Jon Thom and Chris Brun are friends who’ve built a substantial Dunedin-based design, screen-printing and embroidery business and backed themselves in the process.
NZB: Why did you and Chris start The Print Room? What made you think there was a sufficient gap in the market?
JON: We started the business in mid-2014 because we saw a gap for well-designed and printed garments. We’ve since expanded to include embroidery and other promotional merchandise.
I began my foray into the rag trade in my second year of university. I sold screen printed T-shirts out of my student flat under the name Moodie Tuesday.
Chris and I are step-cousins and grew up together in Clyde, Central Otago. We went to Clyde Primary and Dunstan High School together, then both moved to Dunedin.
We ran into each other one night and Chris mentioned he was wanting to make T-shirts.
I wanted someone to help me kick along Moodie Tuesday, and so we started working together.
While at uni we were approached by people wanting us to design and print T-shirts for them. So we decided to give it a crack.
Initially, we worked for others under the guise of Moodie Tuesday.
Our first screen printer was made from an old door we got from the dump and bits and pieces from Mitre 10.
We’d be at uni or working other jobs during the day and then
print T-shirts late into the night and early hours. We did this for
18 months until we hired our first employee.
Today The Print Room has seven staff plus part-timers – an amazing and talented crew who’ve added to our skill-set and enable us to work towards achieving our goals.
We now have clients nationwide. We’ve found a sweet spot where we can be creative, work with a variety of clients and build our own sustainable business. Pretty much the dream!
NZB: You seem to have complementary skill-sets. How has this helped the business?
JON: Each of us has a number of overlapping skills which is quite good for communicating ideas to one another, and it gives us the ability to learn things and roll out ideas quickly.
Chris has a building background so is practical and hands-on. Whereas my background prior to The Print Room was in web design, content creation, photography and video. We try to do everything in-house from marketing and design to content creation. This keeps everyone engaged and interested and ensures that we’re constantly learning.
NZB: Describe the scariest moment you’ve had with the business so far?
JON: In our first week of business we managed to wrangle orders for a few thousand T-shirts.
Three of us worked shifts. We pretty much printed 24 hours a day on this tiny little single platen carousel. It was hard graft and something I hope we never have to do again!
But was totally worth it. At the end of that week we had raised enough funds to buy an entry-level screen-printing carousel and tunnel drier. This is when we decided to set up The Print Room and focus more on print and design.
NZB: Describe your most satisfying moment with the business?
JON: I like experimenting and get a lot of satisfaction when the guys are creating interesting artwork and our print techniques are pushing us to the edge of knowledge and capabilities.
My mates joke because I’m always watching ‘screen print vids’ on YouTube. It’s very satisfying to watch a new technique then be able to nail it in our shop.
Recently we’ve been producing some of our best work ever, involving artwork, print techniques and production times.
NZB: What lessons has the business taught you?
JON: Chris and I have our fingers in different pies and we both have experience in other ventures.
I think understanding where your business sits in the market and being able to articulate that to customers is important. When we started we didn’t necessarily know where exactly we sat, but as we’ve grown in confidence things have evolved. As we’ve matured we’ve learned how to manage clients better and identity what opportunities we should be focusing our attention on.
You also learn to look after yourself more; when we began we were burning the candle at both ends.
NZB: Having seven male staff under 32 and under the same roof must provide for some interesting times. Describe the work environment and your plans for gender equality.
JON: It’s an ongoing discussion for the crew and we are really mindful of gender equality.
In 2015 we shared our office with female graduate Jessie Wong, who started her now successful business You Mei. Initially we helped her to get things off the ground, and it’s amazing to see how her business has grown.
Two of our first employees were female, which created a great workplace dynamic. Then Elicia got her dream job as a guide in Fiordland and Amy decided to focus on other commitments. We are very conscious of correcting gender bias in the hiring process!
We’ve created a supportive working environment where everyone feels valued and enthused about their work. Experimentation and learning by doing is important to us. We schedule regular time slots to work on creative projects and encourage everyone to have input in the direction of the business. Creating an environment where people enjoy working and feel excited by their work is one of my most important business values. We have high expectations of one another and ourselves.
NZB: Why do you think the business has been successful so far?
JON: We’ve created of an environment where staff are challenged to perform at their best. We are willing to push the boundaries. We carefully select people so every time someone new is brought on board value is added to the company. Traditionally the screen print industry has been seen as trade based, rather than creative. Creativity is at the centre of everything we do. This informs our business decisions and ensures that we are innovators.
NZB: What are your long term plans?
JON: We plan to export into Australia. In New Zealand there are a number of industries or sectors we are yet to target. More people are becoming aware of the importance of quality workwear and merchandise and the power these have in communicating their brand.
We want to continue evolving and streamlining our online ordering platform. We also plan to focus on our content creation and social media. Our goal is to become known as a leader and major source of knowledge in our industry.