Print Room - A Good Direction

A Good Conversation with Chris Brun & Jon Thom

These hometown Heros grew up not far from me in small town New Zealand. These days they are growing a leading specialist screen print, embroidery and merchandise business. How did it all happen? Have a read and find out.

Firstly, a bit of background, who are you?

We’re Chris Brun & Jon Thom from The Print Room & Moodie Tuesday. The Print Room is a specialist screen print, embroidery, and merchandise business. Moodie Tuesday is a clothing label that is Text here sold online and retailed through Dunedin fashion boutique Slick Willy’s.

Tell us about your ventures both with Moodie Tuesday and now The Print Room

The Print Room officially began back in mid-2014. We started the business because we saw a gap in the market for well-designed and printed garments for businesses, sports teams, schools, clubs, and organisations. We’ve since widened our service offering to include embroidery and other promotional merchandise. Our goal is to create high-quality products, with consistency and efficiency. Furthermore, we create products that people love to wear & talk about, ensuring our clients’ brands are communicated clearly and are top of mind. The business is owned by Chris Brun & I.

What’s your story? What has been your journey to get you to where you are?

I began my foray into the rag trade in my second year of university when I sold screen printed t-shirts out of my Forth Street flat under the name Moodie Tuesday; the t-shirts featured screen prints of portraits that I had painted or drawn. Chris and I grew up together in good old Clyde, Central Otago (we’re actually step cousins), went to Clyde Primary & Dunstan High School together then both moved to down to Dunedin after school. We’d run into each other one night in town, Chris mentioned he was wanting to make some t-shirts and I was looking for someone else to help me kick things along with Moodie Tuesday. We agreed to start working together. The rest is history I guess.
After a few years of running Moodie Tuesday during our time at uni, we began to get approached by people who wanted us to design and print t-shirts for them. After a number of requests, we decided to give it a crack! Initially, we worked for others under the guise of Moodie Tuesday, essentially starting from scratch. Our first week of business we managed to wrangle orders of a few thousand t-shirts. We had three of us working shifts for over a week, we pretty much printed 24 hours days 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 a new entry level screen printing carousel & tunnel dryer. This is when we decided to set-up The Print Room and focus our attention more toward print and design for clients.
We would be at uni or working other jobs during the day and then print late into the night and often the mornings. We did this for a year and a half or so until we brought on our first staff members. The Print Room has continued to grow to the point where we now have 7 amazing staff and take on further part timers over busy periods. We’ve tried hard to grow a loyal Dunedin customer base, at the same time clients from throughout the country.
Where did the ideas/motivation come from?
The Print Room was born out of a need to create; our fashion background gave us experience creating high-quality desirable products. We found a sweet spot where we could be creative, work with a wide range of clients to create value for them and to build our own sustainable business. Pretty much the dream!
I think it is pretty motivating to be able to get up each morning and know that you are completing in control of your own path. There’s a bit of pressure in that and it is definitely not for everyone, however, I think we both feed off that pressure and turn it into a positive energy that propels the business forward.
Both Chris and I have extremely high standards – I believe our growth to date has been attributed to being self-critical and having high expectations of ourselves and our staff. It is important to always be learning new techniques, researching upcoming trends and producing the highest level of product you can, all at the same time as offering a quality service to clients. It is very satisfying to pull a really nice print off the press that you have seen develop from the initial ideas phase through to final production – likewise, it is always a huge motivator when you have happy clients whose expectations we have exceeded and love the product we create.
What gave you the confidence to get it going?

I am not sure what I would be if I wasn’t working for myself. I’ve been involved in several different ventures since leaving university. I think one of the things I like about the nature of The Print Room is that we are constantly working on new jobs and the lifecycle of a job is short. Usually, we’re working on a 10-20 working day turnaround time from the initial point of contact to the job’s completion. There are clear deliverables and both us and the customer are clear about what the expectations of the job are. From experiences I have had in the past, I’ve found I need a job that moves quickly and does not tend to drag out, otherwise, I tend to lose focus. I also really like the design side of what we do and the craft and skill that is required to produce top quality merchandise. We’ve been lucky to create a business where a number of Chris and my skills and interests overlap – if you’re confident in what you do and know that you’re bringing something different to the market this gives you drive to soldier on even during more difficult times.

