TBT – Old and New Friends to the Rescue

This week’s Throwback Thursday post–

Our business of slinging ink is a sleazy one. The rag trade tends to the dishonest, the penny pinching, and the unethical. It has been mused that it came from the fact that screen printers historically plied their trade printing license plates in prison.

I don’t buy that explanation, as the most stand up guy I know in the industry spent 7 years behind bars, and two of the best employees I have had each spent a couple years in jail as well. However, that’s a story for another day.

In this story, nobody pinched one of my pennies, stole a customer, lied about how many boxes they received, or claimed that the too-many shirts they ordered have a minor defect. In this case some screen printers came to the rescue.

Sometimes despite everyone’s best intentions some job can fall between the cracks. A week of warm weather around here and suddenly everyone remembered that they needed shirts for summer. So being busy and throw in a heavy dose of a key person going on maternity leave unexpectedly early, and a job just plain fell off the radar screen. We all leave something to a panic last minute, UPS red label, or driver waiting on the loading dock moment. Most of us even know the exact last minute FedEx at the airport will take a package.

In over twenty years of doing this, I do not think we ever missed getting shirts to an event. I can’t tolerate that kind of not doing my job and nobody working with me can tolerate it either. Actually most screen printers that I know are those kind of people. I’ve slept at the end of the dryer until shirts landed on me waking me up, worked all night for a couple nights, called employees to help that I haven’t seen in two years, called suppliers on Sunday… by whatever means necessary to get things done in time.

Sometimes this has even required asking favors of the competition in the area. Printers around me have come to the rescue when equipment has gone down or somebody forgot to order something. jMack studios printed a job for me in a pinch, Liquid Blue has lent me ink, and Sports Systems shot a bunch of screens for us with no notice and saved our butts. We’ve either returned those favors or we are willing to.

In this case,  I thought no favor would save us. I thought no knowledge of speedy expedited services would either.

At 1:30 PM on a Thursday I found out that we were supposed to have printed shirts on Wednesday, the day before and expedited them to a music festival that started Thursday night, one hour North of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Since we print in South Carolina and Rhode Island, this was distressing news indeed.

The first step in damage control is to not even for a moment think about why this disaster has occurred or whose fault it is, but rather to spring to action to provide a remedy. The “how could this happen” and “whose faults it this” and “how can we prevent this in the future” can all wait for another day.  I calmed the customer and told her we would do the best we could. (ultimately we figured out it actually had been her fault, she never told us the due date.)

This was also one of those times that you can’t wait for one plan not to materialize and then go to Plan B. We sprung into action to both try and print the job and get it there somehow, and to also get it printed near the venue. It is a good thing we tried more than one plan. Plan A of printing and getting it there immediately did not work. I called the cell of my screen print pal Bill Mooney from Tannis Root in NC. He quickly agreed to let me use his “at once” delivery account. Since 9/11 you can’t just go to the airport anymore and do Delta Dash or other same day services. This was an excellent plan, but unfortunately no airlines were going to fly into Grand Rapids or even Detroit until after midnight. Ouch.

I know some guys at a plant called Perrin in MI and I called the three guys I knew at that plant. Panic set in, but after a couple frantic calls, emails, and pagings I reached them. They are a big place and I know enough to know that just because you have a couple dozen presses, it doesn’t might mean you have more availability, in fact keeping all those machines busy often give you less availability to squeeze in a rush job. I started to panic when I heard they were in a deadline situation themselves and could not help, but being helpful guys they did suggest other printers in town. My heart soared when the first company got the art and said they probably could do the job, but then my hopes were dashed when they inexplicably called back and said no.

One of the guys at Perrin gave me another lead. I called Seth Bussert of Screengraphix Ink of Comstock Park, MI and he came to the rescue. He listened to my story of woe and desperation and said he would do the job. Nothing is that easy though. We of course had an art problem. We got through the art problem and he drove to the local distributor and got shirts, printed them, and then he himself drove them to the venue fifty miles away and found the recipient at the show and delivered the goods. He even trusted me to send a check the next day. He so much did not extort me in my time of need, that we paid him $100 more than he asked for.

Thanks Seth.

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