April 11, 2013

US Logo expands its facilities along with its services

With handymen cutting nails in one corner of the building and a vacuum cleaner whirring in another, it’s not easy to find a quiet spot for a conversation in the new home of US Logo.

With handymen cutting nails in one corner of the building and a vacuum cleaner whirring in another, it’s not easy to find a quiet spot for a conversation in the new home of US Logo.

The company’s move to the former Rose Bowl West building on West Street has taken place while it continues to crank out printed shirts and hats, promotional items and other goods.

“I can’t afford to just stop working and let my customers go somewhere else," owner TJ Smith said, smiling and apologizing for the commotion.

Smith’s near and long-term plans for US Logo can be deduced by the size of the new place — at almost 24,000 square feet, it’s nearly twice as much space as US Logo needs.

Smith wants to add more business lines to a portfolio that now includes screen printing, embroidery, promotional items and more.

“We are looking for opportunities (by buying) competitors that are nearing retirement age or struggling," he said. “We will either acquire places or do it ourself.”

Smith started US Logo with his mother, Joyce Smith, 24 years ago this summer. Joyce retired a couple years later and Smith’s wife, Lynne, now works there in customer service.

Initially, US Logo offered embroidery, or stitching, of caps, T-shirts and other items. It added screen printing and acquired the business of a few other companies along the way.

Nine years ago, Smith bought Jumper Sportswear, which sells casual apparel and promotional items to sky-diving enthusiasts, and which still operates under that name.

About four years ago, he bought Inkspress, which sold coffee cups, calendars and other promotional items.

Most recently, he acquired Metro Apparel, which sold clothes.

About half of US Logo’s business is apparel, and 95 percent of that is for companies. National clients include BG Products and Pizza Hut, but Smith said the majority are local banks, restaurants, auto shops and other businesses. The rest are individuals, sports teams and other groups.

Smith said no order is too small. Indeed, smaller orders are a big trend in the business, along with apparel featuring large logos and “bling.”

“People want smaller orders quicker,” he said. “They expect exceptional quality at a reasonable price.”

A few years back, US Logo started direct-to-garment printing, which offers full-color printing for smaller orders than screen printing. And in anticipation of the move to West Street, it began printing business materials and signs.

Yet another move Smith made was to hire two professional designers to develop logos and do other work in-house for customers. Smith said the service is offered “economically,” with the payoff that customers buy uniforms, coffee mugs and other items from US Logo.

“What we’re trying to do is bring (advertising) agency-quality design work to small and medium-size businesses,” he said. “We can offer it to them so much more economically. We don’t focus on making money on the designs.”

One of the designers’ first jobs was to redesign US Logo’s own logo, part of a general rebranding effort that includes social media. The new location includes a 1,500-square-foot showroom where some of US Logo’s products are displayed.

The company currently employs 12 people full time, up from two when it started. Smith said the growth has allowed him to focus more on things like strategic planning, “rather than running the embroidery machine myself.”

Before starting US Logo, Smith had spent a decade selling boys apparel. He said he’s never regretted the change.

“I love this business,” he said. “I love the creativity. I don’t miss retail. Here we basically provide products when somebody wants those products."

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