Build Your Business:

Going the Extra Mile

The production floor features a Phoenix manual screen printing press, an M&R Diamondback XL automatic screen printing press, Fusion dryer and an i-Dot direct-to-garment printer, as well as thress embroidery machines and two Hotronix heat presses.

October 3, 2013

Rick Korth’s story begins about four years ago when the then-bank branch manager was driving down a West Coast freeway on his way to a birthday party. Suddenly, a passing group of motorcyclists sparked a business idea.

“Why not try my hand at selling T-shirts?” he thought, honing in on the pack of bikers cruising by him. “I had an artist design a motorcycle T-shirt so that I could go to events and sell [it],” Korth says. “I tried to get that shirt printed — it probably had 14,000 colors in it. I took it to Tonto Silkscreen & Embroidery and asked, ‘Hey, can you print this?’”

Tonto Silk Screen & Embroidery’s then-owner said he couldn’t help Korth with printing the design. A month later, Tonto Silkscreen & Embroidery moved to a new location and the owner put the business up for sale. Feeling like it must fate, Korth was first in line to buy the shop.

Since then, as co-owner along with his wife, Patti, Korth has built a business centered on the idea of being more than just a T-shirt printing business. And something is working, because in just the short four-year period since the new management team took over the company, they’ve acquired another local shop, expanded into a new, larger facility and seen year-to-year sales growth of nearly 100%.

“We had Tonto for about a year and a half when our biggest competitor in town decided he wanted to sell out,” Korth explains. “So, we bought Summit Screen Printing and combined the two.”

With that, Tonto Silkscreen & Embroidery acquired an additional 2-head embroidery machine, supplementing its original manual screen printing and singlehead embroidery machines. Korth also welcomed new staff members with new perspectives and styles, and 34 years of combined experience.

“I got to see two people that had been doing business head-to-head in a small town for 15 years come together,” he says. “I was able to combine what I liked of one style with what I liked of the other style. It worked out very well.”

The Korths and their team of three other employees — two dedicated to embroidery and one to screen printing — are committed to putting customers’ needs first and delivering on each request they receive.

As the shop continued to grow and build more business, it was clear that it had outgrown its 600-square-foot facility. Korth owned a piece of property, which he decided would be the company’s new home. He started by moving the business to a 2,100-square-foot facility — which the company still operates out of today — but he didn’t stop there.

“Both of the original shops’ machines were probably 1998 models,” Korth says. “When we got done building the new shop, we had a little money left over so we tried to upgrade everything.”

Upgraded equipment included a brand new Tajima embroidery machine that sewed twice as fast as the original machines combined. “It was almost like an insurance policy,” he says. “I know there are a lot of old machines laying around there that work just fine, but our embroidery business can’t grow if our capacity or our ability doesn’t grow.”

Next, wanting to have the ability to serve customers who requested one full-color picture, Korth decided to add a direct-to-garment printer that would allow the shop to do short runs.

“We had four different companies send us printed shirts and we washed them 20 times to see which one held up the best, and that’s the one we chose to buy,” Korth says. “People have liked it. It’s added quite a bit of business.”

Today, the facility’s production floor features a Phoenix six-station manual screen printing press, an M&R Diamondback XL eight-station automatic screen printing press, a Fusion dryer, an i-Dot direct-to-garment printer, three embroidery machines — one SWF singlehead, and a Tajima singlehead and 2-head — and two Hotronix heat presses. Not to mention, the company offers a full line of on-site promotional products.

In terms of dollars, even though screen printing still represents about 70% of the business, Tonto Silkscreen & Embroidery’s offerings run the gamut. “That’s what makes it fun,” Korth says. “We don’t do the same thing every day. We make cool stuff every day.”

Embroidery, he explains, is the shop’s second largest business driver. “My wife is an amazing artist,” he says. “I know that a lot of places don’t have online art facilities. People will walk in and they’ll say, ‘Well, I kind of had this in mind,’ and then 10 minutes later, my wife has something on the computer for them to take a look at — and they’re pretty wowed by that.”

The company’s varied offerings draw a diverse customer base, extending across the country from northern Utah to Amarillo, Texas, and Albuquerque, N.M. Clients range from a charter school in Chicago, to a motorcycle group in Cheyenne, Wyo., as well as an upscale Arizona vitamin company.

“Most of [the new client acquisition] is just me tracking them down and handing them my card until they get sick of seeing me and they finally say ‘Fine, we’ll do business with you,’” Korth says. “The first time you give somebody a card, you usually don’t hear much from them. And then the second time, maybe they start to scratch their head.” This has led Korth to believe in the old saying, “The third time’s the charm.”

If you talk to him, it’ll quickly become clear that Korth and his team are willing to go the extra mile for their customers — literally. “I just took a 300-mile drive to see a lady because she called me on the phone,” Korth says. When the client was surprised to see him at her doorstep, he simply said, “Well, why else would you do business with me?”

Located about 100 miles outside of Phoenix, the team also gets a lot of orders from the city, which they personally deliver. “People are surprised,” Korth says. “One day, I delivered embroidered polos to an upscale vitamin company and then went to a motorcycle clubhouse and delivered T-shirts.”

Whether it’s personal deliveries or traveling across state lines just to follow up with a potential client, the team at Tonto Silkscreen & Embroidery believes in hard work and putting the customer first.

“This is an industry where a lot of people think they can do it at home in their garage and, you know, there are a lot of people doing just that,” Korth says. “But it’s just not the same quality that we try to put out here at Tonto Silkscreen. We sell service. Service is what we do. Whether you’re selling cars or T-shirts, that’s what sets your business apart from anyone else.”

Tonto Silkscreen & Embroidery At A Glance
Company Name: Tonto Silkscreen & Embroidery
Address: 403 W. Frontier St.
  Payson, AZ 85541
No. of Employees: 5
Executive Team: Co-Owners Rick and Patti Korth
Decorating Methods Offered: Screen printing, embroidery, direct-to-garment
Company Website: