Creating Amazing Products and Gifts at Custom Ink Bethesda

Last Month MoCoShow went in for an interview with the manager of the very unique Custom Ink store in Bethesda to sit down and talk a bit more about what this unique stores experience has been like. For those who haven’t gotten the chance to make it out to this shop its a fusion between a print store and retail shop. Creating amazing products or even some gifts for family, friends and loved ones all from a physical location with staff to help you plan it out.  Jeremy and his team take true pride in what they do and aim to show everyone their ideas coming to life on a number of different products, in hundreds of different ways.

Check out below the interview with the manager of the first store in Maryland and Montgomery County Jeremy MacLively!

MoCo Show: So this is the first store in Montgomery County, correct?

Jeremy MacLively: First store in Maryland and Montgomery County.

MoCo Show: So what has that been like? How has Montgomery County been to a store like this? Because, as I talked to you over the phone a little bit, print stores are very rare. It is very rare to have a place like this where you can come in, actually examine the types of things that you are going to be getting, the types of materials, and get a much more hands on approach than you’d get when you usually use what are “print shops”, which are the ones that are more in a warehouse with a couple of printing things and boxes upon boxes of things that they’ve purchased and/or ordering on the fly. That, or even screen printing, which is a very common practice that a lot of people use. What has the reception been like being a unique take on what has been a growing industry in the last few years?

(See resource reference from down below to see more about the growth of the print market.)

Jeremy MacLively: It’s honestly been amazing. We opened in July and we’ve been on a super steep upward trajectory since we’ve opened which has been incredible. We not just getting the local Bethesda market, but we’re really pulling all of Montgomery County. We’ve had people travel as far away as Baltimore to come visit us. They’re coming because they need that in-person touch. They need to see the product, they need to feel it, they need to try it on or they have no idea what they want their design to be but they need that expert help to bring their idea to life on a t-shirt or promotional item.

MoCo Show: Tell me more about the design side of it. There’s this age old saying that i’ve seen, both in graphic design and just in the media space as a whole, that when someone has an idea in their head it really takes a lot of effort to pull that out. So what type of steps do you guys take to pull those ideas out from your customers who truly come in at the very beginning of it going, “I have no idea what I want to do.”

Jeremy MacLively: So just asking the right questions. It is a collaborative process. It’s definitely a team effort in both regards. It’s their idea, but we can help with the designing and pulling out that idea. Just asking the questions, knowing as much as we can about their event, as well. Who are these shirts or apparel going to be for, who is your audience? What is the event for, what is that about? Because if it’s a 5K they’re doing, or a fundraiser, their needs are going to be different. So just asking the right questions, understand what their needs are, who their group is, what the event is for, that kind of stuff steers us in the direction of the type of product to select, but also, for the design, something that will appeal to their audience as well.

MoCo Show: So you guys actually do a lot of work on protecting people when they print stuff to keep them from dealing with Disney or anyone like that?

Jeremy MacLively: Yes, if that is a need that they have or something that they’re going for then certainly. And protecting ourselves too, we don’t want to print licensed or protected content, but still want to give the customer what they want and what they need and what they’re looking for.

MoCo Show: Have you guys had any interesting story of a weird one that you can tell me about as well?

Jeremy MacLively: Weird how?

MoCo Show: Well, when you saw what it was it made you do a double take. You got an order in and you guys went like, “… uh, ok…?”

Jeremy MacLively: Mark worked on some recently where they were hand drawn. What was the need they had, just generally?

Mark: It was a combination that they wanted high end stuff for their business and then a bunch of hand drawn drawings from their grandchildren. So it was like “Oh, I need this really fancy watch and also this weird stick figure on a t-shirt.”

Jeremy MacLively: Yeah one of the images, I don’t know what it was supposed to be, but it looked like a person who had a taco for a head. I don’t think that’s what they were going for, but that definitely caused me to do a couple double takes. Mark is in love with it, though, and is trying to see if he can get one for himself. But that was definitely one of them.

MoCo Show: So it was this children’s shirt and their business shirts all at once?

Jeremy MacLively: Yeah, which is a combo you don’t usually see. It’s usually either/or. Someone coming in “Hey I want embroidered polos for my company’s logo” or “I want to get these shirts that my kid drew and put their artwork on a t-shirt.” Which is fine too, but usually those worlds don’t collide.

MoCo Show: So let’s talk a little bit more about that because a lot of people might not know, but this location has same-day printing for select items which can be very helpful for someone who needs something for, I believe you said up to 10 for in-house. Something that can be done same-day, get it back and go to an event. So those who are passing though, even, can use it to their advantage. If they’re staying in the area, travellers in and out of DC, everything along those lines. So tell me a little bit more about how that process works and what brings out the best products with that solution.

