Talking Shop With Matt Marcotte On Cross-Training, Promotions & Future Trends

Business Lessons

Matthew Marcotte from T&J Printing Supplies stopped by to chat with us on his background what he's seeing in the industry. Matt is well known in the Chicagoland area for helping shops optimize their production flow.

We go over:
- Cross training and keeping repetitive job employees
- Making people feel valued longer term
- Morning pow-wows
- Career progression in a shop
- Organization
- 1:1's
- Water-based screenprinting trends
- Automation in screen maintenance
- Creating good operational standards

Transcript 

Bruce: What's going on, print hustlers? This is Bruce from Printavo, simple shop management software. Today, we've got a very special guest with us again on our Business Lessons and Learning podcast. Matt Marcotte from T&J Printing Supplies. He's a Chicagoland Rep who not just deals with sales but also consulting of all kinds of shops, large and small. And we've had some interesting conversations, running into each other a couple of different times at shops, or trade shows, and just in the same circle. And so there's a lot of things I actually wanna...that I'm looking forward to digging deeper but, Matt, thanks for joining us today.

Matt: I'm happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

Bruce: Awesome. So really quickly, give us a background, so everybody can understand about you and your history. And then we'll get into your role.

Matt: Yeah. No problem. No problem. Definitely, I started off young. I started off as the weird kid in high school, screen printing for like bands I was in, and like skateboard crews and all the typical punk rock stuff that we all kinda got started in, I think. Went to college and in college I had, one of my minor focuses was screen printing and graphic design. So I spent five years in college and spent a lot of time in the art studio doing different art prints, screen prints, lots of fun stuff. And that's really where I kinda sharpened my tools, I think, with screen printing. After that, did the whole rock and roll attempted lifestyle kind of traveled the road with bands, designing merch, printing merch, selling merch, that fun stuff.

Then decided, all right, time for the real job, real gig time. Ended up quickly becoming a production manager at a large shop called Target Decorated Apparel, outside of Chicago. Was there for about four years, really got my feet wet there. Learned quite a bit about the business side of things: managing people, working with different processes, different manufacturers, and vendors, and had definitely the proving ground. That was kind of like the secondary college for me to learn more about this industry. From there, was lucky enough to be able to get a gig with T&J and I've been here for just about four and a half years now, working in a couple of different states. And, now, luckily back home in the Chicagoland turf and having a blast getting to go to hundreds of shops throughout the year, learn things every day, teach things every day, and get to see the trends and the movement and kinda keep my finger on the pulse and, like, I get to be a part of what I love. So that's the quick and dirty of me.

Bruce: Interesting. What was your role over at Target?

Matt: Production Manager.

Bruce: Got it. Very cool. And that's so folks know that aren't from this area, that's not the big retail store.

Matt: Right. No, no. Yeah, it had nothing to do with the giant big-box store. This company was actually around before the big-box store even came out. But, yeah, it's a big...we had eight autos, six manuals. They're still an existing shop, there's still kicking butt out there. But, yeah, I had to run two shifts, like 70 employees, lots of fun stuff. Everything from 24 pieces to 24,000 pieces and up, so you name it, we would do it.

Bruce: That's crazy. And, I know we chatted before, they were using shop works to manage that process. You know, going through in a shop that size with all of the things that could potentially happen, how much did you try to create a workflow to say, "Okay. Hey, we're going to follow this process every single time with this order?" Versus the things that come up and how you dealt with those if you were there? Or better yet, not being there and let people kind of know what to do next?

Matt: That was a huge, huge thing for me. What my major focus was in college was instructional design, so I've always kinda been a nerd for operational procedures, figuring out the best way for people to learn and adapt to new processes and actually implement them, so that was a lot of what I did. It was a lot of, "Okay, if I'm not in a building, or I get hit by a bus, or I want to go on vacation," which doesn't really happen, most of the time, for production managers. But if I wasn't there, I needed to make sure things ran correctly. So most of my job, for the first year, year-and-a-half as a production manager there, was implementing new processes. So learning what was happening, why it was happening? You can't just kind of sit on top of the castle and kind of point down and demand orders, right? You've got to go down in the trenches, figure it out what's happening, why it's happening, how it's happening? And then figure out a way that universally can fix those issues.

