In Lincoln, Nebraska, Shirts101 provides customized apparel and promotional products to local, state, and national customers. It offers the gamut in decoration, from screen printing, embroidery, and transfer printing to promotional products, graphic design, and online stores.
Recently, the company welcomed four new hires to add to its sales and marketing teams — investing in the shop’s growth.
Rick Poore, the president/owner of Shirts101, shares his journey with GRAPHICS PRO and what that growth has looked like over the years.
From then to now
When Poore first founded Shirts101 27 years ago in 1994, the shop had a used 4-station/6-color press. He remembers many late nights printing, followed by long days going out and searching for new business.
“We had good art, and I had a guy with good experience in the industry,” Poore recalls.
Two years in, he added a three-head embroidery machine. Today, he employs 31 people with production teams in embroidery, screen printing, heat-applied graphics like specialty vinyl and transfers, and direct-to-garment and fulfillment services.
Like other apparel printing shops, Poore saw promise in offering online stores to clients as a service, which ended up growing into a money-maker.
“We have, at any given time, around 100-plus stores operating. Some short-run stores and some large full-time stores for a variety of customers from spirit sites to corporate sites for companies with multiple locations,” he explains.
For shops looking to step into this revenue opportunity, Poore states, “If I had any advice, it would be to make sure you are charging a premium for the extra service you are providing by having a store. Every store will be a little different depending on the specific needs of the customer but make sure you are charging for the extra service it takes. Charge a fee for store setup. Too many people think they just need to set up a store, and people will rush to it. Give them some skin in the game.”
In addition to extra services aiding in growth, Poore points out the importance of his employees, especially over these last 18 months when COVID-19 took its toll on many small businesses.
To help the community and keep doors open, Shirts101 did what many T-shirt shops did and got innovative with a T-shirt fundraising campaign. The shop printed shirts for local businesses and sold them on a site called Lincoln Unite, raising money for the businesses facing hard economic times while also bringing money into the shop.
In addition to the campaign, Poore says his team got even more creative, allowing him to keep everyone on without any layoffs during the pandemic. This meant stepping into the world of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We did whatever we could to generate revenue, including getting into the PPE business because of connections I had in China and Pakistan,” he says. “We bottled 900 gallons of hand sanitizer from a distillery in Tennessee and sold it into a supermarket chain that was a uniform customer of mine.”
Poore adds that money from the Payment Protection Program (PPP) helped the shop rise above the challenges.
“I was not going to let people go and then try and start from scratch with new people when things opened up,” he adds, “I have people that have been with me for over 15 years. You don’t replace that.”
Now making his way out of the pandemic, he’s welcoming new staff and making investments in Shirts101’s future growth.
“Business is very good right now in all aspects. I can’t single out one area,” states Poore. “We have picked up a lot of new customers during COVID, and that is accelerating as we come out of it.”
With events back in full swing, he says that’s an area where business is booming as of late.
As a result, he’s ordered the shop’s third automatic screen-printing press and plans to add embroidery equipment to allow for more production and direct-to-screen imaging sometime soon.
“I was able to buy the building next to us and will be expanding our operation there with an eye on creating a more efficient flow,” he adds.
Printing for national clients
Running a print shop that serves national customers, Poore shares advice with small print shops looking to grow their business beyond local jobs.
When it comes down to beating out other local print shops, Poore says, “It made no sense to open a place only to beat up competitors over a nickel.”
For him, finding business out of town and eventually of state was vital. He adds, “The rest was dumb luck when that type of business came looking.”
First, a chain of martial arts schools around the Gulf of Florida to Texas approached him. Then the shop took on local fraternity/sorority business and eventually reached out to do other schools.
When approaching national organizations, he says it’s important to just listen. “They will tell you what they need. You just need to figure out how to design a system that gives it to them,” says Poore.
And after nearly three decades in business, there must be something to that. What Poore has found to be the answer to long-term success in the printing business comes done to four simple elements:
- Be fair with everyone.
- Don’t believe everything you think.
- Do the ROLL. When something goes wrong, recognize it, own it, learn from it, and let it go. Encourage employees to do the same.
- Listen more than talk.
He leaves shops with some parting words of encouragement: “I was an English major. Anybody can do this.”