Just when you thought that you’ve seen every approach to running a screen-printing business…
I met two young designers recently who attended a weekend workshop here at Squeegeeville. Their back story totally blew my mind once I got my head around what they’re doing in their business and had a look at their website. They’ve developed a unique concept, one that seems to be working quite well and that has me wondering if I understand the business we’re in quite as well as I thought I did.
It used to be that a printer would have a “typical” customer (hopefully, a lot of them). That customer would order a quantity of imprinted products for their own use, or sometimes for resale to others. The more they ordered (all at once), the better for everyone in the chain. Long runs and the sound of squeegees hissing back and forth over stencils meant money was flowing, and it still does. Printers needed customers who ordered lots of printing, or more customers, or both. This approach to business makes us service-based manufacturers, for want of a better description.
Many screen-printing companies still work off this model. In many cases, it requires a growing enterprise to expand the market for their wares out of their local geographic area, serving clients on a national or international level. This isn’t new, but having an online advertising presence and ordering capacity makes it easier today, in some cases. In others, it’s the kiss of death, because starting a business is way easier than growing it. One thing modern shops have to support out-of-region selling is fast, efficient, and economical shipping, especially in the US. (You Americans don’t know how good you have it down there.)
But we’ve seen a fundamental change in this model, both in textile and graphics printing, that has been driven as much as anything by advances in technology. Digital printing has reduced the economical run length to a very low number, even a single piece. The word “print” used to almost always mean multiples, and producing them meant having a lot of floor space and an array of production equipment to service any type of order. Digital printing has reduced the footprint of the machines, time, and skilled labor required. The needs of the typical customer have changed dramatically from the previous model.
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