What is the story behind Deluxe Screen Printing?
I was working for a national screen printing business for almost 11 years, starting in the mid to late 90s’s. At the time, all of the production was going to China and overseas and they were selling to Walmart, Mervin’s and a few other department stores. Unfortunately, in 2006 they had to close and let people go. So I opened up my own screen printing business out of my garage and said: “I’m not going to stop, I’m going to succeed in doing this.” Three months later, I purchased one manual, a washout booth…your basic startup kit. I was printing out of my garage for 3-4 months.
How did you end up in the beautiful space you are at now?
It was ironic because the same company that I worked with for 11 years had one little division still printing and shipping to Bloomingdale’s, and my former boss said, “Come back to my building to set up shop because you can get out of your garage.” So I rented the space from my old boss. Then he came to me and said: “I’m sorry, I have to sell our old business, but I have another building in downtown LA that might work for you.” So I went down there and saw the building, it’s a huge space that looks kind of like an airplane hangar, and said: “There’s no way I can afford this building.” It’s 5,000 square feet. The guy who owned the building owned one other one in downtown LA, and he said: “We like what you do and that you are female owned, and I’m going to give you a rate on this that is unreal.” He gave me his rate, and I said “Are you serious? I’ll take it”. And he’s been nothing but wonderful since. He’s kept the rent the same since then. So we ended up moving into the building in 2010.
Tell me a little bit about the structure of your company.
We are a female owned company, in business since 2009. I had a partner, and unfortunately, she lost her life to cancer in 2012. She’s the one that helped to start the business out of our garage. Technically we started in the garage in 2008, but 2009 was when we actually had our tax ID, worker’s comp registration, etc. That’s when we became legit. Unfortunately, my partner was diagnosed in that same year with breast cancer, but she kept working 2009 – 2012, in and out of treatments. So that was not easy having to take the trips to the hospital to and from the business. That was rough. Liza and I had a lot of support from friends who would drive her there, or pick her up. That was tough going through that. But she said, “Promise me that you’re going to keep going,” and I said, “Yes I will.”
The good news is that my old partner asked my best friend, who I used to work with at my old business, to come and work for us and she’s here with me. Together we run sales and customer service and inquiries. We run the show: Two females who take in all the orders. But we have a team in the back who are all men who do all the screen set up and printing.
We have a motto: “We’re tiny but were’ mighty.” We are able to take in a lot of runs, but they are all small runs. We cater to a lot of startups who just launched a new line. A new kombucha line, makeup line, restaurant, CrossFit gym, anything you can think of small or big. We don’t do large units, order like 1,000 or more, we are more boutique. We cater to those kinds of clients.
It’s great! I’m not making millions, but we are happy and doing well.
How did you find your niche, printing for small businesses and startups?
It kind of happened organically. What I felt back in 2009 is that there are a lot of people asking for small runs, from restaurants to startups, and screen printers were rejecting them because they have big complicated automatics with 1,000 shirt minimums. So I wanted to cater to them and offer the services the other shops are not offering. I said, “I’m dropping my minimum to 2 dozen,” and I recently dropped it to only 12 pieces when they use our design studio to design their own stuff online.
In going after those small business, we’ve been printing for a lot of companies who just launched a new app, and who need uniforms and t-shirts and tote bags and promotional stuff. I didn’t plan it like that, though. I just said, “Let me just start it at a two dozen minimum. I’m going to try it,” and it’s worked out beautifully. We do a lot of bars and restaurants, high-end boutiques, to your basic construction company, and all in between. We are little; we aren’t huge. We only have 10 of us here, and we produce a lot.
What equipment do you use in your shop?
I have a few manual presses and out of all of them, the Riley Hopkins are our favorite. I’m not just saying that either. The guys love them. They are the ones who actually use them, and they say they are good machines. They are well built and high quality, and every time I need a specific part, it’s always available.
What is it like to work on your team at Deluxe Screen Printing?
It’s pretty awesome. We all get along really well; we are like a small family. We don’t take things too seriously as long as we get the job done. We have Halloween parties and Christmas parties, and we all get along great. We joke around here and there. I’m sure it’s the same there. I’ve met a few people from Ryonet at the ISS Long Beach Trade Shows, and it looks like a healthy work environment. I’m going to tell you something that I don’t really tell to anyone, but a lot of people on my team say, “It’s funny you’re the owner because we all work for you, but you act just like an employee here.” I don’t micromanage. As long as we get our work done, and our customers get their goods and can fulfill their orders in time, I’m happy.
What do you think is one of the biggest elements in making your team work together smoothly?
I am huge on communication. Let’s say one guy comes in and is having a bad day. I actually call him into my office and say, “Are you okay? Is there something I can do?” And they will open up to me and tell me what is going on. Maybe it’s an argument he had with his wife that morning, or he’s not feeling well. I tell him, “It’s okay, just try to brush it off, even though I know it’s tough to do that.” I set a rule in my company that if I feel that their energy is off I will bring them to my office to check on them and if they need a day or to leave early, they can do that. They just have to communicate with me and tell me if there are any issues, with an employee, or at home. Just talk to me, because if you don’t talk about how are you going to fix it? We are a small family here, so if someone comes in with a bad day then we need to fix it.
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