 
What have been your struggles?
Like they say no pain, no gain! In business you need to be prepared for the good and tougher times. What seems like a difficult or stressful period at the time, looking back in a few months or years will often seem like not that big a deal. Generally the more experiences you have the more confident you become in what you do.
For us initially, a lack of funds was a barrier, however, we figured out ways around this and knew what we needed to do to get to the next step. Hard work was required to achieve these goals.
Another struggle at times can be switching off, running a business can be a bit all consuming and is something most people probably do not understand unless they run their own businesses. I think it’s pretty standard for business owners to be work big hours at the office and still coming home and thinking about work. I’ve found I tend to get burnt out quite easily, so I am focusing on ways to manage this – like having hobbies away from work, having business meetings in a different setting to the office like a cafe and making sure to take time off during the weekends. I often find travel or a change of scenery really stimulating, you’re away from usual distractions and exposed to new things so this can be quite good at getting you excited to be back in the office.
Highs and lows so far?
Highs – building a super talented and knowledgeable team. Being able to focus on specialty prints and create high-quality products that our customers love. I think when you look at how far we’ve come in three years from screen printing tees on a set-up that was built on an old door and a few bits and pieces bought from Mitre 10, to running one of NZ’s leading merchandise companies, that is something to be immensely proud of.
Lows – Not too many lows that I can think of, to be honest!
Have you had doubts along the way? If so how did you overcome them?

I think yes there have been times we’ve had doubts about what we’re doing. It is important to take the time to reflect on decisions you’ve made and assess whether that was the correct thing to do, if not how could we do it better if faced with a similar issue next time. Deep down you need strong self-believe and to know that you will overcome what is thrown at you as difficult as things may seem at the time. Take time to breathe, assess the situation and logically look at a way out or remedy I guess. Knowing that there’s always tomorrow is important. If you’ve had a particularly bad day knowing that tomorrow will be a new day and will never be as bad is a good self-assurance!

What are your plans for the brand for the future?
For The Print Room, our goal is to continue to build a sustainable business. We want to focus on printing techniques that stand out from our competitors and continue to add to our current skill set. We’d like to eventually start exporting into Australia. For Moodie Tuesday, we’ve been really busy with The Print Room, so it would be nice to breathe some life back into Moodie and set it up as a creative extension of The Print Room where we can push our capabilities to the limits and show the quality of our work.
 
Would you say there has been pivotal moments? Turning points in your story?
Gaining a number of key repeat clients has been very important, these clients have stuck with us from the outset which we are hugely grateful for.

Bringing on staff who are more skilled than Chris and I in particular areas of the business has been a big win and been reflected in significant growth.

Reaching the point where we could bring all our core services in-house has also been pivotal. This has been achieved through investment in equipment and R&D.

So you’ve got an idea, or a concept or passion, what’s your biggest piece of advice to get started?

Just start! I’m a perfectionist, this can be detrimental in business at times. Things will never be exactly how you imagined them to be in your head and don’t always pan out as you’ve planned. Be flexible and roll with it, if you have a vision and drive for where you’re going you will get there soon enough. Be passionate, start small, make mistakes, learn from mistakes and repeat, that’s pretty much it.

How do you define success?
Being in control of the path you are on, being satisfied and interested in what you do on a daily basis. Being able to live off your passion.
Your advice to the youth of the world?
Know the road to running your own business isn’t easy. Knowing what I know now I’d think twice about setting up at this point in time all over again! It’s a long slog – but if you hang in there it is very rewarding to build a business from nothing. In ten years there will be jobs that we’ve could never dream of today – I think it is important to try and get as many experiences as possible with the knowledge that this makes you a more valuable person, but also understand that it will unlikely that you have the same job for your entire working life, like our parents may have. Try and have fun in what you do and try not to talk yourself too seriously all the time 🙂
Huge thanks as always to these two Good Sorts for sharing their entrepreneurial journey. To find out more or follow them on social media head to their website or instagram