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This Episode

Mark Stephenson & Marc Vila

Mark Biletnikoff

You Will Learn

  • How to grow your custom apparel business
  • How to get customers buying from you again
  • Importance of high quality garment
  • How to handle inventory

Resources & Links

Episode 86 – What Success Looks Like in DTG Printing and More!

Show Notes

Great interview with Mark Biletnikoff from https://www.contract-dtg.com/

Mark got his start with direct to garment printing as a novice in 2010 and now has both a retails space and a rapidly expanding contract t-shirt printing company. During our talk, we and Mark B describe his biggest failures, great successes and what he’s done to grow to 12 DTG printers, 2 screen setups, embroidery, vinyl and more..

Here are just a few questions Mark Answered:

  • In your road to becoming a successful business owner, what do you think was your biggest hurdle to overcome?
  • How do you keep customers coming back?
  • What was your biggest order mistake, and how did you handle it?
  • If you knew what you know now about owning a business, what would you have done differently in the beginning?
  • How important is the quality of the garment to your sales/customer satisfaction?
  • What are the top 3 biggest mistakes a t-shirt shop can make?
  • What is the most ridiculous request a customer has made?
  • How do you handle inventory? Stock?
  • What is the exact role of a contract printer?
  • What would you suggest is the best way for a home-based business to find one?

Transcript

INTRO: Welcome to the Custom Apparel Startups Podcast, your best source for information, news, tips and tricks to get you off the ground running and earn success with your custom apparel decorating business.

So, get ready to soak up some knowledge.

Now, here are your hosts: Mark and Mark!

Mark S.: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Custom Apparels Startups podcast. My name is Mark Stephenson from ColDesi.

Mark V.: This is Mark Villa from Colman and Company. We’ve got a guest today, as you can see if you’re watching. If you’re listening, you have no idea that there’s a guest.

Mark S.: Right.

Mark V.: So, but we’re here with Mark Biletnikoff with First Amendment Tees. He’s here to talk about his business, the success of his business, contract printing, a lot of different things.

Mark S.: Honestly, it’s just another part of our journey to find as many people named Mark as we can in the custom apparel business, and he fit the bill. So…He happened to be in town.

Mark V.: Is this our third episode with a third mark?

Mark S.: I think so.

Mark V.: Yeah. That’s awesome.

Mark S.: It’s crazy.

Mark B.: This is my brother Mark, this is my other brother Mark.

Mark S.: Yeah.

Mark V.: Oh! Yes!

Mark S.: I like that!

Alright! So, the reason that Mark is here is because not just has he been a Colman and Company and ColDesi customer for a long time, but he’s actually done it. Mark, I’m going to let you tell your story in a minute, but this is a guy that started a custom t-shirt business. Right? Started very small. Managed to build up a real business doing custom t-shirts, and then added a contract DTG business on top of that. So, it’s kind of what I know a lot of you guys want to do out there. I know that there are a couple people listening that are wondering if they could do it, or wondering if they can actually start a business. Do you have to be a rocket scientist? Do you have to do Motor Cross competitively? You know? Do you have to be a paintball aficionado? The answer to that is, “Maybe.” I don’t know.

So, Mark, you want to say hi and tell us a little bit about what you do now?

Mark B.: My name is Biletnikoff from Erie, Pennsylvania. I am the owner and president of First Amendment Tees, contract dash DTG, and my Custom Dash T-Shirt.

My story goes back to 2010. We started with our first printer from ColDesi. We started unconventionally. Most people start out silk screening, maybe embroider, or something along those lines. We kind of went unconventional: we went backward. We started with a DTG machine and then started adding other services as that went.

I started in my basement, probably like a lot of you guys. Just printing. I was in another job field, and I just woke up one day and said I was going to make t-shirts. Here we are eight and a half years later. You know? Three companies later and still going strong and growing! You know? Year over year. So, yeah. I mean, our first printer we bought is still in service today. How we got into it was, we started out and I said, “Hey, I want to make funny t-shirts.” That’s why I bought the printer. I wanted to make funny t-shirts, but I didn’t want to make a thousand of them. I looked into silk-screen equipment, I looked into other methods, and vinyl. It just wasn’t what I wanted to get into, but I loved the full-color aspect of it. I love to be able to print one. So, that was our gig. I’m going to build a website, we’re going to make funny t-shirts, and that’s how we’re going to get in business. We’re still doing that, but that’s not where we went. You know? It completely changed.

Mark S.: So, I’ve got to say. Like, 2010, DTG was hard. You…DTG wasn’t brand new, but we were still selling one of the first 2 printers, I think. It was the HM1. You know, they were certainly less expensive and it was the only way to go digital back then, really.

Mark B.: Yeah.

Mark S.: It was a much more technical job. Now, it’s pretty well-developed.

Mark B.: It’s very sorted. The inks are different. Yeah.

Back then, I mean, you guys had a leader in that machine, I thought, back then. I come from a manufacturing background, and I thought you guys had the leader in all the machines around at that time. Like I said, we still use those machines today. So, I mean, it was one of those things that I’m glad that we made the right choice. I made the right choice, and we stuck with it! I mean, it’s been paying dividends ever since.

Mark V.: There’s been a lot of stories like you with people who got into digital when digital was starting off. Like, coming ahead of the curve. We have a lot of customers, actually, that own an original kiosk or HM1 or an original Viper. SO, these are DTG machines from, you know, 10 years ago, 8 years ago, or whatever it might be. They did really well when they pushed through the tech side of it. So, they came in when it was more tech-heavy, pushed through it. It builds you a backbone for really understanding the hardships of business in it of itself when you’re at the newer end of a technology.

Mark B.: Well, they say if you survived a startup business in 2010-2011—if you survived through that, you can survive anything.

Mark S.: Yeah, yeah.

Mark B.: It’s pretty true. I didn’t know that at the time. You know? Like I said, I went from a job making almost a hundred grand a year and not having a worry in the world. It was corporate America, and then I was like, “You know what? Screw this. I’m done. I want to make t-shirts.” I was like—but, I didn’t know that the market was horrible. I didn’t know that…

Mark V.: Just that the…

Mark S.: It was a terrible time to do that!

Mark B.: It was good. You know? I was going to school…I requested a layoff. I was going to college for mechanical engineering, but then the business had started taking off, and it was like I couldn’t continue school. I had to stop going to college and focus full-time on business.

Mark S.: You got your HM1.

Mark B.: Yup.

Mark S.: How long did it take you to go in the black, to actually make money?

Mark B.: The first…Geez. I had the machine—I got it in June. I mean, there were 2 months of nothing but playing with it. Learning the software, playing with pre-treating—because this was before there was pre-treating machines and we were still doing a Wagner spray gun and a heat press. Then, it was like figuring out the process. Then, I kind of figured it out. I was like, “Well, I can’t have the same machine that’s doing the pre-treat doing the curing of the ink.” I needed to have—I saw the bottleneck of what was the production. So, I added a couple of heat presses. Then, we ended up adding another machine, because—in all reality—you only get paid to put a print on a shirt. You don’t get paid to pre-treat it. You don’t get paid to fold it. You don’t get paid to mail it. You don’t make any money. There’s no value-added services except for putting a print on the shirt.

So, I needed to establish a base cost, shop-rate. You know, we were doing it in the basement. Then, it’d overcome my whole house and my first floor. You know, it was just like, “This is enough!”

So, I got my first shop. It was a little over a thousand square foot. We had gotten another machine, so we had two printers. We actually set up a pre-treat area and a stock room and stuff. Moving it out of my house was probably one of the best things. You know? I had to separate work from home. It was kind of overcoming. It was the whole learning process of doing it at home and trying to figure things out. But, being able to work anytime I wanted, walking downstairs…It wasn’t too conducive to a real established lifestyle.

