Distributor Profile: Performance Screen Supply

This article is reprinted by permission from Printwear Magazine, November 1997.

Operating out of an 8,000-square-foot facility in Freehold, N.J., Performance Screen Supply considers itself the "new kid on the block" in the world of screen-print-supply distribution. Bob and Kathy Drake started their business just five years ago and have enjoyed great success in growing the company to its current customer base of more than 4,000 clients. They attribute their success to what they consider an innovative approach to screen-print distribution:

"We remember what we were dissatisfied with as printers," says Bob Drake. "Slow deliveries, out of stock items, lack of technical support for products and unbelievably high prices, along with poor service." With that in mind, the Drakes have made it a point to structure Performance Screen Supply so that "the customer is the boss." Serving the textile-printing industry with an emphasis on the small and medium shop --especially start-ups -- the Drakes feel they can really help their customers.

Their own print shop, "Campus Coordinates," operates next door to the supply business and uses all the products they sell on a daily basis. "We know what we're talking about," Bob says, "because we get our hands dirty."

A unique approach

One thing the Drakes believe makes Performance different from a more conventional distributor is that it maintains stock on over 400 items at all times. They do not, though, see their company as a "grocery store" of screen-printing supplies: "We do not stock multiple lines of like products," Bob explains. "We maintain brand loyalty." Also, many of the products they offer are "private labeled," specifically for Performance Screen Supply—a typical example being their trade-marked "Damn Good Black Ink," along with emulsion and screen-reclaiming chemicals.

While Performance does not manufacture any items, it does offer an art and separation service to its customers. Jim Boldt is the in-house artist who provides this service, offering a two-day turnaround on most jobs.

The entire staff at Performance, which includes 13 employees in New Jersey, along with those who staff the St. Louis warehouse, is dedicated to filling all orders every day.

Kathy explains: "I can't go home at night until I know that every order has been shipped and every customer is happy." Along those lines, the Drakes believe their company is unique in that, rather than telemarketing, their daily calls to customers are to insure that everyone is pleased with the products they've ordered. "It is important to us to keep our customers, and to keep them satisfied."

Also somewhat unique to Performance is the fact that it has no outside sales force and does not extend credit terms to customers. "We do this because we want to offer the quickest ship times and the fairest, most competitive prices." As printers on the receiving end of distribution, the Drakes found that field sales representatives were often ignorant of specific product functions and lacked hands-on printing experience. Rather than perpetuate that same cycle by hiring a sales force, the two owners have instead invested their company's resources in exhibiting at eight to ten tradeshows a year along with hosting a couple of their own open houses. At the tradeshows, Performance personnel wear garments printed with their ink products, as they demonstrate working equipment. "We specialize in helping people get started in this industry." Kathy says. "We can give them real information about ordering garments, pricing the printing and what is involved in the actual day-to-day running of a print shop."

The Drakes offer in-house training seminars -- limited to four people per session -- with one-on-one instruction to learn how to use what they buy. "We sell tools," Bob states. "People need to learn how to use them. It is our goal to develop them into long-term supply customers." He believes Performance is accomplishing that goal, and proudly states the company has shipped orders to every state in the U.S. and to every continent except Antarctica.

Youthful appeal

The Performance Screen Supply catalog is produced in house, and updated annually. "And yes," Kathy says, "it does include prices. No one else does that." The company has received many complements on the "user-friendly" format of the catalog, the technical information it contains, and the products it offers.

Bob sees the company's distribution roles as maintaining adequate inventory to provide just-in-time delivery to its customers, providing technical support, and interceding between manufacturer and printer when problems arise.

In addition to inventory depth, pricing and knowledge, the Drakes feel they provide the products and services their customers truly need and want. For example, they believe it will be a long time before the digital impact—just beginning to touch the screen-printing industry—reaches their customer base. "We still sell a lot of film," says Bob, "and a lot of our customers still use a darkroom. The digital revolution will take a while to get to textiles."

The Drakes also feel part of their appeal is that they are a young company—not only in terms of how long they've been in business, but in the ages of the owners and employees as well: Bob is 31 and Kathy is only 27 years old. They maintain that their youth lends an enthusiasm and an innovative approach that enables them to overcome obstacles. "We see obstacles as opportunities to grow, so we just plow on through and succeed," Bob explains.

One innovation the company is currently offering are American Airlines Frequent Flier Miles with supply purchases. Customers earn one mile for each dollar spent. "If customers are going to order supplies anyway," says Kathy, "they might as well have the opportunity to earn a free airline ticket or vacation by buying from us."

Dividends

On the horizon, Performance has plans to open a Website, is refining custom software for in-house order entry to allow instant order processing, and is researching possible additional warehouse locations. Obviously, the enthusiasm of Performance Screen Supply is paying dividends, as shown by its rapid and substantial growth over the past five years. Bob and Kathy Drake say they care about their customers and appreciate all the positive feedback they are receiving from them.

-- Jane Willey, ink-management specialist for Kennesaw, Ga.-based Flexible Products Co., is a veteran of the screen-printing industry and offers editorial insight in the pages of Printwear Magazine.