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In this episode we hear Justin Moore talk about how he grew Barrel Maker Printing over 8 years to now having over 18 employees and 3 automatic presses.
Justin will touch on what helped them grew, moving to a new location, hiring and keeping your team happy.
Bruce: Hello everybody, this is Bruce from Printavo, simple shop management software, here, again, to do our latest podcast series of Business, Learnings and Lessons with Justin Moore from Barrel Maker.
Justin: How's it going?
Bruce: Good, good. I really appreciate taking the time, I know you guys are super busy. Justin just moved his whole shop from Chicago to a 12,000 square foot facility, one of three autos and three manuals there, how was that process?
Justin: It was a long process, for sure. So I'm happy that it's over with but we're still kind of in the recovering process of just getting caught up in everything. But yeah, I feel real good about it.
Bruce: Gotcha. So, where were you guys at before?
Justin: I don't know exactly. I've tried to figure that out. My guess is like about half of that except for, you know, that included our offices too which is probably about 1,500 square feet, so I think we had a little under 5,000 square feet. We had all the same equipment. We were very stuffed in there. So, I mean, it's, you know, this move, the goal wasn't necessarily to get some facility that was like, you know, felt really big and like over our heads but to just kind of take everything that we had and make it much more functional.
And so, yeah, it feels really manageable the space that we have now and it, you know, it basically just is a continuous flow from what we were working with say, you know, now I use it a little bit more properly. So we, you know, we were in an old warehouse in Chicago so there was a lot of things that we were up against like, you know, pipes that were constantly cracking and, you know, things like bugs and rodents and just a lot of stuff.
So, you know, it was a big move to kind of leave the city. But ultimately that came down to just finding something that was, you know, the spaces out here were built in like the '70s, '80s, and '90s versus stuff those built like a hundred years ago. So it's much newer, the light, everything's a lot more efficient. So, yeah.
Bruce: Gotcha. Very cool.
Justin: In a T-shirt right now inside, instead of being freezing in a warehouse, so yeah.
Bruce: Yeah, true, true. And so, just so people get a sense, where is your company in now with staff and revenue wise?
Justin: Yes, so we just this past year did a little over three million dollars. We have currently about 18 people who work with us.
Bruce: And, how long you've been working on the business?
Justin: We started in 2009. Except for when we first started in 2009, we were kind of just making like kids clothing, so we weren't really like a custom print shop. So I feel like we started getting in this sort of like the custom printing in like 2010.
Bruce: Got it.
Bruce: Okay, got it. So 2010 to...so, about 6, 7 years ramped up to about 18 people which is awesome growth. Talk to me about just, how do you got started and why you kind of got into the kid's clothes and then transitioned to printing for others.
Justin: It was pretty random honestly, we were on Facebook and we just had a baby and there was this girl we know, and I'm not gonna say her name or anything, but there was this girl and she was a designing baby clothes and we thought that they were really bad. And so my wife and I were kind of making fun of them. And I don't really know what transpired but we were like, "Let's try to make them something better." You know, it was kind of a spite thing.
And so we, you know, we just started messing around and kind of had like...I had a version of Illustrator from like my last job and so...but I didn't really use it. So we were kind of like messing around on Illustrator, we made a kid's shirt and we went online, you know, to like, we ordered it, we ordered like six of them or something like that. I think they were digitally printed.
And then we went to like a boutique near our house in Logan Square and we found a place that was willing to sell them. So we were like, "Oh, cool." So we started ordering, you know, just like 6 or 12 of these little shirts and getting them sold.
And real early in the process, it was like "Well, let's try and make them ourselves." You know, and so you go online and kind of found Ryonet and we bought like a silver press, like a real, you know, pretty crappy press, honestly. But as soon as we got that, then I started going around to like friends that I knew. I'd place ads on Craigslist, you know, just different things to try and reach out and find like businesses who wanted custom printing.