Mark S.: Did moving out of your house—did that extra financial burden put more pressure on you to be more successful, or were you already there and just kind of made more room?

Mark B.: It was kind of a combination of both. We were doing a lot more work. We kind of fell into contract printing at that point. We had some customers that needed prints done on a fulfillment basis. So, that’s kind of where we made the big jump from just doing local t-shirts for groups and clubs and friends and stuff like that. But then, actually someone finding you and making a website so that people can actually find you. You know? The Yellow Pages and the White Pages…That’s not how people find you. Even in 2010, business was different then. We had built a website—it was horrible, but it was functional and it explained what we did. So, that’s how someone found us to do actual contract printing. It was out of our state.

Mark V.: So, was that a bit of a break?

Mark B.: Absolutely. Yeah. It was establishing…Having a website and establishing and legitimizing who you were.

Mark S.: “This is what I do.”

Mark B.: Yeah. Not just a brick and mortar waiting for someone to walk through your door. It’s someone that’s cruising the internet at three o’clock in the morning finding someone that does what you do and specializes in what you do, and then needing your service. So, that’s kind of how we got into the contract printing. That was kind of the game changer for us.

Then, I started seeing the value in where…There’s a real need for this. Not just printing for a club or a couple softball shirts and stuff like that. It was providing a service, whether it’s someone who owns a restaurant or someone that owns…Yeah, maybe a softball team, or it’s someone maybe in Michigan and they don’t have that type of printing locally.

So, that’s kind of how we grew—people needing our service.

Mark S.: So, that’s one of the things that we talked about over lunch. How do you market your business? You know, one of the things I did immediately on the phone…A smart move that you made was kind of to put that contract DTG word on the new website, because still—today—if you search for “contract DTG printing,” you’re the number one organic search. So, I mean, that’s worth a lot of money. So, a great argument for if you were early in this. Right? You made the right content on the site, got people to find you, and that just kind of…

Mark B.: Yeah. Well, actually, we didn’t have a contract site for probably about three years. So, we piggybacked everything—the contract printing, the everything—off of FAT-Tee.com. So, we really didn’t have a contract. We offered it through First Amendment Tees—you know, through our website—but that’s not really how we…That’s really how they found us.

Then, we decided, “Hey, because of the volume, we need to separate the business so we have our local—”

Mark V.: Oh, yeah.

Mark B.: Then, we had to have it legitimized because then you’re also confusing customers. You have retail customers trying to get contract pricing and contract customers scared about retail pricing. It just didn’t mesh. So, we had to separate to two customers. That was our defining moment of setting that up.

Mark V.: Your story has a classic example of when we discuss the lifetime value of a customer.

Mark S.: Yeah.

Mark V.: Because…So, what you have learned probably early on in your business is how to talk with customers, how to deliver good customer service. You took time to learn the product or the methods, so you made a good t-shirt. Then, when you had that opportunity, when you got that first break to do some big jobs over and over again, you were able to keep that customer. I think that that’s a key thing that happens with small business. NO matter what they are. Of course, in our industry as well. But, if they’re a restaurant or you’re a plumber or an AC. If you don’t know what you’re doing, if you don’t know how to treat customers right, if you don’t know how to actually run it as a business, then when you get the breaks you just miss them.

Mark B.: Yup. Or—

Mark V.: If you had known what you had done…

Mark S.: You get that first order and then you’re done…

Mark B.: And then, even though your retail customer is a different customer than your contract customer…A contract customer is more educated, already in the business. A retail customer is uneducated in that form of printing, or as far as printing or, “Why does it cost this?” You still have to treat those customers…

We try to go a little extra. We try to do a little bit more than, say, our competitors. You know? The personal touch, the calls, the, “Hey, you can text me anytime, day or night.” “You can have my personal phone number.” We don’t really shut out our customers. If there’s a problem or anything like that.

I’ve always said that there’s no substitution for being second best. We will not survive. I’ve instilled that since Day 1. We try to offer a better service, we try to offer better artwork, a better hands-on approach to handling the orders. How do we present them to our customers? Things that we do—there’s a lot of things that we do that I know other people don’t do. I think that’s been a lot of how we’ve gotten to where we are is because of what we offer.

Mark S.: That’s great. I mean, it’s literally, you just went through like five episodes of the podcast. It’s great.

One thing that you mentioned that I don’t want to go over too quickly is that voice that you use when you talk to your customer. We go through that with ColDesi and calling a company all the time. You know, we’re always talking to our customers about, “Pick your niche.” It might be a local market, it might be cheer, it might be baseball teams. You know, whatever it is, pick your niche so that you can talk that language to those people. You know? If your customers are startups—like, they’ve never done anything before—that’s a completely different conversation than somebody that is buying a thousand shirts every two weeks.

Having the commercial conversation with one customer and the, “What color do you want for your t-shirt for Grandma?” with the other customer, that’s hard to do if you’re talking from the same spot.

Mark B.: Yeah. You have to juggle that. I mean, I have one customer that lives in Indonesia. He’s been a customer since the early days. I have no idea what he looks like; he places an order five days a week, fifty-two days out of the year, pays me…I don’t even invoice him anymore! He just invoices himself. I’ll check them. It’s crazy. It’s the most crazy thing.

Mark S.: That’s great!

Mark B.: But, like, it’s been a working relationship that we’ve had for eight years, I would say. But, that’s how we do things. He can chat with me. We have WhatsApp, or we use Google Chat, or whatever, or email, or whatever. But, we have an open communication if something’s lacking or if something needs to be changed. You know? He’s halfway around the world! So, and we do stuff like that all the time.

Yeah. Treating those customers and treating them right and making sure that you do what you say and say what you do—it goes a long way.

Mark V.: Yeah, and especially because you’re not going to be free of making mistakes with a customer.

Mark B.: Absolutely not.

Mark V.: That’s something that a lot of small business owners struggle with because it’s easy to see outwardly and see the mistakes that everyone else is making. Whether it’s your customer delivering something to you wrong or whether UPS doesn’t deliver your shirts on time, whatever it may be. But, it’s really hard, as a small business owner, to look inwardly and see all the mistakes that you’ve made—or you’re about to make. I think these are lessons that people need to learn. When you understand that you make the mistakes, too, then you just become better at building relationships because you can forgive when others make mistakes, and you know how to react when you make a mistake.

Mark B.: Yeah. We have made many mistakes. You know? The biggest thing is we make it right, though. You know? But, there are times when it’s not our issue. Even then, we’ve bent. You know? But, there’s times when you have to learn from that mistake and you change your process, or you implement something—a checkpoint—in the process to kind of eliminate some of those things. Those are things that we’ve learned from, too. We’ve changed the process from earlier. Now we have eight steps that assured as checked. You know? It used to be, “Oh, we just grabbed it and we sprayed it and then we printed it and I threw it in a bag.” Now, it touches different people, different sets of hands, and different visual checks.

You know, when someone says, “Well, hey. I got my shirt and there’s a slice right in the middle of it.” It’s like, “Okay. Well, we’ve had eight people touch that and there’s no hole. We know that you opened the bag, and we fold the shirts a certain way.” There’s little things that we do that we know if it’s our fault or if it’s someone else’s fault.

There are things that you’re going to learn from, like where you have holes in the armpits or the shirt was sewn…You don’t know, you don’t catch it. Yeah, you make those things right.

Mark S.: Colman and Company does the same thing. They think about supply orders and how many cones of thread. How many packages pass through Colman and Company? We’ve got, most months, under 2%…

Mark V.: Oh, it’s under. It’s less than 1%.

Mark S.: Less than 1% error rate.

