The day Martin Burkholder and his wife Bridget purchased Motivated Print, they had never printed or embroidered a T-Shirt a day in their life.
Was there a bit of nervous energy surrounding their career change? Sure. But Burkholder let it be known that given the circumstances of having to learn a new industry, he prepared himself the best he could before signing on the dotted line.
“I looked at a lot of businesses in the industrial and production markets,” Burkholder said. “This business was located fairly close to home. I had a good relationship after meeting the (previous) owner and it seemed like a fit for what we were looking for.”
What was Burkholder looking for, exactly? He wanted an already established business that had existing customers and loyal employees in place. He also wanted a business that he could add his own influences to and he found that in Motivated Print, located just outside of Atlanta, Georgia.
“We probably wouldn’t have done it if it was a startup,” Burkholder said. “Relatively speaking, the purchase was a good experience. We got what we expected from the business and the customers we expected to stay with. I would say we had maybe a one percent attrition rate with the ownership change.”
Burkholder spoke very highly of his team, as well. He pointed to them as being the main reason he was able to learn about the ins and outs of the custom decoration industry and how all of the printing processes worked.
“We have an experienced staff that has done this for a long time, so I haven’t had to make that a big part of my day-to-day efforts,” Burkholder said. “They were invaluable coming in without myself having experience in the industry.
“We were also looking for a dynamic where the staff would be staying on and we had a very short transition period. About two weeks. The business is typically run around 5-7 people depending on the time frame and what we have going on. I think our shortest team member has been here about 8-10 years now. They’re great.”
Burkholder also turned to his vendors and suppliers for help. Anytime he needed questions answered, he said they were there with the answers.
“You just ask and people are willing to share,” he said. “I was fortunate to be surrounded by people that had 10, 20, 30 years of industry experience. We just picked their brain whenever we ran into an area that we needed some education on.”
Buying a print shop with an already established customer base has paid dividends so far. As a result, Burkholder hasn’t had to spend much time marketing his business to new customers and has done a great job of building even stronger relationships with the shop’s existing customers.
“Most of them still buy from here five years later after the ownership change,” Burkholder said. “We tried to learn more about them and expand our services in that market. In some of the segments, the folks that run these organizations and buy the apparel, know other people that do the same thing. There are always referrals going on so truth be told, we have not done a ton of outbound marketing. Most of our marketing has been in-bound referral leads.”
The vast majority of businesses that Burkholder and his team print for are just like a lot of other local shops. From T-shirts to work uniforms to promotional products, Motivated Print does a little bit of everything.
“We do a lot of small, independent business,” Burkholder said. “Anything from a construction company to a restaurant, renovator, all sorts of stuff. We’ll do anything from crew shirts to polos to sales staff and executives. We also have some small business mixed with a large portion of our market and the other portion of it I would say falls into ‘events.’ 5K runs. We do a lot of conferences and those conferences are in the education markets with 3,000-5,000 attendees. We’ll do shirts and we’ll make some promotional products such as lanyards, things like that.”
The biggest change Burkholder made to the business when he purchased it was the addition of DecoNetwork as their shop management software. Burkholder said they were specifically looking to purchase a business that didn’t have a software platform and they found that with Motivated Print.
“Previously this was a mom-and-pop, family-owned business,” he said. “They grew it from the ground up and most of the business was run on a notepad on clipboards and paper. DecoNetwork was researched and picked before we ever closed on the business. It was one of the first big changes we wanted to make.”
After purchasing the business and getting things started, Burkholder said the addition of DecoNetwork changed virtually every aspect of their workflow.
“DecoNetwork touches every area in the shop,” Burkholder said. “With ordering, we save two hours a day. That is probably my favorite feature is the live ordering system from the major suppliers. It brings them in, accurately and that’s been an invaluable change.”
When narrowing down his choices of software companies, Burkholder said it was something as simple as DecoNetwork’s tech support team answering the phone while the other business didn’t that officially sold him.
“I dug around on the internet and found the tech support numbers and called up like a customer would and one of the companies wouldn’t answer the phone and DecoNetwork picked up after about two rings,” Burkholder said. “So that was probably the biggest deciding factor. On a given week, we don’t have to talk to Deco support. But occasionally we do. Those times are really important. The background support has been pivotal. The articles and training videos cover a lot for DecoNetwork and their operators and tech support covers a lot. It’s a big software platform. You can do a lot with it, so there will always be more to learn. It’s great.”
When it comes to re-ordering, Burkholder said DecoNetwork makes that process a breeze thanks to the software’s ability to retain information that can easily be pulled up whenever he needs it.
“When that happens, the information is already there and we can replicate it accurately,” Burkholder said. “Before that, it was a bit of a guessing game. So that has eliminated any challenges in that area of producing re-orders, which is big. If you can’t produce a re-order quickly, you lose a lot of the value in that.”
Another side of DecoNetwork that Burkholder is very fond of is the live ordering system that he mentioned previously.
“Currently we’re using SanMar, Alphabroder, and S&S Apparel,” Burkholder said. “We’re integrated with all of those, so it checks the inventory for us and it orders it accurately. That saves at least two hours a day. Previously, we’d make mistakes. We’d order large’s instead of medium’s and it resulted in a lot of lost time and money. The way we operated before, I would say DecoNetwork probably saves all of my folks who do the front-end business probably three hours a day in just efficiency increases.”
Motivated Print is currently operating out of about 5,000 square feet. They own three automatic screen printing presses and a manual, as well as a six-head embroidery machine. They also do a small amount of heat press work for certain types of specialty products.
As it currently stands, Burkholder said he is very happy with their current operation and doesn’t have any plans of expansion in the near future.
“Our business model, particularly in the education segment, is fairly seasonal,” he said. “So half of the year we’re at or over capacity and half of the year we’re under capacity. So because of that dynamic, I’m pretty comfortable with the level of machinery that we’re at. If I had more room, I would lean towards bigger equipment. But the real benefit is not that big, so I would actually say that I’m fairly happy at the equipment level.”
Burkholder said he is excited about what the future holds for Motivated Print and looks forward to continuing to produce high-quality custom apparel for his clients.
“The need for custom apparel, I think, is only going to grow,” he said. “One thing I found with this industry is that I don’t think there is a shortage of customers. If you don’t have enough customers, it’s not because they’re not there. There’s a way to connect and find them.”