Re-inventing the T-shirt business

The Print Bar – an Australian garage start-up – is making waves and winning awards, thanks to constant innovation and an enviable work culture.

The story behind so many business success stories often involves a new niche and a passionate person who, often accidentally, discovers that gap. For Jared Fullinfaw, founder of custom T-shirt business The Print Bar, the discovery came soon after he left university.

In 2011, having graduated from the University of Southern Queensland with a Bachelor of Creative Arts majoring in acting, the then 23-year-old Fullinfaw was looking for a job that might allow him enough flexibility to get to auditions, something his full-time role as the manager of a menswear store didn’t allow. He was asked to design and print a few T-shirts for friends. These led to further requests. Soon he set up a basic website and orders increased.

His mother patiently watched as the business began to expand from Fullinfaw’s bedroom to the garage, then the lounge room, the dining room and over the kitchen table. That’s when he realised enough was enough.

“I can’t believe my mother put up with me for so long,” Fullinfaw smiles. “But then again, she has always been an amazing role model for me. She raised two boys as a single parent and made her own income by working for herself as a beauty therapist. She clocked up some pretty big hours, so I guess that is what made me think I could do it.”

Finding a market

Prior to the establishment of The Print Bar, customers wanting well-made, custom T-shirts typically had to order in large numbers from existing businesses. Those requiring single or small orders had to resort to iron-on transfers or similar solutions of questionable quality. The Print Bar filled this gap in the market, offering high-quality shirts for those requiring low print runs.

The Print Bar moved in to its first warehouse (it is now fast outgrowing its second) in September 2012, and since then has grown from a single staff member to more than 20. In the same period, annual turnover has risen from $440,000 in 2012 to $1.2 million in 2013 and $1.9 million in 2014, earning the T-shirt business a spot on the BRW Fast 100 list.

More recently, Fullinfaw has been honoured in the Australian Small Business Champion Awards, winning the title of Young Small Business Champion Entrepreneur for 2015.

“I put a lot of effort into telling the people at work that we’re not a printing company. We try to think about who is behind the shirts and the intrinsic value of what we’re doing. We look at ourselves as a creative studio.”

Jared Fullinfaw, The Print Bar

A winning culture

Some of The Print Bar’s success undoubtedly comes from Fullinfaw’s obsession with culture within his workplace. “I put a lot of effort into telling the people at work that we’re not a printing company,” he says. “If you’re working for a printer, it would be pretty dull. We try to think about who is behind the shirts and the intrinsic value of what we’re doing. We look at ourselves as a creative studio.

“On top of that, we do a lot of group things like barbecues, we have a ping pong table, and I surprise the staff sometimes by bringing in a massage therapist to give everybody a half-hour massage. We see films and do rock climbing and all kinds of things.”

Diversifying offerings

The Print Bar, explains Fullinfaw, has four strategic pillars, each of which is in place to encourage growth and help smooth out any unexpected business turbulence. The first pillar is the custom T-shirts printing arm of the business; then there is the corporate clothing department; third is workshops and events, which helps to bring together artists from around Brisbane; and finally, the business is set to launch its own T-shirt manufacturing plant.

E-commerce solution

The Print Bar’s e-commerce presence has been based around SecurePay from day one. “I always liked that SecurePay is an Australian company, so when I rang I could always speak with somebody. That was a really big thing for me,” says Fullinfaw.

“It is also competitively priced compared with other gateways. Finally, it was easy to set up and has a good backend, meaning it is easy to manage and easy to check transactions and so on.”

Jared Fullinfaw’s top three tips for e-commerce entrepreneurs

1. Have a clear vision of how you see the business and where you want it to go. I knew how I wanted this business to look, and even how I wanted my staff to feel, from the beginning.

2. Think hard about what makes your business unique. Why would somebody come to you as opposed to another similar business? Build on that.

3. Know the intrinsic value of what you’re doing. For example, we’re not just printing T-shirts. We are uniting another business’s staff members by creating corporate uniforms for them. We are making events memorable, because everybody is wearing our matching T-shirts. So, our intrinsic value is about the people behind the T-shirts.

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