So there's a lot of play in figuring out, okay, who's doing what, when, where and why? And then figuring out little moves that weren't going to bog them down or make them feel like they had, like, to fill out paperwork for everything they did, still remaining efficient and effective as press operators, or pullers, or QC, or whatever position they had, shipping, receiving. So a lot of it was definitely sitting down, looking at cost-benefit analysis, the different types of people that you have in a print shop. I mean when you're in a print shop, you're lucky to have employees a lot of times. And if you want a good employee, it takes some time and effort to get them where you want them to be.

Bruce: So that's the question. I chatted with some printers recently that, you know, how do you motivate someone, right, who you hire them to literally off-load and load shirts, or be a catcher at the end of the dryer, or you know, do a very repetitive task over a longer period of time while still keeping them? Or having someone who's very responsible and not going out on smoke breaks every 30 minutes, right? How does that all go?

Matt: Good question. So what I found was helpful for a lot of the employees that I had at the time, was figuring out a way of kind of like a, it was a cross-training but also like logging how many hours they were doing in cross-trained in different areas. So as a new employee, if you're sitting there and you're just pulling shirts off of an automatic press at a 500 per hour rate, all day, every day? It gets monotonous, it gets tiring, and you kinda get burnt out if you're not sure what this road's leading to. So for me, a lot of it was actually having an open dialogue and making sure that it didn't matter where you were in the line. If you were a catcher, a puller, if you were...whatever you were doing, you can come talk to me and we can talk about what the future is?

So every time I brought somebody new on, they'd have to log x amount of hours in each station. We'd start off, obviously, lower on the totem pole and you'd work your way up. Now, you wouldn't necessarily stay there but you'd logged so many hours, get cross-trained, different department/get cross-trained, logged those hours. And that way, if I had to make a move, someone's going to call off sick, right? We're going to get a rush order, we're going to be down one person, so being able to kinda do the juggling of, okay, this person goes here, this person goes here, can also kind of make an issue unless you've got proper cross-training.

If you're properly cross-trained, you can also then find out who's working well in different areas? So you can kind of go, "Okay. Well, this guy seems to really be great at unloading a press, or counting in shirts, or reclaiming." So maybe throughout the week, I move them around a little bit. That way he doesn't get bogged down doing the same, same thing. Now, obviously, you want to have your leads in your areas that you're not going to move around because you want them to kind of hold accountability in those areas. But you can also step those people up into those positions, once they kinda earn that. So I always liked to have an open roadmap, explaining to them, "Here's where you're starting, here's where you could be." I was always pretty open, too, and was like, "Hey, if you're a press operator, the pay range is x through x. You're not a press operator right now, you're going to be an unloader on press. Your pay range is x to x."

Now, what we can do is we can set a plan to say, "Hey, you get these things accomplished, we get your hours logged in other departments. We can get you up into that position. I would love to have that position. I need better, more talented press operators so let's get you there. Let's figure out the roadmap to get you there," and then work at continue to drive that. If you enforce a ceiling on somebody right out of the gate, they're not going to want to try harder, right? They're going to know, "Okay, this is the best I'm going to do so why put more into it." So explain to them there isn't really a ceiling. There's realistic timelines but there's not really a ceiling. Let's figure out how to make this happen for you. People, in my experience, will tend to open up a little bit more and be more willing to stick it in and do some of the labor for the long hours that, maybe, they aren't super stoked about but they know it's for a reason.

Bruce: Okay, so this sounds easier if you have 70 people, 70 different roles going on. What about a smaller medium-size shop if there's call it 10 people in the production side of the business? How do you execute cross-training? And then, you know, actually switching the roles around to keep it fresh so that they feel valued? And then, also, move...feel like they're growing, career-wise, and moving up? So that's three parts. I mean that's a big one but...

