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How A Profitable T-Shirt Subscription Business Grew A Screen Printing Business

Business Lessons

Justin Lawrence, Founder of Oklahoma Shirt Company has an incredible story.

Not only did he create a growing, caring, profitable t-shirt subscription service, he also setup an amazing retail front focused on his home state. To top it off, Justin used his drive to push their screen printing business forward and now all three businesses are generating over $6m in sales.

Listen to how he got started, how he uses culture and care to grow his business and lessons learned along the way.

Transcript

Bruce: Hey, print hustlers. This is Bruce from Printavo, simple shop management software. Today we've got a very special guest, Justin Lawrence from Oklahoma Shirt Company. Hey, Justin.

Justin: Hey, Bruce. How are you?

Bruce: Justin's got a really cool couple businesses that he's got going on all inter-tangled and wanted to dive more into that and be able to expose a lot of his story and things that he's learned as he's gone through this. So Justin, thanks for joining us.

Justin: Yes, absolutely. The privilege is mine.

Bruce: Okay, so first, when I was looking you guys up, I think we got an email from you, I looked at your website and then I went to your Instagram and you had like 16-something thousand followers. What is that from?

Justin: You know, it's a direct product of community. We work really hard on our product just like everybody else does. But it comes from curation. So we found that if you have good people that make cool products and you have relevant social media and you put things on there that people enjoy, then it's pretty simple. You know, and consistency. So we provided, I don't know, a channel or an insight into our story, into our custom shop, into our retail operations, into our shirt of the month stuff, and so it was a place where people went to, you know, learn about us and learn about the products that we're offering. And so it certainly didn't happen overnight. You know, we have a team dedicated to our social media and, I mean, that's the direct roots of it. You don't accidently create community, and you certainly don't accidentally create a thriving social media presence.

Bruce: Sure. So okay, let's step back. How did this all start? Did the retail start first? Did your screen printing business start first? How did you even get into all that?

Justin: Sure. So back to the beginning. Man, I was a...and I'll keep this short. It was kind of a means to an end. Like I was working full-time at a few churches and I decided I wanted to go to medical school, and I was doing graphic design at the time. And so when I started studying, doing the pre-med requirements, you have to take these classes, then you have to take this test, and then however well you do on the test then you can apply to these medical schools and get accepted, if you get accepted. So I started doing the science stuff. I'd already had a communications degree and so I just got to go back and basically I got to take half the classes and got another bachelor's out of it, which was cool. But I was finding the science was something that was taking a lot more of my time than I originally thought that it would.

So I had to quit my full-time job while I was married. We were having a kid, and I knew that I was really gonna have to buckle down but I still had to provide for my family. So from networking there was people that would ask me like if they had a church camp or if they had a retreat or an event, "Hey, dude. Can you design us a T-shirt or can you help us with promotional material?" "Sure, you got it." And I would do it. And then one guy was like, "Hey, we need to order like 300 T-shirts." And I'm like, "Okay." He said, "Who should we use?" And I said, "Well, I'll do it."

It certainly is a...as we all know, screen printing is...I don't know. I imagine it's like fish. They see something hanging in the water that's beautiful and it looks cool and appetizing and then as soon as you bite it, you get a hook in your mouth, for the good and for the bad. And so I went all in and I learned how to screen print the same way that I learned organic chemistry. I went to YouTube and watched...man, who...the two guys. You know, it was...we all know Jonathan at Catspit and Ryan Moore at Ryonet. Every screen printer is like, "Those guys are the gateway drugs," right.

Bruce: Yeah. We train our team here on...Catospo?

Justin: Catspit.

Bruce: Yeah, Catspit, yeah, yeah. And his old, old screen printing videos, some of the best ones out there, actually.

Justin: Yep. And so I went there and, you know, I basically used the money that the guy was gonna buy the 300 shirts with to bootstrap like three-quarters of the purchase of the little two-color press and a little dryer and I got the bare necessities to get it done. And I thought, I was like, "Yeah, this'll be easy. I'll just buy this stuff and then a little bit of labor..." and then I learned about all the different variables of things that go into screen printing. God, we probably coded 20 screens to get one like C+ screen that will allow us to print these shirts.

Bruce: Yeah, that didn't get blown out or...

