Work With Other Screen Printers

Many screen printers are hesitant to subcontract jobs. Often, their reluctance stems from a fear that the subcontractor will poach their clients; other times, decorators fret about giving up control and not being able to monitor production quality and turnaround time. But experts say it’s a good idea to build up a trusted network of fellow decorators because there are many times when it makes smart business sense to send out work to another shop.

“Most screen printers are tinkerers and not businesspeople,” says Rick Roth, president of Mirror Image Inc. in Pawtucket, RI. “They want to do everything themselves and don’t think about how much more profitable it can be to subcontract jobs.

“I’ve seen busy shops choke themselves on work that they refuse to send out. They will take three days to print a job that a shop with a bigger press could do in a couple of hours. I’ve seen sore arms and backs and a shop busy for a week doing prints manually that could be done in a few hours. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Instead, such screen printers would be better off collaborating with peers who have faster equipment and different decoration capabilities, especially if the only alternative is to turn away potential business. Milwaukee-based Visual Impressions, for example, will subcontract out dye-sublimation jobs rather than say no to customers asking for the technique, says Marshall Atkinson, COO. Outsourcing is also a good idea if a shop gets too busy to handle order volume and meet deadlines. “You can look at it this way: You’re either losing money with overtime or losing money by using another decorator. Which is easier?” Atkinson says. He estimates that Visual Impressions, with more than a dozen presses and 100 embroidery heads, runs anywhere from six to 20 jobs for other decorators each day.

Other large shops have similar stories. Megan Haines, co-owner of MiddletownInk (asi/531055) in Middletown, DE, estimates that about 20% of the contract jobs she does for the promotional products industry are for other decorators, either for overflow work or because they are not able to handle the complexity of a job in a timely manner. Terry Keeven, owner of St. Louis Print Company (asi/700623) in Missouri, says his shop also does a lot of work for smaller screen printers. “Our customers know and trust that we will not contact their end-user,” he says.

Done right, the end-user usually has no idea his or her order has been subcontracted. Atkinson recommends working with three or four shops you trust on a reciprocal basis. It’s a good idea to find decorators who are within one-day ground shipping, he adds. Subcontractors can even ship the completed job directly to the end-user in one of your boxes once you’re confident of the quality and consistency of their work.