Print or broke

Mind bending drugs, armed robberies gone wrong, sexual dysfunction – there are many reasons why people are drawn to the garment decoration industry, and surely one of the first decisions to make is ‘Do I print and embroider it myself, or do I get some other witless goon to get their hands dirty?’ I’m a printer, but in spite of the thinners I’m not blind to the glamorous charms of the Broker; the advantages are numerous, so kick off your inky Puma’s and lets have a look at a few:

Firstly you get to wear a nice sports jacket. Unlike printers and to some extent embroiderers, who spend most of their life in cut off denims, sleeveless Motorhead T-shirts and spattered baseball caps, the Broker prefers a blazer, champions the chino and buffs up the Grensons. This works well in the next Brokers bonus, the shiny office. There’s no plastisol on the shag pile in there my friends, there are fish tanks, mood music and air freshener released on the hour from a plug socket – bearing in mind my carpet looks like a game of twister, I’m liking the sound of the alternative already.

And it gets better – this Broker’s oak panelled lair, it doesn’t have to be very big – no worries about where to put the 58 head MHM in there, so we don’t need 10,000 square feet after all…..look at the overheads coming down and smile on your accountants face. We can move from this shed on the outskirts of town, the reassuring crunch of syringes underfoot as you step out the armoured car, and work in some city centre offices with toilets that don’t qualify as a bio hazard.

Installed in our new hoovered palace, we no longer have to worry about physically getting the job out on time – that’s our supplier’s problem. We now have time to concentrate on the really important stuff, the marketing, the web site, the improved administration, the new CRM system, the bottom line, the next five years. Customers are getting called back, followed up, advised on new products, massaged and cajoled. Surely this means they spend more money, and for the ones who spend the most you’re not going to keep the look of that sports jacket to yourself, course not. You’ve got a bit more time now, so it’s off with the client to Ascot to cement the relationship……..’Oh do you like it, Aquascutum, got it in the sale, I find their summer range is really working for me this year…’ Meanwhile on the other side of town, a screen rips, and a young man screams.

As for those suppliers you’re now farming it all out to, give them enough work and you’ll really be able to nail them on price. The ideal situation is when they, their staff and their families become almost entirely dependant on you – now you can get some deals, it’s not a quid a print any more, you’re in 20p country. The accountant’s stopped smiling; he’s starting to chuckle…..margins, margins, margins. Don’t have just one or two of them though, always keep a few in your back pocket. Surprisingly you’ve now got more production capacity than if you were doing it yourself, your lead times are quicker. More, faster, cheaper, with lower overheads and better customer service. The accountant has just wet himself – sell the auto and pour the screen wash down the sink, smash the UV lamp and pull a rubber glove on your head; we’re off to Happy Town Brokerville, right boys?

Well yes, I guess, I’ll see you there later. Honestly I will turn up, get me one in for last orders and we’ll talk about old times, when we were T-shirt printers, there must have been a few advantages:

Control over production – if you really do have to get in a time machine and travel back to the day before the order was placed to give yourself a fighting chance of meeting a deadline, there’s no substitute for having your own kit. Not many sub contactors will take a phone call, get out of bed and print or embroider through the night, no matter how tight your scrotal grip on their supply of work.

Having a clue what you’re on about – Brokers can learn all the terminology, but if they’ve never had ink on their pants after a mistake in the gents, do they really know the score? Only a true ink jockey can keep a straight face while informing a customer that their order will be ready just as soon as the molecules stop vibrating in their print. This level of confidence rubs off on customers, like nylobond free ink off a nylon jacket. Only the practitioner has the detailed information, so if you’re starting a new label that requires specialist print and embroidery techniques, talk to the one with ink in their hair and thread on their sweat.

And never having to lie – My Grandmother drank pints of cheap sherry and kept a gun under the bed, but she hated liars and that stuck with me. When that inevitable customer question ‘Do you produce everything in house?’ comes around, the printer and embroiderer stand tall and say yes. The Broker also says yes, every time, but it ‘aint the truth.

But there’s one real reason I’ll never get that blazer, and from a pure business point of view, it’s a rubbish one. I know I’d make way more loot in a button down collar and a pair of loafers, but it won’t happen, because of the lads I work with. When I arrived at work last Tuesday to see three grown men on all fours on a flat bed, I naturally enquired what the hell was going on…’It’s a fart lighting contest Boss’ I was informed ‘Obviously’ I said, and made the coffees. Imagine a world without the soon to be Olympic sport of Loading Bay football. This doesn’t get decided on penalties, but stingers. This involves blasting a ball from ten paces at your opponents backside – if you hit him, or if he flinches, you move a pace closer. The culmination is usually a twenty stone printer taking a ten yard run up to blast a football that’s three inches away from it’s target into his colleagues colon – we, are the champions.

There are down sides, like the sight of Big Dave at the end of the dryer, naked but for a high viz vest and some safety specs. But when you’re under the auto messing about with an air filter, and the safety loops are out, because you’re old school, your mate will have his finger on a switch marked ‘your life’. He may not have a GCSE to his name; he may look like he’s just had a row with Jackson Pollock, and if he hits that switch at the wrong moment you’re on the bus to the big print shop in the sky. But he won’t, he absolutely won’t, and if you had to pick one reason why you do it, putting your life in another man’s hands is mine. Now then, where are my Puma’s?

Author: Paul Stephenson
t-shirt printing, screen printing and embroidery


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