Justin: Yeah. A lot of guys probably have a similar story from starting up. So man, that's where it started. So I had this equipment and I put my name out there and was like, "Hey, guys. We'll screen print for you. We'll take on any project, big or small." And so one thing led to another, and then it was basically in my garage and so we slowly upgraded our equipment. That was probably in like September or October of 2012, which is kinda like we don't call that like our official start up. Like we call that...like that's just kind of we're flirting, trying to figure out what it is that we're gonna do. January '13, January 2013 is kind of the date that we put a pin in to say that's where we started this business, and it also coincides with our shirt of the month product.

So we had this screen printing equipment, and me, you know, asking questions. I had a business partner at the time. You know, what's something that we could do that's different, that's unique that could be a service or a product that would not just make us some money but would also like enhance and improve and bring joy to people and something that they, you know, could really latch onto? Community wasn't certainly...community was an accident. I'll confess that. But it certainly is now, like it's the lifeblood and it's the driving force and it's the thing that we need that sustains our culture and certainly sustains our product and grows it to this day.

So the conversation was like, hey, Oklahoma, people have a lot of state pride. There's a lot of these boutique shops in the city or the metropolitan area where we were that people are buying shirts that are expressing unique artists' ideas and putting like state pride on a shirt. So you've all seen them, as you guys see them in your own respective states, and probably screen printers make a lot of it. It's no different in Oklahoma. So I saw this opportunity to every...all these boutique shops were selling T-shirts for $20, $25, $30 that I couldn't wrap my mind around. It's funny. It's part of our, like, culture now, like if you're a T-shirt maker out there and you sell shirts for $25 or $30, I don't like you. Like, it doesn't have to be that. Like, if you have to charge that much for your product like you're artificially inflating it. That's a whole nother conversation.

So we said, "Let's make a shirt and let's let people subscribe and let's figure out how to do it." So I built a website and I kinda tied two or three pieces of technology together. This was before it was easy to integrate apps where you just click two buttons and then...like I saw your email this morning, Bruce, which I'm fired up about. Like Printavo now integrates or has been with Zappier, and so I'm excited to see like, you know, what magic I can have working in the background to make our processes even more efficient. But you know, a lot of that wasn't around in 2013 so we kinda just hardwired a few pieces together to make it work and out came this product.

And it just hit. I think part of that was because of my...like I was known by a lot of different people in a lot of different networks, and so I just made this innocent post on Facebook that said, "Hey, guys. Like, I'm starting this product. I think it'll be a lot of fun, would love for you to come along on this journey with me." And then, you know, we got like a hundred subscribers in our first month, which was cool. Like, that was really exciting. We thought we had a lot of momentum. And then it was just this journey...

Bruce: Wait. You said how many subscribers in the first month?

Justin: A hundred.

Bruce: A hundred, and they were paying what per month?

Justin: At the time, 10 bucks month.

Bruce: Got it. So $10 a month was the shirt every month, like a subscription payment. You used Chargify, I think I saw?

Justin: No, so initially, we were using...what did we use initially? So I wired PayPal because they would do recurring monthly charges, and then Shopify was the first kind of like integration.

Bruce: A hundred people signed up though. I mean, that's awesome. And that was from one Facebook post?

Justin: Yeah. And you know, and this is like a word of warning. This was 2013. Like, it's different now in 2017. Like, we have multiple subscription products now that we offer, and as time goes on each product is less valuable, if that makes sense. So we start a subscription product...we're starting a new subscription product January 1, and we started a subscription product in like October, this past October, and then we started an additional subscription product like last February. And you know, we don't get a hundred subscriptions in the first month.

Like you know, every product we add on...it's just because subscriptions or boxes or even the novelty, if you will, of what it is that we're offering, it isn't taboo or it isn't fresh or it isn't exciting anymore. Like everybody knows about subscription boxes, everybody knows about subscription services. So, you know, I would caution all you guys that are gonna listen to this podcast. Maybe it's just my mom and Bruce's mom. I don't know. But hopefully there's some other people, I'm kidding, that listen to it. I don't have a magic recipe. Like, I'm not telling you that like you should go start a subscription-based product and you'll be wildly successful with it.

Bruce: Well, when you started, Justin, the first hundred, like what was your role in the community that garnered or convinced a hundred people when you made a post? What was your following from? Was it a band or is it like a...