Mark V.: Less than 1% error rate pretty consistently. However, they’re bound to happen, no matter what you do. Then, we learned new processes. Also, we were talking about earlier today the improvement of products. This direct to garment ink that’s roughly 15 years old, the first version had some of the smartest chemists in the world making this stuff. It took running them through printers for 5 years to realize that if you change the [inaudible] per million of oxygen from this little bit to this little bit, that seems like nothing. That’s a massive difference.

Mark S.: I actually think it was, if you don’t put sand in it, it’ll print much better.

Mark V.: We’re hoping to get to that point.

Mark B.: I thought it was magical fairy dust.

Mark S.: It is—it is that! But, you know, I’ll say something else about the whole “making mistakes” and the customer experience. It’s the neighbor’s mailbox thing. You know? If you hate your neighbor and they back out of a driveway and knock your mailbox over, it’s the end of the world. If you like your neighbor, you just go stick the mailbox back in the ground and let it go. Right? So, it’s the same thing. If you consistently deliver a good product that’s packaged well and you’re going above board, and you’re responsive to things, then if you do make a mistake like that, you’re not going to lose a customer. You know? It’s just going to be, “Oh, yeah, no problem. What can we do to fix it in the future?”

Mark B.: We always make it right.

Mark V.: Yeah.

Mark B.: I mean, we’ll have production meetings and we’ll discuss points of error or interest or things that need to be changed. I hire a good staff that will implement things on their own. If I have to step in there, it’s gone beyond, you know, that they haven’t fixed the problem. So, I do kind of let self-starting individuals and motivating individuals run and fix their own problems. Like I said, if I step in, then I’m adding a checkpoint or I’m adding something. It’s either something that’s really bad or something that really needs to be taken care of, or I want to make sure it’s taken care of. Right? Type-thing. So, yeah.

Mark V.: Yeah, makes sense.

I’m curious. Do you have a particular mistake—like a really big one—that you’ve either made as a business owner or to a customer that stands out amongst others? How did you overcome it?

Mark B.: There’s a couple. There was one where we had a very large contract customer, where we had printed something, and it was kind of a gray area. They told us to print the same artwork as a previous job. They said it was the same artwork, but they didn’t tell us to use the new artwork. It was this gray area. I mean, it was a massive—like, a $3,000 mistake that we had to eat. It was our fault. You know? We should have used the new artwork. It’s something so simple, like a black line in the artwork. If I put them side-by-side, you might not even notice. You know? We didn’t even notice. We were like, “What are you talking about?” So, that was one of our biggest mistakes and something that we still stand by today. If a customer uploads their artwork—even if they say, “Same print as the other,” or, “Same print as previous job Number X-Y-Z-2-3-4.” We stand by that. That’s a big glaring red flat like, “Hey! Stop! Raise your hand! Let’s get on the phone with them. Let’s send them a proof. Let’s dig a little bit deeper.”

I always tell my guys, “Hey, for you to spend an extra minute is well worth…My labor paying you an extra five minutes to check on something, it saves.” Even if it’s a one-shirt fulfillment, you’ve got the shirt for $3, you’ve got the ink (it’s $2), you’ve got the label (it’s $3). All that adds up. If he would’ve just came up and asked me, or checked the website to make sure the text was supposed to be white, not gray. If you would’ve taken that thirty seconds and checked that, then you would have one of those things. You would have that ability to save money over time.

Mark V.: Yeah, and you don’t have an upset customer. Which, when we talk about lifetime value, they could go away. It could be, you hit them at the right time, at the right place. You might not have done anything bad to them ever, but they had a really bad day and you are the last thing that happened, and they just throw it off. They’re just like, “Never mind.”

Saying that, it’s the same reason. We have customers that will call here: “Just send me the same stuff I ordered last time.”

Mark B.: Yeah, no!

Mark V.: So, hold on. Hold on. This, this, and this.

“That’s not what I ordered last time.” Well, yes it was.

Mark B.: Two orders ago.

Mark V.: Two orders ago!

I’ve literally had that phone call myself with somebody, who they just literally forgot their last order. They forgot to order something, so they added an extra order of bobbins for their embroidery machine. That was the second order. It was an hour apart. So, to them, in their mind, it was the same order. They got it the same day, it was all for the same job…

Mark B.: You know who’s wrong? You are.

Mark S.: Yeah!

Mark B.: No matter. I have a timestamp on this, I have an email, but at the end of the day you’re wrong.

Mark S.: Doesn’t matter.

Mark B.: Doesn’t matter.

Mark S.: Doesn’t matter.

Mark V.: That’s why, you know, McDonald’s invests in the screen that shows you their order. It’s why the server at restaurants will repeat back what you ordered. I mean, it’s the same thing over and over and over and over again, wherever you go. It’s the reconfirming with the customer that you’re going to deliver what they asked for. When you start making assumptions, and then it’s your fault.

Mark B.: It’s Burger King’s fault. You’re right away now!

Mark V.: Yeah!

Mark S.: That’s why when you go in a biker bar, and you see a girl at the end of the bar…

So, I wanted to ask you a little bit more about your business now.

Mark B.: Okay.

Mark S.: What are all the technologies that you use right now?

Mark B.: As far as printing services?

Mark S.: Yeah, yeah.

Mark B.: So, we do…Our primary is direct to garment printing. So, we’re a full-service direct to garment printing. We do local, obviously a lot of contracts. We are probably a 75% contract printing company. That does consist of a lot of DTG—direct to garment printing. A lot of silk screening. We have a lot of mixed orders. So, it would be a DTG left chest, silkscreen back. We do a ton of those orders.

Mark S.: That’s interesting.

Mark B.: We call those mixed orders. So, where there’s a shirt with a full-color front print, then it’ll have a one-color sponsor back. So, we have a lot of mixed orders. I would say we’ve noticed that in the last…Since we’ve updated our screen department to be more high-volume. I’ve noticed in the last couple years, we’ve seen a lot of mixed orders in the contract-side of customers. We see a lot of [inaudible]. I would say probably 20% of our jobs. You know? Anywhere from 15-20% of our jobs that come in now are multi-side shirts, mixed-orders.

Mark V.: Yeah. It’s interesting because in the room that we’re sitting in here, we’ve got a digital heat effects transfer system and a cutter for heat-transfer vinyl.

Mark B.: A Spangal machine and an inverter machine.

Mark V.: We do have a lot going on here.

Specifically those two, though. I have, in the conversation… Even when we first starting merging these products together within the teams that sell and support here, what would be the point of having these two right here? I just sat down. I said, “Well, we’ll do the math on a single-color heat-transfer vinyl.” Like, doing a lot of numbers and lettering, and doing a multi-color with a transfer. Why, on mixing these two together, is the perfect formula, depending on what the job is. So, like you said, a sponsor back, you’re not going to want to do that in really any other technology besides getting that screen-it-yourself or contract screen it out, because there’s so much detail. You’re not going to want to weed it.

Mark B.: You can’t sometimes!

Mark V.: Yeah. You can’t weed it—physically can’t—and you might not necessarily want to do that with a transfer because of the size of the print.

Mark S.: It’s going to be too costly.

Mark V.: It’s going to be too costly to do the front and the back for the whole thing.

Mark B.: We have a local customer that…Same thing. They do embroidery. They have a very small embroidery machine, and they do vinyl, and they got a large (150 shirt order), and it was a 2-color front. They weeded out all of the vinyl for this, but then they had a sponsor back. They had a team of women and they lost their tail on this job, doing high-detail, 2-color front. They started doing the back and they said, “We just can’t physically…We don’t have enough people and we don’t have enough time.”

So, they came to us and they said, “Can you screen-print this?” We’re like, “Yeah.” You know?

