From Manual to Automatic Screen Printing, All in a Shipping Container: Success Print Shop®

Business Lessons

Smack in the middle of Texas is San Angelo, a bustling community with 100,000 people that's hundreds of miles from the nearest big city. On a 16 acre homestead in a metal shipping container, Success Print Shop's Jonathan Ornelas has build something special from scratch: a customer-focused print shop with a crew of exactly one.

With a thriving, outgoing, and positive mindset, Success Print Shop embodies the new generation of print shops. We're not the first ones to point this out, either.


Success Print Shop: Humble beginnings

You're 20 years old. You're busting your butt in college working on your accounting degree. Your sister is making money on Etsy, but you're stuck working retail, and she tells you that you really need to start printing t-shirts. "There's so many people that just sell cool t-shirts on Etsy. We have to try it!"

You stumble onto Ryonet's YouTube channel. Ryan makes it look so easy. Why not give this a shot? You order the basic starter screen printing kit. You've already sold a ton of your awesome Breaking Bad inspired shirts. Then the questions begin.

Push? Pull? How does this emulsion work? Who has a printer that can make my films? How do I know I cured this ink? How the heck do I get these screens registered? You're on the hook for dozens of shirts you just sold on Etsy. Time to figure this screen printing thing out!

Breaking Bad apparel made in 2012 by Success Print Shop
The t-shirt that started it all.

6 years later, Success Print Shop is a thriving brand. It's just Jonathan and his ambitious customer-first outlook. He's put his goal right in the name of his shop: Success. There have been real challenges, and growth is not a low-effort endeavor. Jonathan has risen to the occasion and created one of the most unique and enjoyable brands in the custom apparel industry.

He loves his business and isn't afraid to take massive action to get the job done. He's not afraid to take the long route to get where he's going – and has shown real grit in his relentless pursuit of success.

A print shop...in a shipping container?

A shipping container converted into a print shop.
Humble, practical, self-made: the Success Print Shop ethos

Jonathan started printing in his bedroom at his parents' house. He broke into the market by selling Breaking Bad shirts on Etsy – which sold well enough to pay for the starter screen printing kit he'd purchased.

"I moved everything out of my room and slept on the couch for 4 years." Once his family decided to relocate to a rural homestead on 16 acres, Jonathan started looking for a solution. He found one in a 40' shipping container. Built with this father, Jonathan values the memories he made while figuring out to wire, insulate, and organize his new workspace.

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Jonathan's scrappy, hard-working nature let him print thousands of t-shirts by hand in the shipping container. But at a certain point, he simply couldn't execute the jobs that would grow his screen printing business. He started on the Riley Hopkins 1 station, 4 color press that Ryonet sells. "I still can't believe I printed that long with that press. I would just wreck my body printing."  

There are real advantages to being small. Jonathan can text with every customer. He can bag-and-tag every order. He can take great pains to get artwork and screens dialed in perfectly. But no matter how much enthusiasm and grit you have, there are physical limits to how fast and how much you can screen print by hand!

In 2018, the need for an automatic press became more and more apparent. The shipping container wasn't large enough anymore.

Jonathan attached a small metal building to the back of the shipping container. This gave him the space he needed to house his new M&R automatic press. We're wagering you won't find too many custom apparel printing shops hidden in shipping containers in rural Texas!

Getting his first automatic screen printing press

Success Print Shop's small screen printing setup
Think you could print thousands of shirts here?

In 2018 at 26 years old, Jonathan knew it was time to get an automatic screen printing press. It had been a long-time dream, but it became a necessity: "I was spinning my wheels. Pulling all nighters, working too hard. Leaving money on the table." In September, he got a 600 piece order for front and back prints with multiple colors. This is the kind of job a manual printer has to turn down – but it became a pivotal turning point for Success Print Shop.

He reached out to a shop in San Antonio, drove 4 hours to print the job, and used the shop's automatic press to learn what it's like to use an auto. He was hooked.

