When you put 200 screen printers in a room, something interesting is bound to happen.
And that’s exactly what happened at Printavo’s third annual PrintHustlers Conf.
2019 proved to be another year of wild stories and genuine insights. We saw soul-bearing truths exposed – but also reconnected for a weekend of fun with friends that face similar struggles in their businesses.
PrintHustlers Conf is a reminder that you never face the challenge of running a successful print shop alone. Someone’s been there, and someone’s willing to help.
We could never capture all of the conversations, connections and revelations that happened during the conference. So with that noted, let's recap this year’s gathering of the best and brightest in the decorated apparel industry.
The auditorium at East-West University was jam-packed at 9 AM with a giddy group of printers from around the world. They traveled from across the US (including Hawaii), Canada, England and even Nigeria (where they run diesel generators for their gear because power is so unreliable) to join us.
Printavo opened with the conference with a simple message: Let’s push this industry forward.
Rick showed us what success in screen printing looks like. You could win prestigious industry awards, craft amazing artistic prints, make thousands of shirts for hot-market printing like the Super Bowl, and land huge clients like Sam Adams Brewing. Sounds like a total rockstar lifestyle, right?
But everything can go wrong – quickly.
Rick recounted injuries at shops, spoilage on jobs with thousands of pieces, clumsy communication, awful misspellings, and most terrifying of all: embezzlement. “There shouldn’t be any shame around embezzlement. It happens way too often, and most business owners feel a lot of shame about it and try to hide it.” He showed us statistics that demonstrate the scale of the problem: embezzlement is very common.
Rick urged everyone in the room to have a candid conversation about trust. You're always at risk when you're a screen printer. You never know exactly where your next big problem will come from.
"An art kid that discovered business," Lucas and his partner Joe have built one of Chicago's truly unique print shops in their spacious Logan Square shop. They began in the music industry, but blossomed into something that extends beyond slinging ink and selling shirts: they craft unique branded experiences.
Lucas dove in to the meaning behind branding. Branding isn’t just catchy phrases and your color scheme. It's a way to discover your purpose as a business. Rowboat is not there to just make money – they exist to help others, starting with the employees in their shop and their amazing tight-knit culture.
Rowboat Creative is on a mission to to become something more. That's reflected in their powerful slogan: YOUR BRAND WILL EXIST, GROW, AND BE REALIZED.
Kevin Baumgart from Hireology ran through the details of building a sales operation that works. This is one of the most common questions we get at Printavo – how do I improve my sales? You can't just go knocking on doors. There's a better way: build a sales system.
“Who wants to make 100 cold calls a day? No one! But that’s what we asked our new salespeople to do so they can get used to that rejection. It takes a certain type of person.” Kevin trains for success by letting candidates embrace failure – and keeping clear goals at the top of every salesperson's mind.
He walked through metrics, key performance indicators, and systems for accountability (and compensation) that lead to more successful sales teams – with specific examples from print shops he’s consulted for. Sales isn't for everyone, but a regimented system with clear goals is a guaranteed improvement.
Why rely on the talent of a single salesperson when you can develop a system that gives everyone the tools they need to succed?
Ryan Moor from Ryonet and Allmade Apparel showed a side of Ryan Moor that we didn’t expect: the vulnerable, curious, and even struggling entrepreneur. "I always wanted to start a billion dollar company. I don't know why, I just thought that sounded cool."
Ryonet isn't at $1B (yet), but his track record is indisputable. Ryan offered clear advice for how to approach thinking deeply about your business. This was the reflective, thoughtful, and totally candid Ryan Moor – a surprise for those who might only know him through Ryonet's YouTube videos. It was an honest and affecting presentation from a true industry leader.
He walked us through the distinct growth phases that propelled Ryonet forward: “We’ve had the benefit of four Blue Oceans. What’s the next Blue Ocean? I don’t know!” Ryan suggested utilizing people that are dreamers and idealists to craft the direction of your business – but leave the actual execution to people that are doers and strategists.