Matt: Yeah, that's a good question. I love smaller shops. I love when you've got, like, the crew of, like, 10. I find that's even easier in some ways, it can also be harder in some ways. Because, sometimes, a lower smaller crew, big personalities can kind of come out a little quicker than in a larger crew, big personalities can. But when you've got a smaller crew, it's a lot easier to just kinda like call a powwow, get everybody in one area. It's not the same as being, like, all right, two shifts, 70 people total, all meet for one meeting. That's a little harder to control. When you can say, "Hey, everybody, let's do a morning powwow. Let's kinda get it together," wrap up end-of-the-week meetings, get everyone's opinion. Let everyone have a voice.

A lot of people come in very angry and voicing things they don't like. But each week, they'll kind of start to relax and open up. And I think it's good when you can have that open camaraderie in that small of a crew. It's easy to be open as long as your supervisor or manager isn't, once again, acting like they're on the top of the castle pointing down, and they can actually be a part of that crew, I think it kind of naturally can find its way.

Bruce: Is that a daily? Or is that a weekly morning meeting?

Matt: I usually recommend if you can, if your crew is 10 people for your company, total? I think that's something you can do every day. You can spend a half hour just kinda hearing everybody out, talking about things. Now, be a supervisor in that situation if it's going off topic or it's getting into something more personal about, like, an interaction with one individual as opposed to the whole encompassing processes. Stop it, there. Talk to that person separate. But you can get a good overall team vibe just like on a football team or baseball team before you go on. You get a little powwow together and you can really kinda rally the masses.

Bruce: Good point.

Matt: Talk about what you're going to achieve today, how exciting it is to be able to work together to achieve these things. And the next day, you can go back like, "Hey, guys, yesterday was amazing. Here's what we achieved. Here's where we fell a little short. I kinda want to get a little feedback on why I might have fallen short. I'm not the one doing it all day. I'm kind of doing my role. I wanna know what you guys in the roles are? What held us back from that? What can we do better to help that?"

Bruce: Sure. I like that. Treating it like a team. That's a great way of thinking about it and doing the things that a team would do when you're trying to win the game.

Matt: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Bruce: What about the cross-training? And how often are you actually moving people around in the roles? Is it weekly? Or...

Matt: Also kind of depends. So once someone's fully cross-trained and you know they're good in all the departments? Obviously, you kind of figure out, you kinda, once again, like a baseball team. You're like, "Okay. Well, this guy's a great starting pitcher, he's a bad closing pitcher. This guy's a great first baseman, he's an okay second baseman. He's awful in the outfield." So you kinda get the same vibe for your crew. And, they'll usually let you know. After they get the cross-training done they're like, "Hey, man, honestly, I hate reclaiming." You're like, "That's okay." Because he doesn't hate reclaiming, he likes going back there, just putting earpods in and kinda being on his own.

So we know what you're good at and what you like. We know what he's good and he likes. It's a little bit easier. You still make them do it because during the cross-training time, it's important I think for everybody on the team to understand the roles everyone plays. Because it's very easy to say, "Okay, I'm the lead press operator. If it wasn't for me, there'd be no shop." It's like, well, there's a lot of people into that. The ink mixer's very important, the people reclaiming, [inaudible 00:12:05] screens, sales, it's all very important. So I like kinda forcing people into those roles, maybe not for a long time but login maybe a week or so in those areas to understand all the processes. They'll be a little more forgiving if someone in those processes makes a mistake that gets to them. They'll understand it a little better and it usually creates a better atmosphere.

Now, once you've kinda gone through the little like passport to success thing, where you've logged your hours, you know who's good at what? Then it's a matter of, okay, our main reclaimer called off today. Who do we have who's a good reclaimer who doesn't hate reclaiming? Well, now I can kinda move people around because people are going to call off sick. And in a production like this that can be a bit of a problem, so knowing who you can move and where and when really makes a huge, huge difference.

And if people find, you know what, I like this more than the other areas? They'll usually tell you. If you have an open dialogue and they feel comfortable talking to you, they'll tell you. And if you put someone who likes what they're doing in that position, they're usually better at it than someone who doesn't like what they're doing in that position. So you kinda force their hand a little bit into learning and go in those areas. And then you can kinda find a natural balance of who goes where and when. 

