When Daniela Murphy’s husband called her back in November 2017 as she sat in the break room of Kohls, he had one question for her. Would it be okay if he bought some screen printing equipment off of Craigslist?
Screen printing had always been a passion of his and he wanted to pursue it in his free time. Daniela, having no experience with screen printing, just said sure.
Little did she know that their decision would lead to her new career.
Daniela is the owner and operator of Stark Screen Printing. Located in Phenix City, Alabama, the print shop services local businesses in town and across the border in Columbus, Georgia. Her husband, Travis Murphy, is the CPA, managing the books while also creating and separating art. Daniela is the printer and completes the whole printing process herself. On average, Daniela prints 100-200 shirts a day. It didn’t start out that way.
HOW IT BEGAN
Daniela would come home from her manager position at Kohls to find Travis trying to figure out how to make a screen, printing, etc. She shrugged it off, having no interest in trying it herself.
When the World Cup began in 2018, Daniela wanted shirts to show support for Germany, the country she grew up in. Her husband said that if she wanted shirts, she had to print them herself. So she did.
Travis showed her the whole process — making screens, loading screens on press, printing, curing. She fell in love with the craft.
“I started doing it and I was like, ‘Wow, this is actually really neat,’” Daniela said.
Daniela was intrigued, so she started to pursue it more. She received small jobs here and there from her friends. It gave time to practice, to hone in her skills. The further she dove into screen printing, the more she wanted to learn. Daniela learned by watching a ton of YouTube videos (where she discovered Ryonet).
As the orders came piling in, her backyard shed wasn’t enough for her operation. Her close friend opened an auto paint store that had a huge warehouse in the back and offered Daniela the space to set up her shop.
“She just asked me, ‘Hey I know you’ve been talking about buying new screen printing equipment and such. Do you want to go for it and start in my warehouse to see where it takes you?’” Daniela said.
She jumped on the opportunity and moved in June 2018. Now that she had more space, she ordered a Riley Hopkins 300 6x4 Press. Within a few months, they would move again.
A space became available three doors down from the warehouse in a strip mall. The couple was unsure, at first. But they decided to go for it. They moved in in October 2018, and renovated the whole space by themselves. Daniela and Travis broke down three office spaces to create a large, open space at the front of the shop. Creating the open area was part of her plan to create a new customer experience.
“It gives the customer that ‘wow’ factor and spikes their interest to see how everything works,” Daniela said.
Since the move, they keep getting busier and busier every year.
WHAT MAKES STARK SUCCESSFUL
Providing a different customer experience has done wonders for Stark Screen Printing. To build her clientele, Daniela grabbed some sample shirts, walked into stores, and shared her services to the teams. She gave them sample shirts so they could see and feel how well she printed. Daniela left them a price list and business card as well.
“That’s how I got most of my business,” Daniela said.
Creating that personal connection brought in lots of business. Construction companies, local restaurants and coffee shops, body shops, and more came pouring in for shirts. Customers kept coming back for her quality and her affability.
“I think maintaining the relationship is even more important,” Daniela said.
She checks in with customers to see how they’re doing and whether or not they need more shirts. Many times, people will respond with a similar message: “We were just thinking about you the other day! We actually need some shirts.”
“Put yourself in their mind and usually they’ll order shirts because of that,” Daniela said.
She’s transparent about turnaround time, never promising something that she cannot get done. Her openness in her shop and work builds stronger relationships with her customers.
“Building a personal type of relationship with each customer and making them feel special and appreciated instead of just a business transaction is probably the most important way we wanted to differentiate ourselves,” Daniela said. “I always follow up with them and make sure they are happy with the quality of the product and overall experience with us.”
"When you go out and all the bartenders are wearing your shirts," Daniela wrote on Instagram.
On top of the excellent customer service, Daniela provides a unique experience by also eliminating extra fees by incorporating them into the price of the shirt.
“We realized the customers were happier with the simplicity of it all,” Daniela said. “Typically, in this area screen printers charge at least the setup and screen fee. Ours is very straightforward and easy to understand.”
They simplified the process even more with their POS system. Daniela says that all art, estimates and invoices can be viewed, approved, and paid through the system by email.
Working hard to achieve her goals has always been second-nature to Daniela. Growing up with eight brothers and one sister, Daniela learned to hustle and grind her way to stand out from the pack.
“I’ve always worked very hard for everything in my life,” Daniela said. “I had to work a little harder to get anywhere and to prove myself.”
She continues to demonstrate her determination and strength with each job she receives. One time, Stark (meaning “strong” in German) received a 1,000 print order that encompassed front and back designs. Manually printing each one, Daniela felt exhausted by the last 30 shirts.
“I thought I can’t do it anymore,” Daniela said. “I looked at my husband and he said, ‘Would you please just let me print those shirts?’ I was like, ‘No, it’s 30 shirts. I cannot with a good conscience say that I printed every single shirt if you print these last 30 shirts.’ I didn’t let him touch it.”
Daniela is an honest, assiduous person who pours her heart into everything she does. The success of her craft and business has more than proven herself. She’s a leader in the screen printing industry. An inspiration to many. A friend to all in the local community.
Learning to screen print while starting a business is no walk in the park. She had common worries like pricing shirts and overhead costs.
“It’s more than my whole household costs,” Daniela said.
Daniela and her husband solved those problems by calling around and asking local print shops their prices to ensure that their prices weren’t too high or low.
To ease her concerns on overhead, Daniela took on large, simple jobs like printing black ink on a light-colored garment for local body shops.
“That’s how I pay my overhead,” Daniela said.
For Daniela, communication scared her the most since English isn’t her first language.
“For me personally, it was overcoming how I could never talk to people, the customer service part,” Daniela said.
Her time in retail gave her more confidence, but she still found it challenging.
“I would write the emails and put them in the drafts folder so my husband could look over them,” Daniela said. “He’d always reassure me saying, ‘It’s good. You can start emailing your customers. You’re fine.’”
As time passed, she grew more comfortable and confident. She communicates with customers with ease, believing in herself.
WHY SCREEN PRINTING?
Daniela enjoys screen printing because of the challenge. Learning each step and dialing in her process makes her tick.
“I think that’s fun for me too — figuring it all out,” Daniela said.
Her favorite part of the whole process is the actual printing.
“That was very frustrating at first because figuring all of that out was very hard,” Daniela said.
To practice, Daniela watched many, many YouTube videos. It helped, but trial-and-error proved to be the best method.
“You can watch all these videos and try to educate yourself on it but it comes down to having to sit there and figure it out what works best for you,” Daniela said.
Best part of growing and expanding your craft is the time when you get to reflect and note how much progress you have made.
“I was just going through shirts from what I printed about a year ago,” Daniela said. “I was looking at them and I was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe how far I’ve come and how good my quality is now compared to when I first started.’”
THE FUTURE FOR STARK
What lies ahead for Stark Screen Printing? Within the next few years, Daniela believes that they’ll need to move to a bigger location. Her five year plan is to open a second location in Florida, where she wants to spend the rest of her life.
“I saw the beach for the first time when I was 30 years old,” Daniela said.
Many people have told her that she might not want to move to Florida because not everyone wants to live in their vacation spot. Her response?
“I didn’t have the beach for 30 years. I’m going to have it for the rest of my life.”
As for now, Daniela will continue doing what she does best — working tirelessly to provide high-quality products while creating a novel customer experience. Daniela will always reap the rewards of her efforts because of her tenacity. Screen printing, her passion and occupation, is her present and her future.
“I finally found something that’s giving me everything I ever wanted in return because I am working so hard,” Daniela said.
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