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What You Missed at PrintHustlers Conf 2021

riCardo Crespo, Josh Merrell, Jacob Edwards, and more.




PRINTHUSTLERS CONF, AN “unbeatable opportunity to make connections, sharpen your game, and have a blast with people [who] share the same struggles you do,” according to its website, was held October 22 to 23, 2021, at the Ace Hotel in Chicago. The fifth annual conference was hosted by Printavo and MADELab and featured a bevy of speakers in and out of the screen printing industry. See below for highlights from the weekend event.

riCardo Crespo, marketing and brand expert, Th13teen

Crespo’s experience runs the gamut from major companies like Barbie, Nike, Apple, Hot Wheels, and 20th Century Fox. When working for these big brands, he’s constantly asking them questions to better understand their needs. “You can tell people what you do, but the question they’re asking is why are you?” shared Crespo. “It’s instinctive to say, ‘This is what I do.’” Crespo urges you to answer differently because it’s more than simply what you or your business does. “Why do you do what you do? Why do you matter? Why should I care? Why should I give a f***?”

He suggests asking yourself these three questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • Why should someone care? (Not what it’s in it for you, but what’s in it for your client)

Crespo’s Four Rs to help you connect with your customer

  • Relevant: What’s happening right now. People just want things faster, or maybe they want smaller runs.
  • Relate: Think of something that you can connect with.
  • Remember: People do business with people.
  • Resonate: Hit their pain point. Get inside their head and fix it for them.
Top Tips:
  • Don’t just listen for what they’re asking. Understand what they need. Anticipate what they need and communicate that to them as if it was their idea.
  • Don’t be differentiated by price, be different by how you can make their brand better. We just deliver faster is an example.
  • You will be remembered by the last worst experience you give to your customer
  • Your company is the collective of your clients’ perceptions and expectations, validated by their desired experience
  • Don’t ask what do you need or when do you need it by? Ask about the value add. Over deliver
  • If you think you’re too small to make an impact, try going to sleep with a mosquito in the room

Josh Merrell, Liquid Graphics, Santa Ana, California

Merrell’s success is built from finding the right staff. His California facility spans 140,000 square feet and completes millions of prints per month.

He’s a big proponent of spending time on hiring the right people. “Finding the right management team is key,” said Merrell. “Every time I bring in management help, we grow the business.” He also knows he can’t do everything, so he brought in a president for daily operations.

Merrell is very involved in the hiring process. For him it’s less about experience and more about the person. “Throw away the resume,” he said. “It’s based on gut instinct and personality.” One of his interview tips is to give real life situations and ask the interviewee how they would solve them. He also suggests offering a bonus program and full benefits. He calls it “Hire strong, reward strong.”

Doug Renfro, CEO, Renfro Foods (Mrs. Renfro’s)

When asked what it takes to be a CEO, Renfro joked “You can’t have an ego. You have to be a massive narcissist.” Renfro Foods makes 100,000 jars of salsa, cheese dip, barbecue sauce, and more a day and 195 bottles a minute. The company started in 1940 by Renfro’s grandparents and is now run by the family’s third generation.

Renfro will do “just about anything to increase sales.” He calls it orangutan marketing, not guerilla. When someone buys a case of Mrs. Renfro’s Black Bean Salsa, Renfro sends 10 times more than what’s asked. He’s also a fan of the “School of Experimentation,” which involves trial and error and a ton of research. Once he sent $38 bucks worth of salsa to friend in set decoration on “The Big Bang Theory.” The jar showed up in five episodes as product placement in the hit show’s kitchen.

“What you learn in a family business is that change is not an indictment of the past. Things have changed,” said Renfro. There are two ways small companies can level the playing field:

  • Product innovation. The Renfros started selling spices and vinegar out of their house and now they sell 30 different flavors like habanero, peach, and ghost pepper.
  • Social media. “Be quirky, irreverent, personal, fast, and rewarding, create moments, and use what you have,” said Renfro. “You can’t be a moron, but have perseverance, stubbornness, and tenacity.” Renfro Foods is constantly shooting for a super fan, like a guy who has Grandma Renfro tatted on his arm. That’s brand loyalty.

Debbie Abergel and Carmela Wagner, Jack Nadel Corporation

Top Tips:

Invest in your people no matter how big or small

It’s all about finding your individuality as a big company

Foster mentorship within your company

Learn from those who came before you and be inspired by the new generation

The Creative Situation

The Design Process

Where are we going and how do we know when we get there?

  1. Direction. Make a list of themes aka words and themes
  2. Research. What is it and what does it need to be? Use Pinterest and create a mood board.
  3. Exploration. Ideate and sketch. “Get weird with it.” Don’t limit your thoughts.
  4. Design. Don’t do full sketches or finished pieces. It’s good to get a no fast so you aren’t wasting time, but the goal is to show them a lot of options
  5. Buy-in. Do a walk through in-person or via Zoom. Don’t just send them the graphics. If they can’t meet, create a video that walks them through the presentation with a voice over they can watch.
  6. Decide. Make sure the client is on board with it and narrow it down. A range is a bad idea. Pro Tip: Always have a digital watermark on your edits.
  7. Refinement. Revisions are part of the process so plan for that. If there are more than two edits, then stop because maybe you aren’t doing the right thing and you need to reevaluate what you’re doing. Send a mockup of whatever it’s going to be aka a shirt, mug, etc.
  8. Deployment. Send it on its way!

Tory Lowitz, Bella + Canvas (previously American Apparel)

Top Tips for the Designer:
  • You should know where your blanks are coming from
  • The developer needs to keep the communication clear with designer, and the designer needs to be direct
  • Do not over design or over spend
  • You need to study the color in a ferocious way
  • Design for the supply chain

Jacob Edwards, Jakprints

With the amount of success Edwards has found in the screen printing industry, you’d never guess he dropped out of the ninth grade. Just like MTV and Comedy Central never would have guessed their client at the time was three guys in a small shop in Cleveland. Now Jakprints has 300-plus employees with a “a focus on creating a pro-consumer company.”

Edwards Thoughts on:


  • How do you pay your employees the most and make the most money? That’s what you have to figure out. Your employees should always get paid more than you can afford because they’re going to help you bring in more money. Employees seeing you innovate = culture. Culture = having access to the process. It’s usually your system that makes things worse, or turns great people into bad people. Shave off the bad ones, hold onto the good ones, and let them innovate and be part of the process. Focus on your employees first, then customers.


  • Get more agile. How do we get to the consumer to fall in love with the product and the process?
  • Collab with your clients to do marketing efforts. Show the process of printing their product in a way their customers will appreciate. Our best advertisement was a video over the dryer. People would watch it every day
  • Guerilla marketing dropping catalogues off to every business
  • Customize your packages. Make sure they’re branded. You want your customers to know exactly what’s in the box based on the packaging.
Top Tips:
  • You can print like an auto with a manual if you use a bevel squeegee
  • The future is create, sell, and ship everywhere = ecommerce



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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