Bruce: Matt, what about the career progression aspect? So, you know, if you're looking to hire someone good, right, that's talented? They're not going to be happy doing something repetitive for a while. In a smaller shop, if you don't necessarily have an opportunity to move up as a production manager, Say the owner's doing that, or the owner's wife, or something like that, how do you enable them to feel valued and that they're gaining more knowledge and can do more?

Matt: That's a good question. That was something that I definitely have fought with in the past with jobs that I've had as well. It can be hard. I think that's definitely where that team spirit really comes in. So say, you've got a production manager and you're a smaller shop and you've got, imagine, your crew of 10. And you've got someone who's really doing a great job and you know that you'd like to give them a higher position but that's your job. You can't give them your job, right? Unless they're better qualified and you're that nice of a person and you're like, "I'm going to quit. You take it over." Not likely to happen, though.

In that one, and I've had that happen too when I ran the shop. At that point, you sit them down and say, "All right. We're kind of hitting a spot where there isn't anything really necessarily I can slide you into right now. But we can look at, are there positions that we don't have currently that we could create for you that could be good?" If you're a smaller shop, maybe you don't necessarily have a marketing team because you're a smaller shop. So maybe you say, "Okay. Let's change it up a little bit. We're going to have you do half the week, doing your normal job. And then half the week, we're going to try for the next couple of months, seeing if we can get you doing some marketing roles or see if we can get you helping with sales."

There's usually other ways you can shift them around. If you're good press operator who's personable, too, why not go do sales? You understand what a print can look like and what could happen. Maybe you can spend half the week running around, trying to help sell things. And then you can build a commission structure for those sales and give that person a little bit more money that you couldn't necessarily give them just hourly, running a press. So I don't think there's ever a corner that your back's against when it comes to working with your employees and your staff.

Bruce: So it's like getting smart about the things that you need. And, sometimes, I feel like you get in such a niche, too. Where, okay, I've been doing this exact same thing. I'm very ingrained at it, right? And thinking a little bit outside. Okay, if we were to grow, if we had a couple more people, where could we fill in these roles? Where do we have the gaps, like you were saying? Well, marketing? Usually, that's always a gap. There's not anyone that's generally dedicated to that and, sort of, social media, or drumming up more sales, or...yeah, that's a great idea.

I also think that I find that and especially more on the management level, people tend to be overworked as well. Is there potential to kind of offload some of that responsibility? So, like, for example, as a production manager, I'm sure you handled scheduling, often. Is there an opportunity to also say, "Hey, look. Do you want to help take some of the responsibility of scheduling on?"

Matt: Absolutely.

Bruce: And help unload you as well or whoever is making the decision?

Matt: Absolutely. Absolutely. As a production manager, I did have a production coordinator who we put in underneath me, who kinda would help be to liaise between me and the production, which freed me up then, to kinda be able to focus on more higher level things and gave him an opportunity to do more than just be a press operator, as well. Depending on the size of the shop, how much revenue you have on different things, will kinda determine what can happen there. If it's something where, look, you're squeezing every penny out of it and you can't necessarily put somebody up in that position and give them more money? Well, then that's where you have to look outside the box and go into the sales and things where you can generate revenue as well for that person. So, it kind of depends on where you're at with the shop financially but absolutely. Absolutely.

I think if you ever give anybody the opportunity to shine, most of the time they're going to want to really shine. Now, they might fall short. And then you kinda go, "Hey, we tried. We're going to put you back to press operator." And if they don't like that? They might not be the best person for your shop, for the position. Or they might come in, surprise you. And be like, "Oh, wow. Okay. Maybe you are better suited for this position. Maybe I should look at changing my position."

Bruce: Sure. 

Matt: Being in a role and getting stuck in that role and feeling like you're the best person for that role, ever, is a problem. There's always people that are going to know more than all of us. There's always people that are going to learn different than all of us, so being fluid I think when you can and in your position and what you have to do, is always going to help. Doing what's best for the needs of the many versus needs of the few, right? So if you take care of everybody and you treat them as such, it usually, in my experience, has paid off.