Jeremy MacLively: So we have free same-day printing in-store and the “free” just means that you can get shirts on-demand the same day without paying any extra cost to have them done that quickly. Normally, before we started building Custom Ink stores, there was no way for you to get a shirt the same day, that was just not a possibility. The quickest you could, in theory, get it would be the day after tomorrow, assuming those are business days. But now, 7 days a week, you can walk into Custom Ink Bethesda and get a t-shirt that same day. 10 is the loose guideline we put around that, but if people need more and we have a little bit more lead time, we can certainly do that and again there’s no extra cost for that so you’re just paying the face value. So for one t-shirt, for example, you’re paying about $25, assuming it’s just one front design. Get as many colors as you want on there. It’s a higher quality t-shirt too, we don’t print on what people are probably used to feeling for a custom t-shirt.

MoCo Show: Right, they’re used to the Fruit of the Loom shirt and it’s screen printed and maybe the Gildan shirt. It’s thick, it’s not very breathable. I actually felt a lot of the options that we talked about today and I’m a big fan of the different types of shirts that are out there in the print space and these guys have access to all different types. A few are available in house, a few are available to be done through the usual process, but definitely come in and see Jeremy for that because he can at least walk you through the process and give you an idea of what all that is going to be like. So as a first time visitor to this store, because the first time I went in I looked around a little bit and I came in and we jumped right into it. But tell me what are some of the biggest things you want people to get as their first impressions into a store like this? You’ve got banners, you’ve got examples of ways you can get things printed, you’ve got samples upon samples upon samples. So what is the thing you’re hoping that people get out of their very first impression coming into Custom Ink Bethesda?

Jeremy MacLively: Well we really want them to be wow’d about everything. We want them to 100% to feel warm and welcome. When people walk into the doors, I share this all the time, I don’t want people to think it’s just another retail experience. Some retailers do it better than others, where you walk in and you do feel that. But I think we certainly stand out from any other place. We’re not 100% retail, we’re not 100% ecommerce. We’re blending the best of both worlds. When people come in, I want them to know our names, I want them to meet the team, to know us and feel like they made a 1-on-1 connection and that we’re their go-to, their local point of contact for any customizing and custom apparel needs they may have. There isn’t a metric we have, we want people to feel warm and engaged when they come in and to know each other on a first name basis. Honestly, that sets us apart because, you mentioned you can go to other print shops and you’re walking into a warehouse and customer service isn’t top of mind for them. The execution of the product usually is, but we blend the best of both. We absolutely care about getting everything perfect for our customers and we want the experience to be great too. It’s just as important.

MoCo Show: What would you say is one of the first things people notice when they come in, out of everything in the store?

Jeremy MacLively: I think it depends on the person. They’re either going to immediately look at our samples, get a feel for things. I think our promotional boards stand out because it does a good job of showing we do more than just t-shirts. Even though that’s our bread and butter, people see the water bottles, the hats, the magnets, the post-its. That’s probably the most common thing. It’s like, “Oh I didn’t know you did this.”, “I didn’t know you did embroidery”, or “I didn’t know I could get promotional items to promote my business that are super cost effective.” Buying 500 pens or magnets and things like that. That’s probably the number 1 thing that people comment on the most.

MoCo Show: So you guys have a lot of different processes that you guys use. What are the key processes to a print process? Because you mentioned embroidery, you mentioned direct garment. What else have you guys done, do you guys do, and are some of the more interesting things that are available in the world of printing and in the world of creating products like these?

Jeremy MacLively: So it’s still a tried and true screen print business. It’s the bulk of what we do. So if someone is getting a standard bulk t-shirt order or sweatshirts or something like that, it’s going to be screen printed, odds are. But then we do have high quality digital printing which is direct to garment which is what we have in-store for any same-day orders. Then we also offer embroidery and aside from that, in our corner over here, we have different styles that you can get like reflective, film, oil transfers which provides a super shiny bright.

MoCo Show: What would you say is your favorite product of everything you guys do?

Jeremy MacLively: Honestly, I think it’s our artwork, our design help. I still love a great t-shirt that has a cool design, an awesomely executed print, because there are differences between a really good print and a bad print. It’s not always consistent so I think a great t-shirt with a great logo and is executed well, that’s still my favorite. We get free swag all the time and you don’t get tired of that.

MoCo Show: What actually got you into the business?

