DAYTON, OH — Since its founding in 2007, Four Ambition LLC has grown an average of 30 percent annually. Last year, company president Shannon Thomas quit his full-time job as a shipping-bindery manager at an offset printing house to devote his complete attention to Four Ambition. "It was always my ambition to own my own company and help others build their businesses with promotional products to help get them to the next level," said Thomas. Starting the business on a part-time basis, he worked every day at Four Ambition from 5 PM to midnight and on weekends. Today, the company employs three full-timers and is hiring two more as it expands.
Youthful Marketing with Mature Approach
Thomas is heavily focused on the youth market, but is also gaining ground in the corporate world. Four Ambitions screen prints quality tee shirts, other apparel and promotional items inspired by good design, humor, positivism and marketing through the Internet and social media sites.
He attributes his understanding of design and customer needs to his five years experience at the offset printer, but he began early preparing for a career in the printing industry. "In high school they had a tech program where I learned to design and screen print. When I completed that program I got a scholarship to Sinclair College in Dayton where I took all of the printing and screen printing classes available, and was one of the last to get a degree in Print Technology."
Spreading the Word Electronically
"Social media has helped our business a ton. Most of our business comes from word-of-mouth. But the best is when a customer tells everybody on Facebook or Twitter that they picked up a great job from us and they tag us on their post and their friends see it. When we do a job, we try to post a photo on our social media, tagging our customer and sending more business their way and spreading their name as well. That helps promote our clients. We are planning on developing social media contests and offering our merchandise or free printing as prizes."
Four Ambition has a sophisticated web presence, but is planning an even more ambitious site. "As one feature, people will no longer have to email their orders. They can just go online, fill out a form with their design and product options, and upload their artwork to our site. Once we have the order information we need, such as sizes, quantities and colors, we can send a quote, get a go-ahead, print the job and deliver. We handle the checkout process by contacting each customer, because we don't want to become so automated that we lose personal contact with our customers."
Quest for Quality Printing
"From early on I've always researched the equipment market looking for the best quality image. When I was looking to upgrade our starter press, I heard good things about Vastex."
In 2009, Four Ambition bought a used Vastex D66, six-color, six-station press." It's an older model, but does everything from oversize printing to four-color process. We've used it for up to 2,000 quantity runs, even for poster printing. In moving, I've taken it apart and put back together several times. It goes together nicely. I love all the different micro and head adjustments. They really come in handy when dealing with warped screens. Other presses I've used don't have that many adjustments."
When Four Ambition began to have problems with a small, older flash cure unit in 2010, they called on Vastex for a new REDFLASH 18 x 24 in. (46 x 61 cm) model with adjustable heat control. "We needed a new unit that could flash cure oversize prints. That was a great investment. It increased productivity as well as gave us more even, full-flash cures which meant a better quality finished product."
Going for Bigger Jobs
By early 2011, business was growing and Four Ambition wanted to tackle more oversized printing at faster production rates. It started by purchasing a Vastex EconoRed II 30 in. (76 cm) infrared conveyor dryer. "We were using a small 18 in. wide (45.72 cm) belt dryer and planned to buy a new all-over press to do more oversize printing and would need a wider dryer. The new dryer arrived with advanced features like digital temperature control, power exhaust and air recirculation. It heats up quickly. The belt and heat controls are precise. On it we dry everything from plastisol printing, koozies, water-based, discharge and heat transfer printing. The long belt allows for more cooling time which prevents prints from sticking together."
Soon after installing the dryer, Thomas ordered a new Vastex V-2000HD one-color, one station press with an all-over pallet. "It's great if you need to do posters, signs, or set up a one-color sleeve printing station. It has double shocks so it can handle the weight of 42 x 48 in. (106.68 x 121.92 cm) screens. Not many shops have this press, or the capability of doing all-over. It's built very solidly. We can also add any Vastex pallet and print like we would on any other one-color press."
Looking Forward to Continued Success
This year, to keep pace with expanding business, Four Ambition added a Vastex V-2000HD-66 six-color, six-station press. Thomas now performs basic work on the new press, and shifts other work, such as sleeves, koozies, oversize jobs to the older six-station press. He can readily switch pallets from one press to another.
The new press increases productivity and quality. "The pallets slide off and on and adjust easily. Because registration is perfect every time, we don't spend time readjusting, so we can increase production. Each print head holds its accuracy, not moving during the run and during the off-contact time.
"I'm planning on being an all-Vastex shop," he says.
"No matter how bad the economy has been, we are cranking out work and have grown steadily, increasing our sales by 30 percent every year, with some recent months breaking that record. We add several new clients every month. Some may only order once a year, but they may tell five friends. We're doing outstanding work, getting good word-of-mouth advertising and spreading awareness even more on social media."