WINTHROP, MA — When Bobby Smith opened Elite Embroidery (www.elite-embroidery.com) in 2002, he specialized in limited quantities of custom embroidered apparel. When his customers asked for larger quantities of printed items like shirts and jackets, he subcontracted jobs to screen printers, which required his customers to wait 2 to 3 weeks for delivery.
To provide the one- to two-day deliveries his customers typically wanted, he explored bringing screen printing in-house, attending trade shows and visiting websites for information on the process and available equipment. "Since I was new to screen printing, I wanted a company that would stand behind me and give me the help I needed to get started," Smith recalls. "The main reason I decided on Vastex was that it offered not only a complete entry level package of equipment and supplies, but also hands-on training that would allow me to get started immediately."
Acquiring the necessary training
"One of the things I liked about the classes was that they are taught by leading industry experts in screen printing technology, not by company personnel who might view attendees as captive sales prospects," says Smith. "The Screen Printing A-to-Z class I attended, for example, was taught by Doug Grigar, a technical expert and independent consultant to the screen printing trade. He took the time to explain things and I came away with a much better understanding of what I needed to do.
"It was also reassuring to know that he would be available to help with any problems that might occur once I was on my own," he says.
Putting together the entry level package
"I booked a one-way flight to the Vastex plant in Pennsylvania, took the three-day training course, rented a U-Haul truck and drove the equipment back to my shop in Massachusetts," Smith recalls. "The entry level package included everything I needed to get started."
The package included a six-station, four-color V-1000 Commercial-Grade Manual Garment Printer with a unique floating print head for accurate registration. Also included was an entry level Flash Cure Unit with a 1750W high-density infrared heater to partially cure (flash) an individual color in several seconds before printing the next color. Completing the package was an EconoRed I Compact Infrared Dryer with 3,500 watts of digitally controlled heat capable drying up to 150 garments per hour. The components of the system are designed to work together for maximum productivity while allowing expandability when volume increases.
Expanding into new markets
"Before I acquired screen printing capability, most of my orders came from local landscapers and boat owners who wanted maybe a dozen shirts and hats for their crews," says Smith. "My business was about 75 percent embroidery and 25 percent screen printing. In 2009, when the economy hit the skids, the embroidery business went with it. Today, my business is about 70 percent screen printing and my markets include small businesses and school systems with orders for several hundred pieces ranging from $500 to $2500 or more. If it weren't for the screen printing business, in fact, the last few years would have been really rough and I might not even be here today."