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!!

Promoting Sustainability for T-shirt Shops – 2014 and Beyond

ATKINSON SPEAKING SUSTAINABILITY 3This has been a big week for me.  Let’s recap and then get to some information that you can use to improve your business.

On Wednesday I was elected to the Board of Directors for the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership at their annual meeting in Chicago.  (www.sgppartnership.org)  As someone who has successfully navigated two large t-shirt printing shops through the maze of third party audits and certification, it’s apparent that I’m all in on how sustainability can be an incredibly positive idea for businesses (not to mention margin builder).   I’m extremely honored and proud to serve on the board and represent the apparel decorating industry…I’m still smiling about it!  These guys rock!!

On Friday I helped the 6th annual Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council Conference by serving on an expert panel entitled “The Profit in Sustainability” in one of their morning breakout sessions.  (http://www.wisconsinsustainability.com/annual-conference/)  This was a wonderful event hosted by Lands’ End in Dodgeville, Wisconsin on their beautiful campus.  (Yes, we did the tour – very impressive)  The conference was dedicated to how all businesses in Wisconsin should be pursuing sustainable choices, and there was plenty of discussion on how, where and why.  One thing that became very obvious is that companies are using their sustainability programs as a competitive advantage to gain market share more frequently than ever before.  There is an expectation now that companies should be sustainable, and if you are not something is wrong.  It is a differentiator for sales choices.

So let’s share what I discussed in my session, “The Profit in Sustainability”.  In a nutshell I reviewed the process from starting our sustainability program at Visual Impressions when I started there in late 2011, some areas of focus, and our current direction today.  We keep tabs on basically four cost items: Our Energy (Electricity, Natural Gas, Water, & Propane), our Courier (We use a courier service for local deliveries to our clients), our Ink and Consumables (Ink, emulsion, chemicals, boxes, and other necessary supplies), and our Trash.

2011 (Baseline year – before starting anything) = cost per imprint $0.12

$530,450.72 (Energy + Courier + Ink & Consumables + Trash) spent to produce 4,407,767 impressions

2012 (Sustainability program started) = cost per imprint $0.08

$443,263.03 (Energy + Courier + Ink & Consumables + Trash) spent to produce 5,193,543 impressions

2013 (YTD with two weeks left) = cost per imprint $0.065

$360,386.08 (Energy + Courier + Ink & Consumables + Trash) spent to produce 5,495,984 impressions

We started our recycling program in March and to date have recycled 24.9 tons of cardboard, plastic, paper & metal

As you can easily see, our hard cost normalized by the work performed drops, while we are actually getting busier.  This entire effort goes straight to the bottom line.  So what are we doing that you are not?  Here are a few things that I highly recommend:

  1. Start a Sustainability Committee with your staff and get going!  Discuss what you can do, divide up the work, set due dates on a calendar, and get some momentum started by taking some first steps.  Make it fun, and set some clear expectations and goals.
  2. Get an Energy Audit.  Your local utility will come out (usually for free) and examine your building and give you a grocery list of things you can do to conserve energy.  This will have immediate payback if you take their advice.
  3. Examine how you operate in your shop.  Your workflow, your purchasing decisions, the Cost of Poor Quality, virtually every facet of your shop can have an effect on your bottom line.  Sustainability isn’t a buzzword about saving trees, it’s about doing things better and more responsibly.   Two words: Continuous Improvement.
  4. Fix or replace broken or problematic equipment.  Upgrade if you can.  New technology operates faster, more efficiently, and often with less energy than older models.  Sure, that old piece of junk is paid for…but there is a cost to keeping it too.  How many more impressions, printed at less cost could you obtain with newer equipment?
  5. Talk to your vendors.  What choices can they give you to operate more sustainably and at less cost?
  6. Check out the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) for guidance and best industry practices for developing your Sustainability Program and the benefits of obtaining certification.  www.sgppartnership.org

If you want more detail and a step by step on how we did it a Visual Impressions you can sign up for my talk at ISS Long Beach 2014 “Sustainability: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle AND Lower Your Operation Expenses” on Friday, January 17, 8:30 to 10:00 am.  It’s an hour and a half discussion jam-packed with tips, photos, suggestions and helpful ideas.  Come and learn and then walk the show!  Click here to register: http://tinyurl.com/loms9eu

As always, you can always feel free to use me as a resource if you need some advice, mentoring or as a consultant.  Reach out to me at matkinson4804@gmail.com.  Also, I’d love for you to leave a comment below on what you are doing in your shop, any new products or techniques that you are using, or any question on sustainability that you might have!

ISS Long Beach Show Recap – Big Success!


I just returned from an outstanding couple of days at the Imprinted Sportswear Show in Long Beach California.  I’ve attended many of these types of shows over the years, but this one stands out for several reasons.  First, and the most obvious reason, was that I gave a presentation on building a sustainability program in an apparel decorator shop.  Second, I was representing my new employer, Visual Impressions, and was very happy to see some great interaction with the vendors at the show.  Although, I didn’t get to see everyone I had hoped to (time limitations), I thought I’d recap some of the major highlights of the show and share with everyone.