And, yeah, we got a couple little orders here and there. We had no clue of what we're doing. We're printing out of our house. We were using our bathroom. We were using like halogen light to burn screens and just kind of like hustling. And it's kind of been a study organic growth since. I mean, we had a couple real big jobs early on that kind of like helped us, you know, we had a job of maybe two years in for like 60,000 pieces. And that, you know, that job gave us the ability to buy like an automatic press.
Bruce: So talk about that part. That's interesting. How did that come across? Because that's not a small job by any means.
Justin: No, it was pretty random. It was like, you know, every once in a while you get hit up with like, you know, an opportunity for, you know, a lot of just screen printed work, sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't.
And so this company e-mailed me and they needed an order, and they needed it kind of quickly. And so they reached out to me, but they reached out to a lot of local shops because we still...even when we like printed manually, we still did some printing for like other shops that specialized on maybe like business cards or post-cards but who sourced out, you know, T-shirt orders.
And so I got a few emails and obviously they, you know, this company reached out to a few different people. And so one day I decided, instead of coming to work I was like, "I'm gonna stay home, I'm gonna just figure out how to get this order." So I kind of like did some research, I made a lot of phone calls and ultimately what I realized is that the order that they wanted they couldn't get done. Like they wanted something screen-printed but there was no... Like the garment that they needed printed on, nobody had stock levels off.
So I knew that they were gonna run into that with people quoting it and, you know, people who are just gonna tell them that they couldn't get that garment. So I made kind of like a big focus on finding them another product that I felt would work. And I kind of wrote up a whole pitch on why I thought that would be a better product for them and how it would save them money and it would be more fun and, you know, all that stuff.
And I pitched it to them and they went for it and then I got paid up front, which is cool too. So I was kind of freaking out because I didn't know how I was gonna do it, and sent them an invoice and like two days later they're like, "All right, we have a check for you." Yeah, and then I bought an auto with it, so. Yeah.
Bruce: Wow, that's a fast turnaround.
Bruce: How soon did they want those shirts back?
Justin: We had a lot of lead time, we had like... I mean, it was still a rush for the way that they were doing it but it was like, it was a few months, you know. So definitely it wasn't like an order that needed to be done in like a week.
As we've grown, those are the orders that we probably make the most money and now are things where someone maybe has a trade show and they've run out of shirts or they realize that they need 1,000 shirts tomorrow. And yeah, that's the kind of stuff where I think once you move up, it's like an automatic...those sort of like rush jobs where you can really make some money. And that was great with the Cubs too, like we did a lot of the hot market printing but we also kind of lucked out and got a few like real big, just like last minute rush jobs, because everyone was just trying to make Cub shirts...
Bruce: Sure, for the World Series.
Bruce: Gotcha, that's crazy. How many T-shirts were you printing then?
Justin: I don't know exactly, we probably did about 50,000 official shirts and then maybe like 12 or so thousand like, you know, kind of like the unofficial shirts or for like other companies that were, you know, Cubs related. So it was a good chunk. We had printed a lot of like royal blue shirts in the shop, you know.
Bruce: Sure. That's pretty interesting. So, I'm curious, as everyone kinda looks for the one bigger job to help propel the business like that, where you think that being maybe on Yelp or having a nice website or like, how did they find you do you think? Or it was just...?
Justin: Yeah, I mean, most people that I talk to you find us through our website ultimately, you know. So I've heard, like I personally don't like our...there's...you know, and maybe you're like this too. Like I constantly always wanna review my website. I look at it all the time, and I hate it. Like I always hate it. But I think that like when you're constantly working on something too there's an element of it that must be like decent.
And yeah, I mean, we get a lot of stuff that is local and then, you know, referrals or people who, you know, sometimes you'll work with a local company and the person who orders from you they move to another company and then hopefully you stick with them and you can get the new company and kinda keep the old company. So I think, you know, I still think word of mouth is the best way. And I could look through and the bulk of our customers really are like, you know, someone who, you know, kind of ordered who also knows someone else who ordered or vice versa. Well, I mean, we definitely try and when somebody orders from us like kind of see who they're friends with and, you know, get referrals.
