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Marshall Atkinson

Preparing Your Screen-Printing Shop for Success in 2018

Three ideas that could have a tremendously positive impact on your shop.




FOR MOST SHOPS, the daily effort always looks the same: heads down, cranking out work.

Not much emphasis is placed on what’s around the corner. Next year? Hmph. That’s too far away.

But it isn’t. It’s right here. You can almost touch it.

How much thought have you given to improving your shop in 2018? There might have been a discussion or two over some fried chicken at lunch, or a beer after work. But nothing concrete, I’m guessing.

Let’s take a brief moment to look at three ideas that could have a tremendously positive impact on your shop in 2018. Then, let’s figure out how to put them into motion. 

Decreasing Your Costs

There are a few ways you can inject money into your business. The most obvious is to increase your sales. More on that later. The first, and probably most overlooked, way is to decrease your costs.


Take a look at these ideas and see if any of them could make a difference for your business.

Technology: How behind the curve are you? Not just with machinery, but with consumables, too. There have been great improvements with ink, emulsion, mesh, and even squeegees. Digital printing has impacted small runs. LED exposure units have decreased burn times and increased efficiency. What software or apps have come out that could make a huge difference?

Communication: Many companies have opted to switch to a VoIP phone service over a traditional landline. How much extra are you shelling out every month? Dig in and do some research to see if this could be a sensible option for you.

Go paperless: If you’re still printing work orders, consider severing ties with this antiquated method and adopting a digital workflow platform. Track how much effort it takes to shuffle a set of papers around your shop. Are you still printing and mailing invoices to customers? Consider how much that’s costing you each year.

Credit-card debt: Just like at home, the interest adds up and can come back to haunt you. How big is your balance? Do you pay off the charges every month?

Renegotiate with your vendors: You use a lot of stuff to make your business work. Chances are, though, you simply pay the bill and move onto the next one. For 2018, take a look at every contract and see if you could get better terms: Your cellphone provider. Your insurance agent. Your mortgage lender. The waste disposal service. Go through all of your monthly statements and make a list. Do those vendors have competitors? Would they give you a better rate or offer an increased service for the same amount?


Supplies: For many shops, this can be the number-one expense other than labor. Dig into how and why purchases are made. Many times, the products you use were decided on a long time ago. Is anything better on the market? Perhaps you could purchase it from a different supplier or in a different quantity to lower the cost.

Freight: The cost of shipping your orders can take a big bite out of your margins. It never hurts to look into another carrier to see if you can get better rates. Don’t forget about the United States Postal Service, either.

Increasing Your Sales

It’s what all businesses strive for, but not all achieve it. Why is that, do you think?

From what I’ve seen, the most successful companies have the best customer service, marketing approach, and sales effort. The notion is as simple as understanding your customer better. Why should someone do business with you?

Here are a few ideas for increasing your sales next year:

Focus on benefits: People don’t buy products; they buy results. That’s what you need to market. Want more sales? Demonstrate results.


Know your customer: Don’t market to everybody. Sell to the people most apt to buy from you. This concentrates your effort. Remember that light can illuminate a room, but when concentrated into a laser beam, it can cut through objects. Do the research and know who your perfect customers are and where you can find them.

Solve your customers’ pain points: What is their biggest problem? How can you solve it and make things easy?

Redesign your website: If it’s been a while since you’ve put effort into this, trust me: it shows. Your website is the number-one aspect of your brand that your customers will review before calling you. People judge. Put some effort into your company’s presentation.

Ask for the sale: Too often, shops will sit like a spider in a web, waiting for the fly to land. Want more sales? Go out and ask for them. This has a multiplier effect if you’ve addressed all of the points above.

Explore e-commerce: Make your website a sales platform. If your website isn’t driving revenue to your shop, you are missing out on opportunity every day.


