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January 2004

Rick Roth and Mirror Image
Building Loyalty and Finding Your Niche

Rick Roth, President of Mirror Image Inc., is best known for his award-winning screen printed apparel and his philanthropy that extends beyond the borders of his facility in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. His employees are known for their loyalty; when Rick moved the company there from Cambridge, Mass., 18 out of 23 employees came with him.

Rick built his team on the belief that "you can't do good work unless you keep your employees." To build their loyalty, he went beyond offering paid benefits. "You have to provide a recourse for problems that arise and be concerned for your employees welfare," he says. "They know that if something bad happens, Mirror Image will take care of them."

Mirror Image has been recognized in the industry for their outstanding screen printing. Their shirt, Water Bottles, received a Best in Show Golden Image Award at the SGIA '03 convention. For that client, Rick says that the key was "combining traditional reproduction with new special effects for an absolutely dead-on reproduction of water bottles with 3-D gel water droplets on top." "Recognizing employees for their work is a key to building loyalty," Rick says, "and awards like this help us do that: Kevin Breckenridge and Brian Lessard, who have been with Mirror Image almost twelve years, were mainly responsible for the work. Brian is the head printer, working to apply new processes and techniques, and Kevin specializes in outstanding separations." Rick insists that it is truly a group effort, and teamwork allows Mirror Image to continue to do what it does best - combining old and new expertise.

Mirror Image is also a union shop. This ultimately certifies that the company is a responsible employer, and not a sweatshop. Rick explains, "There is a growing awareness and concern over where things come from - United Students Against Sweatshops, for example. Dunkin' Donuts is going to start offering some fair trade coffee. People are starting to consider where things are made." Rick also urges printers to look at anti-sweatshop and environmental aspects of marketing. "Consider union-made or organic cotton tee shirts and know how to be eco-friendly," he says. "Know enough to talk to your customers about it, if they ask. Market yourself that way." The bottom line - work your strengths, be it pro-union, environmentally friendly or anything else.

So what if your customer asks for something your shop doesn't do or hasn't done much? "You want to do the best job for the customer," he says. "If you outsource, you know exactly what your costs are, and so you can build that into your job. Why figure out how to do glitter, if you only do it once a year?" Financially, it makes more sense to give it to an expert. A lot of bad business decisions are made through fear, Rick says. "Instead of lowering prices or promising a customer anything, produce a better product so that people have a reason to go to you." Create a need by being more responsive to customers and work more closely with them and ensure their designs are the best they can be. "Getting good results is what matters."

Another way to work with the client to ensure their needs are met is making samples. Mirror Image recently got a sample press, so they can show customers exactly what the printed product will look like. "You can't show a customer what a gel will look like on a monitor or how soft a distressed print will feel on a baby doll tee - unless you actually make a sample." This has been helpful, in refining what the customer wants before production begins.

When the production does begin, what can you do to successfully run your shop? Roth says, "Everyone has different resources, strengths and types of customers. You have to design or identify your own system and what works for you." In terms of you operations as a whole, he advises that you stay consistent, not strive for perfection. "Perfection in one area might mess up what you're doing in another area." There are many variables that go into the printing process - ink, separation, and screen tension. "Any variable can be changed, but how you do something and get it to come out great may be totally different from how someone else does it." Pay attention to your variables, but don't change one and expect it to all run well; it may run much worse. "Systems work as a whole," Rick says. "Look at your own strengths and resources and figure out what your system is."

What does it take to have the kind of success Mirror Image enjoys? Control as many business variables as you can. Building customer and employee loyalty is priority. Create a niche by marketing your strengths and outsource to experts. Great design puts your business well on the road to promotional success. According to Rick, "half of printing is truly customer service", and great employees can make all the difference.

This story ran on page 02 of the SGIA News January 2004.

All material designed and copyrighted by Mirror Image, Inc.
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