to be focusing on.
They’re working, definitely, with ColDesi, on a lot of development stuff. But BelQuette Technologies is kind of going to go forward as this little think tank that industry professionals can rely on to come up with independent solutions that are developed for them, by BelQuette Technologies.
So, you guys kind of end up with the best of both worlds. You still have life in DTG and all of that, but you also get these outside projects in, that you’re going to work on independently, that you get to sink your teeth into.
Brett W: And focus.
Mark M: Yeah, and focus.
Marc V: The focus is the coolest part. So, a little bit of my story, as far as Colman and Company, when I started working for Colman and Company, I did a lot of things. I was answering the phone, and I was helping to develop a team of folks that were a little more sales savvy, helping our customers basically pick the right products, rather than just taking an order, and then hanging it up, and then realizing that the customer bought something that might not have been the most efficient thing for them.
I was doing that, answering the phone, and the focus was scattered. I would have this great idea, and never be able to execute it, because I had to worry about a phone call. Then, as we changed and we developed and grew, then I had the opportunity to focus on like the website and marketing, and like when you live there.
As a business owner, a takeaway you can do from that is, right now, you probably do everything. And we’ve done plenty of podcasts on this.
Mark S: Yeah. It’s so common.
Marc V: If accounting is really not strong for you, and you’re not that great at it, I know it’s going to cost you a little bit of money, but you can find a service out there that will help you get some of that accounting done, and take it off your plate.
Mark S: Here’s what I could almost guarantee, is that if you are a gifted t-shirt designer, or a gifted engineer, you’re probably not amazing at QuickBooks and invoicing. That’s a rare combination. If you are a terrific salesperson, and you can go out and knock on doors, and get all kinds of business, in no way does that mean that the ideas that you come up with for custom t-shirts are any good at all. Right?
So, if you’re at the stage where you’re a one-person shop, whether it’s embroidery or DTG or whatever, you should re-listen to one of our early episodes on where we reviewed the E-Myth book. You should listen to that whole program.
You’re not a t-shirt printer, unless you work for someone that has a t-shirt printing business. You’re a business owner that has a direct-to-garment printer or screen printer that does t-shirts. So, you’ve got to look for those opportunities to hand things off.
If you’re not great at fulfillment, get somebody else to do it. If you’re not great at accounting, find somebody to do your bookkeeping. Look for the opportunities, maybe not now, like you guys have spent a career building up a great business, and now just have got this opportunity to focus on what you really like to sink your teeth into.
Maybe it will work that way for you, as well.
Brett W: It started with just the two of us, in Mark’s basement in Cincinnati, and grew and grew. And at some point, we said “Oh, boy. We have to go full-time with this. It can’t be a side project anymore.” So yeah, just persistence.
Marc V: Persistence. And when you are looking to outsource something, not that that’s what we’re doing here, talking about here, but I’m kind of going back to our customer for a moment, because you do the t-shirts, you do embroidery, whatever it is. And you’re stuck, because you do so much.
We have multiple episodes where we’ve talked about that. There’s fear in the change in that. There’s fear in saying “If I move this piece, I potentially could -.”
Mark S: “I don’t want to let it go!”
Marc V: Yeah. “I could knock down my tower.” As a small business owner, you’ve got to really think about that, and you’ve got to take some risks, sometimes. If you say “I would love to be able to have an Accountant to do all of that for me, but I can’t afford that,” there’s a problem for you, that you need to search for a solution.
Is there a portion that you can take out? Because it’s almost, you can’t afford not to do it. Also, what would you do with that time? If you spend three hours a week doing bookkeeping, and you’re not very good at it, what else would you do with those three hours? Could you sell more shirts?
Then, at that point in time, the motivational entrepreneur would say “You can’t afford not to do that now.”
Mark S: And I think that kind of sums things up for us. Because what you’ve seen is kind of like both the inventor and entrepreneurial journey that Mark and Brett have gone through, in developing BelQuette printers and BelQuette devices, and in working with other people in the industry on developing their own customized solutions.
And this next kind of phase, where product development and working on those bigger solutions, is going to be the focus with BelQuette Technologies, while still, of course, staying part of the ColDesi family, as well.
I want to just close up by saying thank you to you guys, for being on the podcast today. We don’t have many guests, you know.
Marc V: It’s normally forbidden.
Mark S: Yeah, normally forbidden.
Brett W: So, this isn’t a weekly event for us?
Mark S: No, sorry!
Mark M: I think maybe the next time we talk, we’ll be unveiling something very exciting and fun.
Mark S: Absolutely!
Mark M: I think everyone will be looking forward to what’s coming around the corner.
Marc V: That’s awesome!
Mark M: That will be our next step.
Marc V: And I wouldn’t be surprised if your thought behind that was “First of many.”
Mark S: Absolutely! Okay, everybody. Thanks very much. This has been Mark Stephenson, from ColDesi.
Marc V: And Marc Vila, from Colman and Company. And guys, I need those Admit One nails on, and paint my glasses red.
Mark S: Okay, okay!
Marc V: I’m going to do that, now!
Mark M: It sounds like Marc wants his nails done.
Mark S: You guys have a good business!