2011 is where this story begins. As with most decoration businesses, this one was formed in a spare room with just one man outsourcing promotional gifts to clients. P&P editor Melanie Attlesey picks up the story.
Five years is how long Direct Print & Promotions operated from a spare room in a house in Sheffield, before moving on to bigger and better things.
The business was founded in 2011 by Alex Smith, who was shortly joined by his son James. At the time of the start of the business James was doing a performing arts degree and would help his dad with artwork and proofs that were needed for clients in his spare time. “I got more involved over the next couple of years as the theatre dream faded away and reality hit that the industry is very cut throat and unreliable,” explains James.
After packing in the degree and going full-time with DPP, James invested in a cheap heat press and desktop cutter to start supplying printed clothing to his theatre groups. The orders started off small but they grew and DPP was quickly outsourcing larger jobs to screen printers and embroiderers. “We also saw a need for dye sub items too so invested in a mug press and dye sublimation printer to expand our offering,” says James.
After several successive years of growth, James and his dad rented their first unit in Sheaf Bank Business Park, Sheffield. The office only measured 500sq ft, which doesn’t sound a lot, but is far roomier than a spare room in a house. The unit gave the duo more space for equipment. “We realised we were constantly outsourcing embroidery so invested in a Brother PR655 from Stocks to see how we got on. The space also allowed us to employ our first member of the team, Matthew Weigold, to help drive more sales,” says James.
Just a short year later, an opportunity arose for DPP to move into another unit within the business park. This time on a second floor and with three times the space. This marked a huge step forward for the business. After a year of being cramped in the previous office, now the trio had room for expansion and investment. A second single-head embroidery machine and several more heat presses joined the business, along with a couple more members of staff, including James mum Kathryn. “And this is where we are as of today!” exclaims James.
The phrase one-stop shop tends to be banded around quite a bit, but it’s truly applicable to DPP. The team supply branded clothing, as well as promotional merchandise such as bottles, pens, lanyards, umbrellas, USB sticks, the list goes on and on and on. All of this is decorated using a myriad of methods, including embroidery, vinyl transfer, Oki transfer and dye sublimation. “We recently set up a single colour screen print station too,” says James.
When you are covering all bases of decoration, having good quality equipment is a must and the list of equipment that DPP uses is almost as extensive as the products decorated. James says: “We have a Brother PR655 single-head, a Happy single-head, two Adkins swing away heat presses, a Stahls’ clam press with lower heat platens, Oki white toner printer, Ricoh 7110dn dye sub printer, Graphtec cutter/plotter, various mug presses and last but not least, a single colour screen print platen with flash curer. However, I think my favourite bit of kit has to be the flip fold garment folder!”
The Brother PR55 single-head was acquired from Stocks Sewing Machines, who James says was instrumental in helping DPP find its feet with embroidery. DPP’s second single-head came from Midwest Machinery, and the plus point to this one was that it ran a little quicker than the Brother. “Unfortunately, being on the second floor of a converted mill we can’t get any bigger machines into our building so single-heads will have to do for now,” says James. “Our other printers and heat presses help provide a really wide range of products and finishes. The Stahls’ heat press with lower heating platens has really helped us lose the nasty heat marks on sports garments and has proved very useful.”
Like many businesses across the UK, DPP was affected when COVID-19 struck in March. “We lost thousands of pounds worth of orders and the impact was massive,” explains James. Thankfully being a one-stop shop has allowed DPP to shift its product focus away from its usual customer base of recreational groups and charities, but to high-vis vests and face masks. “At the start of lockdown we produced 600 high-vis vests for the Nightingale Hospital, which was great to be a part of. We also created some nifty little #NationalHeroService pin badges that raised £350 for the NHS.”
Again, like most businesses across the UK, DPP has also fully embraced the Zoom meeting, with employees working from home. “I will not miss these!” says James. COVID-19 has also meant different working practices in the production room, with more space made to allow for social distancing and hand sanitiser placed at all touch points. All machines are cleaned daily, with a deep clean every Friday to ensure a safe and clean working environment.
COVID-19 has also allowed DPP to focus on the B2C side of the business. A recently launched website provides clients with their own web page to sell branded merchandise and clothing, which has also proved to be a lifeline for DPP throughout the pandemic.
“COVID-19 has proven how important it is for businesses to be online or at least have a good online presence. I aim to improve our main website along with the webstore in the near future,” says James.
DPP has had to change its direction to ride the wave of COVID-19, and James believes this something that a lot of similar businesses will also have to do to survive in the long-term. “I think the promo product market is going to struggle massively. Obviously, events have been cancelled for months now and with the financial impact of the crisis I cannot see businesses spending money on merchandise when there are other decisions to be made. On the plus side I think branded clothing will still be a requirement for all types of businesses, so I hope the garment industry will pull through ok.”
Growth is still on the cards for DPP as its heads into its tenth year of operation. James hopes that in five years’ time COVID-19 will be nothing but a distant memory and that their customer base will have increased, which will mean increased production, bringing about more branding methods in house.