What's a Blue Ocean? "A blue ocean strategy creates and controls a totally new market space. Competition is made irrelevant."
Ryan also brought Erin Moore from Barrel Maker Printing on stage to share the story of how ROQ’s rental program got started – and how it saved Barrel Maker’s first giant order.
Additionally, check out our tour of ROQ's headquarters in Portugal from June with Ryan and Ryonet!
Dan Bahr from Carema Consulting gave us info on customer success. Ultimately, any business' #1 goal is to convert a your best customers into advocates for your brand.
Why expend money and resources on uncertain new customers when our most devoted customers will do that for us?
Successful customers create successful businesses. It's a self-reinforcing cycle!
After the event, Richard Greaves relayed a great realization about customer success:
“I collect two-word phrases like ‘customer success.’ It’s a very powerful phrase. The two words combine to become something bigger than either word individually. Just like customer success itself.”
Tom Gosche from GLM Financial discussed balancing work and life. What values can strengthen your resolve and make you able to push through the challenges?
He tasked us with developing ourselves from the inside out. When we're young, we dream of work. When we're old, we dream of youth. Balancing our private lives with our working lives requires sacrifice, but it doesn't mean we have to give everything up to our businesses.
We were urged to start finding ways to work on our businesses so that we don't have to make the choice between vacation and working. Can your business run itself? Can you really take a vacation?
Tom's bubbly style, energetic speech, and distinct sense of humor gave us a boost after the catered lunch.
There was immediate tension in the room – why is this Millennial punk telling us how to manage Millennials? – but Steven brought the goods. If you want the benefits of hiring young people, be ready to invest in them. That investment won't always be money!
Steven revealed his philosophy for working with young people early in their careers with different values than your typical print shop owner. It's the management triangle: track, teach, and inspire.
He broke management down into tracking the employee's performance, teaching them to improve, and inspiring them to keep going.
But Steven's simplest insight is his most powerful one. You have to connect with everyone in your business on a personal level if you want to inspire them. This is easily accomplished through a simple question: "What's good in your life?" (He asked the crowd this question, by the way...the answer was that Bruce from Printavo is getting married shortly after the conference!)
Work doesn't have to be a miserable experience, and keeping the mood positive – while showing a genuine interest in your employees as people – offers a big reward for little effort.
Finally, Mark Seymour from Next Level Apparel closed out Friday's presentations.
He dove into the past and present of Next Level, which moves millions of shirts every week. Mark explained that the key to Next Level's success has stayed consistent: inventory, quality, and having boots on the ground at print shops grew and sustained Next Level Apparel.
Mark also introduced Bob Keezer, an early adopter of Next Level's t-shirts and apparel at Keezer Sportswear. Their long history of collaboration showed how seriously Next Level takes their mission to provide consistent quality (and on-demand fulfillment thanks to that deep inventory) for print shops.
This session showed the casual nature of the conference. There was a spirited back-and-forth with Mark about dyes, printing, and what they should offer next. How often do you get to ask the leader of a massive garment manufacturer any question you'd like?
Perhaps most exciting, Mark revealed that Next Level is doggedly pursuing an entirely USA-made product line – with the long-term goal of a $1 premium versus typical t-shirts! That's ambitious – but we admire and support Next Level's long-term focus.
This year, we continued our breakout sessions.
We split up into smaller groups, held in classrooms, to have open-ended discussions. Part presentation, but mostly conversational Q&A, our breakout sessions were a productive place for sharing knowledge led by a subject matter expert.
On Friday, attendees chose between:
On Saturday, we had another round of breakout sessions:
Breakout sessions take you from an observer to an engaged participant. The value of this conference isn't only the speakers – it's that you get to interact with speakers and your peers together.
Breakout sessions are a powerful part of PrintHustlers Conf. The chance to share your problems, ask specific questions, and bounce ideas off a room of peers with real experience was transformative.
