In 2012, May Yang from Flash Flood Print in Tulsa, OK screen printed in the garage of a rented house, churning out flatstock posters for bands and hustling t-shirts.
In 2020, Flash Flood Print is a 4,000 square foot print shop, with full-time employees, a detailed shop manual, and a new M&R automatic press.
2020 was on-track for the entire screen printing industry to mature, develop, and grow substantially – and Flash Flood Print was no exception to that trend.
Then coronavirus hit. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen next. That’s kept me up at night,” May said.
In a straightforward, honest interview, Bruce from Printavo and May from Flash Flood Print Studios discuss training screen printers, why hiring is so difficult, how pivoting to fulfillment and online stores has become a necessity, and why coronavirus has been a chance to build an even more tight-knit team.
Flash Flood Print meets 2020 head-on
The plan was to make a more mature and capable business at Flash Flood Print this year.
But history has other plans in store.
With a team that May described as “close and intimate,” their 4-person full-time roster has had to deal with dramatic changes. May originally wanted to develop their sales pipeline this year, but the shop was shut down for more than a month earlier in the spring.
The story is familiar: a print shop that’s run by people that resemble multitasking superheroes more than regular business owners. “You wear all the hats when you start out, so we never had time to develop outside sales,” May said. Instead of jumping through hoops and trying to survive day-to-day, May planned to use 2020 to develop solid methods to handle training, hiring print shop employees, and even using Printavo.
Despite a steady stream of sales since 2018 that’s fed their new automatic press, time for experimentation and development has been scarce. “We’re trying different CRMs and apps, it’s all new. Right before this hit, we were really focused on a solid sales strategy,” May told us.
Making the leap to an automatic press: a long process
The transition to automatic screen printing was no small task. It played out over the course of two years, as May and her team waited for the perfect spot to open up in their beloved Tulsa neighborhood.
“We were all feeling the physical pain of having to keep up with the workload [on the manual presses],” May explained, “There were actual limitations for how much we could do.” The new press has let them take on much bigger jobs – and more of them – but it wasn’t like turning on a light switch.
“We’re fiercely loyal to our neighborhood, so we waited for the right space to get renovated [after a fire],” she said. “It took longer than we would have liked […] we just didn’t have enough room in our old space. First we had to get the space, then the loan…it was a lot of waiting.”
Loyalty to Flash Flood Print’s Tulsa roots has translated into loyal relationships with their employees.
“Once in a lifetime, you meet the right person and they’re fantastic at their job”
May has invested substantial time and energy into the team at Flash Flood Print – and recently took the major step of promoting an employee to production manager.
“Hiring is a lot of trial and error,” May said. “We have a strong culture […] we ask off-the-wall, weirdo questions that wouldn’t normally get asked in a job interview.”
So what kind of questions do they ask? “Well, one is ‘What playlist would you put on during the day?’ We won’t hire you based on your music choice, but it’s a peek into somebody’s character!”
Their new production manager has completely risen to the occasion. “The planets aligned and everything worked out – it was a really easy decision to promote her to be our new production manager,” May added.
Crafting a print shop instruction manual: “It took many days”
As she’s trained, hired, and (unfortunately) fired more people, May has also built a solid guidebook and employee manual for the shop. The shop manual has proven crucial for continuity, even when challenging new situations arise. This extensive shop manual includes:
- Their shop’s values
- Inspiring reading
- Screen room
- Shipping and receiving
- Best practices on the phone
“It gives everyone that’s been with us, even for a couple of years, something to look at when they have to do something that’s a little out of the ordinary,” May added, making it integral for smooth day-to-day shop operations.
Training, too, is an ongoing task. “People learn different ways,” May explains, adding that her shop’s manual dives deep into every aspect of the business. “I spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s just writing everything down – it took many days,” she said.
The shop manual is one major way May has worked on her business instead of in it.
But she hasn’t stopped there – they’ve done demos with staff to show how professionals print, ran group video calls, and even watched Printavo videos. “Every single person I bring on and train is a new learning experience for me,” May pointed out.
Another Merch success story: Rising Tide Fundraiser
Flash Flood Print had dabbled in fulfillment and online stores before the coronavirus pandemic shut down events across the globe. Orders dropped, but May knew there was something the team had to do after spending more than a month apart.
“We were all really feeling down. At home, away from each other. Unable to hang out and see each other. We needed something to get us back into the shop,” May explained. After seeing Merch fundraiser success stories (and our tips for Merch), she was inspired to give the e-commerce opportunity a try.
“Our store is called Rising Tide Fundraiser,” May said. “Our pitch was: we’ll help you with the design, we’ll give you this much money for each sale, we’re just asking you to promote it.”
After finding the right businesses to support, throwing together some catchy designs, and quickly building a Merch store, Flash Flood Print surpassed more than $30,000 in sales through one online storefront.
“We were hoping that people would see one business [they wanted to support] and then find another one they liked in the store,” May told us. It worked.
So what’s next for Flash Flood Print?
While the team at Flash Flood Print has shown incredible flexibility, the pandemic was a surprise for screen printing. “This knocked me off my planning track. I was planning to up my sales…and I’m going to keep doing that,” May noted. “But we’re going to have to change how we get jobs.”
Fulfillment, online stores, and offering people flexible ways to purchase custom apparel has become top-of-mind for May and Flash Flood Print’s effective team.
“I think now is absolutely the time to help people launch their online stores. It’s a game changer.”