Success Stories with Marshall Atkinson

Success Stories Ep 22 - "Turn Your Hobby Into A Money Making Machine" with Scott Dawson

June 09, 2021 Marshall Atkinson Season 1 Episode 22
Success Stories with Marshall Atkinson
Success Stories Ep 22 - "Turn Your Hobby Into A Money Making Machine" with Scott Dawson
Show Notes Transcript

One way to expand your opportunities in business is to niche down and use a hobby or something that you are passionate about as a starting point.  

On this episode of Success Stories, Scott Dawson with East Coast Screenprinting in Okeechobee, Florida will be sharing his story of how he turned his love for motorcycle racing into a successful business.

So if you are ready to rev up your sales, Scott has a story or two that just might help.


Marshall Atkinson

One way to expand your opportunities in business is to niche down and use a hobby or something that you are passionate about as a starting point.

On this episode of success stories, Scott Dawson with East Coast Screen Printing in Okeechobee, Florida. We'll be sharing his story of how he turned his love for motorcycle racing into a successful business. So if you're ready to rev up your sales, Scott as a story or two, that just might help. So Scott, good morning and welcome to the success stories podcast.


Scott Dawson

Good morning, Marshall, how are you today? 


Marshall Atkinson

Doing awesome. I'm so excited to have you here. You know, I've, I don't think I've talked to you much. I think we've had a couple of phone calls, but I see you all the time on the Facebook groups and stuff, and you're always showing photos of you and your son having motorcycle adventures.

And I think this is going to be really a great topic today. 


Scott Dawson

Yeah. Yeah, it's a, it's a passion of mine and my son's, uh, I've been racing motorcycles since the mid-eighties, uh, before I was, uh, printing t-shirts and my son's been racing since he was four years old and he just turned 18, so, right. That's great.


Marshall Atkinson

And I'm from Florida, right? But not everybody might be familiar with where Okeechobee Florida is. Can you give us the rundown on that? 

 

Scott Dawson

Yeah, absolutely. Okay. Chad, if you look at a map of Florida, you see this large lake kind of south-central,  that's like Okeechobee, just to get your bearings. We're about 90 miles south of Orlando, about 110, 120 miles north of Miami, uh, dead center of the state, east to west, instead of small town. I've lived here for 45 years.

I can't think of a better place to live and raise a child. 


Marshall Atkinson

So how did you get into screen printing? Cause that, that is if you're like a lot of people like me, for example, I got in through the back door from another reason, and then it stuck. 


Scott Dawson

All right. I'll just give you the really condensed version of how I got into this because it can get long.

I've had a commercial cleaning business for years, close to 30, I believe. And, I had built the business up and had people in place to where I only had to work about three hours a day. Yeah, kind of bored. Couldn't find people to go do stuff with me all the time. When we had 28 employees at the time, we're constantly buying work shirts.

So I thought, you know what? I've got a lot of spare time. I'll just make my own t-shirts. I didn't know anything about making t-shirts. 


Marshall Atkinson

How hard could it be? 


Scott Dawson

Yeah right? So, naturally, like a newbie I got on eBay, started looking at some stuff there and I found these little gadgets and I was like, wow, here's a little one color machine to make a t-shirt. 

And that's all our work shirts are even to this day. It's just the one color that started down that rabbit hole; one color, two-color. This was back when the economy was still doing pretty good. And, uh, before 2008, st bled across a trade show in Orlando that day, started on, this was a Thursday that started on Friday.

So I told my wife, I said, well, I'll just go up there and buy one of these little gadgets. Didn't understand how big the screen printing industry was. When I walked into the conference hall there in Orlando, I was literally back on my heels and all the equipment. And naturally, I couldn't find a little one-color press.

So my mind started going crazy. And by the weekend I had spent about $30,000 on equipment and, uh, That's how I got into t-shirt printing shit. 


Marshall Atkinson

Cha-ching! 


Scott Dawson

Yeah. 


Marshall Atkinson

They saw you coming, Scott. 


Scott Dawson

Oh yeah. They got me a book line and sinker, man. 


Marshall Atkinson

All right, cool. So you move from that. And now I think a lot of your success really dovetails with your hobby that you're so passionate about, which is motorcycle racing.

So why don't we get started telling everyone about your business and that hook? Between printing and motorcycle racing. 

Scott Dawson

Yeah, absolutely. Like I said, I've been racing for years and years and I'm at these events we have. 14 to 15 races a year. And we do have a season. We have an off-season. So roughly every two weeks, there's a race at these events.

