Owner: Mark and Cathie Caranda
Year Established: 1985
Decorating Technique: Screen Printing, Custom Rhinestone T-shirts and Signage
Type of business: Apparel Decorating Service

Be Creative, Be Consistent, Be Successful.

Like the start of many small business success stories, Graphics in Print was born out of necessity. The town of Weirton, West Virginia is in the heart of the Steel Belt, just 45 minutes outside of Pittsburgh, PA. In the late 1980s the steel industry in the area started a long and slow decline, which eventually led to Mark Caranda needing to find an alternative way to make a living. That living turned out to be a successful business that started with the purchase of a small screen printing shop in Weirton, and eventually led to employing the whole family and expanding into the rhinestone T-Shirt business.  With Mark running the shop, and being the in-house artist for previous education, and Cathie running the front of the house, Graphics in Print continues to grow in spite of a slow economy. 

What technologies do you use?

Our core business has been screen printing since we bought the business 27 years ago. We’ve added doing rhinestones with the CAMS 1V-6P about 4 months ago and also do glitter and some other special treatments. 

What led you to doing Rhinestones?

We were losing some business to local competition that offered rhinestone t-shirts using templates and the “shake and bake” method. It was just getting more and more popular, but we’d been putting it off as being too much trouble and a fad kind of business. But then we lost my Granddaughter’s dance school business! That turned out to be $10,000 worth of sales for someone else. That did it for us, so we started looking into ways to do it. 

What kind of equipment did you purchase and why?

We bought the CAMS 1V-6P from Don Copeland at ColDesi in April of 2013. We had looked at the plotter/cutter method and it was just too slow, and didn’t produce the kind of detail and quality our customers are used to. In doing our research online, we  watched the videos on all the rhinestone machines available and the CAMS looked like it was the best. And it was quieter, which was important to us.  

But the 2 main reasons we picked the CAMS machine was the salesperson and the 100% upgrade policy. Don Copeland did an excellent job and told us all the pros and cons, unlike the other salespeople we talked to that made their products sound too good to be true. The fact that we didn’t know if the machine we got was going to be enough to fill the demand over time made the 100% upgrade option an attractive feature of doing business with ColDesi too. 

By the way, the CAMS has been VERY low maintenance and easy to operate and we’ve had no service issues or down time at all.  

We couldn’t have known it in advance, but the training up here at our shop was just great. Sammy, the training technician, not only showed us how to operate the CAMS machine, but took the time to make sure we could maintain it too. He even broke it a few times and made us fix it!

AND we’re already in positive cash flow – we bought the machine in April, so to cash-flow a machine like that in such a short time is great!

How did you decide what market to go after?

That’s been one of the easiest parts. We offer rhinestones to our existing customers, and just about every girls sport or event is a market. 

How do you get your design ideas?

Mark is an artist and you HAVE to be creative so you can offer a good product. He subscribes to a lot of clip art and artwork services, but we also get a lot of inspiration just searching online to see what other markets are doing.

ColDesi also has a graphics service where you can get custom artwork created for a very reasonable price.

Where does your business come from?

We’ve been in business in this area for a long time, so we do get a lot from our existing customers. But much of the rhinestone business comes from all the obvious places: Booster clubs, cheerleadiing camps, local soccer teams, dance studios. And any schools, not just high schools but also art schools, colleges, etc.  

What do you look for in a supplier?

  1. Consistency in product. 
  2. Availability
  3. Knowledgeable people

Colman and Company is where we buy our bulk Hotfix Rhinestones. They provide consistently good product and it ships out quickly, but we wish they were closer! We’re still working on what quantity of the Hotfix Rhinestones and transfer paper (hotfix tape) to keep on hand. 

What service or products do you offer that might appeal to other Colman and Company and ColDesi customers?

We’re working on mixed media shirts that combine screen printing with rhinestones. This is a great looking combination and lets us produce a really unique, high quality end result. 

Any advice for someone just starting out?

Artwork is key. In order to turn out a quality product you have to have quality artwork. If you’re not an artist, go to a local art school or high school and find someone talented. It will make a big difference. 

Don’t wait for the phone to ring. We don’t get any business from the internet, it’s either word of mouth or we go find it. Go talk to soccer teams, coaches, hair salons, hospitals, cheerleading schools, or anyone else you can. Bring samples of your work.

Diversify. That’s what we did when adding a Rhinestone machine to our business and it’s really paid off. 

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