Justin: Yeah. So I played a lot of music. I was really involved in a lot of different church circles. So there are several like prolific churches here in Oklahoma City that I worked for. I had a band. We played a lot, probably...for a worship band, man, we would probably play like...52...probably 30, like 25 to 30 events per year and then we would spend like 6 weeks of weeks of the summer at these different summer camps, like engaging with different churches and different kids, high school, middle school.

Bruce: So you had a kind of a following on your Facebook page then or...

Justin: Oh, yeah, absolutely.

Bruce: ...band page then.

Justin: Yep. And so there were a lot of fans, if you will, and so to put something out, like I already had this organic community of people that thought like, "Oh, this is a really cool idea. I can support Justin." And it also happens to be like a product that like people were excited about and still are excited about to this day.

Bruce: Sure. So the pride thing. Now, they call it like social influencers, right? It's like, you know, that's why they pay people on Instagram now who have a ton of followers to promote a product or something. But that definitely helped generate...how many customers do you guys have on subscriptions today?

Justin: Yeah, so we have a little over 14,500 subscriptions.

Bruce: That's awesome.

Justin: It is awesome, and it's a big machine. That's for our Oklahoma product. Combined total subscriptions, I don't know. I'd have to look at the other products. But, you know, Oklahoma is the one that...

Bruce: Hold on one sec. I think we're...

Justin: Oops.

Bruce: Yeah, we just got a little weird...

Justin: Did I lose you?

Bruce: Yeah, maybe it's this Evernote here is trying to connect to do something. Okay, now it's a little bit better.

Justin: Okay.

Bruce: All right. Yeah, go ahead.

Justin: So rolling back, so with the 14,500 subscriptions, I feel like we were given this gift. I couldn't recreate this again today if I wanted to.

Bruce: I mean, that's amazing, at about $10 a month or something?

Justin: Yep.

Bruce: I mean the logistics even of like all the shipping and like...but that's really cool.

Justin: Yeah, and what's cool is it has scaled as our business has scaled. So we started...you know, when we had a 100, 200, 300, 400 subscriptions, it continually evolved. So I made my first like full-time hire in June, that was Amy. Amy really is the...man, she's our secret sauce when it comes to community. If I have to give any credit...if I can give any credit it all goes to Amy.

Bruce: What's she good at doing, like that really helps rile the...?

Justin: Caring for people. Like, just meeting people where they're at. Cultivating and curating and engaging with the community. And when I say community, like it happens one person at a time. You know, there's not like Facebook. I don't know, we've got 90,000 plus something followers on our Facebook page.

Bruce: Got it. So like responding back, posting stuff that's really interesting, you know, just being real, overall just a nice person to people.

Justin: Yeah. And engaging, you know, and people really feeling like they're talking to a human being. And you know, to be honest, it wasn't really until about two months ago that we kind of, kind of like this, in really special, special circumstances we share how many subscribers we have. And the heart behind that is it's not that we don't want people to know. Like, I tell people, like I'll share with you and the people who watch this because it helps qualify us. Like it helps say like, "Oh, this isn't a dude who has 50 subscriptions that he's just [inaudible 00:15:51]." No, like...

Bruce: Yeah, this is legit.

Justin: But the reason we don't share that number is not because, you know, we don't want people prying or we're afraid of business or whatever. It comes down to the customer. Like, I don't want the community to know...like Amy works really hard at the one-on-one and I don't want people to feel like that they're just a number, or I don't want them to feel like that they're just getting a mass-created product. Like, every shirt we make is made with love. You know, the gospel message that I tell our production guys all the time is...like I'll go out there and stop them and I'll have them all pick up a shirt and look at it and hold it and I say, "This shirt, I don't care if it's the first one you printed today or the thousandth or the five thousandth shirt that you printed today, I want you to look at it and know that this is going on a human being. Like this is not even a hamburger. This is not something that someone's gonna put on a shelf. This is a T-shirt that someone's going to either wear to broadcast their brand or to show pride in their church or to make a statement that they feel passionate about."

And there's an intimacy that I really believe that comes with making or decorating apparel. Like it's really cool that we get to create something that a human being like is going to put on then. Like it's not even like...I think it's different than if you're making like paper products or like books or notepads. Like, it's cool. I have this toolkit that like I'll engage with but then I put it here. No. Like this T-shirt or this hoodie that I'm wearing, there's something really special about that. And so I often will remind our production guys like, "Hey. Every shirt matters. Like, every single shirt matters and every..."