The great and wondrous thing about this industry is that it’s always changing. Even if you think you’ve mastered every technique in the book, there are always new things to learn. If you never quite got around to mastering the basics, you’re probably pouring money down the drain. Don’t let another year go by without improving your skillset.

Ask the hard questions in your shop about where you need to improve. It’s tough – nobody likes to talk about where they’re weak – but necessary if you want your business to move forward.

Process improvements: Let’s say it takes six steps to accomplish a task. Can you do it in five? Maybe four? For every step you eliminate in the workflow, you save on time, labor, and materials.

Work on techniques: Just like a shortstop or a magician, it takes a lot of work in the printing business to make things look effortless. The “how” in the way things are done often matters tremendously. There are many variables in printing that need to be dialed in for perfection. Are your platens level? Have you checked your off-contact? Are you printing with optimized squeegee pressure? How does the squeegee durometer or angle play into the print? And hey, let’s not forget about the screen. Emulsion thickness, tension, and mesh play a tremendous part in printing successfully.

People: Often the hidden element. Shop owners are quick to think about the latest gadget or tech device, but much slower to consider the impact of spending time and money on training their staff. How good is your cross-training program? Be sure to follow what I like to call “the rule of three,” where you have at least three fully trained people for every core task in your shop.

The New: What don’t you know? As you plan for next year, resolve to master that hole in your knowledge base. The only way you’re going to learn to print over a hoodie zipper or use discharge as an underbase is to just knuckle down and spend the time teaching yourself how to do it. That’s what every one of your competitors who offers those things did.

Plan of Attack

There are probably one or two things above that have struck a chord. Hopefully, this article has you thinking about what you can improve for next year.

You don’t have to wait around until January, either. Here are six steps you can take right now to get those fantastic ideas out of your head and onto the shop floor.

1. Write each idea out as a SMART goal: SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. For example, you can’t just say, “Our shop will increase sales.” Instead, write the goal out in the SMART format to say, “In January, the sales goal will be $20,000.

2. Break that goal into chunks: In our example, that $20,000 sales goal for the month may seem daunting, but when you express it as $5000 a week, it is less so. Then, break it down even further to $1000 a day. What do you need to do to sell a minimum of $1000 every day? Is that one order? Two? Let’s say you close sales at a rate of 10 percent. To get that one order, you might have to talk to 10 people. So unless you are making at least 10 sales calls a day, you won’t hit your goal.

3. Set your milestones: How do you know whether the goals you set are being accomplished? You set milestones and keep track of them. In our example, the shop would need to make at least 10 calls and close one. Identify the key landmark points and pay attention to whether you’re reaching them.

4. Decide on the actions needed: Determine who is responsible for each task. For that $20,000 sales goal, who is making it happen? See if you need additional research to concentrate the effort and ensure a better win ratio. What tools are available? Brainstorm and outline the actions necessary for success.

5. Use a calendar: Goals often fail because due dates aren’t set for specific actions. Don’t just set an end date for the entire goal; divide up the main effort into smaller mini-goals and assigned tasks with due dates, as well. Delegate not only the tasks, but also the responsibilities. Follow up and hold people accountable. Adjust as necessary.

6. Follow through: If you want results, you simply have to do the work. Usually, the hardest part of anything is simply showing up. Even if the initial results aren’t optimal, just the act of getting started will position you to make bigger breakthroughs down the road.



Let’s Talk About It

Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Screen Printing Industry

LET’S TALK About It: Part 3 discusses how four screen printers have employed people with disabilities, why you should consider doing the same, the resources that are available, and more. Watch the live webinar, held August 16, moderated by Adrienne Palmer, editor-in-chief, Screen Printing magazine, with panelists Ali Banholzer, Amber Massey, Ryan Moor, and Jed Seifert. The multi-part series is hosted exclusively by ROQ.US and U.N.I.T.E Together. Let’s Talk About It: Part 1 focused on Black, female screen printers and can be watched here; Part 2 focused on the LGBTQ+ community and can be watched here.

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