Alexa Cary from In-House Prints in Frenchtown, NJ has made a name for herself and her screen printing business with a customer-first mentality. "We create a custom relationship," she said.
We interviewed Alexa at Impressions Expo 2020 in Long Beach, CA earlier this year to discuss the major ups and downs of owning a screen printing business, her favorite piece of equipment in the shop, and what it's like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry.
"There is no manual for 'this is how you run a screen printing business.' There is no playbook for screen printing," Alexa said. She's grateful for every customer and every opportunity, adding that "you are never guaranteed a job in the screen printing industry."
Through hard work and careful communication, Alexa and her husband Tyler have built a business for themselves that allows them to travel and enjoy life.
Alexa's Instagram is a great peek into her day-to-day life. She rides motorcycles, makes amazing prints, and always keeps a great Story going. We took a little inspiration from her Instagram handle: @lifeofa.female.screenprinter
Be sure to follow Alexa on Instagram to see what she's up to in New Jersey!
Why you'd want to hear from Alexa about screen printing:
"I'm not saying being a female in the screen printing industry is difficult," Alexa said, "But people look at you differently because it's unexpected."
Women have made a big impact in the screen printing industry, from tech wizards like M&R's Michelle Moxley and Night Owl's Val Solomon to leaders like Kristene Shreve from EnMart. There are thousands of women laborers, printers, artists, and business owners pushing the industry forward.
Alexa has embraced the need for women leaders in the industry by joining conversations, events, podcasts, and Facebook Groups designed to share resources, knowledge, and support for women in the industry.
Alexa has leveraged her small-town roots to create a long-lasting and beloved business in Frenchtown. "Everybody knows everybody here. So we create a really great relationship, and all of our marketing is word of mouth."
By keeping close relationships, Alexa always know when it's time to contact customers for events and seasonal orders. "We know they've ordered in the past for a certain event, so we know when to contact them" she added.
Alexa laughed and said, "Don't do it!"
But she wasn't serious about discouraging new screen printers. In fact, she's surprisingly blunt.
"Get ready to dedicate your life to it," Alexa explained, "There's a lot of hard work and time that goes into screen printing."
"Our ROQ automatic screen printing press. We would not be able to survive without it," Alexa explained.
Their green automatic printing machine is a mainstay of their shop. "It's given us opportunities," Alexa pointed out. "We can print what we would do in 5 days in 1 day."
Alexa says that if you're on the fence about getting an automatic press, you shouldn't wait much longer. The ROQ was pivotal to streamlining and expanding their business.
In-House Prints has changed direction, going from 6 employees down to 2 (just Alexa and Tyler). Why? 2020 is the year that Alexa and Tyler totally nail down their process.
Their single biggest challenge is refining the flow of information through their business.
"We're trying to organize ourselves. From the client emailing us to going to production, to finalizing the project, the entire process needs to run smoothly."
Editor's note: I'm obliged to point out that Printavo is the tool to get your screen print shop organized.
While we've written at length about how digital printing is primed to change the screen printing industry, Alexa is another screen printer that's excited about digital printing. She added, "I'm not getting into digital printing yet, but it's opening a lot of doors for other companies and it's fascinating to watch that process grow."
"You are never guaranteed a job in the screen printing industry," Alexa said. That isn't to say they don't trust and love their customers – they do. It's that Alexa doesn't take anything for granted.
"There is always a part of me that knows we are fortunate to have all these jobs coming in. So we love our clients. We want to treat our customers the best we can," Alexa said. She elaborated, explaining that their customer-focused model is a way to show gratitude for the support their customers give them. "That's important, and it's why we focus our business around our customer support."
While Alexa isn't looking to hire any employees this year, they are focused on building a process in their shop that would let them add employees in the future. "We are making sure the process is right. Streamlined, that it all makes sense, that everything is running smoothly. We are planning to hire more in the future, it's just not in the books right now."
Alexa laments the fact that screen printing is a very DIY, find-out-yourself industry – with few standards and even fewer trustworthy resources.
"There is always something that's not functioning properly or you need to figure out." Alexa points out that screen printers need a growth mindset to achieve anything: "You have to go and find out, figure it out, always be learning."
Alexa has leaned in to her unofficial title as an ambassador for young women in the screen printing industry, even titling her Instagram account "life of a female screen printer." She doesn't dodge the question: "People look at you differently [if you're a woman screen printer] because it's just unexpected." Hopefully, that won't be the norm for much longer.
Alexa loves the freedom that owning her own business grants her and her husband. "Screen printing isn't the industry I thought I would get into, but it's my dream job. I can do anything I want, when I want, and still focus on my dream job."
Tyler and Alexa have had an adventurous 2019, since "we can still run our company from our laptops." They've been traveling extensively, which Alexa says is scary. "But it's cool to know you can leave your work at home and live life for a little bit...then come back and it's still there."
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