And what's interesting with our product, the subscription product versus like our custom products...Bruce if you called and said, "Justin, I need 500 shirts that say Printavo on it. I'm gonna give them away in a special event or I'm gonna sell them for $10." Cool, dude, let's do it. I work with you, and together we create 500 shirts that you feel good about, and then I give them to you and then we're done. And Justin and Bruce have worked well together. What we have found with this community...like we have 14,500 people, and this is what I impress on the production guys. Like, it's almost like sometimes there will be this like locker room pep talk before we'll begin production or in the middle of production of, "Hey. Every one of these...like we're making one shirt for one person. Like, we get one opportunity to make this shirt and it's gonna go to John Gilstrap with his name, and then he's gonna get the mail and open that and it's one shirt, and that represents Oklahoma Shirt Company to John."

When I'm making 300 of these and giving them to a business who then is just gonna distribute them or give them away or shoot them out of a shirt canon...no, like it's a one-on-one interaction, transaction and exchange every single time, and our subscription model's non-contractual. So if we mess it up, that person's gonna vote with their cancelation or they're gonna stick around. And every time that they get a shirt it's an opportunity for them to tell their friends, tell their family members like what it is that we're doing. And that is the production side, and Amy kinda set the tone for that on the social media side. Every single person that sends us a message gets responded to. Every single person that asks a question gets that question answered, and really fast.

Bruce: Yeah. I like that. I like the, like, "Every single shirt matters." I mean, for us maybe every single call or every single shop matters. I'm actually gonna put that on the wall. I like that thinking that they're...especially because, you know, as a business grows, you deal with higher volume, you know, businesses start to transfer to be more like, "Okay, how do we optimize this kind of cattle flow?" instead of thinking about, you know, individual ones and still having that mentality as the business scales. That's awesome. Okay, so you've got the retail side. That sounds like it's doing amazing. First of all, would you say mainly organic growth, and by organic I mean, you know, taking care of the customer, shipping it out, doing really cool designs, posting on social or was there also a paid ad component, too, to help grow that?

Justin: As far as our like Facebook and Instagram following, is that what you're saying? Like...

Bruce: Yeah. Right, to increase the growth and the amount of subscribers.

Justin: Well, it very much is organic. That's what I learned with Facebook and Instagram. We tried like a new subscription product and I knew that if we spend X amount of money...I thought if we spend X amount of money, put X amount of creative together and broadcast it...I told Amy, I was like, "Yeah. We'll get 500 subscriptions in the first month."

Bruce: What happened?

Justin: We got 15 subscriptions in the first month, maybe.

Bruce: So a lot of them fell off?

Justin: No.

Bruce: They clicked or they just didn't click at all?

Justin: It was just...like, I don't know. Like, I literally don't know. I know that I thought I could artificially construct this thing. Because what I found...so let me digress a little bit. After probably 18 months of shirt of the month, so we hired Amy in June, we had about 600-ish subscriptions, so at that point we were tracking about 100 new subscriptions a month. I said, "This is too much. Like, I can't..." And I didn't even hire Amy to...again, the culture or the community was completely accidental. It was not intentional. I didn't hire Amy with this grandiose vision of like, "Come in here and like make all these people happy and do all of these good things." No, I just knew that Amy was a good person and I hired her just for customer service, which she didn't have any like web experience as a customer service person. Like, she was just...we had grown up together. She had ran several like physical brick and mortar retail operations, and that's about what qualified Amy.

And so when she came on all I needed of her was like, "Hey, I need you to be part-time, you can work from home." Like, she had just had a baby. One of my best friends is her husband and I was just like, "This could be really cool. Like this little bitty family business, and you guys will embody this as well." And she took it with the idea that my expectations were, "When people need their sizes changed, change their size. When people need their addresses changed, change their address. When people wanna cancel their subscription, cancel it. When people haven't received their package and want tracking information, tell them where their package is." I mean, that's it. It's pretty like administratively clear. Like, just handle this. Well, man, she took that low challenge that I offered her and turned it...

Bruce: And just blew it out of the water?

