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Gandy Ink: Head of the Class In School Apparel

Learn how the company grew from a small job shop to a prospering specialty decorator serving elementary, junior high, and high schools.

John and Phil Gandy took on any job that came along when the father and son team opened the Gandy Ink screen-printing shop in 1988. The Gandys had one employee besides themselves, some basic equipment, and a 2000-sq-ft building in San Angelo, TX that was attached to a small theater. The small operation did generate revenue, but the Gandys came to the realization that accepting all types of work wasn't always the most effective way to generate profit. So they decided to narrow the focus of their business.

Gandy Ink's first target was the gift market, to which the shop sold collectible reprints. The company focused on gift shops in the Dallas, TX and Atlanta, GA metro areas and found success in that industry. But problems in dealing with smaller gift shops became a huge burden, especially when it came to collections. So Phil Gandy began looking for other markets with untapped potential as an alternative to the gift market. In 1991, after looking into niches for T-shirts and other wearables, he realized that the simple, plain lettering and the one and two-color designs on most high-school apparel were far inferior to the graphics and designs he'd seen on garments for colleges and professional sports. He decided that bringing the look of higher-end collegiate wear to the high-school market was the way forward for Gandy Ink.

The company hired a few sales representatives and turned them loose on high-school groups and organizations at the beginning of the school year. The team at Gandy created some high-quality spirit-wear designs, ordered an inventory of T-shirts and fashion tops, and began to move the products almost immediately.

Sales were on the rise, but not to Phil's satisfaction. His solution became known as the Gandy Guarantee. If customers who ordered spirit wear and other printed apparel failed to sell any of the products, Gandy Ink would take the entire order back. The program proved to be successful, as only one school wasn't able to sell in the first spring semester of the program's implementation. The Gandy Guarantee built up the company's name in the school-apparel market and significantly boosted sales.

Gandy Ink moved to a 5000-sq-ft facility in 1995. With the move, the company added four-head embroidery machines. Screen-printed apparel remained the company's primary source of income, but Gandy's customers found embroidery to be an attractive value-added service.

Gandy Ink continued to grow, sales increased, and the company added more employees and equipment and discovered more and more untapped markets and resources for its products. Gandy doubled the size of its facility in 2000. And five years later, the company moved to its current location, a 35,000-sq-ft facility in San Angelo, TX.

What began as a small screen-printing shop that couldn't afford to turn away jobs morphed into a school-wear specialist that found itself printing a wide assortment of apparel for athletic teams, clubs, and musical groups in high schools, as well as for similar organizations in elementary and junior-high schools. "We found niches inside our niche," Phil Gandy says. "There's a lot of excitement going on in the schools, and we capitalize on that."

Today, Gandy Ink is a 75-employee operation that offers clients screen printing and embroidery, as well as ancillary services like packaging and fulfillment. Gandy's designs are relevant to range of categories, including spirit wear, sports, rhythm wear, elementary, and senior class. The shop prints its garment graphics onto sweatshirts, hoodies, and T-shirts of various styles (Figure 1).

Inside Gandy Ink

Gandy Ink's 14-member sales force keeps the shop busy and enhances its visibility in major cities, such as Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. A few sales reps are dedicated to calling on customers in Nashville, TN, a city that Gandy has been mining for opportunities in the school market, as well as in the entertainment industry.

The order-entry process begins with customer service, where artwork is checked, verified, and sent to the art department. The customer-service staff uses a software program called Job Pool, which was developed by Gandy Ink. The software tracks artwork from the moment it is included in the order entry until it reaches the production floor, all in real time. This process allows any of the employees to determine which department is in possession of the artwork at any given time. This information is especially useful for informing customers when a particular job is expected to be complete.

The art department houses five artists. They use Apple Macintosh G5 computers equipped with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, as well as other programs for jobs that require unusual design techniques or additional tweaking. The art department is responsible for creating designs for apparel and the promotional brochures that feature the designs. The brochures allow customers to choose a design, which can then be customized according to school name, mascot, and colors.

"All of our designs are original," Phil Gandy says. "We do a lot of artwork ahead of time when we create our brochures, hoping that when we get into the busy season, we have plenty of good designs for the customers to choose from, which helps us speed up the process."

