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How To: Move Your Screen Printing Shop Successfully

Before you read…

Printavo is simple shop management software. We help you streamline your business, keep jobs moving forward and your team on the same page.

Scheduling, quoting, approvals, payments, customer communication, automation and more. With Printavo, you’ll work smarter–not harder.

Editor’s note: this gem fell through the cracks almost two years ago, but it’s just as relevant and valuable as ever.

Want to kill your screen printing business? Then do a bad job planning, timing and executing your relocation.

A lot of us started printing in our bedrooms, garages, and basements. There are so many great owners of small printing operations running perfectly viable businesses that way!

As time goes on, a squeaky-clean warehouse with tons of space starts to seem like a great idea. No more ink smell at home. No more annoyed neighbors. Tons of space to spread out and put that giant auto press you’ve dreamt about.

Moving isn’t easy. It takes a lot of time and energy. More challenging than that, it takes serious insight into your business plan. You have to be brutally honest about where you are – and where you’re going.

Move too soon and your business suffers. Don’t move and you might stay in your garage forever.

So how do you decide when it’s time to move your screen printing shop? Consider the practical case (finances) and the business case (strategy).

Why You Want To Hear From Me: I’ve Moved Successfully

In 2014, I didn’t know much about screen printing. I’d just bought into Campus Ink as a 24-year-old.

So why would you want to hear from me? Campus Ink started as Campus Sportswear in 1947. They printed on the second floor of a building with just two thousand square feet of space ever since. Last summer, we opened a new retail location. The 12,000 square foot production facility we added is pretty nice, too.

undefinedOur new retail & event space close to the UIUC campus.

Campus Ink has a lot to be thankful for. Its success came from its proximity to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. At the time, it was owned by two 55-year-olds. They are hardened veterans of the screen print industry. I daydreamed about modernizing the business while I learned the basics during a challenging year of climbing the learning curve.

Once I’d earned their trust, we took our workflow into the digital age. Because of our ability to build amazing customer relationships and consistently deliver great products, we outgrew our old space.

I wanted to move as soon as I bought in: buy the fancy equipment, get the nicest warehouse, take out big loans and just go from there. Luckily, the wisdom of experience told my co-owners to wait.

Their advice likely saved our business from my youthful desire to move fast and break things:

Buy in cash, don’t take on debt, grow until you absolutely have to move.

When Should I Move My Business?: Want vs. Need

If you’re anything like me, here’s how you imagine moving your business:

  1. Pick out the most perfect space so you can do the absolute best & most work.
  2. Figure out if you can (at least mostly) afford it.
  3. Move, then grow the business from there.

That sounds great, right?

Pick out a big space for everything you think you’ll need, and figure out how to grow the business once you’re in. After all, with all that new space you’ll have no problem making even better products at a higher speed!

This is a recipe for disaster.

The safest strategy for the long-term health of your business is the minimum viable move.

So what does a minimum viable move look like? Chief Executive describes it as “making just enough of an organizational change to determine whether or not the move will be valuable to your business.”

Before you move, explore every other option.

undefinedCan you afford to lose production time? Employees? Customers? Image courtesy @shirtlizard

Moving is a business risk. You are likely going to incur unforeseen overhead, no matter how much you plan and calculate. You will certainly lose some production time. You could lose customers. You may even lose employees.

That’s why your moving strategy should look more like this list:

  1. Grow the business until there’s a steady upward sales trajectory.
  2. Develop strategies for doing the best work you can in your current space. Can you do more jobs where you already are? Have you tried using contract printers?
  3. Carefully figure out if you can afford to relocate.
  4. Search for the space that fits your exact needs. Not your exact wants.
  5. Move deliberately.

Frame the issue differently to make sense of what’s happening. Choose to relocate when you need to move, not when you want to.

Is My Business Starving for a New Space?

Does a new space clearly fulfill an inherent operational need – or are you imagining that the grass will be greener once you’re in that giant new warehouse?

A big warehouse is not a business strategy. “Grow into it” isn’t a plan. Image courtesy @redwallprints

To determine if you want to move or if you need to move, consider the following statements:

  • I know exactly what I’d do with the new space, and I can name the needs it fulfills for my business.
  • I’m certain I’m already using my current space to its fullest extent.
  • I’m having trouble growing because of space limitations, not because of business or marketing efforts.
  • My business is sustainable, with sales projections trending upwards.

Do you agree with these statements? Some of them? None of them? These are all reasonable statements when you need to move.

Once you know whether you merely want to move versus needing to move, you can move on to tougher questions.

Renting vs. Buying: The Big Question

You’ve run the numbers, you’ve got a solid plan, and a thriving business that needs to move. A move is necessary for your near future.

The next dilemma is a big one: should you rent or buy your new space?