Bruce: How do you do that? Like you just cruise on their LinkedIn, or...?
Justin: Yeah, we do some of that, or like just having a conversation like, you know, like if you order shirts, you know, maybe like, you know, "Hey, do you have any developer friends who order?" You know, stuff like that and kind of like, you know, typically people don't mind giving up like, you know, like a friend of theirs or something.
And sometimes that really pays off or, you know, you also kind of learn not to scoff it at smaller jobs too because, you know, we had a job a long time ago that was a pretty small order, maybe like 20 or 25 shirts, and then the guy who ordered his wife ended up being like a designer. I think she did branding but she was connected with Redbox. And so like this guy ordered a small batch of shirts, but then his wife like something happened, they needed a new vendor and we got like a 4,000 shirt order from his wife like maybe a month later. And, you know, so you never really know like who knows who or whatever.
But I'll say like, we don't seek out like big jobs like that, and I know a lot of people ask me like, "How do you get those bigger jobs?" And typically those come more randomly. What we do seek out are kind of like your smaller...like a 50-shirt job is really the kind of stuff that I like. I think that the smaller companies or companies that are kind of still like, you know, a little bit younger and starting to order their merch, and, you know, they're still like excited to see their logo and everything like that. That's the kind of stuff that I really like going after.
Bruce: Gotcha. And, how do you, really specifically, go after? Is it still, you know, letting a person that gets the job done with you say, "Hey, if you have any friends." Or is there other ways you do that too?
Justin: Yeah, I mean, that's the bulk of it. I mean, I do a little bit of like just straight up cold calling or cold calling or cold emails and things like that, but not a lot of it. I don't typically get a big response to that sort of stuff. You know, so, yeah, I mean, a lot of times the best way is to email somebody at least and say, "Hey, I was referred by your buddy over here." So... And even then, you know, you get blown off.
Justin: I think you just get used to it.
Bruce: Yeah, just keep pushing forward. So would you say the majority of your jobs are more word of mouth or is there are other marketing channels that you guys just have?
Justin: It really is mostly word of mouth. and we do some ad words, we do some Facebook Ads like, you know, nothing crazy though. We kind of don't have a big like advertising budget. So, yeah.
Bruce: From the Facebook and advertising side, are you guys targeting, I know Facebook, like are you guys targeting people in the area? Is it that, you know, [inaudible 00:13:11]?
Justin: I try in stay local. I used to not, like I used to really try in like seek out, like a lot of other cities. But I think that it's such a big industry, I mean, there's so many printers everywhere and so kind of, you know, I've had that realization I think where like you could drive around like almost any street, especially in like a city like Chicago or, you know, a bigger area, you start to like drive down the street and it's real easy to spot. You know, there's businesses everywhere. So it's like, you know, I could go on like a five-minute drive and be like, "Well, if I could just get like one of these customers, you know, that would be awesome." And so, we've kind of shifted everything to being pretty local and focusing on, you know, there's plenty of businesses in the Chicagoland area to sort of just focus on that.
Bruce: Gotcha. So dialing some of those Facebook Ads to be more local. And then there's Google ads, are you driving those locally or those based on search terms?
Justin: Yeah, that's more search terms, and honestly I don't handle that part of things. I do the Facebook Ads but I have someone else who handles or Google stuff.
Bruce: Gotcha. Okay, Cool. So going back to your story, so you guys nailed that big order which was huge, bought a press to help get going which is great for, of course, for the business too. You know, was that like a year or two years in? Or it kind of overgrow from there to now.
Justin: That was like 2012, yeah. And now we still do like an order like that every year. So we pretty much every year have some job that's about between 60,000 and 80,000 pieces. I mean, that's a great order to help you grow for sure, you know, because you're able to use kind of like an order like that to take more risks because there's, you know, when you have a real big job you can kind of take some of that money and use it to maybe hire new people or, you know, and hope that that sort of pays off.