An automatic screen printing press in Success Print Shop, TX
In with the new.

What an automatic screen printing press let him do: For the 600 piece job he printed in San Antonio, it only took a few hours from start to finish. If Jonathan had tried to print the t-shirts manually, he estimates it would have easily taken 12+ hours since it was a front-and-back design – and he would be completely burnt out at the end of the job.

"I printed 500 piece jobs that would take a week, and I'd be exhausted at the end. That same job is just a few hours on the automatic."

How much it costs: Jonathan bought an M&R Sportsman 8 Color 10 Station automatic screen printing machine. He estimates it costs about $1,300 per month. He went with M&R because of their financing. 

"I know $1,300 isn't much to a big shop. But for a shop just going from manual to auto, it's a huge commitment. It becomes a real business, with real overhead, and real risk. I think about my customers all of the time. If I get bad reviews or don't make sales, that's a risk."

How long it took: It took a little less than 3 months from the time he ordered the automatic press to the time it was installed. This was because of things on his end – building an entirely new building, for instance. The actual installation took a couple of days, and Jonathan had to pursue training for how to properly use his new M&R press as well.

"It took me a weekend or so to learn how to operate it. Printing isn't tricky, it's just learning to operate the automatic press. Spend some time just playing with the machine."

Why he did it: Faster turnaround, higher production capacity, and out of necessity to keep his business growing.

"I'm surprised I never got hurt. I knew I couldn't keep pushing that squeegee. At that point, it's a no-brainer to go automatic."

What it's let him do: For the 600 piece job he printed in San Antonio, it only took a few hours from start to finish. Those hours that used to be spent with a squeegee can be spent making more sales and investing his time in improving the business – he's working on the business as much as he's working in the business now.

"With the manual screen printing press, I couldn't take big jobs. I know it all comes down to sales. The sales became bittersweet. Ok, I got the sale – but now I have to go murder my body. Now there's nothing holding me back from making those sales."

Elements of success: combining the right values with charming details

Success Print Shop's owner with a stack of t-shirts
A different kind of stacks on stacks...

Jonathan didn't show up one day and find a successful brand waiting for him. He had to develop values and a vision for his print shop. Luckily, his background in accounting and a supportive family helped him leverage his business values.

What does Success Print Shop build its business on? Jonathan would probably say "coffee," but he's thinking about the right approach to custom apparel printing.

  1. Customer-oriented website. Success has a simple and professional website, with Jonathan's phone number listed right on the front page. There's a clear call to action ("Get a quote") and a personal-but-competent tone. 
  2. Incredible long-term positive attitude. Despite ups, downs, and a long struggle to claw his way toward running a lucrative business, Jonathan has kept an upbeat and irrepressible attitude about his struggles. It helps that he really enjoys what he does – but his determination and perseverance under conditions that would make most people give up have kept him going.
  3. Bagging-and-tagging. Jonathan invested in bagging and tagging early. He puts a Success Print Shop postcard in each order. This has helped bolster his shop's image – you would never know it came from a rural shipping container!
  4. Making changes with a smile on his face. There's no gripes about artwork changes or small adjustments. Jonathan aims to keep his customers happy. He's found that people are actually apologetic when they ask for changes – but he wants them to be satisfied about every stage of their order with his shop.

There's a secret weapon that's kept Jonathan's head down during the last few years. He's got a deep affinity for artwork. "From the get-go, I've always loved artwork. It's a big deal. It takes so long. But it's my favorite, and I don't want to get rid of that," he says. 

The value of education (and accounting). Jonathan finished his college degree despite having a lucrative opportunity to start a business. He kept printing while he was in college as a side gig, but pursued an accounting degree. Accounting isn't his first love, but he does enjoy doing the books – and he doesn't have to pay someone else to do his taxes for him. This foundation based on a strong education has helped him succeed in business and take the long-term outlook instead of looking for a quick buck.