Breakout sessions will become a prominent part of the conference next year. They’re simply so valuable since shops don’t have opportunities for focused collaboration like this.
It was delightful to see so many people who are supposedly just each others’ “competition” work together. The breakout sessions further confirmed that PrintHustlers Conf is a space to talk through your worst issues and discover new ways to think about touchy subjects.
After a late night at the Ballast Point Brewery afterparty, you'd expect the energy level to be low. But Print Hustlers were wide awake, ready for another exciting day of learning and discussion. Day 2 brought a batch of truly heavy hitting presentations.
Saturday started off with a bang.
Max Hellmann from Family Industries in Los Angeles gave us the rundown on his experiences running successful live printing events.
Why would you want to hear from Max? Family Industries do hundreds of live printing events every year for big companies at seriously important marketing events. The scale of the logistics problem that Max faces made the most experienced print shop owners nervous. There's suddenly so many more variables and so much more risk.
Family Industries' team are groundbreaking members of an elite club: high-profile live printers. Max’s insights were useful, fascinating, and honest.
How do you make a complex process like screen printing something that can easily travel from state to state? Even more importantly, how do you approach 60+ live events every month in 15+ states?
The answer: there's no magic trick or shortcut. You must simplify, streamline, and remove waste from every part of your operation.
The Family Industries secret sauce is not a secret at all. If you want to succeed in live printing, you must plan meticulously, stay focused on organization, charge a premium for your services, and work incredibly hard and long hours. Max got everyone excited to try live printing but delivered a healthy dose of reality. It's actually really difficult to do live screen printing.
Jon Ladd joined us from Terminus Tees in Georgia.
His totally unique take on video marketing (and his astonishing 300x ROI on a super simple video) inspired shops to head back and give video a shot. Terminus uses Instagram videos to great effect, boosting sales and building Terminus Tees' relentlessly enjoyable brand.
Jon's advice? Don't stress about filming your product or talking about the stuff you make. Dig deeper and figure out what's lurking beneath the shirts: why does this band, company, or business need t-shirts anyway? “Tell the story behind the shirt. You can talk about your product all day, but people just tune that out.”
Jon’s videos range from ridiculously silly (an overdubbed mockery of Next Level and Bella + Canvas model footage) to more inspired and reflective (a treatise on why you’d even want to have shirts printed).
Jon made us laugh, gave us goosebumps, and kept it grounded in actionable ways to start making awesome videos. "You only need a phone and a little bit of inspiration to get started."
Bruce Ackerman and Piotr Biegaj from Printavo stepped up next to deliver an overview of where Printavo came from – a back-room print shop – to where it is now.
A few amazing statistics they shared about Printavo's growth:
They also discussed the future of Printavo. We're returning to our roots and refining the primary functions of Printavo to make our software even better. This means improved messaging, scheduling, analytics, online stores and much more.
This conference is not a Printavo sales event. The goal was to show the steady and incremental progress we've been making on Printavo – not sell it. Bruce and Piotr cherished the opportunity to show our true values: a commitment to simplicity and ongoing improvement.
David Kelbaugh from Tacklebox Brand Partners in Chicago brought his unique and powerful take on branding to PrintHustlers Conf.
Your logo is great! But how's your brand? "In 20 years of branding and advertising, I've suggested that 1 client change their logo. It just doesn't matter that much."
Instead, there's a crucial question every business owner needs to ask. What does your brand believe?
David's presentation was valuable because it forced everyone in the room to think deeply about the meaning of their business. Sure, a print shop can talk about their soft prints, great shirts, low prices, super-fast turnaround time and years of experience – but none of those are genuine differentiators. None of those are beliefs. No one will remember them. It's just expected.
Selling yourself on product and price is a sure-fire way to become a commodity.
David used the example of Nike versus Reebok. Nike believes anyone can be an athlete. It genuinely differentiates them. They're remembered for how they help athletes – and normal people – achieve the impossible.
