Hawaii’s Warrior Screen Printing has excelled by focusing on outsourcing, automation, and working on the business.
We’ve known Caleb Spencer for a few years now – he’s an engaged and active member of the screen printing community, even joining us at PrintHustlers Conf.
His business has grown by leaps and bounds as he’s invested in marketing. 2020 has proven to be a banner year for the business.
Overlooking a lush Hawaii landscape, Caleb offered his insights into outsourcing artwork via GraphXsource, why marketing is huge in Hawaii, how retail has helped his brand in 2020, and what’s next for Warrior Printing.
Editor’s note: this transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How’s everything been?
We’ve been blessed to be healthy. Like any other business, a lot of pivoting on our end. But the weather is nice, my kids are healthy. Business is not the greatest, but we’re still employed and we’re still making money. I’ve got no complaints.
How has the virus affected you all on the Hawaiian islands?
It’s taken a while to create a system of tiers for what can and can’t open up. Right now, schools are still shut down. The only schools in session are private schools, and they’re mostly still shut down.
My kids have a small class size. So they’ve been in school. But the government at one point shut down all of the schools.
With tourism, they’re thinking about opening it up. I don’t know if they have one set plan. It all keeps changing. That’s the tough part. We’ve been deemed essential, but most of our business is in sports – so that’s been pushed back.
What was your first instinct as things closed down – since you’re on an island?
We ship in most of our goods, 80 to 90%. The biggest thing for us is focusing on sustainability. We have the big box stores like Costco – they were constantly out of stock.
But as a business, it’s been fine. Some shipping dates and time frames have been extended. I don’t know about you guys, but Sanmar has been running out of the extra large sizes – and those are my peeps! But nothing requiring a major adjustment. So many businesses are understanding because of COVID.
What’s the biggest pivot so far?
We were late on the mask game. I didn’t believe it was an opportunity. I saw everyone on the Facebook Groups and the forums.
It didn’t hit us until April. We were late to the ballgame, so to speak. I didn’t jump in and advertise for the schools to re-open in the fall – but we were fortunate to have good relationships. Most of the schools we knew already did masks for us.
The big pivot was actually going out and doing marketing. Since we live on an island, we have a tight-knit community. It’s about who your network is and who you know. That was a major pivot: we’re getting into masks, we’re driving traffic to retail brands, and we’re marketing on Facebook.
Are these retail brands you’ve developed?
Warrior State of Mind is something we’ve developed in partnership with a local school – it’s like collegiate apparel for this campus. That was really on the back burner even when it was selling out during events on campus.
But when the pandemic hit, I thought: what’s a strategic way I can go through all these contacts and drum up more business?
How are you doing with Facebook marketing?
We’ve been doing really well with Facebook marketing. We hired a third party to help and we’ve tripled our business on the retail end.
We’ve heard time and time again that Facebook is perfect for direct-to-consumer. It just drives crazy amounts of traffic for that.
We put our trust in them. We spent some money, and it’s crazy what our ROAS has been. It’s nice for me – we don’t have to large runs.
We’re putting a lot more retail jobs on the press compared to the last few years because of Facebook. We can do small runs, test some things, and if it works then we print the items.
We’ve been in a pop-up site. This site has done a great job curating hundreds of native-owned Hawaiian businesses. If you want to support local, you’ll go to this website. People are really supportive of keeping things local and here in Hawaii. So we do everything in-house…we don’t broker services…so we’re able to do things fast and really help people here.
Let’s talk Facebook marketing. You’re not the first to tell us it works. How did you make this happen?
I found the company during my free time – I was doing research. I stumbled upon a bunch of marketing guys. I asked them the same questions and almost got the same set of answers. I traced the info back to this guy in San Francisco who would help us at the right price point.
He took some risks. So did we. I was scared. My wife was scared. “Are you really considering this?” I was like, yes! Let’s do it! We’ve got the idea, let’s run with it!
The PPP was wonderful. We didn’t have to tap into our savings. We kept our employees at work. Everything shrunk, though – everyone closed their wallets. We only really lost about 10 days of work where the state figured out who was essential and who wasn’t. Fortunately we really got through that time.
To actually put 4, 5 figures into marketing…that was scary, but it paid off. We never spent money on marketing. The most we did was give away shirts. It was a huge deal.
It forced us to work on the retail brand, which we never did. Surprisingly, we got great feedback and great results. It’s honestly from Facebook marketing. We had our brand, we knew our niche, and we needed to get in front of other people that didn’t know us.
What other tools did you use?
Shopify and other apps – honestly, my wife runs all of that. There’s so many features.
