Meryl Katlin had a very difficult decision to make in the early 1990s in regards to what she was going to do with her life.
Become an art teacher or start her own custom decoration business.
Fast forward some 30 years and two successful business ventures later and it’s fairly safe to say that the Philadelphia native made the right decision to not become a teacher.
Katlin is now the proud owner of Make A Tee Online and TypeStyles, two custom decoration businesses that continue to grow and evolve to this day.
But her path to where she is now was a winding one. A passion for artistry and design got the ball rolling, however, and as they say, the rest is history.
TypeStyles was Katlin’s first business venture started in the early 90s.
“Be my own business person, or go back to school,” Katlin said. “The safe road, or the risky road. My thought process was, you can only go so far if you go back to school and become an art teacher. With my own business, I could go as far as a wanted to.”
The Early Days
Leading up to that tough decision, Katlin had attended the University of Florida, as well as the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale where she honed her skills as both an artist and in graphic design.
And while her career as an entrepreneur didn’t fully take off until the early 90s when she launched TypeStyles, it was glass etching that opened her eyes to the world of entrepreneurship.
“That kind of started my entrepreneurial life,” Katlin said. “I fell in love with the business. I had a job for somebody doing glass etching. Glass etching is very intricate. You would hand draw the design out with a No. 2 pencil and then you would transfer that design onto a rubber. Then you would carve with an Exacto knife.”
Katlin eventually jumped out of that business and after graduating, started working for a color separation house for a newspaper. It was there that she got a taste of what it was like to work on deadlines, work with detail-oriented artwork and the day-to-day life of working with customers and salespeople.
Introduction to Screen Printing
She also worked for a printing trade shop and it was there that she was introduced to the world of screen printing.
“They sold promotional products and screen printing and I was able to do some freelance work with some of their salesmen creating designs for some of their T-Shirts,” Katlin said.
Eventually, Katlin started freelancing and working with screen printers to print shirts that she helped design for customers.
“My customers wanted screen printing and I was doing the designing,” Katlin said. “So I started working with screen printers for my own customers. One of the screen printers asked me why I wasn’t buying my own T-Shirts instead of buying them from him. So that’s how I started doing this.”
Katlin found herself touring print shops learning how screen printing worked. That was a common theme for Katlin. When she wanted to learn how something worked, she didn’t hesitate to ask for someone to show her.
“I would go to the screenprint shops on behalf of my clients,” Katlin said. “I got to see how screenprinting was done. How I could add more colors… how I needed to set up the art for this production. I already knew the paper printing. I already had that down because I was working in that facility. But the screen printing was a sweaty shop and they were more than happy to let me come in and take a look.”
Pursuing a Dream
It was at that time Katlin made the decision to pursue a career in the custom decoration industry, rather than going back to school to become an art teacher.
Having already built a lot of great relationships with customers during her time spent at her previous job and as a freelancer, her new business, TypeStyles was off and running.
“In the beginning, I was really just going to focus on people that needed my creative services for designing and printing,” Katlin said. “I didn’t realize that it was going to be to the extent of the printing that it was. But I was going out to local businesses, people in my gym, wherever I went. I would always have my business cards and beeper with me. I always told them what I did and if they needed anything, to just give me a call.”
Katlin had a strong work ethic at this time. Raising two young children and trying to run a business, sleep was put on the backburner.
“I was working out of my house and I had two little children that I was taking around with me,” Katlin said. “So it wasn’t something that I was doing specifically from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. I would do what I needed to do, take care of the kids, work at night, make phone calls, come up with creative ideas.”
First Big Clients
One of Katlin’s first big clients was a staffing company. At the time, she had no idea just how big the company she was printing for was.
“I was printing their envelopes and letterheads and I didn’t realize that it was a big, national company,” Katlin said. “They had a huge office building and took up like 10 floors in Fort Lauderdale. They started to use me for everything. Magazine design, promotional products, etc. They just felt comfortable enough to trust me with doing all of their work.”
Katlin’s next big opportunity came in 1999 when the Seminole tribe built a brand new casino right down the street from where she lived in Coconut Creek, Florida.
“One of the marketing people at the casino met a friend of mine and said they needed somebody to do some of their printing, apparel and promotional products,” Katlin said. “That person was me.”
Prior to her newfound business with the Seminole tribe, Katlin was doing well. Her mother was helping with the bookkeeping. Another graphic designer helped her during the day and she was renting a room with another business on main street in Coral Springs.
