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Screen Printing Production: Tortoise or Hare?

(June/July 2016) posted on Fri Aug 12, 2016

Is it possible that slow and steady could win the race?

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By Tom Vann

Many of you know the old fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare.” It’s a very old story that has been retold countless times with many different interpretations. The most common version tells the story of a race between a confident, speedy hare and a slow, methodical tortoise. The hare, while very fast, takes his speed for granted and takes a nap during the race, figuring the tortoise is no match and he has all the time in the world. The tortoise, on the other hand, proceeds diligently and in his slow but sure manner, wins the race.

For whatever reason, this story has stuck with me. As a textile/apparel screen printer, I side with the tortoise. I know this probably sounds ridiculous in this highly competitive market where speed is pivotal, but hear me out.

Yes, the ability to deliver a respectable volume of goods is critical. Unless you’re blessed with customers who love to pay double the going rate, then you cannot make money with an automatic press that only produces 150 shirts per hour. A shop with more of a hare’s mentality might consistently yield 500 or more quality shirts per hour from an automatic press, and that’s easy to like.

But the race is not merely about press speed – it includes everything that precedes and follows the actual printing. Nailing down these pre- and post-printing systems is where profits are made. If you’re one of those rare printers who is continually booked with large jobs that tie up a press day in and day out, then output is understandably your focus and what happens in the rest of your shop might not matter as much. Good for you. However, most printers are faced with a mixed bag of large and small jobs, and their ability to get them through the shop efficiently is critical.

The reason I like the tortoise is because he is methodical and never stops. He also keeps on the shortest route. This is the mindset I’ve taken with my own employees over the years as well as with the companies with which I’ve consulted. But I’ve come to understand that in successful printing businesses, you’ll find a mix of tortoises and hares.


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