Mark V.: Yeah, and that’s with the importance of having some humility in what you could do for yourself. When you become a small business owner, you think you can do everything—because you can do a lot for yourself, is why. But, it’s important to decide when should you go out and contract out a job.

Mark S.: Yeah. It’s also a perfect example of the kind of relationships that we talk about. If you are starting a business—and you’re going to get digital heat-up [inaudible], or you’re going to get a DTG printer or an embroidery machine—you are one hundred percent going to get asked for things that you don’t do every day. Every time somebody brings an order to somebody that’s got a cutter, they want a cap or they want an embroidered logo. You know? Every time somebody…Somebody with a DTG print, they want you to screen-print jerseys or they want you to provide a cap to go with the order.

So, knowing people like mark in your area, or out of your area and just having a good relationship there, so you know that. “Okay. One day, I’m going to get an order for 150 shirts. What am I going to do? I’m going to talk to this guy and get a quote.” You know? Do the turn around time, and then I’m just going to collect the money.

Mark B.: Yeah.

Mark S.: You know? You’re not going to sit there and try to, you know, ruin your life going through those jobs.

Mark B.: I was at that point. Like, we do a lot of services…Back to the services. So, we direct garment print. We silk screen. We pad-print. We cut custom shirt vinyl, signed vinyl, embroider. We do a lot of stuff in-house, and I have even learned that…You know, I get a lot of requests for full-cut di-sub. You know? It’s just so lucky that I have a friend that does it. So, we contract that out to him. It’s like, I can’t just keep buying equipment. I’m the dummy that bought every service—I offer more services in-house than anybody in tristate around me! You know? You need to know your limits.

Mark S.: Let me just say that Mark Biletnikoff does not speak to ColDesi, Colman and Company. You should buy every piece of equipment in this room!

Mark B.: There’s so much that you don’t do, even though you’re doing so much.

Mark S.: Yeah, there’s a ton.

Mark B.: Yeah. Like, I would like an OKI. There are things that I would like! I don’t know how much I would use it, but I do see a niche for it. But, yeah. You do have to learn what you’re capable of, what you’re not capable of, without putting yourself in financial duress. You need to know your limits. You know?

Mark V.: There’s a balance, I think. If you try to run an entire business only with no future of [inaudible]…”I’m going to have one embroidery machine and nothing else.” You cap out somewhere.

Mark B.: Absolutely.

Mark V.: No matter what it is. You might be happy with that, because that’s your goals, but then you make the choice: is a second or larger embroidery machine the run-up, or is a digital heat effects printer, or…?

Mark S.: I feel like there should always be a Pick 2.

Mark V.: Yeah.

Mark S.: I think you should always…

If you’re going to do embroidery, get a cutter. You know? Get a DFX. If you’re going to do DTG, get a cutter or get an embroidery machine. Make sure you’ve got someplace to go.

I think, you know, we try to talk to everybody that we talk to literally about, “This machine is great, and it’ll do tons of stuff.” Day three, you’re going to get a request that you’re going to have to say no to.

Mark B.: Yeah.

Mark V.: Yeah, and you can’t do it.

Mark S.: You know? Because….

Mark V.: The Pick 2, I think, is great as well.

Mark B.: I think that’s a great idea.

I mean, embroidery is great, but there’s only so many things that you can embroider. There’s only so many things that you can do with it. You know? I can’t put a picture on the front of a t-shirt with it. You know? Which is not a feasible thing. You know? Yeah, the OKI does it. Yeah, the DTG printer does it. So, you’ve got to kind of find your niche and find out where you fall. I think that’s the route you’ve got to go. I think a vinyl cutter is definitely a huge…That was our second piece of equipment we bought.

Mark V.: Yeah. It’s inexpensive and it can sit there. You don’t have to maintain it. There’s a lot of great things about it.

Mark B.: Yeah. You know, you can do jerseys—the names, the numbers on the back. That was, I think…Yeah, that was our second piece of equipment that we had. We had the DTG machine, and then it was like, I was doing softball jerseys and stuff. I needed something more. It was just a one-color design. Not that DTG couldn’t do it, but it was one of those things. It was kind of the game changer of being able to…

Next thing you know, I’m cutting vinyl for other businesses locally. I think there’s a couple business that we work for, they still don’t have a vinyl cutter. It blows my mind! Yeah, eight years later!

Mark S.: That’s crazy!

Mark B.: Yeah! Like, how do you not have a vinyl cutter?

Mark S.: They’re like twelve hundred bucks!

Mark B.: Yeah! Yeah!

Mark V.: For a good one!

Mark S.: For a good one!

Mark B.: I still have the same one.

Mark V.: Yeah. We have a good amount of customers that do the digital transfers. They’re doing basically small contract work with those—selling the transfers, like you mentioned, some of the vinyl transfers. That’s huge business. So, we have plenty of people who wanted to start a t-shirt business, and they realized that just locally they could print transfers just locally for all the shops, because they want little logos on the side and tags.

Mark S.: Yup. We’ve got our guy Cory from Signco Designs that it seems like a big part of his business is just doing tags! With the OKI! For doing other—selling! So, you want 10 shirts? The customer wants their own logo on the back? No problem. Rip off the old tag, place the order.

Mark V.: Yup.

Mark B.: So, we do those. We either pad print them or we do Plastisol transfers or something like that. Or, we screen print them. We don’t have a lot of requests for the full color. I would love to be able to do it. You know? It’s something that we…We have been getting more and more into full-color or multi-color neck tags inside and stuff like that. So, it’s definitely something that I’m probably going to look into.

Mark V.: Digital just keeps growing. As digital grows more colors, it becomes normal. You just think you can get anything, anywhere, no matter what it is, printed in full color. That actually doesn’t exist in real life.

Mark S.: We talk to those people all the time! “Why won’t it do this?” It just doesn’t. It just doesn’t.

Mark V.: Part of why the UV-printers—the compress UV-printers—do well is because people want a full-color print on anything. Which, this printer basically does.

Mark S.: Yeah. Unless you want to print on a silicon pad or a live cat. Then, it’s hard to keep them still.

Mark V.: You haven’t tried a live cat?

Mark S.: I said it’s hard to keep those down!

Mark V.: There you go!

Well, all right. I have some other questions that we’ll ask here.

Mark B.: Okay!

Mark V.: One that I think about all the time. I just put a Number Three. What are a few big mistakes that—okay, a t-shirt shop or a embroidery shop—either that you made or you didn’t make, but you could’ve made. Anything like that. The reason why I ask is because too many of our customers, they make really fatal mistakes early on, and then they’re calling us trying to figure out how to get out of it.

Mark S.: How to get out of it…

Mark B.: The biggest thing is biting off more than you can chew and making promises you can’t keep, or buying a piece of equipment when you haven’t gone to training, you haven’t tested it, you haven’t wash tested it, you haven’t proven it. That’s the biggest failure, whether it’s embroidery or…Like, I don’t know how many people I see that say, “Yeah, I have a hundred shirt order, but my machine doesn’t come until next Tuesday! Or next Wednesday! Or two months from now!”

Why are you taking orders? You have to prove your process before you sell anything. You don’t go sell—you don’t open up a burger joint and sell burgers without beef and a grill.

Mark V.: Yeah, or without ever making a burger before.

Mark B.: Yeah! Yeah, even though, you know, you can’t make a grilled cheese sandwich. Like, you need to learn and prove your process. Like, you can’t. Yeah. You can’t sell construction equipment if you don’t even have a resource for anything. You know?

Mark V.: Yeah.

Mark S.: Yeah.

