Build Your Business:

Only the Beginning

Christopher MacMullen (left) is co-founder and president of Cyrus Eleven Clothing, and also is head of production and finance, while Darrell Nobles is co-founder, art director and vice president of operations.

April 12, 2013

Launching a successful business is never easy. A great idea is only part of the battle. Even more crucial is that can-do spirit and a refusal to quit that every entrepreneur must possess.

Perhaps that is why Christopher MacMullen seems so confident that his print shop, Cyrus Eleven Clothing, is destined to do big things. Know-how and work ethic are essential, but having the drive to succeed is the intangible that truly turns the key.

In 2004, MacMullen and his friend, Darrell Nobles, worked for Wearguard-Crest, an Aramark company, as machine operators in the screen print division, before Nobles left the company, eventually working for two area mom-and-pop shops.

As time passed, Nobles’ employers announced they were closing, while Aramark announced the impending layoffs of hundreds of employees. The idea of MacMullen and Nobles starting their own company had once been discussed before just in jest, but both decided maybe it was time to give it some real thought.

Making Ends Meet
MacMullen and Nobles decided to call their company Cyrus Eleven Clothing — derived from a combination of Mac-
Mullen’s middle name (Cyrus) and his favorite number (11).

“We secured equipment from one of [Nobles’] old bosses and a majority of the customer base from his other old boss, and moved into a dark basement below
Darrell’s sister-in-law’s boutique in Marshfield, Mass.,” MacMullen says.

Though they had the groundwork for launching their own business, they still had other obligations at their respective day jobs to meet.

“We were still working our other jobs [until MacMullen resigned and Nobles’ job ceased operations] all day, and then for ourselves all night. We had no money,” MacMullen says. “We built our own exposure unit, found a very used dryer for $300 and then paid off 40 screens, the press and used gallons of ink by printing jobs for the guy we bought it all off
of. We only made $7,000 in those first nine months.”

In January 2010, MacMullen and Nobles revamped a 480-square-foot space that was located across the street from their basement shop. The new space was set up with a homemade washout booth and a 12′ x 12′ office/art room/store.

The two co-founders of Cyrus Eleven stayed in that location for two years, saving money and working 50- to 60-hour weeks. “We built a customer base that ranged from local schools, foundations, Little League, baby showers, bars and restaurants, and anyone else who would walk through our door or give us a shot at providing them with their screen printing needs,” he says. “We secured great relationships with promotional companies and third-party vendors who sold screen printing. We sent out emails to get bites. Through word of mouth, good customer service, and a quality product, the Cyrus name spread and people came back again. And then, we outgrew our space.”

A New Beginning
A 1,400-square-foot upstairs boutique space soon became available, so Cyrus Eleven moved again. “We needed to hire more help, so we took my younger brother (Iain) on,” MacMullen says. “He went to [Massachussetts] College of Art, just like I did, and he was a perfect fit.

They now operate with a new dryer; two four-station Riley Hopkins (four-color and six-color); a new prepress area with drying cabinets; two tabletop exposure units; and a custom-built washout booth. “We have the latest versions of [Adobe] Illustrator and Photoshop on a newer Mac and PC, and a large showroom that we have been filling with samples,” MacMullen says. He also trades his screen printing services for embroidery with a local company.

“Darrell and I are partners and do all the same jobs, but have separated our responsibilities based on what we do better and more efficiently,” MacMullen says. “Darrell runs the art department and is VP of operations, and I am the president and the head of production and finance. Iain is the everyman who is learning the operations.”

Cyrus Eleven sells locally in and around Boston’s South Shore. “We have a 12-piece minimum, but are suckers and still take the one-piece jobs for people,” MacMullen says. “Everyone is potentially a big client and turning people away — no matter how small their job — is bad for business. We market ourselves as the shop who prints with a quality product for a quantity price.”

MacMullen says he and his team are artists who found a medium they like. “That fact that we make a living out of [screen printing] is great,” he says. “I love seeing someone wearing something we designed and printed around our area.”

Staying on Track
Cyrus Eleven’s road to profitability is rooted in a philosophy of self-reliance to avoid needless expenditures. From construction and plumbing to small electrical and other maintenance jobs, the three-man team does all the work themselves, only growing when necessary.

“We look for the lowest price whenever we can for supplies, parts and programs,” he says. “We don’t buy coffee anymore; we bought a coffee maker. We save, save, save. We still take in decent salaries, pay our bills, and keep everything neat, clean and orderly. We just don’t waste our money.”

In the company’s four-year history, its gross profits have grown from $7,000 in 2009 to $140,000 last year. To assure the company remains profitable,
MacMullen turns to the tried-and-true method of providing great customer service. Returning calls and emails immediately and being available “on demand” are just the beginning.

“We bring out boxes in the rain, stay late, come in early and even meet customers in order to get their stuff to them when they need it,” he says. “That speaks volumes to customers, and that’s why they come back. They pay our salary, so we need to make sure their needs are met and they are happy.”

Cyrus Eleven offers discounts to non-profits and public schools. MacMullen’s wife is a teacher, so he knows firsthand that schools have little to no money to spend on items like T-shirts. “Usually, the parents are paying, so we discount for them,” he says. “Basically, if you need printing we’ll do whatever we can to help you.”
MacMullen admits he has lofty goals for the company’s future.

“I always said we should try for $250,000 in five years,” he says. “Maybe we’ll get there, maybe we won’t. But we’ll still work hard for all our current and future customers.”

Although MacMullen also sees another possible employee addition soon, he says the plan still will be to grow one step at a time and save as much as possible. While he also wants to buy another manual screen printing press, he says Nobles leans toward a small automatic.

“We’ll have to have a staff meeting and a vote.”

Jennifer A. Morrell is an award-winning writer who has written for a number of national consumer and trade publications. For more information or to comment on this article, email Jennifer at jennmorrell@

Cyrus Eleven Clothing At A Glance

Company Name: Cyrus Eleven Clothing
Address: 1871 Ocean Street, Unit 1, Marshfield, Mass. 02050
Founded: 2009
No. of Employees: 3
Decorating Methods Offered: Screen Printing
Company Website: