In this episode of our podcast, Bruce from Printavo interviews Ian Scherber of Duluth Screen Printing Co.
At just 24 years old, Ian Scherber has built a successful screen printing company that fulfills a real need in Duluth, MN. He's got 19 employees, more than $2 million in yearly revenue – and paid for his college education in cash.
If you're young and working on your business, you'll learn a lot from Ian's hustle and dedication. Even if you're a seasoned veteran of the industry, you'll find that Ian's enthusiasm and crystal-clear thinking is inspiring.
Hear Ian's impressive story – and learn about what keeps him up at night:
You don't need a bunch of capital, a ton of knowledge or a glut of experience to start building your dream business in the custom apparel industry. You need scrappiness, grit, and the tenacity to focus on doing what's best for your long-term interests. Keep pushing
Growing up in Duluth: 3:40
While Duluth was a wonderful town to grow up in, it didn't offer many employment opportunities.
Ian's work ethic started young. At just 13, he realized he needed a job: he had to support his family and help his community.
Do the best you can with whatever you can get: 6:30
Through a chance encounter with a local businessman, Ian learned about screen printing. From there, his first job was printing for his high school's football team – as a 120-pound freshman football player!
Ian talks about how it all went down with his high school football coach:
I said, "Yeah, I can do it. I can make you some t-shirts." He's like, "All right – get me a quote, I guess." So I go home, make a fake quote, look up what Custom Ink is selling merch for. This is 2009! I end up with a three color print on a Gildan Beefy tee, like $4.75 a piece for 200 shirts. Just giving them a sweet little deal. I slide him the piece of paper and he signs off on it, chuckles a little bit, and he's like: all right! ... I just Googled "purchase order quote," any online thing I could find, and then I filled in all the details.
Ian took that first purchase order to a mentor who was amazed at his persistence: he brought in a 200-piece order just days after learning what screen printing is!
Make the process easy on yourself when you're starting out: 10:30
Ian kept print registration simple to minimize production time.
But more clever – he didn't set out to reinvent the wheel or start a brand from scratch. He leveraged the popularity of Livestrong branded apparel and called it "Railstrong" after his school's mascot. He got $5,000 for the idea – what he called "basically copying a Nike shirt" – to create merchandise for his local high school. Ian took advantage of brand synergy (Livestrong, Nike, and his local school's name) to make something larger than he could have conjured alone.
Find opportunities everywhere: 15:30
When it came time to pay for college, Ian realized his small high school hustle wasn't just something in his past. A senior that tried to sell him a custom shirt as a ticket to get into parties made the lightbulb go off in his head: there's an opportunity here!
He printed clever shirts, used the small size of his school as a marketing asset to get free word-of-mouth promotion and wound up paying for college in cash.
Seize the moment: 23:18
Ian tried to broker a deal for printing equipment his alma mater wanted to sell. After the house that contained what "was basically an entire print shop, a great little setup" was torn down, half of the gear went missing – and the buyer got cold feet.
Ian seized the moment and jumped in to buy the equipment at a huge discount.
What he wishes he had known when he started out: 37:12
Shorten exposure times!
Get your screen exposure time as short as you can, even if it means taking out a small loan for a better exposure unit. Spending the whole weekend burning screens for the rest of the week is not sustainable. This is an investment in your shop's productivity.
How they went from $1 million to $2 million: 40:30
Things were clicking so right with manufacturing. We had everybody in their roles taking care of their role the best that they possibly could. This is my advice to anybody: we have built ourselves on speed.
Printing for customers so they can put it on their shelves and sell it over the weekend.
My goal was in any way possible to shorten up our lead times. 4 days, 3 days, 2 days at times. Just get it out as fast as possible so that our customers can sell it and they can reorder.
Dive into the things that take a long time to do and really seek ways to become more efficient. Look at your shop and find where you can save time and reduce waste. Organize tasks into smaller pieces and work as teams for each step of the process. Positive teamwork directly affects your productivity!
Give bonuses, food and lots of praise. Invest in shop management services.
Embroidery might be the key to becoming a one-stop shop: 45:00
Ian thinks he's lost some repeat business because he doesn't offer embroidery – yet. He's already identified it as a growth area for his next stage in 2019. With all of Duluth's hockey fans within easy reach, we imagine that Ian's going to find plenty of work!
What keeps Ian up at night: 49:20
Ian thinks about his employees.
He's responsible for more than just 19 employees – his responsibilities extend outward into their families.
Ian Scherber – from the new generation of print shop entrepreneurs
It's obvious Ian is positive and uplifting, but what makes him unique is his relentless pursuit for meaning in his shop's work.
He's thoughtfully defined why he's in the screen printing business. It's about more than making money. He's identified a need in Duluth's community and risen to the occasion. He's not only an employer and businessman – he's an asset to Duluth.
Ian may seem young, but behind his youth is a powerful work ethic combined with a strong vision. Ian is a leader for the next generation of print shop entrepreneurs.
If you liked what Jon had to say, check out these other valuable discussions we've had with Printavo partners:
There's always more help with setting up & using Printavo – as well as marketing and business advice from seasoned professionals – on our YouTube channel.
Next Post: ShipStation Integration With Printavo
Printavo is simple shop management software. Whether your shop works with screen printing, embroidery, signage, digital printing, or awards & engraving–we make your complex workflow simpler to manage and understand. Printavo keeps your shop organized by handling scheduling, estimates, quote approvals, workflow, payments, accounting and more. With Printavo, you’ll work smarter–not harder.Try Printavo