by Imri Merritt aka “M”
Imri (pronounced em-rye), also known as “M”, is a graphic designer and screen printing expert at RushOrderTees, one of America’s most popular custom apparel companies. He has more than 10 years of graphic design and color separations experience in the screen printing industry. As a graduate of the Multimedia program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, he has explored various creative pursuits, including art and design, marketing, DJing, and even producing comedy shows. He is a contributing writer for Impressions Magazine, Printwear Magazine, and ASI Central. He loves roller coasters, music, and fried pickles.
Making major purchases for your business is always an important decision. When it comes to buying production or manufacturing equipment, there are some crucial things to consider. Some of them may be common sense, others are counter-intuitive.
I spoke with Mike, the founder and CEO of RushOrderTees, to get a better understanding of what goes into these types of decisions. RushOrderTees was started in his garage in 2002, and has grown into one of the industry leaders, with over 500,000 customers nationwide and a satisfaction rate of 99.7%.
We narrowed our discussion of this topic down to 6 important tips that will help guide you when buying equipment for any business, from a truck for a construction company to equipment for a commercial kitchen. The following are excerpts from that interview. Now, let’s talk to Mike!
M: Hi Mike. What is the first thing to consider when deciding on a major equipment purchase?
Mike: Hi M. The first thing is making sure you really need it. Asking yourself what your specific requirements are. You don’t want to run out and buy something just because it’s new. Consult with your department heads to find out what exactly they need.
M: Are there any advantages to being an early adopter?
Mike: For business, when something new comes out, you usually don’t want to be first to try it. It’s never what they say it’s going to be unless the technology or process has been proven. If you do go this route, usually there are some ways to negotiate a deal for yourself in exchange for taking the risk of being an early adopter, from extended warranties, discounts, acting as a reference, etc. When you’re the first one in the US to have a machine, there’s a discount for that.
M: What’s the next thing to consider? Most people probably think of their budget when it comes to purchasing.
Mike: Research. After you come up with what you need– your requirements to grow or become more efficient– then you can go out and do your research on which pieces of equipment are right for you. Requirements and research are at the core of getting the right equipment the first time. Budget is secondary.
M: Gotcha. So doing your homework is key. What are some of the questions business owners should ask themselves when starting research?
Mike: What brands are well-known outside of your current knowledge? Have you done basic Google searches? Have you read online reviews? How many of these units are installed and working in the field today? Have you seen it in action? Did you call around to the biggest companies in your industry to find out what they use?
M: Are competitors typically willing to help?
Mike: People love giving advice. They’ll usually be more than happy to tell you about their experience with equipment so that you don’t make the same mistakes they did. There’s nothing more valuable than getting a real-life testimonial on the equipment you’re looking to purchase. Many companies are even willing to take you on a tour and show you the equipment in person if you just ask. You’d be surprised.
M: What about trade shows?
Mike: Trade shows are a great shortcut to asking many companies their experiences with various pieces of equipment you might be looking for. For us, trade shows have been a huge source of knowledge and insight into new and existing manufacturers and their equipment.
M: When it comes to a budget, is the main question ‘How much do you have to spend?
Mike: This question should come with really careful consideration, but I would usually go with: spend more than you want to, if you have revenue stream you feel you can count on because nothing is more important than uptime and output. We have always pushed our budgets well beyond our comfort zones in order to purchase the best equipment the industry had to offer.
M: What if you don’t have a steady revenue stream?
Mike: There’s a time in the business life cycle to go lower cost, but only before the inflection point when consistency and uptime are of the utmost importance. When we were just starting, we went the lower cost route, during proof of concept. We could have taken a big loan, but it would have been too much of a gamble. We wanted to prove ourselves first. As a business, you’re always taking risks– but they should be calculated risks.
M: So once you have the steady revenue, your advice would be to go with the higher-cost, higher-quality, known brands?
Mike: While there might be more upfront costs, they are usually more efficient and require less maintenance than their lower cost competitors. We made that decision early on, after learning the hard way with purchasing lower cost manual and automatic screen printing units and digital printing units. We already had a huge demand at that point, so the most important thing was consistency and uptime to capitalize on the opportunity. Way more valuable than any upfront savings.
M: What about physical considerations?
Mike: Absolutely. It might seem obvious, but measure your space carefully. Think about all your layout options, think about positioning the equipment to optimize workflow. Think about moving things around if you need to. Create a floor plan on the computer that’s to-scale, and makes sure it works there. Then, make sure you can get the equipment through the door. If not, knock a few walls out, or make the door larger (laughs). We’ve had to do that a bunch of times.
M: What about long-term considerations?
Mike: Once you choose a piece of equipment that you may need more of in the future, choose the one that you’ll enjoy working with as you expand your capacity because you’ll likely be buying more of the same machines for redundancy. You might like one of them and it might have some kinks you can deal with when there is just one in the building. However, what if you had 10? or 20? Can you deal with those kinks when they are multiplied?
M: I imagine maintenance considerations would go into this category.
Mike: Yes. Before buying, you should consider which brands will be around in 5-10 years if you need service or parts. And which brands use parts that are accessible to you from a Grainger or a Fastenal. This is a crucial factor that could lead to extra expenses and headaches and disruptions for years to come. Or not.
M: What is something you think business owners might overlook when buying equipment?
Mike: This one is more important than people might realize: develop and maintain a great relationship with the manufacturer or distributor. You want somebody who will be available when you need them, pay special attention to your specific needs, and of course, give you a great deal.
M: Thanks, Mike. Good talking with you.
Mike: You too, M. Thanks.