WILKES-BARRE — The silence on the other end of the phone was brief, Dave Maloney recalled of what was supposed to be a routine update on an order.
The Philadelphia 76ers ordered 18,000 shirts for a white-out promotion for one of their home basketball games and contracted Axelrad Screen Printing for the job, said Maloney, co-owner of the Wilkes-Barre company.
“The day before they were due they called to check on them, just like,’We’re making sure we’re on track to get our delivery tomorrow.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, no problem.’ The lady just stopped. Somebody else got on the phone like, ‘You’re seriously, you’re done? ‘” Maloney said.
Axelrad’s kept promise not only earned the respect of the client, but also led to new business as word spread about the company.
“Our product’s done when we say it’s going to be done,” Malone said.
“And every time we like obtain a new large customer, it’s because the last guy couldn’t keep up with the demand.”
It’s easier said than done, assured Maloney, but Axelrad’s been able to deliver the goods on time by meshing technology with resources of skilled and committed humans.
“Everybody needs to be doing their job right for a shirt to come out the right way,” Maloney said.
The 38-year-old Maloney, of Shavertown, should know. He studied business industrial organizational psychology or as he put it, “how to run a business tightly,” and applies his expertise on the job.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of moving parts that need to fall in place,” Maloney said, starting with the arrival of blank shirts on the loading dock to when they’re shipped out with designs applied by hand and machine.
The T-shirt printing hobby Maloney and Matt Trievel shared at Kutztown University blossomed into a full-blown enterprise with 22 employees and does more than $2 million in net business from its crammed building on North Pennsylvania Avenue where its been for the past few years.
The building’s red and brown exterior sports the company’s name — a fictitious one , admitted Maloney — and the logo of a lightning bolt vertically emblazoned on a T-shirt from collar to waist. There’s no indication from the outside of the activity inside on the two floors filled with equipment and supplies and bustling with workers.
“This is as automated as any screen printing goes,” Maloney said, showing of a machine resembling a spoked wheel with panels at the end. An employee fitted T-shirts over the flat panel surfaces in preparation for imprinting when water-based ink is applied to a screen pressed on top of the fabric. The shirts were removed by hand and placed on the rollers of a oven where they are cured.
Taking a short-sleeved black T-shirt produced for the band, Breaking Benjamin, Maloney pointed out the finish of the design.
“Did you ever feel like a T-shirt that has like ink on it? It makes it feel like a crust to it,” he said.
The Axelrad shirt was smooth and gets better with machine washings, Maloney said. “It takes the top layer off and it’s embedded in the shirt,” he said.
The company runs two manual and four automatic machines. “We roughly do about, I would say like between 6,000 and 10,000 shirts in a shift,” Maloney said.
The equipment, such as the new $80,000 direct to screen image printer, is key to the production. “It’ll probably save us maybe $12,000 a year in consumable costs” and pay for itself, Maloney said.
But the person operating the printer, the graphic designer, the sales person, the employee who counts and separates the shirts into sizes and the one who secures the hats in place for the embroidery machines are key too, he said.
The staff, with its do-what-needs-to-be-done attitude, distinguishes the company from others, Maloney said.
“Our staff is based on like the DIY (Do It Yourself) mentality,” he said. “Everyone is cross trained. Everybody is trained in multiple areas.”
The company runs one and a half shifts and promises a seven-day turnaround on orders from 25 to 10,000 pieces. Its customers are mainly in the East and Midwest and located within the two-day ground delivery area for UPS, Maloney said.
Axelrad’s location suits it fine. The company will stay put and grow. “We just plan on expanding it to a 24-hour operation instead of moving,” Maloney said.
“It’s easy to sell, hard to produce,” Maloney said.
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.