Bruce: Got it. Awesome. I'm going to shift gears a little bit here, Matt, to more work at T&J now. So you meet with a lot of shops. I've heard your name a bunch, with the shops that we visited as well. Talk to me about some common things that you see that people asked about or have problems with that you helped. And maybe we'll focus these on small-medium sized shops and do a second one with a little bit larger 30+ type shops.

Matt: For sure. For sure. The biggest thing that I honestly see with a lot of shops is just not being organized. A lot of people are kinda chasing their tail, trying to figure out things. They're small, they're DIY. They went from their basement to the garage, to a small shop, and they're kind of still amazed they got where they got, already. And so, they're trying to grow and they're trying to force grow as opposed to looking at it from a perspective of a production manager who might have had these opportunities to see things at a bigger scale. So the biggest thing is, usually, getting everybody to kinda like take a step back. Kinda calm down for a moment and not be running around, chasing things all the time, and really look at what everything cost, what the benefits are, what the values are?

The biggest thing is people usually have no idea how much it costs to actually make their shirts for their customers. So looking at cost analysis on, okay, what your supply is costing. Now, maybe you're saving money on a cheap tape over here? But then, in the reclaiming, they're having to spend twice as long because the tape's not coming off the screen as well.

Bruce: Right.

Matt: But those sorts of things, right? That's the most common. Actually, that specific example is probably the most common. The reclaimers, a lot of time they'll throw somebody back in reclaiming without proper training...

Bruce: And then just in a room, spraying and you never even see him for the next...to the end of the day, anyway.

Matt: Then they're coming out reeking of chemicals, they're soaking wet, and they've only got 20 screens reclaimed the entire day and they're sweating. It looks like they're working but they're not working correctly because no one really gives them the right tools and processes to do that. So it's a mixture of not being organized but I would say, in the smaller shops, reclaim is kinda the put-aside-child no one really cares about, you know. Like kinda like, "Ah, he's back there doing his thing."

And that's unfortunate because, at the end of the day, we're screen printing, so the screens' the most important part. So that position that's usually overlooked, especially at smaller shops, even bigger shops, too, it's overlooked, is pretty vital and detrimental. If they're not doing their jobs right, it comes out in the screen later on. So I'd say that's the number one if I could say a number one that I usually go into smaller shops and kind of set my focus on, first? Okay, what are they doing in reclaiming?

And, yeah, I work for a distributor so I've got things that I sell. I don't care, necessarily, if they're not using the product that I sell. I care about, are they using the products they're using correctly? Have they been trained in those products? Do they know what they're doing? Are there expectations given to them? 

If you throw somebody back, in a room, and there's 100 screens? Say, "All right, get through as many as you can in a day." Well, how many is that supposed to be? What was the process on this? And that's usually what's happening. Is, you're kinda just throwing it back and saying, "Get to work, bud." There's no success, there. How do you feel good about the end of the day? How do you feel good about the end of your shift? How do you know like I surpassed my boss's expectations? Or, you know, I fell a little short of his expectations but it's not really my fault. Why am I not able to do this?

Bruce: Sure.

Matt: So it all comes down to organization and making sure people understand what their jobs are and having a realistic idea of what you can expect out of them. And then working with them, to help get them there.

Bruce: Yeah. I always push a lot of shops to also...the owners, to take time out and have one-on-ones every other week or so with...

Matt: Oh, yeah.

Bruce: ...each person on the team. And I know, sometimes it can be hard. It's like I don't have time but to really consider it as an investment. Because the things that even we've discovered and we're, you know, a software company, now. But, you know, just asking basic things. How can I help make the job easier? What's taking so long? Like, where do you want to go? And this, it doubles, also, as helping, you know, unearth issues that people may have and wanting them to feel valued and stay with you longer term. But also, organizationally, it just... You would have no idea, right? If that guy is spraying all of those back there, you're just like...you see, maybe, okay, "Well, why are we short on screens?" And then you go back and you're like, "Oh, this happened and then this happened." If you had that meeting, there's so many of those little optimizations that can happen just spending 15 minutes, you know. Go walk around, grab a coffee, sit out front, at your desk, whatever and asking those things, too. So that's interesting that you see that organizationally. And, of course, that stems out of that kind of small business mentality, right, and that hustle phase, initially.

