Owner: Mark Biletnikoff
Year Established: 2010
Decorating Technique: DTG
Type of business: Custom T-Shirts
T Shirt Printing Machine Business Success.
The story of The story of First Amendment Tees is a classic American entrepreneur’s Success Story. It’s the story of a man starting in a 400 sq. ft. basement, finding his niche, and growing to 7600 sq. ft. store and 11 employees in just 3 years.
The lessons Mark Biletnikoff learned along the way apply to life and business equally.
Mark, being a long standing customer of both ColDesi and Colman and Company, was kind enough to share his story of Success with us in the hopes that it would both inspire and educate the next person with an idea and the drive to make it happen.
Tell me about how your business got started:
In 2010, I was a Technical Advisor for General Electric and had spent most of my career in manufacturing. But I had always wanted to work for myself, so when I found out I was going to be laid off again I decided it was time to stop working for someone else and take control of my own destiny. After looking around for other businesses, I literally just woke up one morning and said “I’m going to make T-Shirts!” Since I really loved the ironic and funny designs that were becoming popular and saw this business as a good fit.
My girlfriend and my family all thought I was crazy. They kept trying to talk me out of it. In fact, my Dad even tried to hire me back into the family landscaping business.
My basement was my first office and production area. Then I added a good graphic designer, because the design is what people see and buy – artwork is key – and now we’re in a 7600 sq. ft space and I have 11 employees. The business was breaking even within about 4 months.
How did you end up choosing DTG? (Direct to Garment Printer)
A friend had actually started their own T-Shirt business, but wasn’t actually making the shirts, just designs. My background in manufacturing and experience with what low quality results I saw on the market ruled that option out. So, I started researching ways to create custom T-Shirts myself.
It was very important to me to control every part of the process. I wanted to offer better quality every step of the way. Something that wears better, washes better, looks better. I knew I wanted to do it all!
For more basic information on starting a business read this article on Wikipedia.
Why did you pick the DTG T Shirt Printing Machine from ColDesi?
Our first printer was the HM1-C. I did a lot of research and spoke to a lot of salespeople. Some were pretty rude, some just didn’t know what they were talking about. But Scott Levine, from ColDesi, stood out. He returned phone calls, provided information, really knew the product. But the biggest thing was that you could tell he cared about his customers. Scott’s attitude, plus the fact that the DTG Printer produced really high quality prints were what sold me.
There are a lot of other printers and companies out there, and I go to trade shows all the time to keep up on the latest technology, but I’m up to 7 DTG Printers – t shirt printing machines – from ColDesi, now and am happy with them. We really love the DTG M2 & Viper we purchased in 2012, those two machine have really helped with the production capacity we couldn’t handle previously. Just adding those 2 machine really helped us grow to the next level and provide better prints and service to our customers worldwide.
What do you look for in a supplier?
Someone resourceful, obsessed with quality, and with a personal touch. Someone to talk to me about issues, not ignore them. I’ll give you a good example. We buy our DTG Inks and Pretreatments from Colman and Company. If you’ve ever seen the bottles, you know that White Pre treatment and White Ink look alike, so when we got a mistake in our order we ended up accidentally putting pretreatment in the white ink spot – not good! So I called Colman and Company to tell them the issue and within 30 days they had actually changed the label of the Pretreatment to make it more obvious that it’s not white ink. They showed they not only cared about me, but all their customers by making that change.
Who are your typical customers?
Online shops. 90% of our business is contract printing to online shops that sell T-Shirts, long sleeves, hoodies, etc.. We do the printing, sometimes the design and order fulfillment for them. We apply the same quality standards to our drop ship packaging and process as we do everything else, so you won’t find the mistakes that most companies have come to expect. We get the right shirts, the right address, the right charges so our customers can rely on us.
Of course, we have a standard 48 hour turnaround time and everybody loves the speed too!
What’s the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?
There’s more than one:
Training – We went through DTG T Shirt Printer training, but it took me awhile to learn how to work with it and the software to get the best results.
Marketing – You can’t just start printing T-Shirts and expect people to knock on your door. You need a website, business marketing, some SEO. You have to be proactive, and that was tough to learn.
ColDesi Recently started a Custom T-Shirt Business Marketing Series and thought we’d include that here:
What advice would you give someone just getting started?
Don’t sell a lot of t-shirts to start. Start out small, with family and friends, and learn, make mistakes. Learn Photoshop.
All of the issues I see online with digital printers stem from either a lack of knowledge or a lack of business. You have to run your DTG machine every day to keep it running its best. Print sample shirts, test your artwork, just print something every day.
Also, if you’re not a graphic artist, you need to get one. The DTG machine can only print what you put in it. A lot of people struggle because they really don’t know the software – LEARN before you take your first order!
What’s your next step in growing your business?
We already have 7 DTG machines and do several other things like Silk-screening, vinyl and sublimation, but are looking add another DTG M2 & Viper to partner the current to machines we already have that work great since we have more demand for the larger runs.
On the marketing side, we revamped our retail website and launched our new contract printing website so we have been doing a ton of marketing for this so for some great new online ordering tools for both retail and contract customers.