Haddon Township business owners Mark Concannon and Ben Lee are betting on a new, low-cost garment printer to drive new custom business and compete with e-tailers.
By Matt Skoufalos
Six years ago, when Mark Concannon and Ben Lee founded Bark Tees, their sports-themed apparel business, in the dining room of Lee’s Marlton home, the technology behind direct-to-garment (DTG) printing was expensive, affordable mostly to industrial print shops.
In the time since, however, Bark Tees has created a niche for itself in the Haddon Township business district, just as the pricing behind DTG has made it affordable for commercial entrepreneurs.
That means that vendors like Concannon and Lee are able to do work in-house that they once had to farm out at an additional cost–and hopefully recapture business at the same time.
“People were coming into the shop and wanting one or two shirts; one-offs,” Concannon said. “To quote somebody a screen-printed t-shirt, where it’s $25 for the screen, the work, the labor, you’re looking at a $50 one-off, at which most people’s eyes are glazing over.”
Effectively, he said, the printer—lovingly dubbed “the Bark 3001” in the shop—reduces the cost of a personalized shirt to the same price point as the rest of the Bark Tees inventory, while speeding up the order and delivery process from a week or two to a day or two.
Concannon calls it “the local version of CustomInk.com.
“From soup to nuts, it’s a 10-minute process, tops,” he said. “These things can do every pantone, every color. The complexity of the art is no longer a factor.”
Neither, Concannon said, is the cost of a shirt. Customers who might have ruled out a $50 t-shirt for a birthday gift, office gag, or family reunion won’t balk at the $20 cost, even for “something as a joke” that still holds up to ironing, the washing machine, and the heat of the dryer.
“Until we had this thing up and running, there was a lot of people who we’d turn away,” he said. “Even though it was your thought process that you were putting on a garment, $50 is too much. For us, that walk-in business is now a completely viable business option.”
Lee also sees the on-demand print option as something that can help business owners who want to run small-batch orders for staff or promotional teams without having to meet minimum ordering thresholds from industrial garment-makers.
“There’s so many small businesses that say, ‘I can afford a shirt for me and my partner, but I can’t afford a shirt to sell to the general public yet,’” he said.
Concannon also hopes that prospective customers who might have ordered a custom shirt online will instead turn to a local storefront for their business, and keep their dollars within the community.
“I can do exactly what those guys can do, but you have it right in front of you,” he said. “We can talk like human beings: ‘I like this, we can change this, can you tweak that?’
“We all talk about how to keep our local businesses thriving and what people are asking for as customers of small businesses, and we’re trying to add that extra dimension of what people want,” he said.
“How can we elevate our game and be that better retailer?” Concannon said. “I’m hoping that this is what that is.”