Walking into PrintLocker, you almost immediately get the feeling that this is not your typical print business. With bright marketing around the place, a mostly female workforce, and a well-thought out design, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve walked into a tech start up.
There’s even a ping pong table, though the staff say they’re often too busy producing work to use it. Credit goes to the owners of the business, Marino Tribuzio and Melissa Trewella, who have developed a strong brand online, with some 1700 followers on Instagram, and a big social media focus in their marketing efforts.
The custom t-shirt printer was founded six years ago, with a small printer in Tribuzio and Trewella’s basement. Both had previous experience in commercial printing, with Tribuzio having just sold his business, Print Supply.
Trewella had previously been working in the signage segment of the industry. From just having a small apparel printer and a website, they then moved to larger premises, including a shopfront within nine months. They took over the shop next to them, put a hole between them, outgrew that, and now they operate out of their 1000sqm facility in Alphington, Victoria.
Tribuzio explained, “We are e-commerce and mostly retail, with some wholesale. It is a fledgling market. When we left commercial print there were thousands of businesses, and it was cutthroat, whereas the custom t-shirt market was emerging. It was massive in the US, but still emerging in Australia, meaning we were able to come in on the ground floor.”
The move to an online business model was made easier by Tribuzio’s previous experience selling print to customers through a web portal. It was no small feat to build up the business from a small Anajet printer, and a heat press.
PrintLocker then added a Brother DTG device, and then a second, eventually moving up in scale to investing in a Kornit Storm, which was soon followed by a second. Now, both of those devices have been upgraded, with PrintLocker producing most of its t-shirts through a dual set-up of Kornit Storm Hexa devices. The advantage was quality and colour — CMYK, plus white, red and green, from CMYK plus white.
Combined with the recirculating ink ability, it became more efficient, giving cost savings along with a better print, producing up to 170 light, or 85 dark garments per hour, with web-to- print enabled.
As local distributor Kiwo explained, “The ink recirculation mechanism reduces the need to purge printing heads, increasing the lifespan of the printing heads, and significantly reducing waste and ink costs.”
PrintLocker’s website has also been revamped four times, and it is remarkably straightforward to use, with a great user experience. There are graphics you can add to t-shirts, simple pricing with bulk discounts, and additional items to pad out the shopping cart: stubby holders, aprons, mugs, bags, or beanies.
Tapping into the trend
Personalisation is increasingly important for printers to value-add, particularly in the garment printing space. Clothes are a representation and expression of personality, value, and taste, and the ability to o er a product which speaks to customers on an individual level is powerful.
As global wide-format association Fespa noted, “Investment in high-end digital printing equipment is allowing fashion cycles to accelerate, delivering photo realistic images and bespoke detailed garments. Fast turnaround on digital presses means shorter initial runs can be ordered. This allows retailers to place swift re-orders on fast-selling stock, resulting in reduced warehousing costs and less risk of wastage of unsold inventory. For online retailers this model can be extended even further, with garments printed in very short runs as soon as orders have been placed. Speed is the key priority in textiles, similar to other segments. The Fespa Print Census showed that faster production is the driver for investment for 69 per cent of textile print businesses.
“These developments align neatly with the changing nature of the fashion industry. A more competitive and interconnected world of fashion consumption means that the industry has now moved well beyond the traditional two-season (spring/summer, autumn/ winter) model. Instead, each of these can now be divided into multiple mini- seasons, with new collections and launches for each.
“Changing trends in the fashion industry are also the key drivers behind new direct-to-garment presses, optimised for different types of clothing. Service providers in the garment customisation sector can leverage the capabilities of these machines to enhance their print offering, while advances in web-to- print ordering and job management software allow them to adopt just- in-time (JIT) delivery approaches to support their business. In fact, the fashion industry is discovering that a JIT model has multiple benefits in terms of cashflow, investment, reduction in stock holding, minimisation of warehouse space and general operational efficiencies.”
Over at PrintLocker, this means 500-600 shirts every single day, mostly sent through e-parcels, with some courier services used interstate. Capitalising on the growth in consumer demand for local artists and designers, PrintLocker also offers affiliate stores.
Artists can sell their products, on their own white label website, with the orders being filled by PrintLocker, and shipped directly to the customer. Merchandising and branding for existing companies also offers new opportunities, in Sydney’s Inner West for example, cafes, bakeries, and restaurants are now commonly selling t-shirts with their own designs.
Strong service gets repeat business
As printers who interact with customers would know, most are generally bad when it comes to sourcing the correct, high-resolution images needed to get a quality printed piece. What works on a screen, does not always translate to the substrate. Almost all custom t-shirt printers will have a self-verification box that customers need to tick, which confirms that they have supplied a suitable resolution image, in the correct format, that are not copyrighted.
The general attitude in the industry, Trewella explained, is that once that box is ticked, any poor-quality print is the error of the customer, not the company.
PrintLocker sees it differently — every t-shirt produced represents their brand. It’s why their graphic designers, Bianca, Sara and Karen, spend so much time chasing customers and working alongside them to make sure the final product is perfect. When there are errors in the file, they fix them, source replacement images, and contact customers if the end product is not going to be perfect.
Trewella explained, “We usually have to go back to customers and ask for high-res files, otherwise we will do it ourselves if we need to.
“With vinyl transfers, we always need vector files from Illustrator.”
Tribuzio said, “We promote ourselves on Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, with Facebook and Instagram posts, and boosting them when big occasions arise. Our brand has grown and we get a lot of repeat business.
“Customer service is our priority. All of our team are brilliant with customer service and it shows with repeat business and five-star Google and Facebook reviews. We never let our customers go unhappy; if we make a mistake we x it and if they get lost in transit we replace it.
“Apart from the smaller consumers, we print for companies, organisations and schools as well. The customer base is very broad.
“Whatever you can think of, we have printed. We are not judgemental; as long as its not copyrighted or endorses any form of hate speech. We have not knocked back a lot; there has to be a line somewhere, but people are allowed to express what they want on their t-shirts.”
As for what advice they would give to commercial printers looking to diversify into custom t-shirt printing, Tribuzio explained, “It is not something you can add on, leave in the corner and work on with a few t-shirts now and then. It is a business; it is all encompassing and something you need to devote time to. For a larger print company, you can set up a department specifically for it. It would be an ideal add-on business then.”
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