Sean Carter, plant manager and art director, adds, "We put ourselves through the school of hard knocks. We're always trying to reinvent the wheel. We're constantly dealing with high schools and elementary schools—but how many times can you make a basketball exciting for basketball season?"

Customers visit Gandy Ink's Website (www.gandyink.com), while a sales or customer-service rep speaks with them on the phone and walks them through the ordering process. Once the customer chooses a design and adds the appropriate text, the design is uploaded and sent to a databank housed in a server in Gandy's IT department. The artwork is then passed through a proofing system for verification. A customer-service representative then e-mails a link to the customer, through which the customer can access and view the artwork on a secure site. If the customer makes changes to the artwork, the file automatically returns to the art department for revision. Revised artwork is sent back to the customer, sometimes within a matter of minutes, at which point the customer approves the design. Once approved, the artwork is sent to the order-approvals department, then to the film-output room.

"It's amazing that, in the overall scheme of things, we can be working with a customer in a town hundreds of miles away, and we can completely outdo the printer down the street from our customer—in service and in time," Phil Gandy says. "We can provide a lot better service than most other printers can provide to them."

The film-output room is equipped with two OYO thermal imaging systems. All pertinent information, such as ink type, screen size, and where the order falls in the print cycle is determined and logged by an employee in the film room. The artwork then goes to a second proofing station, where an employee confirms that the instructions tallied throughout the artwork's history are correct. After confirmation, the artwork goes to the screen room (Figure 2), where it is exposed onto screens.

The screen room also features a 40-ft-long CCI automatic screen cleaning system that handles ink-cleaning, dehazing, and drying (Figure 3). "It made a huge difference because we turn over 500-600 screens per day," Phil Gandy explains.

Gandy Ink's production department features six M&R automatic garment presses, including three Sportsman models, one Challenger, and two Gauntlets, as well as a Chameleon manual press (Figure 4). The area also is equipped with M&R gas dryers. Gandy Ink typically uses its Sportsman presses for printing onto white shirts or jobs that require only one flash. The bigger presses, such as the Gauntlets, are used for jobs that call for multiple flashes.

The finishing department is where employees apply felt numbers to the backs of shirts intended for sports teams. The staff uses a SummaGraphics plotter equipped with Adobe Illustrator software to complete this task.

 

Gandy Ink's quality-assurance (QA) department is a critical area. QA employees not only inspect finished garments, but they're also stationed throughout various departments in the company, verifying that the entire process, from order entry to packing, is of the highest quality (Figure 5).

Quality checks begin in Gandy's stock room, which houses up to 150,000 garments, including long-sleeved shirts, short-sleeved shirts, sweats, and hoodies. For each print job, a QA employee completes the first count of garments before they are sent to the printing press. Once the garments reach the press, another QA employee checks the artwork and verifies that all noted changes were made in the art department. At every printing press is an employee responsible for loading garments, an employee who unloads printed garments, and another who folds the garments. They also constantly monitor the printing process and the quality of the apparel, ensuring that printed pieces are crisp, clear, and smudge-free, and that the final count is correct. The printed garments are then packed in a box and sent to the shipping department, where another QA employee verifies the work order, count, and shipping address.

Embroidery accounts for 15% of Gandy Ink's work. The company now uses embroidery machines manufactured by ZSK and is equipped with six units ranging in size from six to eight heads (Figure 6). Two-head machines come in handy for producing samples. Two in-house digitizers, equipped with Wilcom software, round out the embroidery department. The embroidery department also follows the company's QA program.

Whatever it takes

It should be no surprise to learn that the staff at Gandy Ink will do whatever it takes to get a job done correctly and on time. The company's development of specialized job-tracking software and the implementation of a QA program demonstrate that quality is key. Some printing operations accept a 1% or 2% error rate. Phil Gandy doesn't accept errors.

"We take every order to heart, and if we do make a mistake, we'll make it right no matter what it takes, and we'll make it right as fast as possible," he says. "I feel like if you say you're going to accept a 2% or 3% error rate, you'll end up accepting more than that."

When a mistake does occur, the staff researches the error to determine the source. One-on-one interactions solve the human errors. If the mistake stems from a system or piece of equipment, the staff will go as far as to change certain procedures or processes to prevent the mistake from occurring again. In some instances, the company has revamped departments or added personnel where extra help is needed, such as in proofing procedures.

"We have what we consider to be the best technology, which we keep updated, the best artwork, and the best service," Phil Gandy says. "In doing all that, you don't have to be the cheapest guy in town. You have to have a fair price, but I firmly believe that if you provide good service and a good product, you don't have to be the guy who says, 'I'll do it cheaper than everyone else in town.'"

The Gandy team


Gandy Ink takes great pride in training its staff with the skills to offer the highest quality products in its market. The company does not rely heavily on industry training programs, but instead on hands-on training on the shop floor. It supplements that training with a manual for employees.

When the company hires a sales representative or customer-service representative, the new employee begins training by spending time on the production floor and learning about Gandy's products and the capabilities of the production department. Instruction from a customer-service trainer follows.

Employees hired to work in the production department begin training by working with a seasoned employee, learning on and working with the smallest machine in the shop, then working up to the bigger pieces of equipment. During Gandy's busiest season, however, new employees might be thrown right into the action.

The folks at Gandy Ink also recognize the importance of cross training employees, especially in the production department. As a result, the company's employees are able to complete the tasks of the QA department, operate all of the presses, and handle responsibilities in the screen room.

Staying competitive


Gandy Ink's staff believes it must constantly wow its customers by designing eye-catching artwork and pushing its printing capabilities beyond the limit in order to maintain the shop's position as a leader in the school-apparel market. Garment jobs range from two to three colors on simple spirit-wear designs (Figure 7) all the way up to 12 colors on certain orders. Typical print jobs involve six or seven colors. Phil Gandy says that approximately 60% of shirt orders require decoration on both sides. Jobs that involve hooded shirts might require four different screen setups for one garment.

"We're in a niche market where, in a given day, we might do up to 200-250 setups," he explains. "We're fast production, but we're also trying to get a look of four to six colors in a quick production mode. The give-and-take is to get it out quick but also achieve high quality. We don't have time to tweak it too much because we have 100 jobs lined up that we have to get finished in time for basketball playoffs."

Sean Carter also acknowledges the challenges that come with this type of print work. "The general public ceases to understand that we are in such a technological age now, where everything is crisp, high definition, and has so much intimate detail. But we're still printing on cotton T-shirts. That has not changed," he says. "We can print fabulous movie posters with a 3-D basketball coming out of a wooden floor, but with garments, we're still printing on cotton. The customers still expect the image to look like the image in the poster. That's when we have to put our heels in the sand and ask, 'How do we, in house, come up with a way to make the garment graphic look equivalent to the poster graphic?' We really do go above and beyond. When we say we can print something of a certain caliber, we don't just say, 'We can do that.' We say, 'How can we turn it up one more notch to be ahead of the game?'"

Exploring new markets

Gandy Ink continues to profit from printing its unique designs onto a variety of wearables for the school market, but the company is always interested in exploring new opportunities. Identifying new markets helps the business grow and keeps the presses running during the months when the demand for school-related print jobs quiets down.

The Nashville entertainment scene and the outfitter/camouflage market are two areas of interest right now. Gandy Ink has opened an office, with a team of three salespeople, to explore the possibilities in Nashville. The company's work with entertainers actually began with the Texas music circuit, but the shop is now prospecting in a city where music sensations are concentrated. Gandy Ink also realized an opportunity in hunting, a favorite Texas pastime. The state is home to many hunting outfitters, and Gandy Ink plans to introduce its products and services to the flourishing industry.

In the future


Gandy Ink plans to expand its equipment line-up with the addition of direct-to-screen technology and direct-to-garment inkjet printing. Phil Gandy will keep a close eye on both technologies and track their progress and changes before making a purchase. "The fewer steps in the process, the better," he says. "When you can eliminate the film and a few other steps, it's better for the quality overall. There is less chance for mistakes."

"Keep doing what we're doing and do it better" is also high on the list of goals for Gandy Ink, according to Phil Gandy, as is continuing to build business in the school market. He prefers controlled, steady growth, and he notes that Gandy Ink has consistently reported an average growth of 15% per year.

"We're really enjoying the school market. We're good at it. We just want to keep growing in that area and do the best we can do," he says. "If you do that—offer a good product and good service—the growth will come. It will just happen."

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