November '19

For the Business of Apparel Decorating

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6 4 P R I N T W E A R N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 9 SHOP SNAPSHOT Sports and Movies F inding the right customers is always a key challenge for decorators, so when a shop forms stable bonds with a client, they tend to try and keep them. For Dana Bird, co-owner of Black Duck Screen Printing & Embroidery, those long-lasting client relationships span a wide variety of industries including health- care, team sports, and the motion picture industry. But Black Duck's bustling op- eration didn't initially start out as the one-stop-shop it is today. While working as a bank auditor, Bird saw an opportunity to branch out and capitalize on other business. His brother, Doug Bird, ran an ad agency, so Dana decided to tap into that market. "(Doug) started selling T-shirts and those type of things to some of his clientele," explains Bird. "I told him 'I'll buy the equipment then you can start hiring me to print those products for your ad agency customers.'" From there, Bird purchased a four-color press and dryer and set up shop in a garage space. Roughly a year later, both brothers left their day jobs to screen print T-shirts full time. With the client list from their initial foray into the industry, the Birds were able to run a profitable, agile business that grew steadily by word of mouth. But Dana points out that, like most shops, volume started to outpace their surroundings. "When we had a big job, someone would sit outside the door because the dryer ended at the door," explains Bird. "(They) would catch shirts out the back door, which was fine for a 36-piece order." But, when the company started taking orders upwards of 5,000 pieces, the brothers looked for a larger workspace. From their original garage space, Black Duck moved up the street to a 1,000-square-foot-space where they continued filling high-volume orders. With that new space, the Birds also decided it was time to bring more services in-house like embroidery, which it had previously contracted out. Black Duck's trajectory has continued with moves to bigger facilities, staff growth, and expansion of in-house services like garment decoration, fulfillment, and online stores. The company's also been able to navigate challenging eras like the 2009 recession by taking stock in things like employee satisfaction. Around the time of the economic collapse, the Birds decided to retool their approach. They brought their staff out to lunch and asked them questions like what would make their jobs easier, how the work environment could be improved, and if they had any suggestions for the owners. That simple step, Dana con- tends, helped the shop retain long-term employees and refine the shop's practices to soldier on. That focus continues through today with simple, but meaningful measures. Black Duck holds a monthly employee breakfast that brings all departments together and recognizes staff for achievements both in- side the shop and in their personal lives. And while the client list now features a wide range of markets, Dana points to two major revenue generators for the shop: professional volleyball and the film industry. Both brothers have been volley- ball tournament directors for more than 20 years, and the business has grown its reputation as a supplier of uniforms and fan apparel for the sport. With the enter- tainment industry, Dana says several em- ployees are regular extras on movies and TV shows filmed in the Albuquerque area. Through that connection, the company has been able to garner repeat business from successful shows like Breaking Bad. "Netflix has bought one of the big studios here in town, and they're going to be mov- ing tons of filming and production (here), which is just going to make it even better for us," Bird contends. As of late, he esti- mates roughly 150–200 shows or movies in which Black Duck has produced goods for, for both on and off-screen purposes. Now quite a few years on from his bank- ing days, Dana reflects on how he found himself drawn to the screen-printing craft. "Putting that screen down (for the first time), and pulling the squeegee across the shirt, lifting the screen up, and seeing an image on the shirt was kind of instant gratification," Bird says. "I got a big charge out of producing a product that people ac- tually wanted." For more information, visit PW BLACK DUCK SCREEN PRINTING & EMBROIDERY LOCATION: Albuquerque, New Mexico OWNERS: Dana and Doug Bird SQUARE FOOTAGE: 24,000 sq. ft. PRODUCTION EQUIPMENT: • 4 Automatic M&R Screen-Printing Presses • 1 Single head Brother Embroidery Machine • 4 Tajima Embroidery Machines • Multiple Folding Machines Initially founded as a screen-printing operation, the Bird brothers sought to bring more services in-house, like embroidery, as the company grew. 6 4 P R I N T W E A R N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 9 operation, the Bird brothers sought to bring more services in-house, like embroidery, as the company grew. Black Duck's clientele ranges from local customers to businesses nationwide seeking everything from screen printing to online stores. (All images courte- sy Black Duck Screen Printing & Embroidery)

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