Justin: Yeah. And just made this, made something beautiful, and that, again, like that's not the only reason shirt of the month and our subscription products are successful. But man, that's such a big part of it is Amy and her consistent goodness and the consistent interactions that she has with anybody who engages with us. And she treats subscribers and non-subscribers exactly the same. So on Facebook, like this huge like...community. I keep using that word. I'm trying to think of another one. She's there and she's available always to them somehow. I don't know how she does it because she has a crap-load of other responsibilities and things that she overseeing and managing.

You know, as we've grown she's gotten help and there's other people who are doing things but she has preserved that idea of customer service. We had a Christmas party last night and, you know, I told...what's funny is like on our org chart, so we've [inaudible 00:24:36] and-a-half people. Amy and her fulfillment person are the ones who really handle shirt of the month. Now obviously, like our warehouse operations and our production people, like those are all like making shirt of the month happen, but we have such a large production staff because of our custom shop.

So it's funny that like I was talking to the majority that...you know, when I address the whole like organization I'm talking to people who spend, you know, 50 to 70 hours a week working on custom products. Occasionally, they'll print Amy stuff, right. Once a month they'll do the big shirt of the month run and then when we have tradeshows or Black Friday things or there's things that are going...promotional things that Amy's doing, they'll create all of her products. So like Amy and the reoccurring revenue services or our subscription based products as well as our retail operation is technically kinda Oklahoma Shirt Company's custom's biggest client, if that helps.

Bruce: Yeah, that makes sense.

Justin: So I told them all last night, I was addressing everybody, and Amy was there obviously, but I said, "You guys who are in our production space and doing custom products, you don't know how much people love us, and you need to go look. You need to go to Google and you need to see that we have a five-star review from almost 400 people. You need to go to Facebook and just get lost in the community of 90,000 plus people. You need to go to Instagram and see what all of these people are saying about us and the good things." Like, we're not the best screen printers in the world. We have a lot to learn. We've been doing this for five years. I have no screen printing experience.

I made my first hire this year of the first person who like came from another shop that has a long list of screen printing experience. The rest of us are just ex-church workers or people that played in my band or friends of friends. And so again, like Amy through her just goodness, and not her expertise in customer service, just her expertise in people is the secret. We're really busy right now, and it's December 15th. I have no idea why we're so busy right now. But the only thing I can attribute it to is we value customers and we value customer service. Our mantra here is, you know, kind of we're developing...we're trying to have like a sexy version of this but we don't have time to develop a sexy version yet because we're printing damn T-shirts all day long.

But like, kind of our core values, mission, whatever, we definitely...I know this isn't the final draft. but like we value our people first. Like our culture, what we do here, and then we value our customers, and then we value the product. So the running joke I have with these guys is like, "As soon as I get bored with screen printing or what it is that we're doing, I'm gonna go open a taco shop or a car dealership and I'm gonna find a way to employ every single one of these people and take them with me." Because it doesn't matter what we do, they will do it well, and they'll do it with integrity, and they'll do it with humility and kindness and goodness. I know I sound like a broken record but that's why we work. That's why it works well. Like we don't have turnover issues. Sure, I mean, today we misprinted 300 shirts, right. Like, we all have the same issues. But I think it's how those issues are resolved and what you do and how you communicate that to the customer that keeps people coming back.

Bruce: Sure. Sure. That's huge. It sounds like you baked in that to the culture too, which has helped you guys foster growth. So there's the custom side, there's the retail side. Where do you guys hit on the custom side? Maybe how many autos or amount of people, revenue, things like that?

Justin: Yep, absolutely. So there's 25 people who work here. I'm gonna remove the half because I'm the half. So I try to be half in the custom shop and half to the retail and shirt of the month, which that's such a short change of me doing my job because I don't really spend any time with Amy in shirt of the month because she just does it so well. I am day in and day out fighting this T-Rex...this pet T-Rex is the running joke that me and my sales manager have of like I got a pet T-Rex that I have to feed a lot every day, and because I feed him a lot he also like shits a lot and so we have to clean that up too. Sometimes he gets angry and tears everything up and sometimes it's like really cool. Like, "Hey, come over here and meet my pet T-Rex, and it's super neat and awesome, but don't get too close because he might bite your head off."

So I spend most of my time with the custom shop. We have three automatics, we have a handful of embroidery machines, direct garment, vinyl. You know, this year we'll do about $6 million worth of revenue total. Our custom shop will attribute to about, oh, two-and-a-half, three million bucks for the custom. And then our retail will count for about half a million to three-quarters of million dollars and then our shirt of the month will be I think like $2.2 million, something like that. So those are really round numbers and I'm sure someone out there is going to add up all my math and it's probably not gonna...but that's kind of to scale us where we're at.

