I Believe, by Yousuf Razzak

The who, what and wear of industry experts

… If someone else can do it, why can’t we? We try to be all things to our clients. I think we are the most diverse contract shop in the country, offering screen printing, embroidery, digital transfers, direct-to-garment, garment dying, compressed T-shirts, rhinestones, all-over belt printing, cut-and-sew and more. The other day, one of our competitors, who is also a friend, was at our shop and asked, “What don’t you do?”

… Family businesses are complicated. The benefit is that you always have someone you can trust to get things done and cover for you. On the flipside, it’s tough to separate family and business, and when you get upset, you have to tread lightly. My father brought us up well, and we can get into heated battles that last an hour, but when it comes time to eat, we break the tension, asking “What’s for lunch?” We never hold a grudge.

… No job is too big. Our tightest job came about two years ago, when an ad specialty client called us on a Friday morning to order 63,000 rally towels for the New England Patriots. The catch? The towels needed to be delivered to the stadium by Sunday morning. We worked all night and loaded our trucks on Saturday, about an hour before an epic snowstorm hit the region. The towels were delivered on time, but, whew, was that close.

… Low prices are hurting the industry. If clients have the time, they can go overseas and get products way below anything we could provide here. If you can find an embroidered hat for a couple of bucks online, why would you get it made here for $5 or $6? In the end, though, if the client wants control and trust, they come to us, so they can oversee their project from start to finish.

… Nobody likes automated phone systems. Even though we are a large contract shop, we do our best having a live operator answer calls. I can hear my dad’s voice all day, ringing in my ears: “Pick up the phone.” I’ve had a lot of clients tell us that competitors are hard to get a hold of, but in our industry, people need answers on the spot.

… I get more business from “I know a guy” than Google. We are trying to focus more and more on online presence with our website, Facebook, Twitter and email blasts, but I still find a lot of our business comes from word of mouth, whether online or face to face. The Internet is a sea of information, and if you pay a few dollars, you can get yourself on the top of the list, but a search engine can’t tell people why you are there. There are about 40,000 screen printers in the country, and we probably fall into the top 50 in volume and sales, but how can someone weed out the rest and find us? Referrals are everything.

… Our growth is too fast for traditional lending. A small-business line of credit with your bank works for some, but we use an invoice factoring firm to handle accounts receivable. They give us 80% of our invoices up front, and the balance minus their cut when we get paid. This has been invaluable over the years, and we find our clients tend to pay them faster. A good example of how invoice factoring helps happened a couple of years ago, when a good client called and said he needed 20,000 shirts decorated by 8 p.m. This was in the middle of our move to a new building; we had four machines running in our new building and three in our old location. I called our vendor to make sure the stock was there and called our shop to make sure everyone was on board, then called the client back to tell him he could count on us. My next call was to the invoice factoring firm asking them to wire funds to my vendor, then to the vendor to tell him my driver was on the way to pick up the shirts and that payment would be in his account that afternoon. About an hour and a half later, we were printing at both locations, on our way to meeting the client’s deadline.

… Jennifer Aniston is gorgeous, but our shirts are the real stars. I like movies like The Hobbit and the Harry Potter series, but my all-time favorite probably is The Breakup with Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston. Almost every shirt in every scene in that movie I made!