Mark B.: That’s the biggest thing. I think people oversell themselves. Right now, the t-shirt industry is probably the hottest it’s ever been. There’s so many competitors in my field, in local, and online. I think that’s—everyone thinks that they can do it. I don’t think…Not that I think that it’s as easy as everyone thinks or that it’s harder than everyone thinks, but I think that people don’t invest the time into themselves into learning the process. Not just learning it, but actually making it right. You know? I mean, anyone can make a t-shirt. Are they doing it right? Are they learning about placement and making themselves some samples and wearing it and washing it? How does it feel? Is the left chest logo in the right place? Like, I did that for months before I did anything.

Mark S.: Yeah.

Mark V.: And invent the shirt you’re buying.

Mark B.: Yes.

Mark V.: Is the shirt good? Are you proud to wear the shirt?

Mark B.: Yes.

Mark V.: Is it meeting the quality of the actual blank?

What I think about making t-shirts is the same as anything else. Everything combines together into one. It’s similar philosophies. You had mentioned that when we had lunch that you had raced motorcycles and you do paintball. Of these things, and you make t-shirts. Right?

Mark S.: And golf! That’s the exciting thing.

Mark V.: If you say, “How hard is it to go play paintball?” It’s—anyone can do it, right?

Mark B.: Absolutely.

Mark V.: Anyone can do it. How hard is it to hit a target on a paintball? Well, how close is it? It might be really easy. How hard is it to be a champion in a paintball tournament? Extremely hard.

I think t-shirts is the same way. You know, people watch me do a video on how to make a t-shirt. “You made it look so easy.” That was easy! What I just did was easy. You know? It wasn’t hard. But, I didn’t also sell a 150 t-shirts to somebody, get the money from them, fulfill the order, deliver…

Mark B.: Create the artwork.

Mark V.: You know? That’s not what I’m doing here. However, also, that can be easy. They can also be challenging if you’re not doing it correctly. Every industry, no matter what you’re doing—whether you’re racing bikes or making t-shirts—on the surface they’re easy. The deeper you go into it, the more you have to be a pro.

Mark B.: Again, being that it’s probably as competitive as it’s ever been, that market, everyone thinks that they can do it right now. You know? I see people like, “Oh, I’ll play you in paintball.” Going back to that. I say, “You have a better chance of being Michael Jordan in basketball than you do playing me.” You know? It’s just that equation of the same thing. You know?

We have people that, in the contract printing world—in DTG, we have customers that…They’re a garage printer, and they have a couple homemade direct to garment printers. They, you know, they’ll undercut us in price or something. It’s like, “Okay, great.” You know, next thing you know, that customer’s back, because their equipment’s broken or they don’t have enough ink today or they don’t have enough t-shirts or everything washed off. You know? So, we deal with that a lot. We see a lot of customers leave and come back. We don’t claim to be the cheapest, but we do claim to have a great product at affordable price. You know? We stand behind our product, but we do see a lot of competitiveness right now where people are trying to undercut. It happens in any business.

Mark V.: Yeah.

Mark B.: Even in your machine room business, there’s people that try to undercut you guys.

Mark S.: But you’re at a point now where you’re growing.

Mark B.: Yes.

Mark S.: It just keeps getting better and better.

Mark B.: Yup.

Mark S.: But, there’s more competition out there. So, how do you do that on a daily basis? We have a lot of people that say, “I can’t compete with this guy.”

Mark B.: But, you can. You can.

So, since I’ve been in business, just on a local level. Since I’ve been in business, there are seven new screen-print t-shirt shops that have opened up in my city. Maybe eight.

Mark V.: Yeah, and there’s probably one or two you’ve never heard of that opened. You know?

Mark B.: And there’s probably a couple garage printers that I don’t know of, but legitimately there’s seven new t-shirt places since I have opened up, just in my hometown—my city, which is a city of over 100,000 people. So, that’s not a lot of people and 7 new businesses that have opened up. We still succeed in that market, but you have to be able to know what your limits are, you have to be able to offer something that someone doesn’t. Not saying a service, but you have to be able to go that extra mile with the customer service. You have to be able to fold the orders and bag them. You have to be willing to help with the artwork, or you have to offer something that they don’t. It’s not necessarily—you don’t need to fight over nickels and be the absolute cheapest. Yes, that works, but you can’t control your pricing with someone else’s.

Mark V.: Yeah, yeah.

Mark B.: Granted, I can’t compete with the guy that’s doing 25 shirts in a garage. I just can’t compete with that guy, and I’m not going to compete with him. But, he can’t compete at a hundred shirts full-color, or one shirt full-color. I’m the only person who does that.

Mark S.: You have to have some kind of differentiation.

Mark B.: You have to have a niche.

Mark S.: Whatever that is.

Mark V.: Well, and you bag your shirts, which is cost at a nickel or something like that?

Mark B.: Yup, yup. Four cents.

Mark V.: If you wanted to be the cheapest out there, and you’d have to shave that nickel off, shave your price by a nickel. But, it’s not worth a nickel, what you’re doing. That service that you provide, when it’s in a bag it’s clean. When they have to divvy them out to say—you know, if they’re buying fifty shirts and they have to divvy them out to a crowd of people. It’s like, there are no stains on them, they’re not messed up, they’re easy to pass around. That feels good. You want to experience that again, compared to getting a torn up box.

Mark B.: Yeah, exactly.

Mark S.: Yeah, yeah.

Mark B.: Or no box!

Mark V.: Yeah, or no box.

Mark B.: Or a blue bag from a grocery store is what they’re carrying their stuff out—

Mark S.: Scotch-taped together, yeah.

Mark B.: So, we do a lot of local. For example, our local, say, spirit orders. Some team comes to us and all the parents want to order gear. Say we do the t-shirts for the team. That’s where we make the money, on the spirit-wear. One thing we also do…So, we create an order form for them so that they can pass it out, and then all the money comes back in, and we take that order form, and then we fulfill that order form with all the different services—whether it’s direct to garment printing or silk screening or embroidery. Whatever it is. Then, we take that order and we bag it for them. So, all those pieces that they bought are stapled into a very nice bag. Here’s their order form, so they don’t have to sort it. A lot of people don’t do that for their spirit wear. You know how many parents and moms are like, “Oh, my God. You sort this for us?” They come like we just found the arc of the covenant. You know?

Mark V.: Yeah!

Mark B.: They’re like, “Ahhh!”

Mark V.: And that’s so hard to do!

Mark B.: Well, they have to buy pizza and beer, and they have 10 parents in a room. “Hey, who’s got the larges?” But we do that. They’re like, “Oh, my God. I just want to kiss you!” You know how many moms come in like, “Oh, my God! You just made my day. I don’t have to sort this?” You know, they literally are just like, “Smith, Jones…” and they’re just handing out bags and it’s done. I just made their life easier. So, that’s one thing why I get a lot of spirit wear locally, just because I take that extra step. For me to sort that out, it’s nothing.

Mark V.: Yeah. We were talking earlier today about the bottles that we use for ink.

Mark B.: Yes, yes.

Mark V.: We sell tons of ink for years, all over the world, really.

Mark B.: Yup.

Mark V.: Michael, who is in charge of the warehouse and making sure everything’s full in there, he’s…I can’t tell you how many boring conversations I’ve heard him talking about bottles before. It’s because having a good bottle that’s the right grade, the wrong grade, the ink can seep into the bottle or out, having a bad cap.

Mark B.: Yup.

Mark S.: Busts in the box…

Mark V.: The manufacturer of our bottles had some sort of major issue, and we’re out of a certain sized bottle for a period of time. So, we’re fulfilling orders with smaller bottles, just because we didn’t have the big ones.

Michael found some boxes of some old bottles. He’s like, “Oh, yeah!” He’s like, “No. We’re not going to put ink in these, because we have a standard that we’re trying to deliver to our customer, for one: not receiving a box with broken bottles.” Also, the fact that they can rely on that to put on the shelf to keep the ink safe. You know? It’s very expensive.