So, we were just trying to counteract a little bit. Like if we hire somebody new in production, we'd to try and hire someone new sort of like on the office side of things to keep it balanced and hope to keep pushing...you know, like being able to write up more orders to help, you know, offset the ability to print of orders, so.
Bruce: That's interesting. How do you generally hire? Where do you find good people?
Justin: That's definitely a struggle. Usually, we just use Craigslist, we just place an ad and sometimes it's like, you know, maybe someone who works here has like a friend who's like we've done some of that too.
But yeah, especially now that we're not in the city like we have a few people who, you know, didn't do the move with us. And we kinda also knew that when we move that, you know, we were gonna lose a couple of people over time. So, that's something that like I'm really trying to figure out right now. I just hired a few new people and it was just using Craigslist again. I think, typically we just kind of post something under like the art media design kind of area.
And yeah, I mean, it's tough because if you hire... You know, there's a lot of people who do have experience and that's nice, but also a lot of times when you get someone with experience who is looking for a job, you don't really always know like why they're not employed, you know, or leaving somewhere else. So we've kind of seen both sides of the spectrum when we hire someone with experience, and the experience is actually like not very helpful or they're used to doing something a certain way that isn't how we do it, and it's almost harder sometimes than just starting with somebody who... You know, we really try and hire just based on personalities, people that we like, that interview and you feel like you could just talk to them. And then if you have a good relationship with someone and they're willing to work hard. then they'll start to learn how to do a lot of other things, you know, so...
And then we've also used like... And this is something we've done more in the past year, but that's been really helpful, is using temp agencies. So I always kind of like looked down on that process of hiring just like temporary work. In screen printing, there's so many small tasks. And so, you know, for example, like sometimes we'll get a big job that all has to be folded in back.
Well, you know, you can go on Facebook or whatever and just get a bunch of like your friends or ask them and they'll come. But you'll get, you know, maybe five people commit to coming and helping out and then, you know, two of them will be late, and two of them like maybe just will blow it off last minute. It's unreliable. So the cool thing about the temp service is, you know, if you have certain jobs that really don't require a lot of training where it's really just like the manual labor aspect, you kind of can pull out like all the stress of having to find someone last minute. And you also don't have to feel bad really that, you know, maybe you only have two days of work and it's like, well, they know that right off the bat, you know.
So, and actually that's how we used to hire some people. We would be like, "Hey, we could use a hand for a job for like a week." And then that weeks over and, you know, they're still there. It's like you kind of find other things. So we've had a lot of people who work here in the past who just kind of stuck around.
But yeah, I think hiring people's hard. Everyone that I talked to at other shops think that's a really big struggle is finding good people and finding... Sometimes people who you really like or who seem like they're doing really good work, but then it's still not as good...you know, there's maybe someone that does a little better, so.
Bruce: Sure, yeah. So you talked about keeping them happy especially through a move like that, obviously, if someone's living in Chicago or not, it takes a bike or a bus to work, and now has to start driving, what's your thinking been around, you know, keeping your most valued people happy as well?
Justin: Yeah. So before we moved... First of all, we really tried to stay in the city. And we looked for about probably four or five months of like, you know, a lot of different places. But we were running into with trying to find somebody in the city was the places that seem to work for us ended up being further and further away from kind of central areas anyways. So like, you know, you'd find something that maybe works, but it's like really far west or really far south. So, it still wasn't really like making people's lives easier.
So when we decided to move, we looked for a few things like, you know, we tried to find somewhere where there's like a metro train nearby. So we're only like maybe about a five-minute walk or so to a metro. And actually, today it was a good example, most people haven't been taking the train but today there was really bad weather, you know, it snowed all night and we ended up having a few people who did come in on the train today and, you know, made 40 minutes versus some of the people who drove the highway. It was like a two hour backup or something.
Bruce: Sure. Sure.
