Build Your Business:

Risk and Reward

Originally started in the owners’ basement, Jersey Ink now operates from a 2,800-square-foot shop with a large store front in downtown Reading. The property includes four offices and separate rooms for setup and screening.

August 1, 2013

As the T-shirt turns 100 this year, we are reminded that this versatile medium isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And that’s good news for Susan Becker, owner of Reading, Pa.-based Jersey Ink Custom Apparel.

According to, 50% of small businesses will fail within the first year and 95% will close before their fifth year of operation. Becker knew she was taking a risk in opening her screen printing shop, but seven years later, the company still is alive and kicking, offering custom screen printed apparel and promotional products.

The story is not unusual: Becker and her husband, Bruce, launched the company in the basement of their Wayne, N.J., home. A couple of years prior, the couple had attended a home show, where they visited a booth for Press-A-Print, an Idaho-based company that trained new clients to become independent business owners by decorating customized T-shirts and promotional products.

When considering the Press-A-Print business, Becker remembered all the different T-shirts her children had received for each sport and activity in which they had participated through the years.

“Everyone has dozens of T-shirts in their closet, so I had no doubt that we could turn this into a large, successful business venture,” Becker says. “That said, I bought the business and started Jersey Ink. First orders came from my children’s organizations and it grew from there. In summer 2007, our family of five moved to our current house in Sinking Spring, Pa. I brought the business with me to
Pennsylvania and worked from my husband’s large basement office.

“In 2009, a retail space in one of our commercial properties became available, so we moved Jersey Ink into our current location,” she adds. “We receive walk-in business as well as orders over email and phone. A large majority of our clientele are repeat customers or referrals.”

Today, Jersey Ink operates from a 2,800-square-foot shop with a large store front in downtown Reading. The property includes four offices and separate rooms for setup and screening. Becker says her production team can produce up to 1,000 shirts daily, but the average is between 200 and 300. All projects are printed on site at the Jersey Ink shop.

Susan Becker runs the shop and is hands-on in every way. Christina Becker, the company’s full-time marketing director, earned a degree in business management from Kutztown University. Justin Howard is the company’s full-time, in-house artist with a degree from the Art Institute of Philadelphia. Jersey Ink also has several part-time employees in the sales department and other portions of the business.

Jersey Ink still has its original Press-A-Print equipment, though it currently is used only as a prep area to tape and clean screens.

“We have all Vastex equipment, from the exposure unit and dryer, heat conveyer and eight-head manual press and flash unit,” Susan Becker says. “We also have several heat presses, a Roland GX24, large-format Canon printer, and a SWF 1501T embroidery machine. To expand our techniques in our shop, we are looking at a Roland VersaCAMM or Mimaki printer/cutter.”

Jersey Ink serves a market covering mostly the tri-state area, but clients also are located nationwide in states like Colorado, Texas and Florida. The company even has several international clients in countries as far away as Germany. A large percentage of the business, however, comes from local schools and colleges.

Integrating good, old-fashioned customer service is priority No. 1 for Susan Becker and her staff. “It really is all about service,” she says. “We like to send free promotional products with every order with our name on it, and we have found customers always love that.”

Customer perks include no order minimums, free shipping, no extra setup fees, and free artwork design and assistance. Based on the lengthy list of testimonials on the company’s website, the benefits make a difference and create loyalty.

“We actually have had many clients over the years who have come to us because they had gone elsewhere for printing, and that company had misprinted or even canceled their order several days before that client needed them,” Susan Becker says. “In all those situations, we have saved the order for them and turned them into returning customers. We have been called heroes!”

Her take on the importance of promotional items to a business is simple: on-target marketing solutions produce results. Jersey Ink provides a thorough evaluation of a business’ audience and marketing objectives, developing a theme and a detailed plan of action. Jersey Ink actually has a deep database of imprinted items that can help execute a promotional plan. Susan Becker and her team oversee all promotional plans from start to finish.

“Long after an advertising message disappears, promotional items imprinted with a logo or message offer a tangible reminder of your company,” Susan Becker says.

The current economic climate, while daunting, has not lessened Jersey Ink’s ability to find clients. “We find that, in this economy, even though there have been cutbacks in schools and businesses, every-
one still needs promotional products,
 especially T-shirts for their functions,”
Susan Becker says. “We still rely heavily on referrals and reward clients.”

She admits that while getting her business to the next level is challenging, it’s important to respond to growth by hiring more staff and maintaining payroll and training. Attending trade shows and educational classes — and then passing that new product and style knowledge on to clients — is key.

“We have to get the customers to actually buy the new products and styles, and have them think outside the box,” Susan Becker says. “Upselling in today’s economy is definitely tough as well. But, even with some of these obstacles, our customers need our products and services. They love us and always come back.”

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

Jersey Ink At A Glance

Company Name: Jersey Ink Custom Apparel
Address: 153 N. 5th St., Reading, PA 19601
Founded: 2006
No. of Employees: 4
Decorating Methods Offered: Screen printing, heat transfers, embroidery
Company Website: