Fresh Air is on the move

Lee Craze (centre) with members of his team

Well, maybe not just yet… P&P editor Melanie Attlesey was invited to Fresh Air’s premises in North London to have a look around and to find out more about the printer’s big plans for the future.

Not many people will know this, but Fresh Air is actually one of four companies owned by industry veteran Lee Craze.

Alongside Fresh Air, which has been Lee’s main business interest since its formation over 40 years ago, he also owns clothing companies Brands In and Absolute Cult, as well as a printing company in New Jersey, USA, called Silk City.

Each arm of the business does something ever so slightly different, but the printed T shirt remains at the heart.

The heart of the business

Fresh Air operates as a screen printer and a direct to garment printer predominately supplying the music merchandise industry. It prints thousands of tour T shirts for bands such as Iron Maiden, The Rolling Stones, Guns & Roses plus many more on a daily basis.

The Brands In arm of the business holds numerous licenses for film and music, including Disney and Warner Bros, and supplies an impressive list of high street retailers.

Absolute Cult is the online side of the business. It again holds numerous licenses and operates Amazon stores around the world, where customers can purchase direct. Absolute Cult differs from Fresh Air and Brands In, in the sense that orders tend to be one-offs rather than bulk orders. Most of the sales come from outside the UK.

Fresh Air produces all the prints for all three sides of the business in the UK, whether that’s through screen printing or direct to garment printing.

Also taking place under the same roof is the processing of each individual garment, as well as the packaging and shipping of the final printed product. Fresh Air and Brands In orders are shipped in bulk, whereas Absolute Cult’s orders are individually packaged and shipped direct to the customer.

To grow and flourish

Now, what is the reason for me telling you this, I hear you ask. Well the holding company for all three businesses, GMAC Investments, which is owned by Lee, has sold the premises that Fresh Air operates from in Brent Cross to allow the business to move on, grow and flourish.

Some of Iron Maiden’s tour T shirts getting prepped for shipping

Fresh Air is now leasing the premises back from the new owners and now Lee is on a three-year countdown to find a new building within 15 miles of its current home. The new premises has to be big enough to house what Lee calls ‘the most state-of-the-art and vertical printing facility in Europe’.

He explains the need for the move in a nutshell: “We have simply run out of room. This building no longer serves its purpose.”

At the moment Fresh Air’s premises totals 28,000sq ft and houses nine automatic screen printing machines, which include four MHMs and five M&Rs, three DTG production lines, which includes two Kornit Storms and one Brother GTX. Space is very tight.

The plan is to move into premises almost five times as big at 100,000sq ft and to invest around £2m in new equipment, which will include five new automatic screen printing machines and four new DTG printers to keep up with the growing demand from all three sides of the business.

At this early stage in the planning process, Lee has already begun to think about how he would like the new premises to function. He would like the print floor to take up around a third of the floor space, with 14 carousels all lined up to enhance production. Space around each machine will be plentiful so forklifts can move around with ease; this will allow blank stock and printed stock to be moved around the facility.

A further 20-30,000sq ft will be allocated to warehousing and stockholding. At the moment deliveries from Absolute Apparel arrive twice a day to keep up with demand and because Fresh Air has nowhere to hold stock. The remaining space will house the DTG production area and office space. It is planned that the new home will become one of the most state-of-the-art and vertical printing facilities in Europe, complete with modern facilities and the finest print equipment in the industry, with plans to employ over 250 staff.

“I have plans to build up the GMAC group and to generate sales of over £75m within the next five years,” says Lee. This will be no small feat, but given Lee’s ambition and business acumen, it will no doubt be entirely achievable.

Future plans

But what is the main reason for the plan to grow the business? “It’s the rise of the on-demand printing side of the industry. This is where the big money is if you can do it right,” explains Lee. After forming Brands In three years, Lee decided to capitalise on the rise of on-demand printing by taking one-off orders direct from the consumer from an online web shop. This was how Absolute Cult was founded.  At the moment the business only sells through an Amazon stores. Orders come in to the DTG department at Fresh Air, are printed and then shipped within 24 hours.

“All it takes is for one customer to leave a bad review or to not receive an order on time and that can damage your reputation. We have worked hard to ensure this department runs as smoothly as it can,” says Lee.

In the coming years, Lee will predominantly focus on ensuring Absolute Cult hits its worldwide sales target of £20m within the next three years. To help with this growth, there are plans to have a fully functional e-commerce website up and running both in Europe and the US by Q3 this year.

One half of the print floor

At the moment, the print team at Fresh Air fulfils an average of 1,500 print-on-deman orders a day for Absolute Cult. In May alone, the online orders totalled 30,000 shirts which generated sales of over £500k.

When Fresh Air moves, Lee estimates the print team will be able to fulfil around 4,000 DTG prints a day, while the number of screen printed garments will increase from around 45,000 prints a day to 60,000 a day, maybe more.

For a man who left school at the age of 14 and fell into screen printing, Lee certainly has a sound head for business and can see that vertical on-demand direct to garment printing is a big growth area in the years to come.

“I love what I do, I don’t think there was ever anything else that I could have done,” says Lee.

So watch this space, because by 2021 Fresh Air will be open for business in a bigger, better building with plans to take on the world.

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