Bruce: Can I ask like why the...you know, I mean, you've got, it sounds like, really great businesses on each side. And if anything, like the recurring side, you know, you set it up and then you just keep delivering on the shirt side. Is there a reason why you've kept multiple growing versus just trying to focus and blow up on one? I don't know. What are your thoughts on that?

Justin: So shirt of the month grew like crazy, and it wasn't until 2017...no. No. Yeah, 2016...2016 was the year that like shirt of the month was definitely our cash cow. I mean, it was what led us to take risks and grow a lot faster than we probably should have, hire more people than we needed. And I looked up at the beginning of 2016 and I said...so what had happened...so to kinda go back to the original startup story. We were in my garage, then we moved to an industrial complex in Edmond, which is a little suburb outside of Oklahoma City. And then about that time like I got accepted to medical school. I finished all my stuff, did the MCAT, and then OU, which I [inaudible 00:32:01] "I went to medical school at OU here in Oklahoma City."

Geographically, they're probably about 15, 20-minute drive from OU to Edmond. So when I got accepted to school I had the idea, I was like, "I'm gonna move my business downtown and put it right next to the campus so that I can kinda have both of my headaches in the same spot." When I moved downtown I never thought that we would be doing what it is that we're doing today. Shirt of the month continued growing. I had to keep providing infrastructure to keep up with shirt of the month. So I did first year of medical school. We had our second kid. Like, I looked up and I had this thriving business that was just being held back by me because my attentions were elsewhere.

I didn't have the managerial skills to grow the team and to grow this place. I was in medical school that was just kicking my ass day in and day out. It was awesome. I miss it every day. It was great. And then I had my family who was getting the leftovers. I had a newborn, I had my wife, two kids total, and they were just great but they were just waiting on the sidelines, but they were cheering for me. But they were on the sidelines, and so I made myself pick two. Family, medical school, Oklahoma Shirt Company. Well, I also...right now I'm 32. I'll be 33 December 27th, so almost birthday time.

Bruce: Hey, happy early birthday.

Justin: Thank you. I was 30 after my first year of medical school and I knew that my trajectory for the next 10 years, I was gonna have little to no control of what it was that I was doing. I had four years of medical school, then at least three or four years of residency. And then when all that was done, I was going to get to go to work, right. And still not have much control of my schedule, work at a hospital or some other group, and still not be around for my family. So through lots of like counseling and help and care, guidance, God, all of the things, I decided like medical school was great, it was a great journey, and it has made me who I am today and I have a much deeper appreciation for science and details and inner workings and people and it was a great experience, but I just had to set it down. I'm going somewhere with this.

So when I came back, it was about the beginning of 2016. I looked and I saw I had this incredible product, shirt of the month, that was growing still, and then I had this custom shop that was just like...I had a sports car that we were just driving in the neighborhood, you know. Like, because of the reoccurring revenue we never made the shop run, and I saw this potential. You know, our custom shop was doing, oh, $10,000, $15,000, $20,000, $30,000 a month worth of custom printing. And then all of a sudden like we would ramp up and print 8,000 shirts for shirt of the month or 10,000 or whatever as it grew. And so I said, "This is crazy. Both are doing well, but we need to really go all in on the custom side." I don't know when subscriptions are gonna blow up, like tank. I don't know if that product is going to continue for the next 10 years.

Like, we gain new subscriptions daily and we lose subscriptions daily. The bigger you get, the bigger the swings are, but it's still kind of percentages. I said, "Man, we have to diversify this place if it's gonna be sustainable and we have an opportunity to grow." Because there is a ceiling on Oklahoma shirt of the month subscriptions. What is that? There's six million people in the State of Oklahoma, so maybe that. The custom side, though, like there's not a ceiling. Like, as many businesses and churches and schools and people, as long as people have a passion there will be a reason to make T-shirts.

Bruce: Sure. So it was like the opportunity, the long-term opportunity is what said, "Okay. Let's run them both but we know it could be the bigger one..." you know.

Justin: And sustainability, and I think responsible business running. Like, the more diversified you are the better you are. So our three revenue streams, we have a retail operation that is to be reckoned with, we have a shirt of the month operation that is a trailblazer and we're defining some parameters in this industry, but we have a custom shop that, you know, is much like any other custom operation but we're trying to do the best that we can with what we have and do it consistently. So you have to grow all three of those, because if one tanks...like so what we found, too, is because we have a great retail operation...November, when...if you're just looking at the custom shop, you know, like November, December, January, February are like our slower months. And then it really ramps up mid-February, March, April, May, June and then it kinda dips a little bit and then August, July or September, October is just buck wild for everybody always. We are a lot more stable because there's also our retail also kind of runs inverse of that. So in November, we sold about $60,000 worth of shirts on Black Friday. So...

Bruce: On the retail side or the...

Justin: Yeah, on the retail side. On the retail side. And then shirt of the month, you know, stays constant. You know, it's growing. And so it just continues to provide us that base. And then, so the peaks and valleys of the custom shop don't affect us. And where the valleys are in the custom shop, it's the retail peaks. So retail peaks, like Black Friday, Christmas, January, you know, when school's starting. Like, so there's a lot of...I hate...I'm not gonna...I'm about to say this word...synergy and what it is that we're doing with those three revenue streams.

Bruce: You're a true executive.

Justin: Oh, God. I hate it. But it helps us. Is that the motto for everybody? No. But I'll tell you this. Like...

Bruce: And you have good weather there around the year, right?

Justin: Yeah, yeah.

Bruce: Okay. Interesting. Very interesting. What would you say...you know, this is hopping over to the custom side, and I wanna hop over to retail. But maybe any of the three, though, what is one big lesson learned that if you went back, you're like, "Man, I would've totally done it this other way versus how I did it here?" It could be any of the three channels.

Justin: Okay. This is simple. It's year five, almost year six for us. We're just now buying our first gas dryer. So we've been using an electric dryer in the custom shop and it's fine. It's [inaudible 00:39:47] We've made more T-shirts than a lot of people who have gas dryers, but I'm realizing how...and right, I didn't have a coach. I didn't have someone who's mentoring me through my processes. I just had salesmen that would sell me whatever they wanted to sell me. So I think it's not a regret, it's not what I would've done differently. I probably would've bought a gas dryer three years ago when I bought like one of our bigger dryers, and so, you know, we're running two electric dryers right now. They're the big electric dryers, certainly.

But I think that my production manager I hired...he was the guy I was talking about earlier, he was the first like industry person that I hired, second industry person I hired. Our sales manager was a great hire. That's a cool story. Our sales manager was...so one of the primary suppliers that we buy from, they had a territory screen manager. So the territory screen manager's job is to go to every screen printing shop, so he oversaw Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas. His job was to be my best friend, right, like get to know a shop owner, get to know what their needs are, provide them the resources that they need.

Well, man, we just clicked really well as buddies, and I really look forward to him coming into our shop all the time. And so I offered him probably a job three or four different times kinda joking, and then one day he liked stopped me. He's like, "Are you serious? Like, you keep asking me this." And he's like, "Because I can't think of any...if I was to go work for a screen printing shop, I can't think of another shop I'd rather go work for than you guys." And so we made it work. And that was kinda...power play is the wrong word, but it was awesome because I instantly had someone that had expertise on all of my direct competition, which...

Bruce: It's a power play. I mean, it's awesome for the organization and for him to gain the experience too.

Justin: Yeah. And then so our production manager was the second industry hire. He was really unhappy, really unhappy at the current situation or the situation he was at. You know, I will say this, I rest easy at night because I didn't steal Cameron from his place and I didn't steel Julio from their place. I got to know people just because of the industry. They saw our culture and...

Bruce: And they moved...yeah. That's awesome.

Justin: Like, have fun screen printing but don't be a dick. The second that you burn bridges or you start doing things that aren't integritable or that you see an opportunity to strike, yes, you might make 5,000 extra bucks this month but it's gonna cost you something later, I promise. So hiring Julio, you know, he came from gas dryers, and so he has just been twisting my arm for the past year. And he's made it work, like he's doing great, but I know that's really not that great of an answer. And I'm sure as soon as we finish I'll think of something.

Bruce: Yeah, I think what's neat about your story and what a lot of other shops can take from it is the aspect of really focusing on the culture aspect. It seems that it's not only benefited you and helped you create a happy place to work in, but it's also helped drive this long-term retail and shirt of the month business. It's also helped drive new team members to come in, you know, people just that you interact with, and really good people are hard to find, they're very hard to find. And so that's pretty cool and so I definitely appreciate some of those tips and advice. We're coming up towards the end here. Is there anyone that you follow, either in the business world or not, that you kind of idolize or read more about or any books or things that you're skimming through?

Justin: So I'm reading a really cool book right now. It's a Christian author, but he made a book that is all about telling the story of your brand. So Donald Miller, it's this book called "Building a Story Brand." I think a lot of guys and gals would benefit from reading this. You know, it basically says like, the summation is that we have to make the customer the hero of the story. Like, we have to make them the star. Often in the screen printing industry, I follow everybody that I can on Instagram. And I follow them as Justin T. Lawrence. I don't follow you as Oklahoma Shirt Company or Oklahoma Shirt Company Custom because one, like that's my own personal ingestion of social media. Like, I learn from other shops. I don't post a lot of screen printing things on my feed. It's me, and traveling, and my wife, and my country band, and the things that I think are funny.

And so, you know, the idea is that you're elevating the customer above yourself. In the screen printing industry, we have a ton of sexy things that the rest of the world loves, like seeing T-shirts get made is really freaking cool. The craft and the trade that we are all skilled at is something that the world embraces and takes pride and joy and...you know, everybody at some point in their life is going to order some custom T-shirts. Our job is to make sure that when those people wanna order those custom T-shirts that we're the first person...or your business is the first person that they think of. So making the person a hero of the story is also kind of...it parallels with our growth and it parallels with kind of our culture.

In Oklahoma City, for the longest time, there's been a lot of people who've been screen printing and they're just like burned out. They're not doing anybody any favors and they know that they hold the keys to the T-shirts, and if you want T-shirts then you're gonna have to go through my archaic, non-customer friendly, difficult processes, and I'm still not gonna deliver on your hard deadline but it doesn't matter because you can't make T-shirts on your own. So as we like step in to be the guide, we enjoy working with people. And so there's no greater joy than taking someone who doesn't know anything about us or anything about screen printing, holding their hand through the journey, and then at the end we make something we're really proud of and they get to get something that they're really proud of.

We make the customer the star of their own story. Not like, "Oh, my God. I can't wait to work with Oklahoma Shirt Company." No. Oh, my God. We can't wait to serve you. We can't wait to meet you where you're at. If you need one direct to garment shirt for your friend who passed away and you wanna commemorate their memory or if you want 20,000 shirts for the Thunder playoffs, like it doesn't matter the scale of the job. It's the people that are behind that job. So that's a good read that helps you like...and it's scalable, like big or small. You know, the bigger your organization is the more difficult it is. The smaller it is, you really can work with yourself or your team to establish what it is that you wanna be about.

Because what you don't wanna be about is how many T-shirts can I print today and how big can I get my bank account? Because that's not like...that's not fun. Like that's not sustainable. Like you'll just become this place that never has enough. Whereas with us, we all show up to work and we look forward to coming to work. You know, the true measure of culture in a business is when any of your employees' alarm goes off in the morning, what's the first thing that goes through their mind? Are they dreading coming to work? Sure. We all have hard days and we all don't wanna come to work sometimes. But when they start thinking about the people that they're gonna get to interact with, their family in this place, then that's often motivation enough to get them out of bed.

Bruce: Heck, yeah. Awesome, Justin. Well, thank you for joining us. Thank you for the time you spent with us. This was really great. And we actually really appreciate it.

Justin: Yeah. Man, I hope you'll have me back. I would love to weigh in on any other topics, and I certainly learned a lot from you and I appreciate your product. If you guys don't use Printavo or you don't know about Printavo, man, it has been the game changer for us as an organization. And feel free...I'm sure you'll post like my contact information or whatever. If you want a shop owner's opinion on Printavo or how we do what we do, then feel free to contact me directly and I'd love to coach you or help you or show you under the hood what it is that we do.

Bruce: That's awesome. Yeah, it's justin@oklahomashirtcompany. Definitely appreciate that. Thank you again, Justin.

Justin: You got it, brother.

Bruce: Awesome. Have a great day.

Justin: You too, Bruce.

Bruce: Bye.

Justin: Bye.


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