  1.  I’d like to give the primary shout out to everyone that signed up for my class, “Sustainability: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle and Lower Your Operating Expenses”.  Everyone that attended the class was involved from the start and we had a great interchange of ideas and tips.  If you were in the class, please give yourself a pat on the back for being so forthright with your questions and for sharing how you are doing it in your shop.  Great job!!  I’d love to hear back from you on how you implemented any of the ideas I presented or that others shared.
  2. Another big thank you to Laura Caskey with Nielsen Expositions for making my first time giving a presentation at the event so easy.  She was very organized and wonderful to work with.  Thanks!
  3. Jay Berman (owner of Visual Impressions, my employer) and I had a wonderful dinner with Greg Kitson, owner of Mind’s Eye Graphics, and Deborah Sexton, owner of Saracen Communications and long-time industry journalist.  It was fun sharing how everyone entered into this industry and thoughts on the future.  I’d also like to publically thank Greg for mentoring me on the presentation process with these shows, as I appreciate the help and support from a long time veteran.
  4. Had a great breakfast on the Queen Mary (sorry no ghosts were in sight), with Jay, Rich Pulliam with Midwest Sign & Screen Printing Supply, and Marci Kinter with SGIA.  I’ve known Marci seemingly forever and have spoken to her countless times on the phone, in webinar panels, and by e-mail, but unbelievably have never met her in person.  It was great opportunity for me.  Getting some insight on the current and future state of the Consumer Product and Safety Information Act challenges with our industry ink was extremely enlightening and worth its weight in gold.
  5. I also loved meeting and sharing some ideas with Rodney Blackwell with tshirtforums.com.  He’s a super guy, and I really like the free exchange of ideas on his forum.  Lots of new and future industry superstars go there first to start their journey in the biz, and Rodney gets to help them along their way.  Thanks for your time Rodney!  Keep up the good work!
  6. I was really amazed at the growth in the digital sector in the industry.  Every other booth has some sort of new digital printer, sublimation or process.  Anyone who thinks the future of the industry isn’t moving to digital is delusional.  The standout printer of the show is the new Kornit Avalanche. (see http://www.kornit-digital.com/NewsAndEvents/?page=22&pageType=3&ID=503  for their press release)  This is going to be a revolutionary machine in the industry, and it’s not just about the blazing speed either (300 shirts per hour) as they have increased the print size to a huge 23.5” x 35” image, and also the availability to run two completely different jobs simultaneously on the two platens.  This equipment can take an art file from the web and print it on a shirt without any art department prep or human involvement.  To me, this was the standout piece of equipment at the show.  Before the show they had over 40 of these placed in shops around the country, and I spoke with a salesman later Friday evening at a reception and they sold four at the show.  This is the direction we are heading folks.
  7. I also find it strangely amusing that people that interested in getting into the DTG market are not calculating the cost of the ink, pretreatment labor step, and other variables into their purchase price ROI calculations.  They all want the $20k printer, but aren’t looking past that purchase price and into the true cost of the printer which is their ink and labor.  (which also depends on their production volume – I get it)  I spoke to several people at the show and to a person they were dismissing this calculation and just focusing on the “get it in the door” price.
  8. Speaking of strangely amusing, I also am left wondering why so many printers have not even heard of the regulations for lead and non-phthalate inks as mandated by the CPSC.  For those of us that want to do this right, any increase in cost that we may have to add to the price of doing youth shirts is going to be undercut by some uninformed slob down the street that doesn’t even care.  Even some of the larger shop owners and production managers I spoke with aren’t following or worrying about this.   This is going to get uglier than it already is now.
  9. Another great new piece of equipment to see is SignTronic’s ScreenMaster, which is a fully automated direct to screen system that not only images the screen, but washes out the emulsion and dries the screen for you.  (here’s the link to the video http://www.signtronic.com/Video/stm-tex_web.mp4)  This was extremely cool, and a big thanks to Lee Bryhn for walking us through the system.  You can get about 30 screens an hour through the machine, and basically reduce your screen room labor down to just a few people, as the equipment does all the work.  Big price tag, and if you need more than 30 screens an hour it’s going to be too slow, but a great innovation.
  10. Loved talking shop with all the great folks at Wilflex/Polyone and NazDar.  Good to see them, and I’d like to say thank you to Rob Coleman for his insights with the CPSC regulations, Peter Walsh for just being Peter Walsh, but for also help arranging for a DM4 demo, and to Adam Scaife for introducing us to Dave Swart Director of Operations for New Buffalo Shirt Factory.  Great hearing Dave’s insights on the industry, operations, and resolving challenges.  Good seeing Carl Busey, and talking shop with him too.
  11. On a personal note, I’d like to give thanks to my new employers Jay Berman and Todd Richheimer with Visual Impressions.  They are truly great people to work for, and are actively involved with the business and “get it”.  I’ve been working for them since August and really love the attitude, feedback, enthusiasm, and respect that they have shown me.  Thanks for picking up the tab for me for this show and for next month’s one in Orlando.  If you do business with Visual, you know what I’m talking about when I say they are great guys…if you haven’t placed an order with us yet – it’s not too late!  Try us and see the difference.
  12. I’d also like to give some thanks and credit to my wife Jody for helping me as always.  She motivates me constantly to be a better person, see things that I don’t, and to remind me of not only where I’ve been – but more importantly where I’m going.  Thanks babe!  Daisy.
  13. Lastly, if I missed seeing you at the ISS Long Beach show, there’s another opportunity a few weeks away in Florida at ISS Orlando.  I’d love to spend some time with anyone and compare notes on how to resolve challenges, improve, motivate staff, build a better schedule, handle CPSC regulations, talk about sustainability, or just catch up on life’s struggles.