Matt: Yeah. I'm noticing, too, a lot of younger shops...and by no means am I hating on the older shops. I love a lot of shops that have been around for as long as I've been alive.

Bruce: Sure.

Matt: I'm definitely seeing some new trends with a lot of these younger shops, not really taking as much of a typical business approach. Where you kinda have a division of labor, and you kinda have a division between management levels, and then it comes down to the workers. A lot of those older bigger shops kind of have more of a division. I'm really loving the new approach that seems to be kind of taking place of like for the team. We're all a team. So like you said, leaving the shop for a cup of coffee to go talk to your reclaimer. No one does that. You know, how much happier that reclaimer is going to be when he goes back to work?

Bruce: Oh, yeah.

Matt: Knowing that the production managers took him out for coffee and just wanted to know what he was doing, and what his day was like at work, and how to make it better? Those things are massive. And I'm seeing a lot of the smaller up-and-coming...the like one to two manual up to like the two or three auto shops are really taking that approach. And I think it's why we're seeing such success with a lot of those shops, really, coming up and kicking butt.

Bruce: What are some other trends that you're starting to see as you visit shops?

Matt: Definitely seeing waterbased being a big trend that's really hitting. A lot of Europe is already printing a lot of waterbased, not completely but a lot of it is. California is definitely one of the more stringent states when it comes to what kind of chemistry and different products can even be used in the state? So they're doing a lot of waterbased and acrylics. What usually tends to happen with most trends in most industries is, it gets big in Europe. It finds its way to the West Coast. It finds its way to the rest of the country, right? New York and like different areas of the country. Florida's also doing a lot of waterbased. It's very humid so it helps. So it's kind of all, now, rolling its way back into the rest of the country. Not that we're behind on things, just, usually, different regulations kind of tend to fall on different places later on. 

So waterbased is huge. I know a lot of the big manufacturers of different inks are all really looking at acrylic options, polyurethane acrylic options, standard waterbased discharge. I think the days of plastisol, although I do love it. It's easy to put it in the screen and come back three days later, it's still good. Those days, I think they're starting to become numbered, not soon. I think we've probably got five to 10 years until it's kinda defunct but we're definitely seeing as the waterbased trends really hitting harder than ever.

Bruce: Why do you think that's more popular? Is it just the feel of it on the shirt?

Matt: I think it's a lot of things. I think it's the feel of it. I think it's also the fact that we're really getting and finally getting...we're paying attention to the environment.

Bruce: Eco-friendly aspect? Yeah.

Matt: So when you're printing with these waterbased and these acrylics, your on-press cleaners 90% of the time is water. You don't have to worry about having more chemistry, right? You don't have to worry about something that might be caustic. There ones that are out there that are not caustic. But a lot of shops, all the older shops are still using like xylene and like lacquer thinner. Things that are not really great to be touching, to be throwing into our environment, so I think that's a big part of it. Also, it being soft, we're definitely hitting the time where we want things brighter and softer. As screen printers, we know those don't usually go hand-in-hand. Brighter usually means more ink, so it's a little harder to get it softer if you put more ink down.

Bruce: Sure.

Matt: So the answer to that is, usually, a mixture of acrylics, polyurethane acrylics. I mean silicone inks as well. A lot of different things other than traditional plastisol. It has its place. Don't get me wrong. It's still definitely the number one ink that I sell is still plastisol inks. But waterbased is definitely taking a heck of a stance and I think we're going to see it really become a dominant factor in the next couple of years here. 

Bruce: Interesting. That's very neat that you're kind of able to get that insight. Are you guys able to run almost analytics, too, on T&J side to see all waterbased inks versus plastisol ink sales? And that's what's trending up as well.