Reebok? We're still not sure what they believe.
Nike's story means you'd consider buying something like a Nike surf board – or even a sports drink – despite the fact that Nike is mostly known as a shoe manufacturer. You know that product has a belief behind it that you also believe...and no one has to tell you that.
But a Reebok sports drink? We're guessing very few people would want that. That's the power of a brand.
Mark Coudray didn't disappoint. Mark has a habit of delivering hard-hitting knowledge that print shops need, and this presentation was no exception.
Mark covered a ton of ground: pricing, competing, getting rid of bad clients, handling big purchases, cash flow. His knowledge is backed by a plethora of real-life examples and case studies.
Coudray dove in to the financials of more than 150 shops across the world and found a number of staggering trends. The worst of all? A small fraction of customers – less than 10% – are taking up a massive amount of print shop resources...and they're not even profitable or desirable customers. "You're spending 75% of your time for 11% of your revenue! That's insane!"
This powerful session proved to be tremendously valuable due to its specificity and actionable details. Want to grow your shop? Stop messing with crap jobs – send them to your competitors!
"The riches are in the niches."
Our headliner Mike Michalowicz blew everyone away.
His hilarious style, candid anecdotes, and wildly engaging narrative covered the entirety of his Profit First system.
Mike's core insight is simple. The way we consider profit in the "Revenue - Expenses = Profit" equation puts profit last. In our simple reptilian minds, that means profit is an afterthought!
His revised equation? Revenue - Profit = Expenses.
Mike used the example of plate sizes and appetites to help make sense of our spending. "Plate sizes have grown three times over the past 300 years. And so have our waistlines."
Entrepreneurs love to look at their bank accounts and use them as a metric to assess the health of their business. That's why so many entrepreneurs get in trouble: your bank accounts are not aligned with the actual health of your business. The plate looks too big, or too small, and you're stuck reacting instead of being proactive.
"You don't want a convenient bank. You want the least convenient bank you can find! Find one three hours away from you. I call that 'the drive of shame,' since that's what you should feel when you're stealing from your profit account!"
Too many shops rob Peter to pay Paul – or simply aren't taking a serious look at how they can run leaner.
A class act through-and-through, Mike's goal to end entrepreneurial poverty resonated with everyone in the room. A business as unpredictable and challenging as running a print shop requires a genuine system for predictable profits.
"Profit isn't an event. It's a habit. It doesn't come at once, but we're trained to think that way."
Looking for a quick summary of the hard-hitting knowledge shared at PrintHustlers Conf?
Here's the big takeaways:
Next year, we're considering creating an attendee directory to make it even easier to connect after the conference. We're also considering how to make the entire conference more interactive, participatory, and valuable.
We'll post every presentation and slide deck over the coming weeks.
You can catch all of our latest video content (as well as the entirety of 2018's conference) on the Printavo YouTube channel.
We upload a new video every day!
We asked you for feedback on PrintHustlers Conf 2019 and got glowing reviews.
Here's what you told us about your experience:
We couldn't do PrintHustlers Conf 2019 without our sponsors.
A huge thank you to these companies and their hard-working teams.
These companies are dedicated to raising the bar across the entire industry. We are deeply thankful for their help and support.
We have begun planning PrintHustlers Conf 2020. You can purchase early bird tickets NOW on our Eventbrite page for PrintHustlers Conf 2020.
Everyone at Printavo is still riding high from the event. It was motivating and humbling to meet and interact with everyone that took their valuable time to join us. The Print Hustlers community is second to none!
So what's in store for next year? Printavo's PrintHustlers Conf 2020 will be more intimate, more focused, more conversational, and more about you.
Have a suggestion for a speaker, a Chicago-based venue, or an idea for what you'd like to learn at PrintHustlers Conf 2020? Leave us a comment.
We can't wait to see you next year!
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.Try Printavo