October 22, 2019
Paul Whitmore still remembers the biggest job that rolled through Rhino Graphics. Not too long before a 44,000-shirt order came in, the San Marcos, Texas-based shop had just purchased an automatic screen-printing press. Before that, the largest order it had tackled was around 4,000 shirts.
While Whitmore and company welcomed the challenge, there was a slight catch. Not only had no one ever seen or used an automatic press, but the job had to be done in 30 days.
There is no mystery here: The Rhino Graphics team not only had to learn how to run the press, but also make up the time “on the fly.”
“For orders we had done previously that included hundreds of shirts, we would usually have two to three people working on the manual press — one person loading and the other two printing,” Whitmore recalls. “At the time, there were eight of us, all working part time and going to school full time, trying to get this job done. We worked around 55 hours a week running the press, 10-12 hours a day, seven days a week. It was a lot of work, but we were a very close group and everyone was very dependable.”
If you’re keeping score, the Rhino Graphics team completed the job on time and has since worked on the same order twice a year for the same company for 14 years.
Whitmore figuratively grew up in the business. When he started at Rhino Graphics in 1989, he knew nothing about screen printing. Originally from Austin, Texas, he moved to San Marcos after leaving the Air Force. While working as a bartender, the bar’s owner, Johnny Finch, approached him with a chance to make some extra money. Eventually, Whitmore decided to take Finch — one of Rhino Graphics’ owners — up on his offer.
Finch needed people who could help catching shirts for a few days. When a few days turned into a few weeks, the owners offered Whitmore a job. Back then, he was the only employee besides the owners. So Whitmore did what any
bartender-turned-printer-turned-aspiring-entrepreneur would do: He dug in and learned the ins and outs of the business, cleaning and coating screens and learning to print. He even went back to college at Texas State University.
“It was six years later, and I had just gotten a divorce, so I decided it was time to give college another try,” Whitmore says. “I had done so badly the first two times that I had been suspended indefinitely. My GPA was so low that I had to declare academic bankruptcy and start back at zero hours.”
But he persevered, working at Rhino Graphics as production manager and going to school full time in 2001. He graduated in 2005 with a 3.47 GPA. During that time, one of the owners, Corky Pellien, had been traveling full time working a sales job with a different company. Since Whitmore had been doing the work of an owner, Pellien worked out a deal for Whitmore to buy his half of Rhino Graphics in 2007.
“I really did get into this whole thing kind of by accident, but I really enjoyed the work,” Whitmore recalls. “When I bought in, I started getting us up to date with equipment, and finding ways to keep us organized and efficient. I continued to learn and study the whole time. There are always new products and new ideas out there, and I knew that we could always get better. I also have a good background in mechanics from high school and my time in the Air Force, so I do all the maintenance and repairs on all of our equipment. This saves time and money since I keep backup parts on hand for those situations.”
‘So Much Has Changed’
In the early days, operating mostly with older equipment, art at Rhino Graphics usually was done by hand. So Rhino Graphics’ executives, including Whitmore, worked together to expand the company’s capacity, workload and efficiencies. They even updated equipment, adding an M&R Sportsman automatic press and M&R Chameleon manual press. The move helped increase output efficiency and gave the team more flexibility for larger orders.
Today, Rhino Graphics has four full-time employees and several long-term customers, one of which orders more than 90,000 shirts per year. Home to Texas State University, the historic town of San Marcos is defined by its 1903 Victorian Gothic-style Old Main building and a downtown Historic District that includes the restored 1909 Hays County Courthouse.
The city also features scores of outlet malls. Along with drawing myriad print jobs from local residents and area businesses, Rhino Graphics works with several property-management companies that own apartment complexes across the country. The list of services it provides includes T-shirts and Dri-Fit tees; long-sleeve, polo and knit shirts; fleece; caps; bags; and more.
“In the time since I started so much has changed,” Whitmore says. “There is always some new design or shirt that challenges us to come up with ideas to make the best product possible. [This includes] doing four-color process jobs with colors other than process or burning them on something other than 305-mesh screens. We pride ourselves on being able to figure out what our customers want.”
Along the way, as any entrepreneur will do, Whitmore also created several processes that have become widely popular with Rhino Graphics’ customer base, including getting a distressed look for designs by overexposing the screens instead of adding the distressed effect to the art.
“[The process] works best using a laser printer with vellum,” Whitmore says.
First, a 160-200 mesh screen is burned for four times the regular exposure time. Then, Whitmore coats the screen with the thin side of the scoop coater. During screen washout, he doesn’t use a lot of water pressure.
“I work to get just the right look, and then work on different spots until I get the amount of washout I am looking for,” he says.
Since using the technique, one of Rhino Graphics’ biggest customers began requesting it for most of its designs.
Whitmore says the company doesn’t keep much product in stock primarily because every client wants something different. With the variety of colors and fabrics available, no one is buying black or white shirts anymore — and the same goes with inks. Customers want specific colors for most jobs.
“We can get most shirts in a day or two now so there is no reason to take or space or tie up resources in inventory,” he says. “People also like to do their own art and many businesses have art departments. In those cases, it is up to us to translate that art to a shirt.”
If that means working late or on weekends, Rhino Graphics is up to the task. The team spends extra time before starting each job ensuring everything is correct. “We do not make mistakes often, so we have very little waste,” Whitmore says. “This is a fashion industry and definitely has trends that come and go. I have seen a lot of colors, print sizes and placements come and go. I don’t think that will change and we look out for those things so we can give our customers options if they are unsure what they want.”
Michael J. Pallerino 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 Michael at email@example.com.
Rhino Graphics At A Glance
Company Name: Rhino Graphics
Address: 133 South LBJ, San Marcos, TX 78666
No. of Employees: 4
Decorating Methods Offered: Screen printing, graphic design
Company Website: rhinotees.com
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