Justin: So that's something that was important. And we also kind of, before we moved, we asked everybody to let us know like who was able to drive and who is interested in the ride and kind of offered like a carpooling incentive. So people who drove other people would get like a little bit of a bonus for taking some other people with them. And we looked for a couple like little things like there's a gym really close by so we offered to split like a gym membership with anyone who wants to join that gym. And that way like if someone wants to come in early to kind of offset traffic or stay late, they have something that they can do.
And I think that the last thing was we really try to work with everybody to discuss hours to see if there is a way that we could sort of like set hours that would help bypass some of the traffic. So actually, initially everyone wanted to do like a 6 a.m. start time, but then I think when people thought about it a little bit more that became too early. So, like right now we have a little bit of a staggered schedule like we have some people starting at 6:30, the bulk of production starts at 7:00 and then the office starts at 8:00.
Justin: And to be honest that's actually something that sounded good in theory but now that we're doing it, it's a little bit hard for us to be spread out like that. So now we're trying to kind of... I think Erin and I, like the way that we operate our businesses we really try and be as open-minded as possible.
So we, like when we make a change like that we try to include as many people as we can. At least we're not making...you know, I mean, obviously we made the decision to move, we can't really fix that but we tried to make it beyond that, you know, what are some things that we could do that would make it so that not everybody is going to leave, you know. And yeah, a couple people who did leave are people that we really didn't think would. [Inaudible 00:22:53].
Bruce: Yeah, gotcha. So it's just tough for that. But it's interesting we talk about especially communication, even though you're the boss, being able to work with them and try to make it as easy as possible with stuff like that.
So, talk about a little bit about today, like where you guys...you said you guys eclipsed three million dollars last year, 18 staff members. Like taking this side of the growth...because it's interesting, there's this kind of different segments that you pass through, right? There's the first couple of people were, you know, you and your wife printing. Then, you know, you hired you first staff and you were five or six which seems like that's another block. Getting up to this 18 and closing the 20, 25 seems like another set of challenges.
Justin: Sure. Yeah, so, I mean, we've kind of we've been over that like 20 mark a couple times and that's sort of where we've sort of scaled back a little bit and that's where some like the temp workers and more and more like part-time type help has come into play.
One of the things we try to avoid, and this is mostly from talking to people who work for us now, is trying to avoid basically that sort of trap that a lot of print shops get in where they, in the summertime have maybe like 30 people working for them or 50 people working for them, but then in the winter, you know, two-thirds of them get laid off, and then they try to hire them back again in the summer or whatever. So that seems to be actually really common from people who have worked for us that we've talked to and we teach a lot of classes, so like talking to other shops as well.
And that's honestly a really big struggle for us. I mean, we definitely hit the season thing too. Like in the wintertime, it is really slow. And when you hit, you know, when we get to...like last July for example, like we ran every day from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Monday through Sunday. So we added a shift and we added the weekend.
So, what we're really trying to do is hone in on having the least amount of like full-time jobs that we can but make sure that the people who have those jobs are like really kind of pushed to their limits. And I think that's really stressful and some people don't like that. But I think some people also get that, by us doing that, we're able to keep it a year-round job instead of like laying people off.
So, we'll definitely hit a point this summer where, you know, I know we'll be up, you know, probably in the 25 to 30 range in terms of people, but a lot of that we're going to try and fill in with like, you know, with sort of like temporary like, you know, just like temp workers and, you know, friends and things where it's real like smaller micro-tasks too.
Justin: Yeah, because you could do a lot, you know, with the lean crew as long as you have a lot of people who know how to help like prep the jobs, clean the ink off the screens, you know, reclaim screens, tape off screens. I mean, there's a ton of these little things that don't take a lot of training and then there's stuff like actually making sure the quality of the print looks good or, you know, knowing how to drop ship to like 40 different locations, or processing orders that it's a little bit more time consuming.
Bruce: Yeah, that's an interesting challenge, and that's an interesting solution too with temp workers to help manage the expectations of your team, especially as you go through those ups and downs too, which I'm sure affects morale, you know if it's the other way around.
