Lincoln-based Streetshirts has evolved through a sophisticated understanding of software and close monitoring of changing customer requirements

The new Storm Hexa prints vivid greens and reds

It’s the Friday after Streetshirts took delivery of its brand new Kornit Storm Hexa and Ecotex+ dryer from Adelco and moved into a new, bigger unit in Lincoln. The move took place over the weekend, with the unit up and running by first thing Monday morning. Despite the undoubted pressure involved in achieving this, director Steve Winn is sounding remarkably unruffled as he explains how the new machine is instrumental to the business’s new, and third, stream of revenue: contract printing for other decorators.

Fifteen years ago, Steve was at university studying medicine. At the end of his first year he bought a computer magazine that came with a free cover disk which allowed users to make an online shop. “I thought, ‘What can I sell online?’ and I decided T-shirts.” And so Streetshirts was born.

Steve ended up leaving his course to concentrate full-time on the business of selling pre-designed T-shirts through his self-built retail site. He then noticed a change in demand from these pre-made tees to those that customers designed themselves, and so the site evolved to allow customers to design their own T-shirts. Steve and his graphic designer wife, Emily, would then print them using flex and flock.

In 2014, the couple made the move into direct-to-garment (DTG) printing. “There was some work that was becoming more popular but we couldn’t take it on with flex and flock, such as images with gradients and prints with parts of the shirt showing through.”

The first machine they invested in was Kornit’s entry-level machine, the Breeze. “We looked at all the little ones, but when we saw the Kornit with the integrated pre-treatment, it was just so much better. I think they’re a different class of machine. It really changed our business; it’s what’s made us move from being a small business to a medium business.”

As soon as they started with the DTG machines, they found they had a much bigger repeat order rate. “Some people loved the flex and flock and were really sad when we changed to DTG, but what we found was that we got more customers than we lost. We discovered that a lot of the one-offs that we’d been doing, they were samples for people wanting a hundred behind the scenes. Once we had the DTG in there, people wanted to come back and buy more – that’s where the growth came from.”

By the time the Kornit Breeze had arrived, they needed another two to cope with demand. They went from one machine to four in just three months.

Steve and Emily at Streetshirts. Credit: Foxtography

Software savvy

Their success is not just down to the machines, however: a large part can be attributed to Steve’s software skills. A self-taught software developer, he has developed the site so that retail customers can design their T-shirt directly on the Streetshirts website and, once finished, it’s immediately ready to print. “We’ve automated everything, so all the artworking’s automated – from the website straight to the machines; when the garments come in they all get barcoded; and then when they get to the printer they just have to scan the barcode and the file loads ready to print on to the shirt. All the files are the right quality and size already – we’ve tried to make it as slick as possible. To give you an idea, with our current set-up [of six Breezes] we can do 1,200 shirts every day. With this new machine we’ll be able to do even more because it can run 24/7 if we want it to.”

Not only that, since September online shops that sell T-shirts have been able to use the Shopify plug-in that Steve has developed. Resellers and independent brands can simply add the plug-in and with one click they send all their T-shirt fulfilment work direct to the trade part of Streetshirts, known as T-Shirt Foundry.

“Printing for members of the public [via Streetshirts] is still the biggest part of our business, but it won’t be long before the trade printing takes over,” says Steve. “I would say it will be within the next year because it’s just grown so fast.”

By the end of May Steve and Emily hope to have launched their third site, one that is aimed firmly at other decorators, called www.tradeDTG.com. It is, says Steve, focused on pushing the new Kornit Storm Hexa. “As I’m sure you know, it’s a fairly expensive machine with its six colours, so we’re launching a new trade service so other printers can access it at £3.00 a print. They’ll send us their garments, submit their artwork file online and when we get the garments we’ll print them the same day and ship them directly to their customers. It will allow people to access the Storm Hexa quality without having to buy the machine – I think that’s going to be really popular.”

The new Storm Hexa is vital to the company’s soon to be launched TradeDTG business. Credit: Foxtography

Flat pricing

The difference between CMYK machines and the Hexa is very noticeable, explains Steve. “Kornit says that it’s got 30% more colours, but that doesn’t really mean anything. What does mean something is that the shirts look like what the customers have seen when they’ve bought online. On CMYK, the reds look a bit dull, the greens aren’t as bright as they could be, nor are all the colours that are made out of those colours. On the Hexa, it’s got red ink and green ink, so the greens look good and the reds look good, and also the purples look good.”

Like everything with Streetshirts, the pricing for TradeDTG has been kept as easy as possible. “Unlike most trade services, they don’t have to come to us for pricing first because we’ve done it at a flat fee so they can quote it to their customers directly. There’s no point us trying to make money on the garments because everyone in the industry knows what the garments cost.”

The catalyst for buying the Storm Hexa was the Shopify plug-in. After installing the sixth Breeze the company had reached a plateau where it either had to move into a bigger unit and get more machines or be happy staying at the level it had already achieved. The plug-in was so successful that moving to the next level with a bigger machine in a new unit seemed the natural step to take. The aim now is to have three Storm Hexas in total, replacing the six Breezes.

The company employs just six people apart from the two directors, who work mainly on the website development side. Turnover for this financial year will hit around the £1 million mark, with £1.7 million projected for the next. “We’ve modified the business over the years to follow the money. It used to be that people wanted to buy T-shirts and wanted to design their own. Now we realise that people want to sell more and so we changed our focus again – I think that’s what you have to do as a business.”

It is, however, undoubtedly their software capabilities and automation that has allowed them to succeed at such a cracking pace. “It’s won or lost in the workflow. Everyone’s got a website and a webshop, but most of them are not really connected to the back-end – they just make previews of the shirts that people want and then they have to be recreated or checked by a designer. Where we’re really strong as a company is that all this happens automatically with the scan of a barcode. There are other people that do it, but the other people that do it are Amazon, Spreadshirt, CafePress – the really big people. As far I know we’re the only small to medium business that has as strong a workflow system as the biggest companies.”

www.streetshirts.co.uk