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Lessons Learned: Oklahoma Shirt Company & Justin Lawrence's Story - PrintHustlers Conf 2018

Business Lessons

Justin Lawrence of Oklahoma Shirt Company has an incredible story. He came to Printavo's Print Hustlers Conference in 2018 to talk about where he came from and how he grew his business.

After leaving med school to dive into screen printing, he’s grown to a 30 person shop with $6 million in revenue.

The Ten Big Takeaways

1. "Pick two buckets." (3:17)
Choose the two things you want to do well, and do them. For Justin, med school and design fought for his energy. Integrity wins, so doing the best you can for your screen printing customers is the most important thing.

2. "Start where you are, with what you have." (5:50)
Justin suggests that you don't need to be an e-commerce pioneer or invent the Shirt of the Month Club. You need to focus on starting exactly where you are with exactly what you have. He saw an opportunity in Oklahoma to get custom t-shirts to people that didn't have access to them.

3. If you say you'll do something, do it. (7:50)
When he started, there were only a couple of old screen printing shops that controlled the market. Justin provided excellent customer service by caring more about the customer than he did about himself. He describes the challenges involved with making promises and then living up to them – and acknowledges that saying "yes" can be easier than saying "no." The real test is whether you can consistently deliver on your "yes." Overpromise if you have to, but be prepared to deliver on time!

4. Check your hashtags! (10:27)
Justin shares a great anecdote about a former partner-turned-competitor that didn't check their business hashtags – and wound up occupying a space that had nothing to do with monthly shirt clubs!

5. The first mistake: pricing too low. (11:13)
$10 per month for a shirt club sounds great! But it was simply too low. They had to quickly adjust and raise the price, which wasn't nearly as catastrophic as he anticipated.

6. Dealing with burnout as an owner and operator (13:48)
Take the livelihood of your employees seriously. If you don't want to print shirts forever, that's fine! But you owe it to your team and your customers to find someone to put in the printing role you're burned out on. Think about an exit strategy sooner than later!

7. What happens when things start to fail? (15:53)
Shirt of the Month started dropping. Justin says:

I've learned more from not succeeding than succeeding. Not succeeding taught the lessons needed to succeed in the future.

8. Scaling challenges are inevitable. It's the customers that make it a real challenge. (18:01)
Printing 13,000 shirts? That's tough, sure. What's really tough is dealing with 13,000 customers! How do you handle it? 

9. Growing doesn't always go as planned. (21:03)
Expanding into Texas wasn't nearly as easy as expanding in Oklahoma. Justin discusses the diminishing returns he experienced on Facebook & Instagram ad buys: he spent almost $5,000 for 2 new subscriptions! But this wasn't so bad – he still began growing his community. Moving forward, he took the lessons he learned in Texas to pursue limited but diversified expansion.

10. Diversify to preserve your business. (24:03)
Rather than ride a fad, ride a trend. Justin guesses that state pride subscription t-shirt businesses won't last forever. Instead, custom screen printing and other aspects of his community-based business are where he'll grow: he'd rather be Oklahoma's custom screen printing shop than the subscription t-shirt guy. You need several revenue streams!

It was a treat to hear from Justin. We can't wait to see him again at PrintHustlers Conf 2019!

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