The Story of Riley Hopkins and Ryonet
The year was early spring 2005 and I was headed to Gig Harbor with my wife Amanda to meet the infamous Riley Hopkins and pick up our first order for Riley Hopkins Screen Printing presses. Even though I was relatively new to the screen printing supply game and didn’t know most of the popular brands and vendors in the industry, the name Hopkins always stood out to me and I knew a lot about everything it stood for. For one thing I learned in highschool on a Circa 1980’s Hopkins International Press, also in the book How To Print Shirts for Fun and Profit there were several pictures and call outs of Hopkins and Riley Hopkins equipment. Even the very few people I knew in the industry talked highly of the press as “the best manual press in screen printing” or said stuff like, “ya I learned on a Hopkins press, great press!”
With all the hype I imaged pulling up to a state of the art machine shop with big bay doors and inventory stacked along the walls. As the road started to narrow I questions Amanda if we were going down the right roads. Back then we still printed out map quest directions. She confirmed and my expectations of grandeur slowly became confused as the road got smaller and smaller. Finally we passed a mailbox with Hopkins on it and turned left to go down even a smaller road/driveway towards the water. We pulled up to a garage where a young man and older gentleman were frantically assembling bright green and blue screen printing presses that I assumed were the ones were picking up. I got out of the car and the older gentlemen came towards me with a big smile on his face and hand held out, “Hi, I’m Riley Hopkins, its great to meet you!”
That was my first experience with Riley Hopkins and 12 year later I’m still a huge fan, but of the man and the namesake equipment he so successfully brought to the industry. The presses we were picking up were his new WIN series manual screen printing press. Built for speed and economy the WIN press was painted bright blue and fluorescent green which, though flo green has been a staple color in sports and fashion in the last 5 years, was a little 90’s then though you could also have said was ahead of its time. Either way, the presses printed very well and looked sharp, and with a very economical price point made them easy to package and sell online. After a good visit and short dinner I took those presses back to Ryonet HQ of Vancouver WA, and to my friend Tyler Ashlock’s home build studio in his parents’ basement. That’s where he snapped the first professional photos of these slick looking machines.
With good photos, complete package solutions, and savvy internet marketing we made Riley Hopkins presses the staple of our growth and success at Ryonet for the first few years. Within a year we were selling so many presses Riley Hopkins could literally not keep up and would sometimes take up to 6 weeks to build a press. Since he outsourced almost everything and assembled them in his garage the supply chain drastically held back his availability to deliver. We started pissing customers off and even losing sales which wasn’t good for business and so in 2007, after a lot of convincing by Riley Hopkins, we went in with him 50/50 on a machine and manufacturing plant Gig Harbor called Henderson Bay Products. The new plant provided him space and the ability to hire more staff which sped up lead times. The plan was to boost production and eventually take over the business allowing Riley to drive off into the sunset of screen printing lore. Soon we were able to have presses in stock which boosted sales to an average of 600-700 presses a year which we maintain to this day. Though the production went seamlessly, the transition was a bit of a different story. Riley is an artist, very trusting and trustworthy guy, and likes to keep things simple, like napkin simple… Meaning the majority of his contracts, work orders, sales orders, processes, and packing slips could fit or literally were drawn on napkins or one sheet of white printer paper. While this worked rather effectively for a bit, it quickly became a nightmare when it came to file taxes at the end of the year.
After 5 years of this rat race, and as Riley Hopkins continued to work away his golden years the matter of consolidating the business went from someday to urgently today and a sales was put together in 2012. Three years prior to that however we had started building our own lower cost tabletop screen printing press called “The Silver Press” with another one of our partners Nortech Graphics. As the sale was finalized of Riley Hopkins in December of 2012 we started making plans to buyout the Silver Press manufacturing plant of Nortech Graphics and merge both divisions together in the following year. It wasn’t an easy process moving equipment, inventory and trying to convince 10 Riley Hopkins employees to join our team at Ryonet. Chris Drury, who started making the Silver Press for us in 2009, was pivotal in the move and merging the two groups together. Fortunately we were able to convince two of Riley’s best guys to join us and move to Vancouver WA to run the new Riley Hopkins in Ryonet’s New Manufacturing division. Zeb Butcher who is a CNC machining and lathe guru and also a wiz and fixing and moving equipment joined James Lavergne, the master assembler and press leveler, along with the majority of Nortechs manufacturing team at a manufacturing facility about 10 miles from Ryonet Headquarters in Vancouver WA.
Within a year, Chris and his team had updated WIN press with a modern and more stable design as well as manufactured and developed the new Riley JR Series which replaced the popular Silver Press. This video which we made shortly after the final table top presses started coming off the line tells the story.
From the garages we started in, to the garages you print in, Riley Hopkins has changed the face of the screen printing industry forever. It’s a brand we are proud to manufacture and support. Our team, from welder to success rep, is focused on helping your shop be successful. Having our hands in every part of the design and every aspect of it’s build and support allows us to control our quality and service the way we want to. Since we started making the presses in 2013 they have gotten better, because you told us what would make them better. This has cumulated into the brand new Riley 500, (link) our latests and most advanced model yet. Plus we back them up with a lifetime warranty because we know that you only “win” when your press is spinning and you are printing shirts. What’s most rewarding for our team and the man who started it all is how proud you are of them and everything you are printing with them.
Now that’s what I call #poweringtheprint
~ Ryan Moor
Some interesting facts and background you Riley Hopkins fans might be interested in.
- Riley Hopkins got the idea to paint his presses green after seeing s.ROQue’s green presses at FESPA tradeshow in Germany in the late 90’s. Talk about coming full circle.
- Riley Hopkins did indeed drive off into the sunset, getting back into his indy car, which his presses have all named after.