Launching a startup keeps you energized and young

Thirty years ago, I said I would never print T-shirts. There was no margin to be made and then the industry went offshore to cheap labor sources. Well, here we are in 2019, and people love decorated apparel, not just screen printed but embroidered, digital-direct printed and heat transfer. T-shirt printing is back on our shores, and the market is booming.

In 2018, we started a brand-new division in the same printing company that was never going to print T-shirts. We had been content with our OEM decals, truck graphics and signage markets for 35 years. So why did we do it? First, to add a new product line that customers needed, thereby leading to increased revenue growth. Second, homework revealed that this was the fastest-growing decorating market. Finally, it was the excitement of a new venture. 

Open your eyes

My point is to encourage entrepreneurs to open their eyes to manufacturing ideas that can be made in this country once again. “Make America Great Again” isn’t a political slogan to me. We are the greatest manufacturing country in the world. We have seen numerous customers go offshore, only to return due to freight costs, long lead times, poor communication and rising offshore costs. 

Launching an apparel and promotional product line at is the most exciting new venture I have experienced since digital printing revolutionized the printing industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I’m at the age that my friends are retiring, and here I am feeling like a kid in a candy shop again. The whole company is learning something new, and I see the excitement in their daily activities. It feels like it’s 1983 all over again.    

Startups have a totally different culture than large, established entities. They don’t have job descriptions and set hours. Maybe that is why I love the millennials’ passion in our small startup with 12 employees. They have all been fantastic, energetic and looking for better ways to accomplish tasks and have fun. 

My advice is to not think of millennials as being entitled. The new energy they have brought has made me look at ways to bring that same feeling and energy to our parent company of 135 employees. In today’s tight labor market, we all need help finding ways to hire and retain staff. New ventures are a great way to find talented, self-motivated, passionate people. Once they are on board, they can help motivate the rest of your organization. 

Starting anew

It was 36 years ago when my father and I bought a small printing company. He was 61 years old and retired, yet I watched him come alive and act like that kid in a candy store. His energy was contagious to me. Here I am at age 64 and starting something brand new again. Thank you, Dad, for instilling in me the need for continuous education and excitement.

Dolf Kahle is CEO at Visual Marking Systems Inc. And speaking of startups, check out some of the hottest young companies in Cleveland in our Cleveland Technology Awards section.