Love your customers, and mean it. A people person, Jonathan cherishes printing for his customers. The intersection of artwork, rational business thinking, and making his customers happy has kept Jonathan grounded throughout the last few years. The value that his custom printed apparel adds for local universities, fraternities and sororities, franchises (like Chick-fil-A), sports teams, events, and a plethora of other great customers has kept him motivated.

Lessons learned: Going from manual to automatic screen printing

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Jonathan has followed along with the Print Hustlers blog for years. Coincidentally, Printavo started the same year that Jonathan started his business.

He had some advice to offer for shops that are looking to go from manual to automatic screen printing:

  1. Don't do it during your busy season. Jonathan picked his off-season (late December) to start learning about his new press. This proved really helpful: it was natural downtime for investing his efforts in learning instead of printing.
  2. Get training and ask lots of questions. Jonathan was fortunate to find a mentor shop that helped him get his bearings. He also learned from M&R's extensive video collection and asked lots of questions to shop owners he's networked with. We at Printavo suggest getting in touch with Mind's Eye Graphics for hands-on training.
  3. Get red blockout for screens to save time on taping. Automatic screen printing has different quirks. One of them is the amount of time you'll need to spend taping your screens. Jonathan advised anyone new to an automatic press to get red blockout and be sure to tape their screens correctly.
  4. Learn to print a great white underbase. Jonathan didn't really understand how to get a great underbase with his new auto, so he had to refine and revise his process to get the results he wanted.
  5. Squeegee angle and speed need to be just right. After some experimenting, and contacting another shop owner for advice, Jonathan figured out the ideal squeegee angle was between 10 and 15 degrees (much more upright than he felt comfortable with). He also found that a slower squeegee speed helped produce better prints. 

Once the monthly payments for your new automatic press kick in, it's time to start supercharging your sales efforts. The new press has allowed Success Print Shop to confidently take on challenging jobs and expand their customer base. There might even be the first full-fledged employee coming into the mix at Success Print Shop!

The Success Print Shop reading list

So what does a true Print Hustler like Jonathan Ornelas use to fuel his ambitions and keep pushing through the ups and downs of owning a business? He's a big believer in feeding yourself optimistic, positive, powerful content that helps you rise to the occasion. Put good stuff in, and good stuff comes out.

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His favorite book? Grant Cardone's The 10x Rule. It gets him pumped. Grant Cardone's core advice is to take "massive action." The gist: if you want the success, you'll have to take much more action than you would for mediocrity. These words ring so true for Jonathan that he's put them in his workspace (also featured: Jonathan's true love – coffee).

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He also recommends:

  • The E-Myth Revisiteda legendary book about developing systems so you aren't the lynchpin that keeps your business rolling
  • Clockwork and Profit First – indespensable resources by Mike Michalowicz about running profitable, systematized businesses (P.S. Not to give anything away – but if you also like Mike Michalowicz, may we suggest taking a serious look at attending Print Hustlers Conf 2019?)
  • Shoe Dog – Phil Knight's memoir about founding Nike

We can't wait to check back in with Success Print Shop and see what develops. It's no exaggeration to say that Jonathan has huge goals – but he also has the sheer energy and ambition to take massive action toward those goals.

Success Print Shop is a story of hard work – and knowing when and where to apply effort for maximum results. Purchasing an automatic screen printing press is just one stop along the way.

We're constantly talking to shop owners about the trials and tribulations they face. Check out some of our recent interviews, chock full of insights straight from the people who know best.

Be sure to follow Success Print Shop on Instagram to see what Jonathan's up to. It's going to be a fascinating journey, and we're ready to keep pushing with him!


Next Post: Zachary Traxler from Traxler Printing and Alma Mater Wear: Officially Licensed Screen Printing

About Printavo

Printavo ​​is simple shop management software. Whether your shop works with screen printing, embroidery, signage, digital printing, or awards & engraving–we make your complex workflow simpler to manage and understand. Printavo keeps your shop organized by handling scheduling, estimates, quote approvals, workflow, payments, accounting and more. With Printavo, you’ll work smarter–not harder.

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