Lisa McDowell, the owner and operator of Shut-Out Screen Printing & Embroidery, started her business after being a hockey goalie for years, traveling for games, and managing a women’s league, which involved ordering decorated sportswear and apparel.
After dealing with one company’s several mistakes, from long turnaround times to errors on apparel orders, she tells GRAPHICS PRO, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
“Here I was home with our son, and my husband suggested to make our own apparel for our team,” she explains. “He said to me, ‘You have the printing knowledge and the experience of pre-press, design ideas, and software. You have some great knowledge that a lot of printers don’t.’ He took it upon himself to search online for some screen printing equipment for me, and we bought hobbyist equipment to play with in our basement.”
McDowell explains that she attended a local vocational school called Monty Tech in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.
“In graphic arts for a trade, I was able to be a co-op student in the printing industry. After graduating, I stayed in the industry,” she says. “I worked for many printing companies gaining better learning opportunities to grow my knowledge and experience in printing. The latest company I worked for was 360 Imaging for almost 10 years, as a photoshop and color correction specialist for a very large packaging company. This printing was called flexo printing. After leaving that company, I stayed home to take care of our child.”
After her husband, Philip, encouraged her to make the jump and start an at-home business, she took the time to learn and practice in her home basement, making shirts for local teams and family reunions.
“I took in a huge passion for it and decided that this could be a new career for me. A business career,” says McDowell.
In June 2016, after a couple of years of learning and practicing, she applied for a business license, and her dream of becoming a business owner came true.
Three and a half years later, in November 2019, she found herself in a retail space in Gardner, Massachusetts.
She gives special mention to her husband, yet again encouraging her to go from hobby to business. She says that her basement was getting crowded before the move, her customer base was growing due to word-of-mouth advertising and Facebook, and she needed more space to work more efficiently.
“I was scared and excited at the same time. ‘Wow, this is really becoming official. Yikes.’,” she recalls.
Nov. 1, 2019, was the official move-in date into the new space, and McDowell could never have imagined what was to come in just a few short months.
For her business, November through January are typically slower months.
“You have some specialty shirts for Christmas presents, but businesses and sports at this time are not doing much for apparel,” she says. “I knew this and took the time to get myself situated in my new place.”
She used the seasonal lull to organize her shop, make advertising plans, and make herself known in the community. Then, in early 2020, COVID-19 hit the United States.
“We get shut down by the governor. Thinking this can’t be happening, I was forced to close our doors,” she explains, “Of course, I went into panic mode. Yes, I cried. This was gonna be my year. My year to succeed out on my own. Out of my comfort zone. Taking on expenses, rent, and utilities.”
Her doors were closed, the open was sign off, yet she was still taking small orders online and working a few hours—just enough to cover her monthly rent.
“My small jobs and smaller based customers kept me afloat for a few months,” says McDowell. “Never push the small orders aside. They are just as important as the larger orders.”
Like many businesses during the pandemic, McDowell had to pivot. For her, that meant her mindset. She had plans to hire someone on, either part- or full-time, but she couldn’t make the financial decision with the uncertainty of how things would pan out this year. She thanks her mom for coming in daily to help her get orders out and her family and friends for their support.
“Shut-Out may be small, but we offer a lot,” she says. She focuses on happy customers and making sure her screen printing, embroidery, sublimation, vinyl cutting, designing, direct-to-garment printing, and promotional offerings meet her clients’ needs.
She prides herself on being a one-stop-shop for customers because she knows their time is precious.
Although McDowell is unsure of what’s to come in the new year, she’s proud to celebrate her storefront location’s one-year anniversary.
“I think it was a huge accomplishment. New female business owner, but like I said before, I couldn’t have done it without the support of my husband Philip McDowell and my mom Claudette LeBlanc,” she says. “They stand behind me 110%. I also have many other family members and friends that have helped me. They advertise word of mouth for me. Bringing me jobs keeps me afloat. I think this is a huge key to my success—support.”
Another recipe to her success? McDowell credits the fact that she stands behind her products and customer satisfaction. After being on the receiving end just a handful of years ago and not being happy with the service, she goes the extra mile to make sure products are delivered on time and look great.
“I feel that is what is gonna keep me going—happy returning customers that will spread the word.”