Everything changed after that.
“When the Casino came in, we started doing all of their work and that shot my business up from nice to wow,” Katlin said. “I was lucky enough to have that account for many, many years. I still do a portion of that work, which I’m still thankful for. It’s still a good relationship.”
The growth her business saw as a result of the partnership allowed Katlin to move into a new building and hire two more graphic designers.
Miami Dolphins Relationship
Several years later, Katlin built another strong relationship, this time with the Miami Dolphins.
After volunteering for the 2007 Super Bowl, Katlin was able to get on the host committee as a local vendor. It was there that she came up with a locker wrap design that they fell in love with, leading to more opportunities to work with the Dolphins.
“That kind of got my name around,” Katlin said. “‘Meryl is creative. She comes up with all of these creative ideas.’ And then they started using me for the inside stuff that they do. T-Shirts that they do for the different events. Through that, I got to know some of the players who have their foundations. So I started doing work for players’ foundations and we still do that. That’s a lot of fun.”
When it comes to printing, TypeStyles can do it all. Katlin said the list of things they print includes Menus, tablecloths, business cards, backdrops, wall graphics, billboard designs and more.
New Business Idea
And while TypeStyles had been running strong for years, it was an introduction to Direct-To-Garment machines while at a trade show that opened her eyes to new possibilities.
“That just blew me away,” Katlin said. “It was the first time I had seen a DTG machine and I thought it was so cool.”
After waiting about two years to purchase a DTG machine, she finally pulled the trigger. At the time, Katlin liked what the likes of Custom Ink and Cafe Press were doing and wanted to recreate that.
Alas, Make A Tee Online was born.
Starting Making A Tee Online
“That tipped me in the other direction,” Katlin said. “I said we could still do TypeStyles and do our printing, graphic design and deal with our corporate customers and also do Make a Tee Online. I also realized that I was going to get paid first before I laid out all of this money if I got a website going. So that’s kind of how it happened and it just keeps progressing and progressing.”
The premise behind Make A Tee Online was to create an online store where the name spelled out exactly what it was. Anyone in the country would be able to find Make A Tee Online and make orders for any type of T-Shirt order they needed.
“At first, it was slow,” Katlin said of Make A Tee Online. “We had our ups and our downs as far as the organic orders were going. Which I still think is what I’m looking for. I was doing anything I could to promote. I do a lot of marketing every month.”
Katlin said that local orders have worked well with Make A Tee Online and that she’s still working towards her goal of having more organic orders.
Growing Affiliate Stores
Today, Katlin is big into affiliate stores. With no true business partner at any point in her career as a business owner for the past 30 years, she views her affiliate store customers as your partners.
“I took this course at FSU about what strategic partners are and realized how I was already using them,” Katlin said. “That’s when I started to really push towards taking my affiliate stores more seriously. My store owners would be my strategic partners. So there’s nothing that they don’t understand because I’m training them to understand how their business works, how their brands work, how their stores work. And they have ownership. These are my partners.”
Her goal by the end of next year is to have 100 working affiliate stores.
Growing with DecoNetwork
Katlin has been using DecoNetwork since 2012. She was introduced to DecoNetwork through one of her employees who was reaching out to platforms like DecoNetwork looking to gather information.
“ I had sent him on a goose chase to call a bunch of people and report back to me his findings,” Katlin said. “The first thing that he said was, ‘well I called DecoNetwork and they answered the phone.’ He said he spoke to this guy named Mietek and he was so helpful and was awesome. He said lets put DecoNetwork on the list.”
After doing some more research on DecoNetwork, Katlin moved forward with them and has been a loyal customer ever since.
“We did our research and DecoNetwork was the most responsive and the easiest to communicate with,” Katlin said. “Just like the equipment that we have, having somebody that I could call and learn and get my questions answered was so important. Caring about me as a business and my progress was important as well. I needed that hand-holding and I totally got that from DecoNetwork.”
The Power of Business Hub
Katlin said she likes many things about DecoNetwork with one of them being Business Hub.
‘Everything in the business hub is so organized which truly helps,” Katlin said. “Having the business Hub was huge. And being able to see the artwork, saving all the files and being able to refer back to people and knowing what they ordered previously. Now, we use the quoting system all the time.”
While happy with where both TypeStyles and Make A Tee Online are in late 2021, Katlin said she’s always thinking about what’s next. She said she plans on moving into a new office space within the next year and a half and hopes to continue to grow both sides of her business for many years to come.