Matt: Yeah, we can definitely see. I mean in all the territories, we can easily pull sales reports for what got sold in different territories. And you can definitely see everything up ticking in the waterbased world -- discharge, especially. A lot of people are really getting into discharge under-basing and then plastisol on top of that. Which I personally think is the best way to get introduced into waterbased. When you're running cotton shirts, discharge under-base, plastisol on top. You're only worried about one screen with special needs of water in there and not letting it kinda clog up. And you can kinda get your toes wet in the waterbased world that way, while still getting a softer print, a vibrant print. Between that, I've seen a huge jump in discharge under-basing in the last year. And I've seen a really large jump in overall waterbased and acrylic printing as well.

Bruce: Got it. Very cool. That's interesting. I also wonder, too, if that's a funnel of customer indication of them asking, "Oh, hey, can we get that one that felt softer?" Or is it shop-led, right? Because the shop can lead it and they just say, "Hey, this is the type of printing we do." Or they don't even say anything, like, maybe the consumer doesn't...

Matt: I think, both. I think that's a good point. I think what it starts out as is more the shops being like, "Hey, I'm doing something that my competitors aren't. Check this out."

Bruce: Got it. 

Matt: "What's the price difference?" "Nominal?" "Oh, okay." And the customers are then, now, going, "You know what? I do like that. I can see the difference." And so that's kind of trending then so, now, when they're getting work done? They're asking, now, actively, "Hey, can we do a discharge under-base?" So we're kinda sharing and we're setting up and teaching. And then they're coming back down asking, "If what we just taught them is now an option?" A lot of shops that are especially in Chicago, there's a lot of shops that are two to three years into doing discharge under-base or full-discharge designs. And I think that's a big part of why a lot of the work in my territory has now shifted to that. Because the customer-base has learned about these different techniques and has seen and felt the differences and it's a nominal cost difference, usually. So they're kind of like, "Yeah, let's do this."

I think it's both. I think it's definitely shops taking initiative, and testing, and trying, and showing their customers why they're unique and why they're different in a lot of the competition and what they can offer them? Which, of course, makes them a better shop in that instance, as well. And then, once again, all those customers are now learning about these things and it spreads across that network and you see it all start to kinda go that way.

Bruce: Sure, sure. Got it. What's another trend you're seeing, Matt?

Matt: Automation, definitely seeing a lot of automation. This is going to be a little more for the medium-to-large shops. I think it's a little hard for a small-to-medium shop to go purchase an automatic reclaimer, right? They can get a little pricey. You're probably better off hiring another salesperson and getting another press before doing that.

Bruce: Okay.

Matt: But for the medium-to-large shops, seeing a lot when it comes to automation. 

Bruce: How so? Like automation, where?

Matt: In a couple places. Usually, a lot in screen maintenance, so if it comes to pre-press and post-press. Before, that used to be a lot of people, a lot of chemicals, a lot of time. Now, I'm seeing a lot of the shops where we can actually have one to two people doing what took four to five people's jobs. Now, some people look at that saying, "Okay, well we're gonna losing jobs." Yes and no. You're, now, also taking somebody who might have only been a laborer reclaiming, getting paid a lower scale. And going back to what we've talked about before, giving them more opportunity. So, hey, you went from reclaiming, just reclaiming. We're going to get some automation, so now we're actually going to put you in charge of a coating machine, so you're going to load the screens and coat the screens. We're going to put you in charge of the automatic reclaimer, so you're going to go ahead and just load a screen here, hit a button. It's going to coat it. You're going to go over here, load a screen or two into the reclaimer, hit a button. You can kind of move around, get more done.

And that person, now, has a little more sense of pride in their job because they're running their own equipment. And they're able to get a lot through and you can hold them more accountable and you can pay them more because now you cut labor cost. You should be able to get your return investment on the equipment that you bought for automation. And then, you can give them a little more of a bump in their pay to give them that pride in their work and in what they're doing. Not only that but if you have these things, you're going to see a lot more of a standardized process and standardized product.

