Vince Lombardi Was Wrong

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”  That phrase has been closely associated with the legendary Green Bay Packer football coach, and often very widely quoted.  He supposedly used it as early as 1959 in his opening talk of training camp for the team.  Here in Wisconsin, publicly stating that the coach was anything less than perfect is tantamount to heresy and I’ll probably be tarred and feathered sometime next week.  Bring it.

My point is contextual in nature though.  Recently the company that I lead, Visual Impressions, was named a finalist in the Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year awards.  There were thirty four companies that made it to the final list and in our category (Small 1 – 99 employees) there were a total of nine companies named.  The black-tie award dinner was fantastic, with Governor Scott Walker giving the keynote address.  It was the Academy Awards of companies that make stuff.

At the awards, right before they announced the winner in our division I reflected on all the great people that give tremendous effort daily at Visual Impressions.  Our talented and creative staff accomplishes more than just screen-printing or embroidering apparel all day.  They provide for their families.  As our customers aren’t just local, every order we ship drives the economic engine for this country.  Shirts that we have decorated are everywhere in the nation, and some even get shipped abroad.  You’ve seen them, you just don’t realize it.  Some of the shirts we’ve printed even have a higher purpose, such as the ones we printed after the Boston Marathon tragedy that raised a tremendous amount of money for the One Fund Boston. (Read my blog article about that experience here – When Lightning Strikes)

That’s how I know Coach Lombardi was wrong.  Winning truly isn’t everything.  It was ok in my heart when Tailored Label Products  won, and we watched them celebrate one table away.  (Congratulations to them – they are awesome by the way!)

Sure it was extraordinary to have Visual Impressions be acknowledged as one of the best run companies in the state.  That doesn’t hurt.  However, I know how incredibly hard our staff works to make Visual Impressions the leader in our industry.  It’s our daily journey that counts.  Our dedication to quality and continuously improving our process has led us to the success and growth we’ve achieved. 

It’s why we are a certified sustainable printer by the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership.  Leading the decorated apparel industry in sustainability is part of our value proposition, and we leverage that fact every day when building our relationships with clients.

It’s why we participated in the very first ScaleUp Milwaukee program which was dedicated in developing the local Entrepreneur Ecosystem.  Getting out of our comfort zone and learning something new will pay off large dividends in the future.

It’s why we love participating in local non-profit fundraising events and activities.  Giving back matters.  It’s not all about you.

It’s why our customers turn to us in the first place.  There are tons of companies that can print a t-shirt or embroider a polo shirt.  Our customers know and appreciate the level of service and dedication to quality that we provide every day.  They constantly turn to us to help resolve some challenging order, or impossible request.  Hitting homeruns for them is a great feeling.

Well, I guess that’s enough chest thumping for now.  Whew.  I feel better too.  All the tuxedos and pretty dresses have been put away, and everyone is back to work.  We didn’t get to snake through the crowd, high-fiving everyone on the way.  I would have loved to hear owner Jay Berman’s speech thanking our staff, customers, vendors and friends.  I’m sure it was a good one.  We’re still the same company.  We’re still going to be giving 110% every day for our customers, striving to improve and learn something new.  Maybe next year our name will be called.  Until then…

2013 Work Sets Up Goals for 2014

First, thank you for reading my blog!!  I appreciate your time and hope that I have contributed something valuable for you.

So the year 2013 has finally come to a close, and like a lot of people there is some time for some introspection.  All in all, it was a good year.  I owe a lot of accomplishments to my great support team at work (Visual Impression’s awesome staff) and my family at home (wife Jody and son Jack).  Without them, I’m really just a squirrel in a cage running on the wheel by myself.  Some highlights below:

1. Blog.  My goal this year for the blog was to build readership through the use of social media and write at least one blog article a week aimed at the decorated apparel industry.  Using the WordPress analytics tool, I’d say my goal was an outstanding success.  For 2012 I averaged 1 reader per day, and only had 291 readers for the entire year.  Granted, I rarely posted and never really marketed the site so even that number is surprising.  2013 however, was a different story.  I averaged 32 readers a day and had 12,000+ readers for the year.  My record readership for one day was 452.  8,572 readers were from the US, but other readers were from 118 different countries.  Top five blog articles were:

Creating Art for T-shirts: Common Rookie Mistakes Defined

When You Are Up To Your Ass In Alligators

When Lightning Strikes – On the Production Floor with Boston Strong T-shirts

20 Biggest T-shirt Shop Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

10 Creativity Tips for T-shirt Designers

2. Impressions Magazine Contributions.  I have really enjoyed my relationship with Impressions Magazine.  This year, I had a lot of fun writing pieces for the magazine or their newsletter.  Just recently I also put together a video Tech Tips for them (the last one on the list below) which was another enjoyable challenge.  In my mind’s eye, I don’t really think of myself as a writer but between these contributions and my blog, it’s proven to be a good outlet for me.  Here are the links to the pieces from this year:

Why Cross Training is Critical for Your Shop

Secrets to Rush Order Success

Key Traits for Customer Service & Sales Teams

Key Traits for Your Art Department

Key Traits for Your Receiving and Shipping Departments

20 Tips for Hot Market Printing

Key Traits for Your Screen Room

Beat the Heat: 20 Tips for Hot Market Printing

A Social Media Game Plan for Apparel Decorators

Key Traits for Screen Printing Press Operators

Multi-Media Decoration of Color Blocked Hoodies

3. Boston Strong.  The tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon and how two college students responded using our Ink to the People website (www.inktothepeople.com) proved that there is indeed hope for this world.  My blog article summed up the initial reaction (When Lightning Strikes – On the Production Floor with Boston Strong T-shirts ) but it didn’t end there.  Since then, they have raised almost a $1,000,000 for the One Fund Boston and they are still going!  I am very proud to be associated with this inspiring effort.  Check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/StayStrongBostonStrong.  If you haven’t already, buy a shirt!!

4. Sustainability.  The idea of focusing a better way of manufacturing (printing) for business has proven to be a great platform for me to use at Visual Impressions and beyond.  At Visual Impressions, we’ve lowered our operating costs significantly by focusing our efforts into four core objectives: Energy Reduction, Materials (Ink, Chemicals, & Supplies), Courier (local deliveries), and Trash/Recycling.  If you are in the apparel decorating industry and haven’t started a sustainability journey, I urge you to look into it.  It’s a fantastic way to build margin, while doing things better for the planet.  How can you lose?  Some key highlights for sustainability for 2013 include:

a.  Speaking at ISS Long Beach again on “Sustainability – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle AND Lower Your Operating Expenses”.  I’m giving the same talk again this year – but with new and updated information.  Register for it at http://tinyurl.com/loms9eu.

b.  Speaking at SGIA 2013 in Orlando on “Sustainability Pays Back” – this was a great show, and I even had a client in the audience!

c.  Panelist at the 2013 Wisconsin Sustainable Business Conference for the “Profit in Sustainability” breakout session.  You can view the recorded panel discussion here – http://tinyurl.com/k7cquot

d.  Last but not least, being named to the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership Board of Directors in December.  Being part of SGP on a national level is a great honor for me and I’m very proud to be working for them to advance sustainability in the printing business.  With Visual Impressions obtaining the certification, that makes two companies that I’ve captained through the process directly.   www.sgppartnership.org

5.  Fitness.  On a personal level, I started going to the local YMCA on a weekly basis.  I’m averaging 3 or 4 visits a week, depending on my schedule.  I’m certainly not getting any younger (turning 50 in 2014) and going to the gym has been a great release and outlet for me.  I love listening to Spotify while I workout.

a. Ran and finished my first 5k run ever!  The Dragon Dash 5k for my son’s school was great!  http://www.thedragondash.com/

b.  On Thanksgiving I ran and completed the 4 Mile Turkey Trot in Memphis with members of my family, despite the 22 degree weather.  http://memphisturkeytrot.racesonline.com/  It was very challenging for this old guy, but I finished 1987 out of 3100 runners, and 105 in my age group!  Happy not to be last.  A few days before this race I ran over 5 miles in Memphis on their Green Line – it was super!!  http://greatermemphisgreenline.com/

c.  Visual Impressions had a Biggest Loser competition.  We had 10 teams of 4 people compete to see who could lose the biggest percentage of weight by the week following Thanksgiving. It was a wonderful experience and a lot of fun.  My team came in 2nd place, and I lost almost 6% of my body weight during the competition.  At the final weigh in I was down to 208 pounds.  Thanks YMCA!!

6.  ScaleUp Milwaukee.  Visual Impressions participated in a fantastic entrepreneurial program called ScaleUp Milwaukee (www.scaleupmilwaukee.org).  The goal of the program is to develop skills and critical thinking with existing businesses to grow their business in the following year.  I wrote a blog article that better describes the classes, Lessons Learned from the Entrepreneur Ecosystem: Scale Up Milwaukee.  Our goal for 2014 – 18% growth.  It is a big, hairy and certainly achievable goal.  Anxious to see how it pans out!!