Next, we’re doing our subscription service like Justin Lawrence from Oklahoma Shirt Company. We’ve captured this crowd and now we’re going to feed them every month.
It’s interesting to hear you talk about your audience. Your question isn’t “how do I sell more,” it’s “how do I capture the right audience?”
These brands are sensitive on who they’re reaching. If you believe in what that brand is doing, you’ll invest your money. This is grassroots stuff. We know who our customer is and what they look like, and we’re looking for them.
When you find out exactly who you’re trying to reach, it makes your job so much easier in marketing.
So tell us about Profit First. You’ve implemented it. What did that do for you? How did it start?
It started about two years ago. My wife looked at me like: where is the money you say you’re making? I was like, what are you saying? It was a punch to the face. She was right. Where was the money? I wasn’t tracking it. Life was good! To me, if life was good I was doing well. But there was no data behind it, and it wasn’t tracked – so you’re just losing money, period.
So I read the book shortly before PrintHustlers Conf with Mike Michalowicz. I’ve opened the accounts, followed them to a T. If I hadn’t done that I don’t think we would have been able to survive the pandemic. All that money had been saved strictly for the business.
If you’re not doing profit first, you’re not profitable. Even if you’re living the life, you need to be on profit first. You probably just have a glorified hobby, otherwise.
And you guys are using GraphXsource for artwork, right?
Our business took a really good turn when we started outsourcing all of the artwork.
I broke down my day and I was like: why am I spending so much time on Adobe Illustrator? I should be answering emails and on sales calls – the things I’m the closer on and better at. I needed to focus my time on bringing more business in.
There were days where I was doing artwork all day because our guys were not able to print. I knew an in-house person would be overpaid.
Tell us about your day-to-day now versus two years ago after all of these changes, from profit first to automation to outsourcing.
It’s absolutely true that you should spend most of your time growing the business. I heard it when I was starting. It’s absolutely true. You have to find a way to put people or a third-party company in your seat so you can do things to move your company forward.
Nick Wood and the team at GraphXsource has been amazing. It helped me better systematize everything. There was a big lag and big inconsistency in our shop. We didn’t realize how many systems we were missing. I knew I had a paid service that I was paying every day – I had to adjust to keep them busy and keep our systems nimble enough to adapt.
They’re very consistent. It forces you to automate when it’s not in front of you. They’re in another country! It trains us.
That’s exactly what it did for us. It helped us fix our systems and put things in place to flow smoothly.
I’ve been to Hawaii and visited the shop for a shop tour. But what happened…
We tore down the second floor and created a mezzanine. We doubled our space. But…we’re at the tilt with that. We need a bigger space!
My high school owns the property, so we have a great partnership there. They’re trying to redevelop that area and create affordable high rises and living spaces. It’s going to be unique. With our retail brands, we’ll be in the heart of that – and it’s the community we already serve. It’s critical to growth in the future.
Tell us about the post-coronavirus plans. When this is over, Warrior Screen Printing will…
Marketing is a big one for us. The same concepts that I’m putting into the retail brands will go into the screen printing business. No one does the same thing in Hawaii based on our research.
Hawaii is a little behind the times in our industry. That’s a big thing for us in 2021: having those sports contracts, getting in touch with different customers ahead of time…I don’t want to give away too many secrets!
Creating web stores for these guys before even making contact with them, for example. We’ve already been in touch with the coaches. If January hits the way it’s supposed to hit, it’s going to be a good year.
What else can you move off your plate besides artwork?
The biggest pivot we did was on the retail side. We’re Type A people. So we always oversee any customer service we hand off. My response is better, or so I think. So I’m trying to systematize that and have the customer hear my voice and not just the person in the office making a nice comment back to them.
You would be surprised what some of these virtual assistants can do. For different things, we use virtual assistants – for immediate follow up on all kinds of different interactions.
Now that I have a market and I understand marketing, I want to measure the lifetime value of a customer. The same customer comes back only because we’ve been marketing to them.
So we’ve worked with our virtual assistants a lot to get all of that right. It doesn’t require any real authentic interaction – it’s pretty much giving people what they want.
Virtual assistants get a bad rap, but it’s really any remote employee.
The hardest part about having a virtual assistant is that you have to have your stuff together. If you don’t have it all together you’re just paying someone to sit.
You really have to sit down as a business owner and think: if I paid someone ten times this amount, what would I have them do? That’s when you get the most out of it.
It’s cool that you’re thinking through that streamlined workflow. Keep us up to date with the marketing developments. Thanks so much Caleb.