Mark B.: Absolutely. I’m a long-time customer, and I appreciate that handling of the ink and the pre-treat and everything else, because I have dropped bottles, and I know that when my product comes that it’s in a nice, thick, 3-mil, clear bag with a zip tie on it. So, I don’t have to worry about it leaking through my shop. I appreciate that extra step that you guys take.

Mark V.: Michael literally goes off the end of the warehouse when he gets new bottles and stuff, fills them up with water, and throws them off.

Mark S.: That’s great!

Mark V.: He’s done that. “This one got thrown off eight times before it broke. I think we’re good to use this bottle.”

Mark S.: That’s great. I just remembered that you’re the reason that the pre-treat bottles—

Mark B.: The labels!

Mark S.: —our labels are so much different than the white ink.

Mark B.: Yes.

Mark V.: Oh, yeah.

Mark B.: When you guys switched the new logos, they were almost exactly alike.

Mark V.: Back in…Like, a while back?

Mark B.: When you guys switched to…Probably three years maybe?

Mark S.: Four! It’s when we went to…

Mark V.: I wouldn’t have done that [inaudible] before…

Mark S.: Genuine DTG. It’s when we first went to Genuine DTG.

Mark V.: So, it’s like seven or six. Five?

Mark B.: So, what happened was, you guys didn’t have gallons of pre-treat. You sent me liters of pre-treat to make up for the gallon. So, I was getting like four liters. I thought that was my white ink. One of my guys thought that, and he put it in the machine.

Mark S.: I like that. “One of my guys…”

Mark B.: No, it was! So, that was my call. I called, I was like, “We have a major problem.” Then, you guys fixed it like instant. It was implemented. It was like, thank you. It’s been great since then.

Mark V.: Then, that lesson is when…Yeah, because I came in shortly after that. I remember that it must have been within a year.

Mark S.: We got really fanatical about that.

Mark V.: Yeah, and then, because I was redesigning labels, and there was just like flipping out around the building. “You’re going to redesign?” I was like, “I want to make this stuff look good! Modern!” Because it was now three years old. So, they’re like, “You can’t change the pre-treat!” I was like, “Don’t worry. We’ll make it right!” Then, that was actually funny. A couple of months ago, you had asked me, “Hey, are they different enough? Are you sure you don’t want to make them more different?” So, I go in the back on my phone and I’m on Skype with him. I’m like, “Are these not different enough for you?”

Mark S.: Like, Mark handles the Colman and Company stuff, one hundred percent. It’s completely his baby. He mentions the labels. I’m like, “Okay, I think I need to see this.”

Mark B.: Yeah. Well, that was a costly mistake at the time for, you know, a small business. That was a very costly mistake. It was $250 or plus, and time, and clean. Downtime, no printing, no making money. Yeah, that was a very costly mistake. I’m probably not the only one who’s done it, because I just watched someone—from another manufacturer—that just did the same thing. “Hey, what happens if you put pre-treat in?” I’m like, “Uh, it’s junk.”

Mark S.: Oh, yeah. You’re hosed.

Mark B.: Yeah.

Mark V.: Yeah.

Mark B.: Yeah, Throw it all out. Rinse your machine.

Mark V.: That’s one of the things that when you mentioned caring about your customers and [inaudible], and think having the forethought to prevent them from making mistakes. That what you do when you give the order form to the local [inaudible]. You’re having the forethought, because they’re going to make a mistake, and then it’s your fault.

Mark B.: Yeah.

Mark V.: You know? Or, you might make a mistake and it’s your fault. You know, either way. But when you put together a good form and you give it to them and then they come back with it and everything goes smoothly, and they love it. That’s what we do.

We think about labeling all of our products—everything that we label now. That was one of the things that we take thinking about customers in the future as we come out. You know, when we have these printers that we have here, there’s an A and a B paper. There’s 2 papers. One’s an adhesive: you run it through the printer, it’s bad.

Mark B.: [Chuckling] Yeah.

Mark S.: It’s really bad!

Mark V.: So, we make sure that we do our best—from training to the instructions to how the box is labeled to how it’s ordered to how it feels. If it doesn’t even feel right, in manufacturing we’re like, “It needs to feel a little different, even.” If it’s too close, it’s too much of a mistake, and it doesn’t matter if we put, “Don’t put this in your printer” on there. Somebody’s going to be upset at us, still. So, we do our best to help them.

Mark S.: Yeah, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of pain. All day long.

Mark S.: Yeah, I get that. So, now you’ve got eleven or twelve DTG printers.

Mark B.: Yup. Ten.

Mark S.: You’ve got two screen-print setups.

Mark B.: Yup.

Mark S.: You’ve got an embroidery machine or two.

Mark B.: Correct.

Mark S.: Okay.

You’ve got the cutter.

Mark B.: Yup.

Mark S.: How the hell do you keep all your inventory and stuff straight?

Mark B.: So, inventory. I come from a manufacturing background, so it’s all basically set up as lean manufacturing. So, it’s all visual: our shirts, our stock, our inks, everything. Thread. Everything is…Vinyl. It’s all visual management. So, everything has a home. In that home, it should be visual. So, whether it’s a small Gildans, everything has a shop.

I’m picturing my inventory room right now for shirts, and I know exactly where everything should be. So, obviously, you need everyone on your staff to buy in to that, and they have. Yes, sometimes they do not buy into it. You know? It’s just human error, but yeah. We don’t do an actual inventory system. I could not do an inventory system. I would literally pay someone to walk around and count things. If I had an inventory system, I would probably have three people walking around, counting shirts, and ink, and everything else. I just can’t do that. So, it’s literally visual.

Like, where we keep our white ink is always in the same place. We rotate it in as the new stuff comes in, it gets pulled to the front. Then the stuff that came in goes to the back. Same thing with our pre-treat: it always gets rotated in.

Mark V.: And then you can see.

Mark B.: It’s visual. Yeah. It’s visual.

Mark S.: You’re not leaving the stuff in boxes and putting it up there?

Mark B.: Nope. Nope. Never stays in boxes. Everything that comes in, we have an incoming department. Everything comes in, it’s right at the front. So, our workflow is in one direction, out another direction. So, it goes in, flows through—no matter if it’s a product, if it’s ink, if it’s whatever. Everything goes down the right side, goes left, goes…Whether it’s ink it goes left this way again, or right if it’s screen-print ink. If it’s pre-treat it goes that way, comes back out, goes to the printers, snakes back through and goes out the front. So, it’s a one-flow-in, one-flow-out type thing. It never changes directions. It always goes in one way, out the other.

Our shipping—our incoming and our shipping are basically right side-by-side. So, it comes in one side for incoming and it goes out shipping the other way. So, basically, it’s just like a big snake goes through.

We keep everything. Everything easy, everything smooth. You know? We try to keep it as clean as possible, but inventory is all visual. So, like our shirts, our inks, everything. Everything is visual.

Mark S.: So, you manage our blank stock as well. So, you’ve got shirts that you prefer to print on?

Mark B.: Correct.

Mark S.: You keep those in stock?

Mark B.: Yep. We keep three levels of shirts. So, we have our standard Gildan G 2000s, and then our next step up is our soft-styles and Anvil 980s. Then, our third stock is basically next levels, like 3600s and 6010s and stuff like that. So, we do keep a basic stock. Then, we also keep a basic stock of hoodies and same thing with women’s. We have a 3-roll. You know, where the Gildan, Anvil, soft-style…

Mark S.: Good, better, best for each line.

Mark B.: Yup, yup, yup. So, we keep minimal stock, because everything is…So, it’s basically a lot of your order as you need it, type thing. So, we try to keep our stock at a minimum, but we know that we can have it there in one to two days.

Mark V.: The small stock, is that mainly to fulfill small orders and one-offs and quick…?