Justin: So something that we haven't really started yet, but I'm working on right now, is actually kind of making a list of jobs that I don't want people to do. And this is something that's really new, but like I think it's going to make a big difference.
You know, for me personally, I get frustrated sometimes when I'll see someone who has the ability to maybe like print shirts or do something that's much more skilled and I'll see them spending half their day like just literally like taking tape off a screen or something, you know. So really trying to shift that mode to where there's going to be certain tasks where it's like, "Hey, this person can't do these tasks." Because they're just, you know, they could be better used doing something else. And I think if we could hone in on some of those better too, we will get a lot more production out of.
Bruce: Yeah, wow. I haven't actually heard of that before but you definitely, especially you get into those routines where you just been doing that. Like I just...because that's what we need to get done so we'll just do it. But of course, like if you're a higher skilled worker it's plain and simple, we want you doing something that's that versus...
Justin: Yeah, I kinda got that from when my sister-in-law was talking once about, they have like a crane operator, said if you're operating the crane you make like one amount, but if you are assisting the crane, you make a different amount. Even though like there's people who could do, you know, they could do both roles, like they get paid for the task that they're doing.
And, I mean, it kinda made me realize too, like when I look around the shop like yeah, sometimes you just see someone cleaning screens and you don't really think anything other but you're like, "Wait, if that person was actually printing shirts right now that would make us more money. And if I can find, you know, someone who doesn't know how to print shirts to be cleaning screens right now." It's a better use of, you know, who you have around the shop and it also does build more opportunity too because now you're bringing someone in who's reclaiming. But, you know, they have something also to try and work towards to.
So I think as we've grown too like we've run there is a little bit of a hierarchy and like different roles that people have to learn and, you know, trying to set some guidelines to actually being able to do cross training and give people more opportunities along the way, so.
Bruce: Yeah, that's neat. Giving people a list of things than have to...interesting.
Justin: Yeah, that's a big thing I'm working on it right now, I think, actually it makes a lot of sense, so.
Bruce: Yeah, 100%. You talk about the classes, and I know that you guys have been doing the Ryonet [SP] screen printing classes and helping people get started. Where did that come from? In getting involved and that.
Justin: Yes, so we started teaching classes as soon as we rented our first, sort of commercial space, we started teaching classes as just a way of getting any sort of extra money we could because we were scared that we weren't going to be able to afford our rent, you know.
So we used to like teach classes, honestly, we were teaching classes and didn't really know what we were doing. I mean, we did a little bit but not a lot. And so, yeah, we used to do them on a...there's a site...do you know a site like Dabble?
Bruce: Yeah, it's a Chicago startup, I believe.
Justin: Yeah, so we used to do a bunch like Dabble classes and just kind of small screen printing classes, and Ryan from Ryonet, like he kinda knew we were doing some of that stuff just from, you know, like talking to him here and there.
We've been pretty close with Ryonet since we started like I said we started with one of their presses. We had a lot of questions, you know, like what I used to do is I take an order and then I'd call someone at Ryonet and be like, "Hey, I already got this order and I don't know how to do it but if you can help you get the supplies to do it, it'd be awesome." And so we know a lot of people there and have had very good relationships with them.
And so after we got our first auto, our first auto was an MNR, and we were moving from the third floor of our building to the first floor of our building and it was kind of an expansion for us. And we had a really big job to do. And we really needed a new press obviously, like we were having some press issues.
So I was talking to Ryan and Nick Wood about...they just started carrying the rock presser. So I started talking them about those and at the same time, they would telling us kind of about the classes that they were doing and how they, you know, were having some people who... You know, when you're done with a class you typically fill out like sort of like an evaluation, like what you felt about the class, like, you know, some of your thoughts. And I think one of the pieces of feedback that they were getting were people who took the class felt like one of the things lacking was some of the authenticity of actually being in a print shop. You know, when you take the class at Ryonet, it's awesome. I mean, it's honestly like in a lot of ways it's a nicer class to visit because the, you know, they have AC, they have heat, they have like, you know, a really big parking lot, it's plenty of bathrooms, it's nice so it...