They sell t-shirts there. The artwork on them was really not that great. It looked like a lot of hand-drawn stuff, kind of comic book looking. And once I started getting into t-shirt printing, I naturally wanted to be able to do a simulated process right out of the gate. I would ask people, and even whenever I went out west to Fresno courses and went to Atlanta for some courses, they would tell me, well, that takes years to do that.

And I said, well, I don't have yours. I want to be able to do it in months. And I had an old gentleman take me under his wing and the next town over and show me a lot. He was on his way out. He didn't mind giving me secrets and showing me things. And so whenever I started presenting designs that we could do for these motorcycle clubs, I didn't know if I could still print them, but I knew I could do the artwork.

A club gambled and gave me a shot. They sold all their shirts, literally in an hour, as opposed to two days, which the events are always two-day events. And, uh, it just kinda snowballed from there. Everybody was really happy with it. It was modern graphics. It didn't look like it was from the sixties or seventies and it just kinda has grown from there being a rider racer.

I kind of had. An idea of what they wanted to see on a t-shirt because I'm one of them. I tell people if somebody came to me and wanted me to design a t-shirt for a sailboat race, I probably wouldn't be very good at it. Cause I don't know anything about it. It's not my passion. So I think that just kind of comes full circle to us being good at what we do in that niche.


Marshall Atkinson

And how does understanding the market because you're a member of the tribe, right? You know, all the buzzwords, you know, the secret handshake, so to speak of what people really like in that group. How does that, knowing that translate into a better design and more sales? Can you give us an example?


Scott Dawson

I think where that comes into play is whenever I see a t-shirt designer I see some artwork that's motorcycle-related. I look at it and go “now that's something that I would buy, that's something I would wear”. And being one of the tribe, we all do think, we're very like-minded and we have young people in there and old people in there. And I try to span the gap with the ages to generate some artwork that kind of covers everybody. And we do pretty good at it. We've been doing this since 2004 for these motorcycle organizations. And it's not uncommon for everybody to sell out on Saturday. They will increase their numbers, their quantity. So they have shirts for Sunday and they continue to still sell out.

So I guess we're making the designs look right? Yeah. 


Marshall Atkinson

Right. Are, are, well, are you using images that appeal or word choices or colors or the shirt color? I mean, a combination of everything, what seems to stick them best? 


Scott Dawson

Yeah, it definitely is a combination of a lot of things. We have a phenomenal photographer that, uh, uh, attends our events.

And for years we did a lot of simulated process. So it was, you know, realistic-looking print designs, which they had never seen before. It was all just simple spot colors. So once we brought them, brought in some artwork that was, you know, photorealistic printing, they were really shocked. They hadn't seen that before.

So it really kind of set us. Set us up to be a better printer than who they had been using that boosted their sales up again. As far as colors, you know, these are outdoorsy people, you know, if they're not riding their motorcycle, they're hiking, they're fishing.  , so a lot of times they like earth colors; earthy tone colors. 

As far as slogans on the shirt. Yeah. We all have little sayings and things like that, but a lot of times it's just the name of the event. A couple of logos on there, bright colors, obviously are a huge plus. 


Marshall Atkinson

And are you designing it so, from a, I guess these aren't like a little booth stand kind of thing.

So from six to eight feet away it really pops and looks great. Are you really concerned about tiny little details and stuff that you can only see when your nose is right up next to them? 


Scott Dawson

A couple of years ago? Yes. Superfine detail stuff. You know, we have a lot of sponsors that contribute financially and merchandise to these events.

So, you know, a lot of these writers will have their logos on the bikes and, you know, the sponsors like to see that. So yes, we would really work on a lot of those fine details like that. And make sure that they show up because you know, these companies are, some of them spent a lot of money to promote and help this organization.

So yeah, we definitely want to make sure that their logos are legible. So as far as details go, yes. Now in the past, Two to three years, we've kind of changed our style of design. Just to kind of mix it up a little bit. We don't have as many of the logos on there anymore. It's a little more retro now.

It's, once again, sales are booming. Again, people like it because it's a shirt that they can wear anywhere all the time, as opposed to just a shirt with a dirt bike on it. And they only want to wear it at the races. If that makes sense. 


Marshall Atkinson

And are you doing shirts and longs, t-shirts and long sleeves, and hoodies and everything, or just t-shirts?