Mark B.: Yup, yup. Yup. We have an online t-shirt designer and we have customers that have online t-shirt designers and stuff. So, we’ve got to have a kind of good selection. You know? Gildan G2000s we carry 15 colors at all times. At least two or three.

Mark V.: What sizes could you carry? Small to…?

Mark B.: Small to typically 3x.

Mark V.: Okay.

Mark B.: Yeah. You know, obviously, your smalls. You might have one. You know, your mediums, you might have two or three. Your large, two, three. Extra large, two, three. 2x, maybe two. 3x, maybe one. So, that’s kind of our…

Mark V.: Small amounts.

Mark B.: Yup, yeah. Always large to extra-large heavy, because that’s where you sell.

Mark V.: Now, when did you go from…Did you start carrying inventory from the beginning?

Mark B.: Yes. Absolutely, right from the beginning. I carried an inventory because we had a website. So, I had to have one of everything that we were offering.

Mark V.: You were selling on-off shirts from the beginning, right?

Mark B.: Yup. So, I kept a very limited inventory. The shirts that we still use…We still use the same shirts today that we have always used.

Mark S.: Interesting.

Mark B.: We found a good shirt and it has lasted. It’s soft and it fits right and it lasts and the dye batches are good.

Mark V.: Yeah. How important is the shirt, do you think, to the process of running a t-shirt business, is the blanks?

Mark B.: I think it’s one of the most important parts of the process because it’s the reason why we have return customers. Like, for our house lines, they want something that’s soft and feels good. I’ve become…From starting this, I’ve actually made myself a t-shirt snob. I won’t wear a standard t-shirt. You know, I’ve sponsored softball teams. They all [inaudible]…”We’re just going to do a standard, cheap, Gildan t-shirt.” You know? Then, we’re like, “Well, you’ve got to print one,” because maybe I would play on the team or something like that. I’m like, “Yeah, here’s the next level,” or, “Here’s a Canvas Bella that I want.” So, my shirt is always different. I can’t wear a standard t-shirt. I just can’t do it ever since then. Once I found out…

Because I started the business because I wasn’t getting what I wanted. Meaning, a comfortable shirt, good artwork. So, ever since then, I’ve created my own monster. Now, I can’t wear a regular t-shirt. Once you wear something nice, it’s like once you drive a nice car. Like, man. That’s a nice car! You know?

Mark V.: Yeah. Everything, you know…

Mark B.: Yeah. Food! Everything! Sneakers, clothes. You know? Yeah, you can get away with cheaper things and get away with not as nice things, but once you do find something that you really like, and then you try to go back, then you’re like, “Well, that’s not so good.” Like, I kind of miss…Even your toothpaste or your shampoo! You find a shampoo that works, and you go back, and you’re like, “Well, this didn’t work out so well.” Not that I have a lot of hair, but…

Mark S.: That’s a good point!

My wife always gives me a hard time, because if we go shopping for clothes, you know, the first thing I do—if it’s got a design on it—you touch it, you flip it over, figure out what it is. You know? If we’re looking for something with her, I turn it inside out. I’m looking at the seams, you know? If it’s embroidery, I’m checking to see what the backing is. I look at it, it’s crap. I’ll get rid of it.

I was in the airport and somebody had, at the Temp International, they had a big smiley face—like an orange—at one of the tourist shops. It was rhinestones. There were rhinestones falling off. You know things, like that. So, I brought it up to the store manager. I’m like, “Like, you really shouldn’t sell this.” But, you get spoiled with what you’re…

Mark V.: I think it’s important that if you want to build a business that’s not…This is less than that…My customers, you know, have taught me that if you want to build a business that is not about being the cheapest and is about, like, sustainability. Meaning that you’ll sustain your customers over a long term, that delivering out a quality product is number one. There is very, very few customers that we have that when we ask this question that would be in the lowest prices, number one. Almost nobody says that.

Mark B.: So, we’ve done work for some large, large manufactured custom t-shirt places. You know, their quality control—or what they tell us to do—just does not fit into our business model. We’ve walked away from $100,000 counts just because of the way they tell us to print. You know, like, “Print on this!” We’re like, “It’s not going to work. Don’t do that.” Over and over. Then they come back and say, “Hey, the customer didn’t pay for this. So, now we’re not going to pay you for it.” It’s like, “Uh, no. Sorry. It doesn’t work that way.” Like, we told you, “Do not send this to us to print.” We told you that it’s not going to work out. We told you, “Don’t use this.” We’ve had those—like I said–$100,000-plus customers that we’ve literally walked away from. You know? Even for time constraints. You know, we’re going to pay you X-Y-Z for X-Y-Z amount of prints. Then, they start changing, and they start pushing you around just because they’re a bigger customer. They say, “Okay. Well, now you’re going to start printing stuff rush-orders, but we’re not going to pay you any more for it.” Then, we’re going to start printing extra-rush-orders. Then, we’re going to have super-rush that’s going to come in the same day at three o’clock, but that print has to leave at four, but we’re still not going to pay you any more. Uh, no. So, we’ve walked away from…Again, you have to know your limitations and you have to know your self-worth of what you’re going to produce.

Mark V.: Yeah. They’ll make you unhappy. They’ll drive your business away from you…

Mark B.: Yeah. The whole payment because you didn’t ship that shirt. It’s like, “Well, we didn’t even get a UPS shipment today. So, that’s your fault.” Or, they were late on their end, ordering one or two days, and then they hold you up, and then they expect you to print it faster. So, again, you have to know your self-worth and you have to know what you’re capable of, too. You know? I can’t push them to the forefront when I have other customers and other timeframes. That’s another thing: we don’t miss timeframes. We don’t ship late. You know? It’s like, do what it takes. Juggle the schedule. Move printers around. Move machines around. We do what we need to do to make sure that things…

Mark V.: Yeah. Michael will…There have been times where UPS didn’t come. Like, they just didn’t come. You know? Who knows why? The truck driver forgot, and now it’s seven-thirty at night and you can’t…UPS at this point in time, the truck’s back. They’re not sending a truck back out from the warehouse. So, he’s loaded up his Jeep.

Mark B.: I do the same thing!

Mark V.: [Inaudible] times and dumped them off. The thing is, is that, you’ll rarely be pat-on-the-back for doing that stuff, or thanked, or people won’t even know you did that. Most of the time, they don’t know all the great things you’ve really pushed to make sure that it gets there on time, or that you’ve fulfilled the time, or it looks right.

So, I think that when you’re in business, you have to go into that saying, “All the hard stuff I’m going to do, most of the time, nobody’s going to know that I did it, but they’re going to stay with me. They’re going to pay me what I’m worth. I’ll be happy. I’ll feel good.” You know?

Mark B.: I do UPS deliveries three days a week! I mean, I used to do USPS and UPS deliveries every night.

Mark S.: Wow.

Mark B.: Then, finally, we started getting pick-ups. Now, we have pick-ups every day. Still, there are jobs that come after that point that I need to…Thank God we’re literally a hundred yards from the closest USPS. So, we can literally walk it down, but we walk down bins of stuff every night, because of the deadline and things that have to go.

We don’t look at it like, “Hey, it’s not my job,” but I do it three days a week. I have to go up to the UPS store and drop off a box of boxes. I’ve been doing it now…’tis the season, but nobody knows I do that, but I have to do it. We have deadlines that we have to meet. They have to ship by certain dates and stuff.

Mark S.: So, this is a great example for those of you that you’ve got the small business, you’ve got a home-based business, you’re a garage printer, and you’re competing against guys like Mark. You know? So, when you think that there are these big shops that have a lot of equipment, that have a big advantage, and all they have to do is get their people to do this, and it’s so easy for them to do 500 shirts…None of that is true. They’re set up to do that. They’re you in five years or ten years. You know, think about the business that you’re doing now and the effort that’s put in it. Mark puts in that same effort, just in different spots. You know?