7.  Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year Nomination.  Here’s a great Visual Impressions team award!!  Of the 34 companies nominated only 9 are small businesses like Visual Impressions.  The winner will be announced in February 2014.  http://www.wmc.org/news/breaking-news/2013-wisconsin-manufacturer-of-the-year-award-nominees-revealed/

8.  Having our Visual Impression’s team achieve the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership Certification (License Certification ID: 0413-1364915293), this was a year’s worth of effort and some outstanding improvement for the company.  The certification is with an independent third party audit; and achieving the certification has allowed us to market our company and acquire new client’s with our efforts.  Being an industry leader is a good thing…

9.  Finally finding a company in Milwaukee for Visual Impressions to partner with for our recycling…only interviewed 6 or 7 companies…  Pioneer International makes it incredibly easy and since March of 2013 we have recycled 26.9 tons of cardboard, paper, plastic and metal.  www.pioneerintl.com

So what professional goals are targeted for 2014?  Here’s the list so far:

1.  Major participation with the SGP Board of Directors.  My goal is to represent the decorated apparel industry with this group and get more printers, suppliers and industry media involved.  I already have one supplier, PolyOne committed to becoming a major sponsor. (Thank You!!) If you want to learn more and can help, please contact me and let’s discuss why you should get involved!

2.  SGIA Leadership Committee.  I will be traveling to Ft. Lauderdale in February for the committee meetings and looking forward to serving on the garment decorating and sustainability committees.

3.  More public speaking events on Sustainability.  I’m already slated for the ISS Long Beach show, but am also participating at the Manufacturing Matters conference in Milwaukee at a breakout session on the business value of sustainability – http://www.manufacturingmatters.org/sessions/sustainability-driven-business-value

4.  Recycling – Embroidery Stabilizer.  This is the backing material that we use to keep the embroidery secure on the garment.  Currently there isn’t a way to recycle this material.  This is a project that I’ve believe will change the embroidery industry if we can find a way to recycle this material on a broader scale.  Embroidery shops all across the nation are throwing this material away and it’s all going to landfill.  At Visual Impressions, we fill two 8 yard dumpsters a week with this stuff.  The problem is that it costs more to transport the material to be recycled than what it is ultimately worth.  If you have an idea on how this material can be used, or if you are currently recycling it I’d love to hear from you!!

5.  Social Media growth and networking.  I’ve spent a good deal of effort growing this part of my personal branding and it’s paying off every day.  If you are not connected with me currently, I’d love to network with you to share ideas and learn from each other.  Here are my major channels:

LinkedIn – www.linkedin.com/in/marshallatkinson/

Twitter – www.twitter.com/atkinsontshirt/

Pinterest – www.pinterest.com/atkinsontshirt/

Blog – http://atkinsontshirt.blog/

6.  Visual Impressions.  As stated previously here, we are all about growth…but this growth has to make sense and be beneficial to both parties.  We want to be your trusted apparel decorator that you can turn to for any order or program.  We are currently adding personnel, equipment and infrastructure to accommodate the growth and get ready for 2014.  It’s an exciting time to be in this industry as there are a lot of new technologies emerging.  Contact me and let me know how we can help you with your success!  marshall@visualimp.com or (414) 379-6231.

7.  Fitness.  Keep working out weekly and have my weight consistently under 210.  I’d like to run in at least two 5k runs and one 10k run this year.  I’m considering this a professional goal, as my improved fitness has helped me daily with my work goals.  I do a lot of thinking while I’m running or sweating my butt off in the gym.  More than one blog article was “pre-written” while doing laps or grunting through some reps with weights.

8.  Professional Networking.  It’s great to share experiences and stories with others.  Learning and growing are always on the forefront of my mind.  Let’s learn together!

9.  More articles published in industry trade magazines.  I’m still going to write for Impressions, but I’ve also have been asked to contribute to Wearables Magazine and Stitches Magazine this year.  I’m on their Advisory Boards as well.  I’m writing my first piece for Wearables right now!

10.  Be a great husband and father.  Really this should be my number one goal, but it’s a personal one too so it’s good to end the list with this one.  Since working for Visual Impressions I’ve come to appreciate a better work/life balance than what was my daily life in Florida.  The grass is greener over the fence sometimes…   I love you Jody & Jack!!

