By Cassandra Balentine
Print service providers (PSPs) must have a passion for print. Success often comes from creativity and a shop’s ability to utilize the latest technologies in a way that separates them from the competition.
Ministicks.com is a successful print operation fueled by the experience and hard work of its owner, Robbie Illos-Gerth. The Buffalo, NY-based PSP offers a variety of printed sports-themed promotional items, including custom hockey pucks, mounted trophy hockey pucks, and mini hockey sticks—or better known as ministicks. In addition to these printed souvenirs, the shop offers custom lapel pins, banners and signs, and printed bags.
The story of ministicks stems from Illos-Gerth’s first business, Illostrative Gallierie, which the entrepreneur launched in 1991. With a background in prepress and film dot-etching, Illos-Gerth established her graphics services business working with printers and advertising agencies. She became proficient in computer graphics as a beta tester for Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop software and also mastered color calibration between monitors and printing devices. “I trained many co-workers and employees at various agencies. As time went on, I became very hands on, from ideas to final output,” she shares.
In 2000, Illos-Gerth had to step back her workload after a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Looking for a part-time gig, she answered an advertisement for a graphic artist and started a new venture. Within time, she managed the disease and was able to expand her workload from seven hours a week to over 40.
In 2007, she made a big move, purchasing a business she did freelance work for. Changing the name to ministicks.com, the shop has grown from a single person operation in a 200 square foot room of her home to a 7,000 square foot building with a staff of five employees. “My employees are my greatest asset,” she claims, adding that they are eager to learn and try new things.
Applications in House
As previously mentioned, ministicks.com specializes in personalized sport novelties, such as promotional mini hockey sticks, souvenir mini baseball bats, and personalized mini lacrosse sticks.
The shop serves a variety of customers from around the world, including individual consumers, clubs, teams, sports leagues, schools, colleges, minor league teams, the NHL, and major league lacrosse. “We do a lot with youth leagues and tournaments, and believe it or not, wedding and bar mitzvah favors,” she says.
Party planners and tournament directors is a rapid growth area within ministicks.com. Illos-Gerth says the team has worked with wedding planners, bar mitzvah planners, corporate event planners, special event planners, and tournament hosts, providing personal and memorable items.
In terms of promotion, she says it’s mainly word of mouth. “One connection leads to another and we can produce printed or embroidered shirts, lapel pins, banners, signs, magnets, vehicle lettering, and the list goes on,” says Illos-Gerth.
To fulfill its production needs, ministicks.com started with a 30-inch Roland VersaCAMM wide format printer/cutter. Last Summer, the company invested in a 54-inch Roland VS-540i wide format printer/cutter and 64×98-inch Roland LEJ-640FT UV flatbed printer.
With its new capabilities, Illos-Gerth says the shop can print wider, bigger, and faster. Both of its newest devices run daily.
One draw of the VS-540i is its metallic ink capability. “We don’t use it a lot, however, we’ve done a few interesting projects. The colors look really sharp and change a little in different lighting,” she comments.
In the past, direct to substrate printing was outsourced. “There was a lot of time spent tracking production,” says Illos-Gerth. The shop also had to deal with additional shipping, tracking, and recording. “I wanted to have it all in house, but I did not want to add a screen printing department,” she explains.
After looking at many digital printing options over the years, including many product’s tests prints, she wasn’t ready to invest in a printer that didn’t fit the company’s quality standards. “We wanted a printer that could print white, varnish, do occasional doming, and be able to print on a variety of substrates,” says Illos-Gerth. “It would be an added plus if it could print on rigid items that would be handled and were more than a few inches thick,” she adds.
The criteria was answered with the LEJ-640FT. “It was too good to be true,” she quips, noting that there was a learning curve when the equipment was brought in house. Additionally, the shop had to invest in building some fixtures to accommodate the printer. Illos-Gerth says that the need to outsource is all but gone. “We do so much more in house now. Our turnaround is faster, the quality is constant, and repeat orders are simple. Everyone is happy.”
One of ministicks.com’s hottest applications, mini hockey pucks, are produced in multiple colors, with variable data, and photo-quality output. In addition, the company prints baseballs, golf balls, baseball bats, mini hockey sticks, 4×8-foot boards, styrene sheets, magnets, doors, mirrors, and tabletops.
For ministicks.com, watching the market and jumping on a device that fit all of their needs was a smart move. The ability to produce work internally allows ministicks.com to drastically streamline its operations and bring most work in house. dps
DPS Magazine, Jun2016