Mark B.: Yeah.

Mark S.: It still means the same thing. He’s still driving stuff down over to USPS. You know, just like you should. So, if you’re talking to a customer and they want something today or tomorrow and, you know, you’re going to have to skip the first part of baseball practice to do that, you know, you might want to think about doing that.

Mark V.: Yeah. Then, back to what you said, too, about knowing your limitations. You have to find where your point is where you say, “If I do any more, I’m going to break. So, I can’t do that.” So, I don’t have a problem dropping the stuff off at UPS before I go home. However, I’m not going to drive to the airport at 11:59 every night and then come back in the shop at 6 A.M. to start. You know? I’m not going to sleep or eat. So, don’t allow yourself to break to do those things.

Mark S.: That’s why I really don’t do any work after 10 AM. It’s too much for me. Too much for me!

Mark V.: I think we’ve spent an hour together here.

Mark S.: Yeah, yeah. It’s good.

Mark V.: Something to take away that I think, if you’re listening, you should really think about on this: Mark’s attitude about his business and about his customers. You can’t put a number on that. You can write down what brands of shirts he used, and those are all cool things to write down and think about what he does. But, there’s an overall attitude about how you run your business, how you want to treat your customers. Really, you can hear how you want to treat yourself as a business owner.

Mark B.: Even my employees!

Mark V.: And your employees! You can hear all of that, which makes a good business. In a way, that drives success. Those are the formulas of success that you can’t put in a math equation.

Mark B.: Yeah. I like that my employees look up to me. I’m kind of like a friend, but I’m still a boss. You know? Whether it’s a customer, employee, anything. I treat everyone the same. You have to put that time in.

It’s not that I’m looking for self-recognition, or not that I’m looking at a return on my time. But, two years from now, it will pay off; or, three weeks from now, or five years from now, that’s still paying off. But, I haven’t done it. I still have that personal touch. I instill that in my employees, too.

Take the extra time and tell them, “Hey, your product hasn’t showed up.” Whether it’s a contract customer and they’re sending stuff to us in seven boxes, and they haven’t showed up, and they’re supposed to leave tomorrow. It’s like, “Hey, your product still hasn’t shown up. We’re going to do our best.” Write that extra email or give them a phone call. Like, we try to solve as many problems as possible. We try to talk to people and let people know and give them that personal touch. We don’t want to just forget about them and like, “Well, sorry. That’s your fault.” No, we try to let them know. Like, “Hey, there was a snowstorm in the northeast and we haven’t gotten your boxes, but we’re still going to try to get it out for you.” You know?

So, you need to spend time and effort and invest in your future.

Mark S.: So, this is what we’re going to do for you guys that are listening and watching on YouTube. We’re going to put a link to Contract DTG, to Fat-Tees, to Mark Biletnikoff’s home address and his home phone number.

Mark B.: Yeah, sweet!

Mark S.: We’re going to do all that! No.

So, a few things—and, to the success story that he did for us on ColDesi.com. The main thing that I would love everybody to take away from our time today is that, you know, you’re listening to somebody that has been through what you are probably going through right now, and has come out the other side and been successful with it. The way he did it is really clear: embracing the technology, doing everything right, treating customers well, approaching his business from an organized standpoint, treating his employees well. Everything that we talk about in all the podcasts—and in almost any small business book that you care to read—is what he’s done. He didn’t invent, you know, magic telephones. You know?

Mark B.: Or the wheel!

Mark S.: Or the wheel! Like, everything that he’s doing can be done. It can be done again.

Also, I hope if you’re listening to this, and if you need Contract DTG, that Mark sounds like a guy that you want to do business with. If you are an embroiderer or you’ve got a DFX or you’re a small business starting out, put together your team now of contract decorators that will help you handle overflow business until you’re ready to bring it in. This is a great place to do it.

Mark B.: We did that. It’s tough to find good people. You know? We had to do that at a point. We had contracted out stuff. We still contract stuff out when we’re overflowed. Yeah. You definitely have to have those relations set in someone that you can trust.

Mark V.: Yup.

Mark B.: Don’t just pull the plug on the first person that you meet just because the price is right. You get out what you put into anything, whether it’s your business or anything else. So, yeah. Be careful. Ask a lot of questions, too. You know? Verify who you’re working with and visit them or do whatever. But, yeah. You definitely need to…Because they’re a direct reflection of your business. They’re doing work for you, they are a reflection of you.

Mark V.: Yeah.

Mark B.: Be careful!

Mark V.: Yeah, definitely be careful. You know, I have to talk about supplies when it comes to this stuff, too, because we had somebody recently leave a review. They were like, “I found this product cheaper online, but you’re local. So, I’m going to buy from you,” kind of review. It was four stars, so eh. But, I really didn’t like it. It bothered me.

So, I started doing some research and talked to the customer, find the product they were buying, the paper they were buying. It was not the same paper as our paper. It was a different product that was cheaper. Then, you know, you start looking at more of the reviews on that product, it’s a very inconsistent product. You know? So, it’s an inconsistent product that was marginally cheaper, from a company that nobody’s ever heard of. You start adding all that stuff together, and now this is your business that you’re staking $20 on. You know? You’re betting $20 a month, compared to doing…Like, this is the number one ink in the world or the number one paper in the world, and you’re going to bet your business on $20.

The same thing with the contract printing. You know, you’re taking all this time to build up this business. You finally get a big enough customer that you sometimes have to contract out. You know, you can do a bunch of business in, but you’ve got to contract out a bunch because they give you big stuff. Then, you just go for the cheapest contractor. You have no clue who they are, didn’t ask them any questions, none of these things. They deliver back a really poor quality product—

Mark B.: Or late!

Mark V.: Or late! Both, probably.

Mark B.: Stains!

Mark V.: And then now you have to deliver that to your customer or lose out on the three grand or two grand you spent getting that printed.

Mark B.: The biggest order you’ve ever had.

Mark S.: That’s the way it happens!

Mark B.: And that’s the way…your biggest order. You’re using a contract printer for it, and this is what you have to explain.

Mark V.: Yeah. So, how much are you willing to bet your business on?

Mark B.: Your livelihood!

Mark V.: Yeah, your livelihood!

Mark S.: So, for the average of four listeners that make it all the way to the end of our podcasts—for all four of you guys! So, do us a favor. If you enjoyed the podcast, then please give us a rating on iTunes, 6-stars on iTunes, 7-stars on everything else. Then, mention us on Facebook. You’re welcome to join the Custom Apparels Startups Facebook group if you’re not already. We make sure that everybody gets notified when the podcasts come out. We post those in the group. You’re always welcome to ask Mark Villa and I any questions having to do with marketing in the business. Just shoot us a note.

Mark B.: If you’re not part of CAS, I definitely suggest you do become a member. Definitely for any startup or any new business.

Mark V.: We meet a lot of cool people. You’ll hear…I’ve gotten to the point now where I…I’m just about hard recruits online lately. People say some things, and I’m just, “Listen.”

Mark S.: No!

Mark V.: You have to think about it this way. If you want to win, you have to think like a winner, type of stuff. So. Yeah.

Please share the podcast. Rate it, and all this stuff.

Mark S.: Make sure you talk to Mark Biletnikoff if you’re looking to match a font! That is reatwhat to do!

Alright. Thanks, everybody! This has been Mark Stephenson from ColDesi.

Mark V.: And Mark Villa from Colman and Company.

Mark S.: That’s Mark!

Mark B.: And Mark Biletnikoff from Erie, Pennsylvania.

Mark S.: Three Marks!

 

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