When Lightning Strikes – On the Production Floor with Boston Strong T-shirts

I’ve been in the apparel decoration business a long time, (over 25 years) and until recently thought I had seen it all.  It’s not uncommon for reporters or television news crews to come and film for public interest stories when you are printing a large hot market production run after a Super Bowl or World Series.  One might show up, or maybe two.

Last Friday, we had four.  And right after the last one was pulling away in the parking lot a producer called me wanting to know if the local morning show could do a live remote and film our Saturday crew.  They ended up doing three break-aways.  (Here’s a link to one of the telecasts from Friday – http://www.todaystmj4.com/news/local/203816071.html#.UXHJKpzJdO0.twitter)

So what’s all the commotion?  Let’s backtrack to Monday April 15th.  That’s when the unthinkable tragedy at the Boston Marathon occurred.  Like 9/11, the entire nation stopped what they were doing and helplessly watched in horror after the improvised bombs went off.  This is such a huge sporting event, and even though I now live in Wisconsin and am originally from Florida, I knew people at the Boston Marathon.  I’m really happy and grateful that none were injured in the attack.  For the rest of the day and night we were all glued to the coverage about the terrorist attack on innocent people.

There were two college kids at Emerson College in Boston, Nick Reynolds and Chris Dobens, who felt just as helpless.  They lived nearby and this really was an emotional time for them.  They were going to go down to the Boston Marathon and were warned to stay away, and then were just stuck watching the coverage from their dorm room.  They felt that they had to do something to counteract the helplessness they felt.  But what?

They decided to raise money for the victims.  Searching online they found Ink to the People (www.inktothepeople) and created their simple, but striking royal blue with gold t-shirt “Boston Strong”.  They coined the term.  (Think about that)  Using the design tools on the website, they finished their design and uploaded it to the web. (http://inktothepeople.com/marketplace/ink-detail/3731)  Then they pushed it out to their friends, families and fellow students at Emerson.  They hoped to sell 110 shirts at $20 each, and they were going to donate the proceeds to whatever official charity came out of the tragedy.  When they started, one hadn’t been created yet – but they knew one would be.  Sadly, we’ve been down this road before.

Flashback to Milwaukee, where I work.  Ink to the People started as a reaction to an apparent industry need about two years prior.  The owners, Jay Berman and Todd Richheimer, recognized a challenge as different people would always come into their t-shirt printing shop and have an “awesome idea” for a new t-shirt design.  They would get a bunch of shirts printed, but lacked the resources, connections or skill to sell the shirts later.  Most would be stuck with a bunch of shirts in their garage.  The Ink to the People website was born out of that need, where people could either create their design on the site, or upload one, and then use social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, e-mail contacts, etc.) to sell the shirt.  Users would set a minimum when they created their online design, and if they met the number – the shirt would go to print.  If not, then everything would automatically cancel, and nobody would be stuck with a bunch of shirts that won’t sell.  Here’s a really funny video we made about the Ink to the People site – http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=SCAtTsuKBGs

So here’s where the lightning strikes.  The Reynolds & Dobens “Boston Strong” shirt takes off like a rocket, mostly due to the incredible job the two guys did with promoting their design.  (I’m sure you’ve seen their hashtag #bostonstrong)  They were relentless with their social media campaign with Twitter, Facebook & Instagram and made a number of supportive YouTube videos (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjVsWtHDQe0) at different stages to discuss the progress, present information, and basically cheerlead the process into even greater success.  If anyone needs a primer on how to work social media towards a frenzy of success, just follow those two guys.

That first Tuesday morning after the design was posted I clicked into the Ink to the People site like I do a lot of mornings just to see what has been posted.  Their shirt was up there, with 110 for the minimum and about 90 or so sold. In an hour or two, they had tripled that.  As the office came into work, we begin to look at this design and closely follow the numbers.  Jay & Todd reached out to Nick and told him that what he was doing was incredibly inspiring, and volunteered to donate the cost of running the shirts up to a quantity of 1500.  This way all $20 could go to their charity.  We all had the site up on our computers all day and had it tuned to the Boston Strong shirt.  I would work for a few minutes and then click the refresh button just to see the number jump by increments of 20, 30 or 100 each time.  It was incredible.  I bet Daryl, our master web designer, $1 that it would surpass 1000 sold by 5:00 pm.  (I lost as by 5:00 the number was only 846.  It didn’t hit 1000 until about an hour or so later)

By the following day, Wednesday, people around the country were starting to talk about the site and word was getting out about the Boston Strong fundraising efforts.  It didn’t hurt that Reynolds and Dobens did a masterful job relentlessly sending out messages and updates on social media.  It only took three days to raise $100,000.  In five days, they were at $300,000.  (Here’s a nice video they made at that point – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ga7BvhfNH1s )  When the one week mark hit and their original sale ended they surpassed the $500,000 mark.  Not bad for two college kids in a dorm room.