Jeremy MacLively: Great question. So I’ve been at Custom Ink for about 7 years now, maybe 7 and a half now at this point. Started in Logistics with the company back at our headquarters over in Fairfax so we are still a local company, we’re headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, even though we’ve been around for 20 years, that’s where we started and we’ve been in the DMV all that time. I started with Logistics there and I think what caused me to move over to this side of the business, from non-customer-facing to customer-facing, is because that’s just our DNA at Custom Ink. We all care about the customer, we practice what we preach and I think that’s what has kept me with the company for so long is seeing higher ups in the company, our leaders, my direct leaders, they care about the customer just as much as they do people, just as much as they do me. Seeing that is inspiring to know that our culture is authentic. There are a lot of places that are “great to work for”, but how deeply that penetrates the culture is unknown to me. This is the first place I’ve been where you live it and breathe it on a daily basis. Taking care of our customers is just as important as taking care of our people. So the opportunity to now get face-to-face with our customers at Custom Ink, and I think we have a really good following, a loyal customer base, the main thing that triggered me to come over is that now we get to take our awesome online experience and meet our customers face-to-face and I just feel like that is a powerful opportunity to grow the brand and I’m proud to work here and the fact that we get to meet our customers is awesome.

MoCo Show: And I love that change in perspective too, because every time you think of retail businesses, the very first question with the digital boom was, “hey do you have a website?” But instead it’s like “No, we’re a business that built our brand and built our success online, but want to bring it to the people who don’t necessarily enjoy an online experience.” Because, quite frankly, a lot of people don’t want to sit in front of a computer. It’s physical objects that we are dealing with and one color might look like one thing to someone else on a screen than it looks like in person. It’s that factor that people need to feel, people need to touch and just having an online presence just isn’t enough for that because you never know what you’re physically going to get at the end of the day. Were you a part of any interesting projects through your time at Custom Ink before you came to the physical store?

Jeremy MacLively: Yeah, going back to the mindset of customer service, we aim to “wow” internally and externally so each other and also our customers. It’s beyond great service, we want to “wow” people and if we’re not then we’re striving to get there. So we did optimization projects in Logistics in my time there and it was all about increasing our customer service internally. How can we better service our internal customers, our other departments, because we identified some areas where we weren’t doing that and we had things in our control we realized we could change. We ran a pilot for that which was awesome. It was about 6-9 months long and what came out of it was 2 different, completely new roles that segmented so that the team could perform at their best. So that was a really successful project and one that I’m most proud of.

MoCo Show: And can you tell me about what were some of the things that were actually optimized and improved? What things were taken out to make the equation better or make the whole system flow the way that it needed to?

Jeremy MacLively: So the productivity, the KPIs, that we had, what makes a logistics person productive. We measured that before and during the pilot so both sides became more productive. Our survey scores went up. We rate each other internally on our service, how well does logistics do this or that for you? We measured those over time and we didn’t tell other teams that we were doing this pilot to keep it controlled. We saw an exponential increase in how teams were rating us and perceiving us. And even anecdotally, too, the comments like, “oh this person is the best!”, and that, too, provided consistency because instead of someone random in the department, they were consistently getting this team of people that we had that were put in the best position to provide that service. So we saw their productivity go up as well as our softer side of things like our survey scores.

MoCo Show: So you came through retail and found yourself in a position that is trying to improve retail and the space of retail and how the aspects of what is possible come together and create that environment of what you said. This isn’t retail, this isn’t ecommerce, this is something different, this is something new.

Jeremy MacLively: Absolutely.

MoCo Show: Do you guys have any special events or anything interesting coming up that you want to talk about?

Jeremy MacLively: Not in the near future. We are constantly looking for events and ways to get out into the community. The last one we did was Bethesda Row’s Wags and Whiskers, a really big adoption event at the end of September. So it was really nice to get out there, hand out some swag. If you do see us, we’re always giving away swag, of course. How can we not? We just love to be involved in the community and so we’re constantly looking for ways to do that. And I think once the weather warms up, naturally those things will present themselves more frequently.

MoCo Show: What would you say is the biggest thing that you’re looking forward to in the future of this store here?

Jeremy MacLively: Internally, I hope it is creating a model for how we’ll continue to grow and be a case study of how Custom Ink stores should be.

MoCo Show: How many are there total?

Jeremy MacLively: There are about 20-25. We do have some partnership stores, so we have some inside Walmarts. We have one inside the Walmart in Fredericksburg, that’s probably the closest to the DC area.

MoCo Show: Interesting. So there are actually Custom Inks inside of other stores as well. Is one of the endcap stores towards the front of the Walmart?

Jeremy MacLively: Exactly, so they have their own space.

MoCo Show: And does it look similar to this or does it look a bit different?

Jeremy MacLively: It looks similar to this. This is one of the newer concept stores.

MoCo Show: What is the most intricate item available, like the one that can have the most interesting designs done to it in the process of creating it?

Jeremy MacLively: Technically anything. Embroidery is one of our cooler ones because, while some of the designs can’t be too detailed, we might need to simplify them a little bit if they’re really fine details because it’s thread that’s being stitched. However with embroidery, assuming the logo fits, you can put it on anything. So you can some in wanting polos and have a 3 ½ inch wide design, you can end up getting that on hats, bags, backpacks, literally anything that takes embroidery you can put that on and combine it into the same order. It’s worked out really favorably for people, especially for small orders, if you a handful of polos and you have a smaller team and want 6 hats, you can combine those things together and still get the benefit as if you’re getting 12 polos even though you’re buying 6 polos and 6 hats. So embroidery is one of our cooler ones.

MoCo Show: One of the things everyone has trouble visualizing is colors in relation to the fabric. You guys actually have this sample shirt. If you were someone coming in trying to visualize their design, what’s the best way to pick your colors?

Jeremy MacLively: It all stems from what the canvas is going to be, so whatever shirt color you’re going to use, and that’s going to help determine what color ink you should probably use. There are some rules to it, but then rules can be broken. So you don’t want to use black in on a black shirt unless that’s what you’re going for because some people do that as a fashion thing and they do look really cool if that’s what you’re going for. But if you want your brand to stand out and your logo, and you want people to read it, you don’t want to do black on black or red on red. The contrast helps… so just finding that contrast. It depends on the shirt color the customer is going for, it depends on their needs, but it’s just knowing what’s going to get you that best contrast.

MoCo Show: What are the types of businesses you’re trying to reach out to and help more? Or more specifically, people, individuals, businesses, whatever it might be that you personally want to see this store reach more of in the area.

Jeremy MacLively: We’ve done really well with K-12, so schools, private, public, everything from elementary up to high school. We love working with schools because there’s just so much that can be done, from spirit wear to events like they’re having for proms and homecomings. We love working with schools. But then also I think there’s a great business community in Bethesda that we’re still hoping to do more work with and build more relationships. There’s a lot that we can do, there’s a lot that we offer that can help businesses. Putting your logo or team name or company name on a t-shirt, or any apparel. Our old motto used to be “T-shirts Unite” and that still holds true, even though it’s not our tagline necessarily anymore. But branding your team, I love that. And it doesn’t matter what size. If someone has a business with 6 people or 600, there’s something to be said to putting your logo and your brand on apparel and having people wear that. There’s a lot that we can do and even help with designs for people who don’t have their logos yet, we can help them with that too. So I think just tapping into the business community a little more in the area. There’s a ton of opportunities around here, so I think getting out and meeting those people and inviting them to the store to work on those things. Because, again, when people walk in, they assume we’re just t-shirts… So I think that we just want people to know that we can work with brands and companies, not just teams. A cruise you’re going on or family shirts, it’s everything from that to very professional apparel that you want for your team.

MoCo Show: I think it’s really cool to have a place that a school can come and be like, “Here’s what we had the past few years, what can you guys help us come up with this year?” And, again, it’s that sitting down process because there’s so much that these people need to be able to know. So there are plenty of options if you’re looking to a creative gift for this holiday season. It’s not too late, they do same day printing on a number of options so you can come in, get yourself something for the kids, something for the family. Do a family Christmas shirt even.

Jeremy MacLively: That’s really popular this time of year, people coming in trying to get basically ugly Christmas sweaters on a shirt, we do that a lot and that’s for same-day pickup.

MoCo Show: So we talked about a lot of different things. We talked about the store, how it came to be, your belief in the mission statement of Custom Ink as a whole. Is there anything else you’d like to tell to anyone who’s going to be reading this later or listening? Anything you want to just have known, one last interesting tidbit that you want to put out?

Jeremy MacLively: I think I’d just ask for people to be curious. Come check us out, call us email us, come into the store and check it out. Come see for yourself. And there’s a lot that we can do. I think I want anyone to be comfortable. I want them to be curious because I want them to feel comfortable that they can reach out at any point in time in their journey of trying to get swag or create something for a group. We get people in every step of that timeline, from “I have absolutely nothing to go on but an idea” or “I have absolutely nothing to go on but I have a race that we’re doing with my team at work”. Or people who come in at the furthest step possible like, “I have a logo, put it on a shirt for me.” I want everyone to feel comfortable coming in with design help or anywhere they are, feeling comfortable and curious to come in and we can definitely help them, wherever they are, to get from point A to point B and have fun doing it.

We once again want to thank Jeremy and his team for sitting down with MoCoShow. You can check out some of the images provided from their team to show you a bit more of what their shop is like. We also got a couple shirts for our podcast team made, and you can get something made for someone important to you too. Go in or give them a call and mention “Mocoshow” and get an exclusive MoCoshow discount. Give them a visit at 7029 Arlington Rd, Bethesda, MD 20814 or call them at (240) 292-4137


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