Bruce: But it wasn't like realistic too.
Bruce: So that they felt the real shop was.
Justin: So we kind of were, you know, "Hey, like could be why don't we try doing a class here?" And they were doing one in New York at that time too. And I think there was some good feedback from that. So we just kind of gave it a whirl and then, yeah, I mean, it was a really good fit for us because we liked doing it, we'd like...one of the things I think we like most about it, and we've done it for a few years now, I think it's been four years now, I think one of the things that we really like about the Ryonet class specifically versus some of these other classes is Ryonet does a really good job of finding people who are new into the industry.
And I know that that's also something that a lot of people don't like about, you know, them. But one of the things that's really cool about that is every time we do a class we've got about 20 to 25 people who are also like really passionate about trying to start a business. They're really excited about, you know... Like there's just so many different scenarios. Like someone will be like in a barn in the Midwest somewhere in the middle of nowhere and they're like winging out like cheerleader costumes. Or you'll have people just taking on more than they could chew and it's like exactly what we did, and it kind of keeps us in that cool mindset. I think I really can identify with the people who are printing out of their house, and they need to make a job work, and they don't have the proper resources, and they're just jimmy-rigging it to make it work, and it's something that that's how we learned.
And a lot of times when I meet like bigger shops or people from bigger shops who didn't start that way it's like... I have a lot more fun talking to like kind of the beginners. I think it's really motivating for me and their creativity is awesome. So it's something that we really like doing. And, yeah, I mean, it's not always easy. Like honestly, like working the shop atmosphere. Like we've, you know, our last warehouse was pretty dingy. The bathrooms were like disgusting. There was no ability to regulate any of the temperature. So when we had a class in July everyone was sweating and dying, and it was pretty bad. And in the winters it was really cold.
So it's kind of like been funny because the same thing that I think people do appreciate the authenticity of it. But it's also like sometimes people have that same complaint too because it's like now they're in just like an industrial warehouse taking a class. And I think they wouldn't mind a little bit of heat control or things.
But now that we've moved... We just did our first class of the new space this past Friday and Saturday, and it's definitely like the best version yet, because now we have a much nicer facility and it's still authentic.
Justin: Yeah, but it does come with things sometimes with like, you know, the power washer is going and people are reclaiming screens and we're, you know, we're trying to talk over them a little bit and [inaudible 00:35:30]. Yeah. And we're always very clear that we're a functioning shop right now and it's part of the gig, so.
Bruce: Gotcha. Well, so now, what are you looking forward to in the next year here?
Justin: Yeah. Honestly, what I'm really just kind of looking forward to is like getting our processes better, like now that we have the proper space to really do everything, I just want to dial in on kind of like what I was just saying about having jobs that people shouldn't do. More stuff like that. Like I wanna make sure that we're working well as a crew. That people know what their jobs are, and just really hone in on doing better. You know, I really think we care a lot about the quality of the product. And so I'm focused less than on growth and more about just making sure that like what we turn out is good and that like we have our processes in line.
Because I feel confident we'll continue growing organically, you know, as we go along, but I wanna make sure that we're doing things the right way. That's kinda, like really...the next year is our focus to just get some things down, you know, figure out which inks we like and don't like and, you know, why are we using three different inks? Could we use one ink? So, you know, just kind of starting to get more focused.
Bruce: Yeah, absolutely. That's interesting, that you get... It's kinda like a step ladder in a way where, you know, you grow to this size, "Okay, now we need to really get efficient before we can get to the next step."
Justin: Yeah, I don't know that my goal is to continue growing size wise so much. You know, I am happy if we could maintain and do good work kinda where we're at. Like I really like where we're at size wise, which is part of the reason we didn't try and go with a much bigger space. You know, I think we like...the, you know, having the amount of presses we have we could do big orders, we could still do small orders, we could still do like a lot of press checks if people wanna come in and we're not at the level of having so many presses that we just have to run like contract work all day. So, it's kind of a nice area to be in, I mean, it took a while and it's still super stressful, I don't wanna act like it's not, but yeah.