So if you're using a simple, simple thing. We'll talk about a coating machine. All the major manufacturers offer some sort of a coating machine. If you can put a screen in and you can have literally anybody coat that screens exactly the same way every time? Massive help when it comes to press. I see large shops still hand coating. Large shops. I'm like, "What happens if he's sick." "Oh, then he coats." "And you test his stencil thickness to make sure it's the same as the other four screens in that sequence?" "Well, no. Is that important?" "Let's go talk to your press operator. How long does it take that job to set up?" Longer than normal? Wonder why that gave issues? Probably because you had a different [inaudible 00:31:54]

Bruce: Yeah. Right. Right.

Matt: Things that people overlook because it wasn't something we spend a lot of time diving into, a lot of times. But things like that simple solutions/automation that you can get repetitive and similar screens every single time that will work every time. And that person is going to have more joy loading a machine and doing multiple processes than sitting there all day long just coating a screen, right? So the automation kinda plays into what we also talked about, when it comes to keeping your staff happy and getting them to kinda buy into this team environment, team atmosphere.

Bruce: What is some automation that shops can do without having to spend a lot of money on machinery? Maybe it could be some sort of supplies or machines that are not, you know, on the more expensive end but something that's very applicable that they can look into or do in the next few weeks?

Matt: I think even without getting into buying equipment at all, I think a lot of times, you can look at just creating good operational standards, right? So looking at...we'll stick with screen coating and reclaiming. Talk to whoever you're buying it from. Wherever you're at in the world or country, you're purchasing these things from somebody. That person should be knowledgeable and should be able to come help you implement these processes. I mean if you can purchase something, I would say one of the cheapest things you can purchase on the market right now on a higher level scale is an automatic coater. It depends where you're looking, anywhere om, like, $10,000 to $20,000, that's a typical range.

A smaller shop, you might look at that going, "Hmm, that's more than my car cost." But once again, what can you do with that? You can now have someone that can run that machine and run a whole other processes and give him a little more accountability and you got a better screen every single time, so there's different things. I would say reclaiming, looking at, like, a dip tank or different chemicals. That's not really automation so much as just streamlining a process...

Bruce: ...standardizing. Sure.

Matt: ...standardizing it. If you're not using a dip tank and you're a small shop, depending on the chemical. There could be chemistry I'm not aware of but most of the chemistry out there? If it's not a dip tank, you're usually wasting chemistry, which is costing you money. So I would say, look at a dip tank. I'm sure whoever your standard provider is has a dip tank solution that you can work with. I don't want to push just things that I sell. Just, overall, dip tanks are a great, great way to standardize a process. You can get them to put something in for two minutes, go to another task for two minutes, come back for two minutes. If you can kinda really get an idea where their time is spent and how they're spending it, that's going to standardize, that's going to help. And that can also help you save money, then. If you know, "Hey, we only need to actually have 100 screens reclaimed a day."

Well, if you can standardize that, maybe you get that work done in five hours. And you've got three hours left for that person to do anything else. Maybe then, they go help prepare other jobs. Maybe, you look at only having somebody part-time and you save money in the labor for that. Invest in equipment and different things to automate your shop and help it be a little better. You can spend money on Printavo. You can save that money. You can automate your scheduling, you can work with how you're setting the day up, and how you're going to work with getting approvals to customers. There's lots of ways and it always, for me...people will try to find how to save the minutes and the hours in the day. You're not gonna but you can definitely find how to save seconds. You save enough seconds, they add up to minutes. And in a week, they add up to hours. So I always like going from the bottom and finding the little things that can kinda stack on top of each other. As opposed to trying to look on top and go, "How do I change all of this?" You're going to have a heck of a time. But you start off low, you can build it up pretty easily.

Bruce: That's awesome. Matt, I appreciate the time. This has been a...I've got a whole list of stuff that I want to summarize for everybody but this has been hugely helpful. And I've been to a lot of shops, so I'm definitely going to say I have some really good takeaways from this too, Matt.

Matt: Awesome.

Bruce: Yeah, thank you again for the time.

Matt: Thank you. Honored to be a part of it. Great networking you're building. I love everything you've got going on, so I appreciate it.

Bruce: Awesome. Thanks, Matt.

Matt: Thank you.

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