What was nice for me was that the work that we put into the site paid off in a small, but positive way.  Everyone associated with the Ink to the People website has spent countless hours designing, building, tweaking, and talking about the site for many months prior.  We’ve had long discussions on all sorts of minutia, and have worked with focus groups, UX studies and all sorts of different people to try to understand how people might use the site.  It wasn’t until the intense strain that the Boston Strong campaign dropped onto the site, did we understand where the stress points really were.  Previously we had some moderate success with users taking the site and using its tools to design and market their ideas through their social media contacts.  However, that was nothing compared to having 250-650 people simultaneously using the site at any given time for hours on end.   Here was our press release http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/4/prweb10652456.htm

One week goes by and the original Ink to the People Boston Strong campaign closes for Nick & Chris on Monday April 22.  In that span of time, they sold over 34,000 shirts and would raise over $500,000 for the One Fund Boston.  They reposted the shirt of course, and it’s still selling and raising even more money.  I’m convinced they will raise over a million dollars by the time this thing ends.  However, behind the scenes – we’re busy frantically getting the production set up for orders to ship.  We preordered chunks of thousands of t-shirts in all sizes before the campaign ended so we could get a jump on production.  These came into our shop in waves, as we basically bought all the royal blue shirts that our distributors had on their warehouse floor.  Like American’s pulling for Boston; these shirts shipped in from all over the country; Florida, California, Illinois, and Texas.  We printed over the weekend, and after the shirt closed that Monday night we started printing 24 hours a day, as we had the final order numbers, to make sure we could ship immediately.  The shirts were folded, packaged and double checked with their packing slips to make sure they were correctly distributed.  The first wave of them went out on Tuesday April 23, and we were sending them out as fast as we could print a packing slip and mailing label.  We have an incredible group of dedicated and skilled professionals at Ink to the People, and everyone pulled together and got the job done.  Here’s a cool Vine video that our social media guru Steve Schumacher put together https://vine.co/v/bUvdezQ0OIT

One day, maybe the world won’t have evil people seeking out to harm and terrorize others.  As Americans, we all grieve for the three people that died, and scores of many that were injured.  The victims and their families of this tragedy will have long, painful days ahead of them trying to sort out and live their life to the fullest.  The One Fund Boston charity that was created will help them with their effort.  I believe that it’s the incredible altruistic spirit of Nick Reynolds and Chris Dobens, and the scores of people that helped them with their campaign, publicized their efforts, bought a simple t-shirt to help, or just matter-of-factly stood symbolically with the city of Boston that makes this country so unique and wonderful.  If we can get New York Yankees to sing Sweet Caroline at a game, then anything can happenhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wN807-wxPW0

Here are some links to other media outlets surrounding the Boston Strong fundraising campaign and Ink to the People:

Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/31/boston-strong-shirt-movement_n_3368388.html

CNN – http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2013/05/02/exp-boston-strong-rallying-cry-for-boston.cnn

USA Today http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/04/30/boston-strong-emerson-tshirt-fundraiser/2124053/?buffer_share=78e9c&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer%253A%252Batkinsontshirt%252Bon%252Btwitter

Boston Globe http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2013/04/24/boston-strong-shirts-flying-off-shelves/hHptUsZtCb9BvilFfT6JpO/story.html

Fox News http://news.yahoo.com/video/boston-strong-t-shirts-help-202253462.html

NBC Nightly News http://www.nbcnews.com/video/nbc-news/51660087#51660087

Mashable http://mashable.com/2013/04/23/boston-charity/?buffer_share=c19f9&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer%253A%2520%2540atkinsontshirt%2520on%2520twitter

Seventeen Magazine  http://www.seventeen.com/love/advice/crush-of-the-week-boston-strong-teens

WTMJ4 TV  http://www.todaystmj4.com/news/local/203816071.html

http://www.todaystmj4.com/news/local/203933851.html

WISN12 TV  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jArDuOvCDdI

NECN.com  http://www.necn.com/04/25/13/Students-raise-large-profit-for-charity-/landing.html?blockID=838985&feedID=11106