REPORT: Free Print Day draws thousands, boosts sales. Here’s how

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This summer, I took a trip to Rockford Art Deli – about 80 miles northwest of Chicago.

They've made a splash with their Free Print Day event and I had to see it for myself.

At 10 AM on a Saturday, the line stretched around the block.

By 11 AM, I'd folded a few hundred t-shirts...and seen hundreds of smiling faces full of local pride.

It was truly amazing. 

In this newsletter, I'll break down:

  • What a Free Print Day is
  • Why it works
  • How to do it
  • and some hard-won lessons from the RAD team.

Rockford Art Deli in Rockford, IL has appeared on our podcast and shop tours before. 

You may be familiar with the hard-working owner, Jarrod Hennis – he’s linked up with Allmade and isn’t shy about going to trade shows and staying involved with the broader printing community.

Rockford Art Deli has made a splash by hosting Free Print Days. 

At a high level, this is a powerful marketing technique: it earns Rockford Art Deli loads of publicity and exposure. 

Thousands of people attend their Free Print Day events – the most popular being the 2019 pre-Christmas Baby Yoda print. It differentiates Rockford Art Deli from any other local print shop in the area.

What is a Free Print Day?

Free Print Day is simple: bring a t-shirt and the RAD team will print a 1-color black plastisol design on it. 

Don’t have a shirt? 

Pay $10 for one of the options that RAD has on hand. 

They choose the design ahead of time, post it on social media, and open the doors to the public at 10 AM.

They’ve printed on everything from jeans to bandannas to underwear. 

The disclaimer is pretty simple, too: there’s no guarantee the ink will stick. 

It’s a free print, after all. Get what you pay for.

Why Free Print Day works

Without diving into the background of Rockford, IL – RAD has a great niche in the town. 

They’ve got a focused collection of retail designs that leverage local pride: 815 (the town’s area code) and the local women’s baseball team the Peaches, legal cannabis, and even the shop’s mascot Pepper feature prominently on the shop’s retail side. 

The line for Free Print Day stretched around the block on a sleepy July 3rd morning in downtown Rockford. 

The long line draws attention on its own – there’s simply not anything in downtown Rockford that can compete with the spectacle. 

A crowd draws a crowd no matter where you are, and free prints draw a crowd

But being the only game in town isn’t why Free Print Day is compelling. 

The simple thrill of getting a custom printed shirt is still alive and well. The smiling faces and endless “Thank you so much”es said it out loud. 

Free Print Day makes people feel like they’re part of something. 

Rockford Art Deli’s ability to capture community spirit dramatically amplifies that experience.

You love how you feel at Free Print Day.

How to hold a Free Print Day in your shop

If your creative juices are flowing, Jarrod definitely wants to encourage you to try it. "A lot of shops just don't have the space we do," he told me – though he urges small shops to at least try it.

RAD does a plethora of promotions ahead of the event, sharing the design on social media and drumming up attention through email for a few weeks before the event.

Jarrod and the team have learned a lot of tricks throughout the years of Free Print Day. 

The biggest "trick"? If you’ve promoted the event heavily, be prepared for a strong response – and staff appropriately. "It's better to overstaff for this event," Jarrod said.

These were roughly the team’s roles:

  • 2 at customer intake
  • 2 printing
  • 1 folding
  • 1 in retail
  • 2 for support
  • 1 crowd wrangler

I came out to Rockford to volunteer and helped with the first hour crunch by folding a couple hundred t-shirts.

The team worked seamlessly and crushed hundreds of prints – seemingly without breaking a sweat. 

I observed a few simple techniques that were hard-won from past events.

In a nutshell, the Free Print Day strategy revolves around these ideas:

  • Keep intake carefully controlled. They had one team member prepare shirts for the printers. Another took payment. And a third kept watch over the retail area.
  • Use your space well, and lay it out effectively. The team had carved a narrow path for the line of people to walk through, culminating in the wide-open retail space. There were quite a few add-on purchases after people collected their free prints, and the line was clearly marked with bright orange arrows. There was no way for people to get close enough to the actual presses to disturb the pace of printing.
  • Don’t rush. The pace was about as fast as a Potbelly sandwich shop – people have to wait on the ink to cure, after all. This calm pace helped the printers and staff keep tabs on everything.
  • Use one color and one design. It seems obvious, but this helped them blaze through prints. One hit of black plastisol...and on to the next shirt. Most of the time is spent preparing shirts and curing ink.
  • Have support. You’ll want a “free floating” person to help with ink, screens, and any other weird little things that pop up along the way.


Next Post: The Dos and Don'ts of Production Management for Screen Printing | Ryan Kasparian Interview

About Printavo

Printavo is simple shop management software. We help you streamline your business, keep jobs moving forward and your team on the same page.

Scheduling, quoting, approvals, payments, customer communication, automation and more. With Printavo, you’ll work smarter–not harder.