Bruce: Yeah, that's awesome. The last question I want to ask is, if you have any, what would be one takeaway maybe to help a shop that's, you know, you a couple of years ago? A lesson learned or something, like a good takeaway.
Justin: Sure. I think everything that we do is like a series of risks. Like I really think that like a lot of times when I talk to people they're scared to quit their job, or there's...you know, it's like the reason I think we're able to succeed, it's like we both quit our jobs. We both worked until...and when I say we "both," it's my wife and I. You know, but we early on, like we took risks, we moved out of our house into a space that, you know, was $650 a month which seems maybe small for some people, but that was a lot of money.
And we stayed up until 2:00 in the morning like every night just working really hard and kind of what I was saying earlier too. Like if we hire somebody to print, then we also try and make sure that we have that other side, the office side of that balanced.
So I think there's a lot of calculated risks, and that it's, you know if you really wanna grow you have to take those risks. And I see a lot of people like they wanna do stuff but they're scared. They're scared to maybe spend the money on an inkjet printer because "What if it doesn't work?" Well, you don't know until you buy it. And some stuff you buy is a good deal, and sometimes it's not gonna be. But, you know, I think at least for us, even now, it's still a series of like risks, you know, we hire new people. Usually, when we hire people we hire more than we could afford and then we just push really hard to try and make sure we could pay them.
So it's, you know, it's typically like there's a lot of risk-reward involved. And I think on that same token too like it's maybe, something that I wish I could be better at, is being able to know when someone isn't the right fit or something isn't the right fit, right?
So like it's really easy to get excited by a certain customer. Like one example that for us, is we used to have customer that had a lot of gift shops. And we printed a lot of shirts that we send to San Francisco, it's like Alcatraz. And it was cool, you know, I mean, that we got to do a lot of cool design work, all their orders were about a thousand pieces. So like when you'd walk around the shop and you see these big orders like it looks really cool, it was nice to have the work. But then when we started to realize, you know, sort of the margins on that specific customer were kind of lower than some other customers. The amount of time we were spending on artwork took longer than we wanted it to. And also as a customer, they would basically turn down shirts that were fine. You know, like some customers who are picky and some who aren't. It's fine to be picky, that's totally reasonable. But they kinda were at a point where it was unreasonable. So it's like if we had to reprint anything with an already low margin we realized, you know, that were losing money on the job.
So it's not necessarily losing money, but the amount of work that went into it compared to what we really made it on it wasn't worth it. And it took a little while to figure that out. And then we went slow and basically were like, "Look, like we need to charge you differently and change our processes, otherwise, we can't work with you." And now we don't work with them, you know. But, you know, at the same time it's better than working for them and having it consume all of our time and then not being able to pay our bills.
So, I think it's really easy to fall into traps of customers to try and keep them happy or get their business. But sometimes it's really not worth it and sometimes it is too, sometimes you got a customer that's really, really annoying and maybe all of their designs are really, really intricate and whatever. But then, you know, you look at the financial part of it and it is worth it, so yeah.
Bruce: Awesome. Yeah, well, I think that's definitely helpful. We have a couple of guys out there that we definitely accomplished our goals.
Justin, I really, really appreciate the time. You guys are super busy getting straightened out there. But thank you again. And I'm definitely gonna drive out and visit sometime soon.
Justin: Yeah, you're from here, right?
Bruce: I know, I know I've been at...yeah, yeah, we're downtown, our office is downtown but... Oh, in Buffalo Grove, yeah. My family is out there. So...
Justin: Yeah. That's crazy.
Bruce: Yeah, we'll 100% be stopping by, especially as we bring on new members, we always bring our team over to Justin's shop to take a look around.
Justin: Awesome. Cool.
Bruce: So thank you again, and we really appreciate it.
Justin: Yeah, no problem. Thank you.
Bruce: All right. Bye.
Justin: Take care.
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