Mike Chong from Merch Monster returns with this comprehensive guide for buying used equipment for your screen printing shop. Whether you're starting out or looking to expand, you'll learn how Mike has managed to save some serious cash.
Nice furniture, a fancy office, brand new computers, and the latest printing equipment won’t win you any awards or make your screen printing any better. You’ve got to hunt for deals on used equipment, put in some work to find alternatives to expensive production equipment, and be ready to take advantage of connections you have.
You don't want to have bad equipment – and you need to have things that work well for a long time – but that doesn't mean that you should just buy new and call it finished.
Pretty much everything in my shop is used. Everything runs and prints just as well as if it were new. Buying new might be easier and faster, but good used equipment ultimately offers the same value at a much lower cost. Do your due diligence – thoroughly research, inspect, test, and ask detailed questions about the equipment.
In a small business, your cash is a finite resource. If you run out of cash, your business dies. So you have to balance acquiring the tools and the equipment you need in order to run your business properly with paying the lowest possible price.
I've been hustling since I was old enough to realize money makes the world go 'round. So this is second nature to me – but not everyone thinks about how much money they can save through used equipment.
Industrial equipment is great. It's built to last! That's also why it's so expensive. If you want to really save money on startup costs (or upgrade your shop) the number 1 rule to follow is simple:
Never pay the full retail price.
You can find deals on used equipment and production supplies through multiple channels:
If you hear about a screen printing shop near you that's going out of business – run, don't walk. Visit their location for better deals, rather than relying on the internet. The bigger the shop, the better deals you can find – they will have more stuff to get rid of. You don't know what they might not have listed.
Here in the Bay Area, we’ve bought used gear from Andy’s Tees, Studio 1204, City Screen, CLP Embroidery and more. Don’t limit your search to the city limits...we’ve even found deals from a shop in Las Vegas.
You can save money on your next purchases by buying used. Here are a few examples of supplies, tools, and machines I've bought with deep discounts. Mull this list over and see if there isn't somewhere that you can save money!
If you're planning to start investing in used gear, here's a tip:
Always be prepared to leap on a good deal, even if you don't have a specific plan for what you'll do with the gear.
You don't have to need a press to get a great deal on it – and the reality is that you can likely flip it in due time.
I kickstarted Merch Monster through an incredible bargain: I paid just $1,000 for a Rototex 6/4, a Workhorse flash cure unit, and a National 8’ Electric dryer. We used the equipment for the first year and upgraded once it made sense. Sold the Rototex & dryer for about $1,000. Later sold the flash for $800. Not only did this start our business, but we also turned a profit after using it for production!
Don't want to just take my word for it? I’ve owned 5 manual presses. Each one has a story. We just kept buying used manual presses and then upgrading when I found a good deal. I didn’t really see manual printing as the ideal long-term solution. Instead, a used manual press is an affordable way to get off the ground.
Here are some of the bargains on manual presses I've been able to take advantage of:
There are even bigger bargains to be had with automatic presses. While it's certainly a lot of work to break down and transport an automatic press, you're saving thousands of dollars versus purchasing it new.
Here are two great examples of deals I've been lucky to get:
I didn’t actually need these presses right away. I just stashed them in my shop for a while. But since it was such a good deal, I knew I could either flip them for a profit – or utilize it when my production needs grew. Grab it, stash it, install it later!
Desks, office chairs, filing cabinets, storage racks, shelving, and tables all command a very high premium when you buy new. Since you’re just going to subject the furniture to abuse – scratches, ink stains, clumsy employees – get something that’s replaceable and low-cost.
Find your local furniture liquidators and get to know them well. Look for moving sales and try to keep abreast of any large relocations or business closures in your area. Stay informed about auctions held by the government and local schools. There are almost always great bargains to be had.
Here are easy ways to save:
When you visit a shop that’s moving or closing, look closely for accessories like these. I bought a DTG machine from a dead shop and was simply given two Rubbermaid carts!
Don’t overlook garage sales, moving sales, estate sales, and other opportunities for getting steep discounts on furnishings for your shop – wire shelving, bookcases, and even office furniture like desks and chairs are all extremely expensive when you buy them new (and they provide so little direct production value). The best way to save at estate sales: go on the last day of the sale to get the best deals!
Another tip: find ways to solve problems that don’t involve expensive furniture or accessories. For example, I just use reams of paper as impromptu computer stands. It’s a clever hack because you’ve got paper easily accessible right from your workstation and it only costs as much as a ream of paper (which you were already going to use).
You're not going to win any office design awards, but you will save money.
Ergonomic standing desks make a huge difference in a production environment. You don't want workers hunched over or sitting down, because they’ll inadvertently waste a lot of time sitting down and getting up. People also tend to get a little bit lazy when they sit down.
Standing desks are super expensive since they’re all the rage right now. Instead of spending thousands of dollars for desks that are just going to get abused, I did a little research and figured out how to make our own standing desks. All of our standing desk units are modified items we’ve re-made into standing desks.
My personal favorite shortcut for saving money on a standing desk is to use an inexpensive AmazonBasics wire shelf. It’s easy to take a basic $20 wire shelf, add a piece of cardboard for your keyboard and use a clipboard for a mouse pad. These are great for computer terminals where users don’t need to place heavy items on the shelves.
In our receiving and ink mixing areas, we have more sturdy standing desks made from modified Ikea items that cost around $150. You can find the tutorial here.
Computers are expensive. It’s easy (and appealing) to blow your budget on computers, but you really don’t need to.
We have a bunch of old computers that run like new. I've purchased these off eBay for about $250 each. You want to look for enterprise-grade Lenovo or Dell laptop computers – don’t mess with consumer-grade computers in a production environment. They’re subject to too much abuse!
Enterprise-grade computers are built to last – and they still run like new! We’ve been using them every day for the last two years with no issues. Out of around 10, I’ve only had 1 machine break down on us.
We outfitted our entire production area with these inexpensive laptops: exposure rooms, ink stations, two screen printing stations, DTG stations, shipping department, receiving department, and even our marketing department.
Several simple tips for purchasing computers for production:
Between investing in enterprise-grade laptops and leveraging eBay, I estimate I’ve easily saved north of $10,000 compared to purchasing new equipment.
It’s just not that important to have shiny and high-powered computers in a production environment – certainly not ten thousand dollars important!
Every screen printing shop is different.
What's similar for everyone in our industry is this: there's tons of great used equipment waiting to be purchased at very low prices.
If you're starting out, you want to take advantage of this – and if you're looking for ways to save money in 2019, this is a great angle to start with. As delightful as new equipment is, I'd wager that you'll find extra profit a lot more enjoyable.
Building your business is an uphill battle. You can speed up the process by getting the gear you need for less.
Do your due diligence: research, test, ask probing questions, negotiate, and keep up with what competitors are doing. Always be on the hunt for a deal, and be ready to snatch it up when you find it.
That dead shop might have the gently used equipment you've been waiting for.
We love reducing waste. A lot. Printavo is built with screen printers in mind so they can save time and money, print more jobs, get approval faster, and stay organized.
If you've got a tip for organizing your print shop, let us know. In the meantime, here are four more ways Mike has improved productivity in his shop:
There's always more help with setting up & using Printavo – as well as marketing and business advice from seasoned professionals – on our YouTube channel.
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