Images discovers how skateboarding friends Craig Stock and Steve Faherty bought an existing screen print business and made it their own
In 2016, Joshua Roberton of White Duck Studios in Bath decided to focus solely on the fine art side of his business. He offered the garment printing part of the company to his employee, Steve Faherty, and when Craig Stock, a client and longtime skateboarding friend of Steve’s, turned up to discuss sampling for a brand, Josh suggested the two friends work together.
Steve, about to become a father for the first time, had already decided he wanted to take up Josh’s offer. Craig had a young family and was fed up with working in bars and nightclubs and dealing with drunks – moving into screen print was an appealing option. It was an easy decision to work together. They called the new business Memory Screen after an iconic 1990s Alien Workshop skateboarding video. As well as being a “subtle nod” to the skateboard world, Craig says that “the imagery in the video and the feel of it fitted me and Steve”. “We’ve had a few screen printers that are skaters who have said: ‘Ah, that’s a great name, why didn’t we think of that?!’”
Josh gave them White Duck’s screen printing equipment – a Hopkins six- colour manual press and Natgraph dryer – and sublet a unit to them in return for some printing jobs. They both continued in their day jobs and spent the evenings garment printing until eventually, after five months, the business had built up to the point where Steve was able to leave White Duck and they moved into their own unit. Josh’s generous offer gave them an amazing leg-up into the industry, says Steve.
Although Craig says setting up in this way allowed them to hit the ground running, it wasn’t completely straightforward. “We lost the discounts Josh had with suppliers so we had to start afresh with pricing. We took on a lot of Josh’s clients, lost a lot of Josh’s clients as well because we couldn’t compete price-wise, and gained an awful lot more by sheer hard work and putting ourselves out there.” While some suppliers were happy to offer discounts to them as a ‘new’ business that they wanted to keep as a customer, others took longer to convince.
Of the brands they now use, Continental is one they recommend to anyone printing for retail, along with AS Colour (“We love it”), while their staple wholesale brand is Gildan. Steve is the printer while Craig runs the ‘behind the scenes’ side, although both do colour separations. “We have a bit of a weird relationship with that. He’s really good on Photoshop, I can use Illustrator,” reveals Craig. Steve “loves the whole manual printing thing”, he continues. “The time and energy that goes into it. We’re quite aware that people, especially with the Amazon era, want to click their fingers and have it at their door. Some people want it tomorrow, and they want it quick and cheap.” Others, like their many clients, insist on having hand-pulled prints. “People will call us and say, ‘Oh, you do do it by hand, don’t you?’ Everything is pulled by hand regardless of what we print. There’s definitely a market for hand printing.” It helps that Steve “probably prints faster than an auto”, says Craig. “He’s a really quick printer.”
Their Hopkins BWM press is a workhorse, reports Craig, allowing them to print anything up to six spot colours (Pete from Wicked Printing Stu, part of SISS, has been vital in keeping the press running as spare parts for it aren’t available in the UK, offering either to source the parts or fabricate them). Any jobs above six colours they pass onto someone they know and trust. “I never leave anyone hanging. If someone makes an enquiry and we can’t do it, I’ll always put them in touch with another printer. We don’t try to compete, we try to have a nice working relationship with people. I think that’s the best way.”
This willingness to help even when they’re not going to profit from the job is in part down to Craig and Steve both having a background in retail, and has shaped the way they run their business. “We get people in to chat with them, show them the T-shirts, show them the process. We try to explain it, because what we often find is people have no real idea of how screen printing works. We’ve got a clothing rail with lots of portfolio pieces on it that we’ve done so we can show them what is and isn’t possible. We’ll spend half an hour with them, Steve’ll get involved, and nine times out of 10 we’ll gain a client.”
They also never push clients into buying more than they need. “I don’t believe in upselling. Obviously we have print breaks and garment price breaks, so if someone says, “I want 45”, I’ll explain that 50 works out better for them. But if I pressurised someone into doing 100 T-shirts when they originally wanted 25, I know in my heart they might not sell them and then all these T-shirts are eventually going to go to charity or a landfill, which is not great.”
Repeat business is more profitable than the occasional pushy upsell, and given they’ve never had to advertise but instead have got their business almost exclusively through word of mouth, they’ve obviously got their approach right. As well as printing for local businesses, they have a number of clients in Malta. A casino client, Casumo, that came with them from White Duck has since recommended them to other casino clients as well as businesses local to them in Malta, such as a motorbike company, creating an unusual geographic spread of clients.
Since they started, they’ve moved twice, and are now in a 2,000 sq ft unit. “In Bath, units are either really small or massive – there’s no middle ground,” explains Craig. “Luckily, we had a contact at Network Rail so I called him up and asked if he had anything.” They were offered an old railway building next to the railway line that suits them perfectly. It’s been empty for eight or nine years, but is, apart from the windows that could do with updating, in “perfect nick”.
They were only looking for a 1,000 sq ft unit, but this gives them space to grow – which they might need very soon, given the rate at which business has now picked up. “We hit our third year and it just went mental, and it’s still like it now.” If they continue like this for the rest of the year, they’ll be looking to employ someone full-time, and will also need to replace their dryer. “It’s packed up a few times, but we’ve managed to fix it. We’re very aware though that it’s got a finite life and it’s going to pack up completely at some point.” Dave Roper of Screen Print World is keeping an eye out for a second-hand dryer for them. It needs to be able to cope with plastisol as well as water-based and discharge ink as they offer all three, although they prefer water-based and discharge as they’re quicker to print.
Whatever the future holds, it’s highly unlikely a DTG printer will find its way into Memory Screen’s shop. “I find it soulless,” admits Craig. “That sounds awful, and I’m sure there are people that love it… It’s just completely profit-based and that’s fair enough, but there’s no creative love there.” The need to enjoy their work and share the creativity with others is a large part of what makes Memory Screen the business it is. Inevitably, given they’re both skateboarders, they’re now starting to print on skateboards, although at the moment Steve is still fine-tuning the process, but they hope it won’t be long before that becomes another profit-making part of their business. “Printing by hand takes longer to do, and the profit margin may not be as high, but I think for both me and Steve, if we didn’t love it, we wouldn’t do it,” concludes Craig.