The New England Region
Welcome to our newest offering, the bimonthly "Printwear Forum" wherein we briefly discuss production, marketing and management issues with apparel-decorating pros in different industrial regions around the country.
This month, our guest is Rick Roth-owner of award-winning apparel-decorating company Mirror Image (Pawtucket, R.I.)-whose editorial commentary has appeared many times in Printwear. He was recently recognized in Impressions magazine as this industry's decorator of the year for 2001, and his company's work is widely held to represent our industry's best.
Printwear: Production-wise, what do you do differently in the New England states than elsewhere in the country?
Roth: We go faster! We have to pay people more than in other regions, so we have to go faster. Okay, that's a joke answer, but it's also serious. We have to be more efficient, because our labor costs are higher.
Printwear: You recently relocated from Cambridge, Mass., to Pawtucket-a distance of only 50 miles. Why the change?
Roth: Pawtucket might be only an hour away from Cambridge, but it's a world of difference. It's a totally different place here. For one thing, the local government is very supportive to my kind of business. Cambridge was hostile-indifferent at best, and hostile at times. Not wanting factory work anymore.
Printwear: Did you know going in that Pawtucket would be an improvement?
Roth: Yes, we sent inquiries to all the economic-development offices of all the towns in this area, all the cities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. I know other printers who have had just nightmarish moves. But here, I learned from talking to the economic-development office that the state and local government is friendly to my kind of business.
Printwear: Other factors behind your move?
Roth: For me, employees are the key, and this is a place my employees were willing to move to. Basically, they all moved down here. And they got a pretty big boost in their standard of living as a result. Five of my key employees who couldn't afford homes in Cambridge bought homes here. That's first. Second, the employees I find here tend to be very hard working. There's a culture of hard work in this area-factory jobs, where people work hard. And there also seems to be a lot of discrimination against people of color, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans and other ethnic groups in this area. But that actually works to my advantage because, when I hire someone who's from those groups and I treat them well, they're great workers. When I give them responsibility and I treat them with respect, that labor pool becomes a great resource.
Printwear: So, would you recommend such a relocation as helpful to businesses in other regions?
Roth: Hey, a lot of printers in New England have gone out of business. But you know what? Some of the ones I know who moved elsewhere didn't do well where they moved either. They just thought moving would be a panacea for them but is was not. It's competitive everywhere in the country, not just here. I have yet to know of someone who says, "Oh, we moved from Lowell, Massachusetts, to South Carolina. We were going out of business, but now we're rich!" I don't hear those kinds of stories. Do you? It seems like they go from here to South Carolina to Mexico. And then they go out of business.
Printwear: Alright. Can you tell us about your marketing strategy, in general?
Roth: I'm pretty anti-marketing, in general. I'm totally into direct selling, calling on people, sending them samples. We don't even have an ad in the Yellow Pages any more, and we don't advertise in any newspapers or magazines. No radio, nothing like that. Totally targeted sales.
Printwear: Do you have your own sales force?
Roth: Yeah, me. We had two other people, but it's just me now. Our most effective marketing tool is our good work. It speaks for itself. That and my winning personality! And we try very hard to keep the customers we have happy. Some people just market like crazy and, if they don't do a good job for one customer, they just go on to the next one. We really try to keep our customers. And we also apply the eighty/twenty rule-except, for us, it's more of an eighty-five/fifteen rule. We have a list of that fifteen percent and we keep it current. We talk about it and, if there're two competing jobs to get done, we focus on the people that keep us in business.