Small Business Spotlight

Homegrown Apparel

By
From the September 2013 issue of Columbus CEO
  • Photo by Tim Johnson

Their bustling screen-printing business fits one local couple to a T. They credit their strong Ohio connections.

Zachary and Erin Traxler didn’t take a honeymoon after they got married in 2010.They started a business.

The couple launched Traxler Tees, a custom screen-printing business, within days of their wedding.

Zachary, who wanted to creat apparel with a local focus, has always had a passion for screen printing. His father is Ron Kaplan, creator of the iconic Surf Ohio T-shirt line.

When the Traxlers started the business, they looked for Ohio-based companies that could supply them with ink, clothing and other materials. They promoted their efforts to potential customers. “We saw a big market and an appreciation from other like-minded small businesses,” for locally-sourced products, Erin says

A photographer with an eye for style, Zachary also hoped to help customers create interesting, attractive shirts that people would want to wear.

The Traxlers worked hard to develop relationships with apparel wholesalers to help keep their prices affordable. Often, T-shirt bids come down to pennies so it’s important to be competitive, Zachary says

“We have outstanding relationships with our wholesalers,” he says. “I always call my rep and ask for the best price delivered. We pass all sale prices onto our customers. We want our customers to come back.”

The Traxlers initially sought customers they believed would appreciate their local focus. During WCBE’s fundraising drive, Zachary called and asked whether the radio station was interested in using a local screen printer for its T-shirts. He bid on the job and got it. He and Erin started devoting more time to printing shirts. Word began to spread among area businesses about Traxler Tees.

The business outgrew its first 400-square-foot shop in less than a year. Zachary quit his job as an analyst for a business information website in 2011. He cashed out his retirement account and invested the money in the business.The company now has six full-time employees and two part-timers and operates out of a 5,000-square-foot shop. It is on track to earn gross sales of $400,000 this year, Zachary says Retail designsare available exclusively at Celebrate Local at Easton Town Center.

Traxler Tees also prints business cards, invitations, banners and other items and offers branding and Web development services.

The couple recently invested in an automatic press that has increased production capabilities. Traxler Tees can now produce 800 shirts an hour. Previously, they were able to make about 800 shirts a day. The new press has allowed the company to bid on larger jobs and do contract work for other businesses, Erin says

The company’s efforts to promote Ohio businesses got the attention of Dara Schwartz. The owner of Darista Café, a pop-up café that focuses on local food, was considering creating a line of T-shirts geared to locavores. She says she contacted Traxler Tees and immediately knew it was the right company to bring her designs to life.

Schwartz was impressed by Traxler’s numerous relationships with Ohio-based suppliers and Zachary’s knowledge of apparel. “He gave me a ton of different options,” she says. “He worked really hard to fit my business model.”

When the owners of Watershed Distillery decided to sell shirts to market their locally produced vodka, bourbon and gin, they also turned to Traxler Tees. “The customer service was amazing,” says Greg Lehman, distiller and owner of the Columbus-based company

Lehman and his Watershed partner, Dave Rigo, wanted to create a shirt that would generate buzz.“People like to show support for local brands,” says. He credits Zachary for helping them design to date more than 4,000 people want to buy, own and wear.

Helping customers select the right product is important, Zachary says:“You don’t want to see your shirts end up at the Goodwill.”

Melissa Kossler Dutton is a freelance writer.