Ryonet | #PoweringThePrint
“All I did was take a class with you guys, and it kind of started from there.”
How do you get to be an auto shop with a retail store-front and four part time employees? Eric Peterson, owner of Ashley’s Designs & Letterman Jackets, began his journey with a heat press and a roll of vinyl, pressing designs for the teams he coached down at the local high school. As the full-time business and marketing teacher for Oak Harbor High School, Eric was uniquely placed to connect the two worlds. Students needed shirts and jerseys made but many found the turn-around times and quality sub-par. So, Eric went looking for ways to help. He ran across Ryonet in his online research and found that, not only were they a Washington-based company as well, but much of the materials he needed to learn the process of screen printing as a beginner could be found on the Youtube page. “Your company fit in naturally. You have so many resources,” says Eric. He decided to attend a class in 2008 at the Vancouver headquarters and left with his first silver press.
On a small island, like Oak Harbor, many small businesses can find it a struggle to reach their audience, but Eric, from Ashley’s Designs and Letterman Jackets, found he was benefited by the size restriction and distance. Word got around that they were printing inexpensive shirts with a short turn-around time on the island and, instead of having to drive mainland almost 30-45 mins, most people chose to get their shirts printed through him. What started with a heat-press in a spare bedroom soon “turned into a garage operation with a 4/2 Silver press from Ryonet. Then by word of mouth this grew into a bedroom (with a heat press), garage (with a Riley 6/4), and living room operation (inventory and order sorting).” Customers came to his website to order from all over the island, bringing old designs no longer able to be printed by their previous printer, for a variety of reasons, to be re-printed by Ashley’s Designs.
In 2013, Eric found that the business needed to grow once again, this time outside the walls of his family home. “Enough was enough and with a little prodding from my wife we purchased our first retail location last September and added Letterman jackets to our product line. In a month and half we will mark one year that Ashley’s Design & Letterman Jackets will have been retail. We’ve continued to expand our operation which still includes our original Silver Press, the Riley Press, as well as an automatic press in our shop.” Before he expanded his line from just screen printing into Letterman jackets, students had to wait for a turn-around of 6-8 weeks for a jacket and it was difficult for students to get what they needed in a timely manner. So Eric went looking. He found a small shop in Tacoma, owned by a father and son (Letterman’s Club) who were offering jackets for times between 4-6 weeks. “It just seemed like a natural fit,” said Eric. Now Letterman’s Club completes the embroidery and sends over the finished jackets while Ashley’s Design and Letterman Jackets serves students as a storefront, with a way to get an actual feel for the fit and styles before ordering through them.
Expansion into the retail shop was a big step for Ashley’s Designs and Letterman Jackets, but they’ve taken it all in-stride. “We bought our property, but were late getting in there because of close-out details.” The shop is located in Trader’s Village, Oak Harbor. Designed as a log cabin, the building was being sold out as separate condo spaces by the bank after being repossessed. Eric purchased three units and part of the basement (for their darkroom) to make up the shop. Because he teaches during the school day and coaches after classes, Eric himself couldn’t be in the shop until after 5:00/5:30. That meant he needed employees. Having the connections he did with the students in his DECA club and in his marketing classes, he decided to extend the chance to get some real-world experience to them. It was a struggle at first, since the shop had to open while the school year was already in swing, so the new employees learned quickly how to open the store, print, talk to customers, and run the shop while he was working at the school. Kali Linson, currently a junior at Oak Harbor High School, has been with them since it opened in September. She was the first to learn the shop’s system and now acts as an assistant-manager to Eric, helping to train up other employees when they join the team.
The retail shop is now almost a year old. Ashley’s Designs and Letterman Jackets has four part-time employees, also students at the local high school, who open the shop up at 3:00 pm and run it until Eric Peterson comes in to print after he’s done with coaching. The students can work directly with the customers and do some printing on the smaller manual machines, but they aren’t 18 so they can’t run the automatic. So, most of the printing itself is left up to Eric. With the rest of his responsibilities, it’s more than a full-time job, but he doesn’t seem to mind. “The next step is really becoming proficient,” he says, “Just to make things more efficient. How do we handle orders, when customers walk in the door? How do we make things better? We’ve almost doubled sales already this year. It’s amazing to be able to have managed that, with myself and some incredible high school kids part time.” The next step in the process is to expand their marketing efforts. After about a year’s worth of experience under their belts, he is confident that they can handle the growth.
After a 5 year relationship with Ryonet, Ashley’s Design and Letterman Jackets is now a part of our growing community as a Ryonet Plus Member. An important part of staying competitive in the market, especially for shops that are growing into retail locations, is keeping pricing reasonable for bulk orders. With the Ryonet Plus Membership, customers get an across-the-board discount of 5% which goes a long way towards keeping those prices down, not to mention providing opportunities like inclusion in the Printer Directory to make it easier for customers in your area to find you. Eric was excited to hear about the membership and quickly made a presence for himself on the Printer Directory. You can find his listing here.
Each month Ryonet will feature a Ryonet Plus member here on our blog and on our Facebook page in front of thousands of prospective customers. Find out how you can become a featured Ryonet Plus Member.