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Build Your Business: Management
Part of Four Ambition’s equipment expansion was the purchase of a 30-inch infrared conveyor dryer, which allows the company to handle oversize printing more efficiently, according to Thomas.
The decorated apparel marketplace is the perfect host for entrepreneurs looking to build a business, but it doesn’t come without steep competition. To become and remain successful, decorators need to be on top of their respective marketing games as much as they are on perfecting their embellishing processes and services. Creative, aggressive marketers survive and thrive as small business owners.
Enter one such screen printing firm, Four Ambition LLC, Dayton, Ohio. Since its founding in 2007, the firm has grown an average of 30% annually. In fact, things progressed so much that 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,” Thomas says. Starting the business on a part-time basis, he worked every day at Four Ambition from 5 p.m. to midnight and on weekends. Today, the company employs three full-timers and is hiring two more as it expands.
How did Thomas grow his company? With a dose of youthful marketing, sprinkled with a mature approach. Thomas’ work is heavily focused on the youth market, but it also is gaining ground in the corporate world. Four Ambition screen prints quality T-shirts, other apparel and promotional items inspired by good design, humor, positivity and marketing through the Internet and social media sites.
The entrepreneur attributes his understanding of design and customer needs to his five years of experience at the offset printer, but he began early preparing for a career in the decorated apparel industry.
“In high school, there was a tech program where I learned to design and screen print,” Thomas says. “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.”
Embracing technology as a marketing medium has been key to building Four Ambition into a full-time, growing business. While much of the business comes from word-of-mouth advertising, the Internet leads are what truly get Thomas excited.
“Social media has helped our business a ton. The best [thing for us] 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,” he says. “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.”
Even though Four Ambition has a sophisticated Internet presence, an even more ambitious website is being planned.
“As one feature, people will no longer have to email their orders,” Thomas says. “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
From early on, Thomas says he has always researched the equipment market looking for the best quality image. 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,” he says. “We’ve used it for up to 2,000 quantity runs, even for poster printing. In moving, I’ve taken it apart and put it back together several times. I love all the different micro and head adjustments — they really come in handy when dealing with warped screens.”
When Four Ambition began to have problems with a small, older flash-cure unit in 2010, Thomas ordered a new REDFLASH 18″ x 24″ model with adjustable heat control. “We needed a new unit that could flash cure oversize prints,” he says. “It increased productivity, as well as gave us more even, full-flash cures — which meant a better finished product,” he says.
By early 2011, business was growing and the company’s owner wanted to tackle more oversize printing at faster production rates. He started by purchasing an EconoRed II 30-inch infrared conveyor dryer.
“We were using a small, 18-inch-wide belt dryer and planned to buy a new allover press to do more oversize printing and would need a wider dryer,” Thomas says. “The new dryer arrived with advanced features like digital temperature control, power exhaust and air recirculation. 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 V-2000HD one-color, one-station press with an allover 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″ screens.” This makes the shop capable of doing allover printing, and operators also can add a pallet and print like they would on any one-color press.
The growth didn’t stop there. This year, to keep pace with expanding business, Four Ambition added a V2000HD-66 six-color, six-station press. Thomas now performs basic work on the new press and shifts other work, such as sleeves, koozies and oversize jobs, to the older six-station press.
“No matter how bad the economy has been, we are cranking out work and have grown steadily, increasing our sales every year, with some recent months breaking that 30% record,” Thomas says. “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.”
Mark Vasilantone is owner of Vastex Intl. Inc. and builds on the legacy of his father Michael Vasilantone, the company’s founder in 1960 and an inventor and pioneer in mass producing screen printed T-shirts. For more information or to comment on this article, email Mark at email@example.com.
Four Ambition At A Glance
Company Name: Four Ambition
Address: 400 Linden Ave., Studio 201, Dayton, Ohio 45403
No. of Employees: 3 full-time, with plans for 2 more
Decorating Methods Offered: Screen printing, embroidery, banners, poster printing
Company Website: fourambition.com
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