By Cassandra Balentine
Part 1 of 2
Sign shops come in all shapes, sizes, and business cultures. Many offer a standard range of products that enable a one-stop solution for all graphic needs. In addition to banners and flyers, direct to garment (DTG) printers provide a great way to add apparel to the mix of services.
Signworx is a custom, made-to-order shop located in Raleigh, NC. The husband-and-wife operation started as MEWStar Designs, a company that created logos, graphic designs, websites, and signs. Its original location was their home. Looking to expand, Michael and Janine Wright decided to purchase an established sign shop in Spring 2013. “Our goal was to create a family business where everyone can feel free to express themselves creatively,” says Michael Wright, owner, Signworx.
Today, the shop offers a range of products, including posters, banners, interior and exterior routed signs, vehicle graphics, ADA signage, DTG apparel, engraved signs, business cards, brochures, flyers, and “off-the-wall” creative projects in a 1,800 square foot facility with two full-time employees. Several family members work part time.
The Wrights offer clients many years of combined experience. Throughout his life, Michael spent a lot of time in the creative design field, honing crafting skills that he learned early on from his parents, Philip and Laura Wright. After high school, Michael had a quick stint in construction and soon made the transfer to sign work.
His wife, Janine, “got tossed into the signs and graphic design field through marriage,” but has found a niche in apparel and marketing. Janine has passion for fashion and music. With roots in NY, New York, she has experience in artist and brand marketing, which provides the shop with additional perspective.
A true family business, the company also offers woodworking and stain glass making from Philip Wright and hand crafts, including custom sewn canvas pillows and bags for DTG printing from Laura Wright. Janine’s mom, Nadine, and brother, Marcus, also pitch in and offer their skills to the team when needed.
In May 2013, shortly after taking over ownership of Signworx, Michael and Janine attended a local sign and digital expo in Charlotte, NC. “Being our first sign/digital expo we were excited to see everything. After walking around we found our way to the apparel section—and this is where it got real,” say the Wrights. After checking out a few DTG machines and product demonstrations, they found themselves at the AnaJet booth and “fell in love” with the technology.
After building a business plan to include an AnaJet DTG printer, Signworx decided to make the purchase in October 2013. Once it arrived, the shop immediately began printing test shirts and started lightly marketing while learning the software and the machine. “Selling a few shirts here and there initially, business quickly started to grow. As we learned more about the printer and its capabilities each day, we started printing and selling other items like hoodies, tote bags, and pallet wood,” explain the Wrights. “We were actually one of the first AnaJet owners to print across the zipper on a hoodie, and we have a video on our YouTube page showing the process,” they add.
Overall, Signworx decided on AnaJet due to the company’s attentiveness when they were looking at their products at the show. Additionally, the Wrights found the process to be quick and colors impressive compared to competitive solutions on the market. “We purchased the AnaJet mPower mP5i. We initially wanted to purchase the smaller Sprint Series model, but decided to get the mPower mP5i because we wanted to be able to offer more runs,” share the Wrights.
The mPower mP10i was also in the mix, but the price was slightly higher—they look forward to adding it to the portfolio in the future.
“We are happy we chose AnaJet. Tech support is very helpful and they keep their clientele informed on updates and new products,” say the Wrights. Specifically, he says their service representative at the company, Deana Leelachat, has been excellent, helpful, and knowledgeable.
Currently, DTG makes up about ten percent of their business, but the shop intends to increase that in the future with the possibility of another location and more machines.
Working with local, repeat clients enables Signworx to show off its creativity and service offerings. The Wrights describes one customer, Steven Bradley, owner of Recycled Body Fitness of Raleigh. “He is a client that has been with us since the beginning. He lets us be creative with anything that he orders,” they say.
The shop created Recycled Body Fitness’ logo, business cards, flyers, window graphics, truck graphics, and even the company’s storefront sign. “When we told him we were going to print t-shirts in house, he was the first to say once it’s up and running, I want shirts.”
Bradley’s first shirts consisted of just the company logo, “nothing flashy, but to the point,” describe the Wrights. The next set of shirts were for a tire challenge event. “We created two designs, one for men and one for women. Orders for these are placed every time he holds the event.”
“Steven is amazing at what he does, so we had to hook him up with some cool trainer shirts and tanks, just to remind his clients that he is going to push them to their limits. We even printed towels so his clients can remember who made them have to wipe all that sweat from their face,” quip the Wrights.
Recently, the shop has been fielding requests for one-off shirts for Recycled Body Fitness based on specific workouts. “We’ve designed a burpee shirt for the ladies and a barbell shirt for the guys. The latest design is still in progress for the client’s popular spin classes,” say the Wrights.
On the Horizon
With design and graphic arts, it’s always important to consider the future. Janine Wright says for Signworx, “we’re pretty cliché when it comes to what’s next. We feel like the sky is the limit.”
The shop wants to continue to use its creativity and add to its skill set. “We find taking on projects that we have never done before can be both terrifying and exciting. What drives us is the completion of the project—seeing our clients satisfied,” says Wright.
In addition, the shop likes to help its peers by posting videos on YouTube. “Even though some become our competitors, we try to share our knowledge and help those who ask for advice,” concludes Michael Wright.
The next piece in this series profiles Big Idea Prints, a former airbrush company that now provides DTG printing as part of a vast array of services. dps
Jan2016, DPS Magazine