In 2020, the United States saw a record amount of new businesses opening their doors. 4.4 million businesses started up at the height of the pandemic, a 24% increase from 2019. Screen printing shops played a big role in this small business boom. Trey Woodward, the owner of Heritage Press, is one of them, opening his doors in October 2020. His print shop in Lubbock, Texas, has blown up in the 18 months since Trey started screen printing.
Photo by Trey Woodward
WHY SCREEN PRINTING?
Trey lost his job as a custom web developer in August of 2020. He and his wife were in debt-payoff mode and found themselves without a safety net.
“I was like, ‘Everybody always needs shirts, so let’s start screen printing,’” Trey said.
He learned to screen print through YouTube, bought some equipment, and started putting in the work.
Trey started printing simple designs and taking his shirts to farmers' markets, hoping to get his shop’s name out there. His strategy paid off, and he started gaining customers.
TREY’S BIGGEST CHALLENGE: INEXPERIENCE
Screen printing takes time to learn. Many screen printers start by watching and learning from others, whether by working in shops or by watching YouTube videos on the process. But when it comes time to pull a squeegee, it’s all about practice.
“It’s one of those skills that you just kind of have to do it and learn through trial and error,” Trey said.
Trey decided to figure out the process as he went, learning from other screen printers on YouTube. The learning process was a long one, and he made plenty of mistakes.
“I think the biggest challenge was just having to really be patient along the way,” Trey said.
Photo by Trey Woodward
Soon after Trey set up shop, he and his wife moved to a new house. Trey claimed the garage as his new print shop. He realized that he would have to get creative with the space, especially as he began upgrading equipment.
When Heritage Press got started, Trey was curing his prints with a flash dryer. Orders kept coming back because of curing issues. This frustrated him, and he decided to upgrade to a conveyor dryer. As luck would have it, someone on Facebook Marketplace was selling one for a bargain. Trey jumped at the opportunity and made the upgrade.
Recently, Trey added embroidery to his triad of threats. He wanted to expand the services Heritage Press could offer, and embroidery fit the bill. Embroidery is also a great way to snatch up big clients and get even more creative with your craft.
Trey does the design work for a lot of his clients. He designs 75% of the shirts he prints. His average order size has increased, too. His average order is around 100, and it’s rare for Trey to print a one-color design anymore. Standard jobs for Heritage Press include at least two colors and a front and back print.
He isn’t looking to upgrade his press, though. At least not yet. He’s waiting to upgrade until he’s ready for an automatic screen printing machine.
“I’ve asked a lot of screen printers who are a few years further down the road from me, and they’re just like, ‘Wait to upgrade to bigger equipment until you’re ready to go auto,’” Trey said.
Trey prints orders of up to 500 shirts on his Riley Hopkins 150 4x1 press, equipped with an aluminum platen. Regulating temperature in a garage shop can be tricky, and Trey has found that plastisol ink gets the job done without him having to worry about ink drying in the screens before the job has been printed.
Photo by Trey Woodward
Growing so fast is great, but comes with its challenges. One challenge Trey faced was running such a fast-growing business as a one-man show. Handling every aspect of his business by himself was stressful. To lighten the load, he hired a shop manager, Rett Watts. Rett prints full time and handles day-to-day printing needs, like mixing ink, burning and reclaiming screens, etc. Trey still prints for clients, but can focus on design, ordering, and more.
“I’ve been working on it [hiring another team member] for about a year,” Trey said. “Just slowly chipping away, and [Rett’s] willpower finally broke.”
Trey’s biggest challenge? Finding the best way to manage his shop. Now that he has another pair of hands on the job, Trey can focus more on running the business and a little less on running the press. But it’s not all perfect.
“[Heritage Press] is a little too big to be doing stuff by memory, but a little too small to be paying hundreds for a shop management software,” Trey said.
While Trey’s challenges can be frustrating, there’s a silver lining: he gets to be creative and make his business unique.
You may have heard of Shirt Club by Heritage Press. It’s a monthly subscription box from Trey’s print shop. For $25 per month, subscribers receive a shirt in the mail, as well as some extra goods from local businesses Trey works with.
The concept of Shirt Club came from Trey’s desire to be creative. He also wanted to get his shop’s name out there without placing his logo or branding on shirts. For Trey, it’s the fulfillment of a creative dream. He gets to design and print whatever he wants.
“There’s always some type of story connected to it,” Trey said.
Shirt Club started in September 2021, almost a year after Heritage Press opened. Trey partners with local businesses to help support their shops as well as his own. So far, he’s had relationships with all the local businesses included in the Shirt Club boxes. Trey starts by sending the business a box and telling them a little bit about it. He outlines the current box he’s working on, and explains why their business should partner.
“Most places enjoy the opportunity to be a part of supporting another local business and potentially marketing to people they may not have already been able to reach,” Trey said. “If nothing else, it's a way for them to help delight my members and surprise them with something different each month!”
Plenty of subscribers aren’t from the Lubbock area. Trey doesn't send out local partnership deals with subscribers who are out of town, but still includes the write up about the business in case they’re ever in the area.
Each shirt printed for Shirt Club has personal meaning to Trey. Photo by Trey Woodward
WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
- At least one shirt was designed and screen printed by Trey.
- A story card outlining the design and its significance to Trey.
- Some literature about the business Heritage Press partnered with for that month’s box.
- A good from the business Heritage Press partnered with. This includes coupons, vouchers, or small items from the business.
Trey has to plan in advance for the boxes. He does it all himself: design, printing, packing, and shipping at the end of the month. Sometimes, he gets carried away with what he includes in the subscription box.
“In December I think I put three things in there: a short sleeve, long sleeve, and a hoodie,” Trey said.
Shirt Club is maxed out at 30 subscribers. Since Trey is doing all the heavy lifting on it, 30 boxes are plenty to handle every month. But the effort is worth it to Trey. Having a creative outlet to show off his skills and provide marketing for local businesses is worth the hours.
“It doesn’t make money,” Trey admitted, “but it’s cool. And I tell myself ‘it’s marketing, right?’”
Photo by Trey Woodward
THE FUTURE OF HERITAGE PRESS
The future of Heritage Press isn’t set in stone. Trey feels like the shop is still taking off. After all, it hasn’t even been open for two years yet. Still, the future is a lot closer than Trey thought it would be. Heritage Press is outgrowing the current garage space, and Trey is having to get even more creative with his setup.
Trey’s goal is to make it through the summer in his garage and then start to look for a bigger space. Someday, he wants to get an auto, though at first, he was skeptical. He wants to keep the hand-crafted standard of printing on a manual when he goes auto.
“I still think there can be some aspects of craftsmanship within an auto shop,” Trey said.
Looking back, there isn't anything he would change. Doing things the way he did help him learn how to do things better now. He’s learned a lot over the last 18 months and wants to help other shops grow.
ADVICE FOR OTHER SHOPS
Trey’s main piece of advice for shops starting out is one you hear a lot: be patient. Learning to screen print takes time and a few failures along the way. Trey advises printers to learn from their mistakes and stick with it.
“Every single job, even every single shirt you print is different,” Trey said.
Photo by Trey Woodward
Taking calculated risks is also important when starting up a screen print shop. Trey advises that printers hone their craft, be confident in their product, and be willing to take some risks. Every shop is different, and a risk for one shop may not be risky for another. The key is to know when to make that jump and not be afraid to do it.
Every shop grows at a different rate. Be confident in your shop, learn from every job, and have fun with the trade you’re in. Heritage Press started during a pandemic and ended up growing exponentially. At this rate, Trey will have his auto in no time.