Buying property is great, but it’s a serious undertaking. Paying your own mortgage (instead of a landlord’s) is a big upside. But there are real risks associated with buying property: it’s not just the mortgage payments that you need to plan for.

Buying Pros Cons.png

Renting property can serve as a minimum viable move – but it’s important to consider that renting offers less long-term stability and more uncertainty than buying a property.

You must trust and depend on your landlord – they exert control over your business since they own the space you work in.

Renting has real upsides, of course – the lower bar to entry is appealing if your shop doesn’t have a large amount of savings, or is looking for a short-to-medium term upgrade.

Renting Pros Cons.png

I can’t tell you whether to rent or buy. Consider your budget, what your goals are, and how comfortable with risk you are. If you do rent, there are plenty of resources for determining what your shop can afford.

Choosing the Right Space: What to Know Before You Move

Based on your business plan, you’ll need to carefully evaluate exactly how much space you’ll need. If there’s uncertainty about your space requirements, renting is your best short-term option. If you rent you won’t pay too much for space you’re not using – or worse, lock yourself into a space that’s too small.

Your Floor Plan

The easiest way to plan your space is to get out the pen & paper and start sketching up a floorplan. If you know the measurements of your equipment, you can get extremely specific about space requirements.

Laying out a new shop doesn’t have to be difficult. Image from Fink’s Graphic Design.

Roughly speaking, you’ll need approximately 3,500 square feet for a single automatic press and its accompanying equipment. Embroidery machines can fit into a smaller space – I’ve found that 500 square feet are a good estimate for a 6 head machine.

The measurements of the equipment you’re intending to purchase are good guides for estimating floor space. You can find these measurements from your sales rep, or even directly on the equipment’s product page.

Dimensions for the different ROQ YOU automatic presses.

Add between 5 and 10 feet (1.5-3 meters) of working space around the machine, depending on how you use the machine & what it is. 

What Your Business Plan Means for Your Space

This may seem obvious, but it’s something that often gets filed under “figure it out later.”

If you’re adding several auto presses, you should know how many more square feet you need.

If you estimate that your business plan involves growing to specific equipment, search for the space that accommodates it. Don’t buy a building solely to build equity: make the specifics of the space part of your business plan.

Will your business outgrow its current equipment if your strategy works? Will you need to buy more equipment, replace old equipment, or plan to move to an even larger space within the medium-to-short term? Will you need to purchase a new conveyor dryer, or allow more space for incoming and outgoing goods?

You wait to find the correctly-sized space. Carefully evaluate how your equipment will fit into it and what your shop’s workflow demands. No more, no less: just right.

Electricity & Plumbing Requirements

Don’t overlook basic due diligence about electricity & plumbing. You don’t need to be an expert, but you do need to enlist experts to consult with you.

Automatic presses, conveyor dryers, flashing units, exposure units and other equipment (including your HVAC system) will consume a large amount of electricity. In order to ensure you have enough power, you’ll need 3-phase power in your building.

Garment decoration equipment needs lots of energy.

Most commercial spaces have 3-phase power. If you’re in a rural area or moving into an older building, ensure that there’s existing 3-phase power. Look for outlets in the appropriate places for your shop’s layout. You may need to have an electrician add new breakers or perform other modifications to the existing power supply. But beware: installing 3-phase power in a building that doesn’t already have it is prohibitively expensive.

For plumbing, carefully consider:

  • Whether the location of water sources is in the right place for your shop’s workflow. You don’t want workers traveling across the entire shop repeatedly.
  • Whether you’ll need to install a lot of new plumbing fixtures. Installing new plumbing can be extremely costly.
  • Whether there’s direct sewer access. You do not want to fill a septic tank with ink & emulsion.

Additionally: protect the health and well-being of your employees – and the environment.

Be sure you understand the MSDS requirements and local regulations for safe handling & disposal of every chemical involved in your process. While many chemicals used in the industry are drain safe, a proper filtration system for your washout booth can reduce the risk that you’ll damage your plumbing – or violate the law.

Uncured Plastisol ink contains unpolymerized vinyl chloride, a serious toxin implicated in a variety of chronic illnesses. The correct plumbing regime protects the health of your employees, community and local water table – and protects your plumbing against expensive clogs!

More Practical Resources for Moving Your Business

As always: do your research. There’s a wealth of topics about business relocation that go deeper. You should always consult with a professional if you’re uncertain – the small cost for a business consultation far outweighs the damage that a poorly planned move can do to you & the employees you’re responsible for.

About Printavo

Printavo is simple shop management software. We help you streamline your business, keep jobs moving forward and your team on the same page.

Scheduling, quoting, approvals, payments, customer communication, automation and more. With Printavo, you’ll work smarter–not harder.


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