Scott Dawson

Now, depending on the time of the year, I mean, obviously, in the warmer time of the year, we just do t-shirts occasionally, some tank tops, cooler times of the year, which not very long in Florida, we do long sleeves. Occasionally, we do hoodies. The clubs like to keep those orders pretty small because you know, they're expensive and they're, they don't want to get stuck with them.

So basically the way it works is I don't sell the garments at the race. They place the order and we deliver the items and then they handle sales. Once I deliver everything on Friday, my work is done for the weekend. 


Marshall Atkinson

Oh, I see. So you don't do an online store? 


Scott Dawson

No. No, we don't. 


Marshall Atkinson

There's a lot of people who have transitioned to using online store webstore stuff. That's not part of your business? 


Scott Dawson

No, it's not. We've considered it, but these events go off so quickly and so fast. Just the logistics of that would be rather tricky. So like, if we bring. Yeah. It was like 400 shirts to an event. The clubs are gambling that they're going to sell them. They're not prepaid or nothing like that.

I mean, they pay me because they've made the purchase, but they have volunteers with the organization that set up a booth and sell shirts. 


Marshall Atkinson

Okay. So over the years, you know, you've grown your business a little bit. How have you expanded things with more races or different things that you're doing? 


Scott Dawson

So the way it expanded from the t-shirts was... the company that they were using to do their t-shirts also did their trophies. It was kind of old school, just the, look like little tee-ball type trophies. And they wanted to step that up a little bit too. So they asked us if we could make their awards or trophies for them, which are typically just plaques like a nine by twelve plaque.

I said, well, let me look into it. Hadn't really didn't know much about that. Once again, started doing my homework, found out about sublimation. So we just started doing dye sublimated plaques for them. So the t-shirts have grown into the award side also. So, on a typical weekend, we'll do 250 to 300 awards and we deliver that along with the t-shirts. 

So, I mean, we're kind of a one-stop-shop for them. There are 14 or 15 clubs that fall under the one large organization that we work with. They'll typically pick up the phone and call me and they know us so well and we've done this for them so long. They basically just say, “Scott, here's the name of the race, here's the date, work your magic”. 

And I think that's where they've really learned to like us because we make it easy for them. 


Marshall Atkinson

Right. You're delivering a frictionless experience and that is how you're garnering your loyalty. 


Scott Dawson

Yes. Yeah. Yeah, because it's a lot to put those events on and I basically tell them, look, I know what you want.

I know what our audience wants. Let me make your life easy. Just tell me where you want to go with it. And then you can forget about it. You ain't gotta worry about it. I'm obviously attending the races. So when we go to the races, I just bring the items with me. So there's no shipping involved. If I had to ship all that stuff, we'd be talking hundreds of dollars to ship because it's all over Florida.

So they liked that fact as opposed to using somebody that maybe doesn't attend the events. Now they would have shipping involved in there. So, I think that's another nice plus. And we've got a system that we use to keep everything very, very organized for them. And, so they could bring in a new person that's never helped with the t-shirts or awards.

And within five minutes, I can show them how they handle everything and dispense it. 

Marshall Atkinson

Okay. Are you doing any other events besides this one client? Have you tried expanding outside of Florida? 


Scott Dawson

We have. And we did for a couple of years, we had some in Mississippi, Alabama that we were doing their small organizations.

Ours is, I think it's one of the largest ones in the United States actually.  It's not uncommon for us to have, we're close to a thousand racers every event now. Some of the closest ones to us, we attended an event up in Tennessee. Simply just as a rider racer. No t-shirts going on and they had 200 and something.

Racers, which kind of small, I inquired about their t-shirts, but they currently had somebody that they were happy with. So I didn't bother them. I'm not a high-pressure person. If you want to use me, let's talk. If you don't, I'm not going to pester you. 


Marshall Atkinson

Okay. Like what you hear so far? be sure to subscribe so you can get the latest from success stories.

<<Commercial Break>>


Marshall Atkinson

What would you advise people to think of if they wanted to take a niche, interest, or hobby that they're, you know, that they enjoy and market to the people or organizations around them? How, how to get started, how to start thinking about it, how to really kind of succeed. What would you tell these folks?


Scott Dawson

Yeah. So, everybody has some sort of hobby. So if you're, if you have a hobby, let's just say it's hunting or something like there's a hunt club or shooting club. We have a lot of those in Florida. For instance, I don't do that, but you know, you can approach the event promoter or whoever manages the event and just say, you know, hi, my name is Scott Dawson with East Coast. Just wanted to let you know who I am. We print t-shirts. We make caps and stuff. These might be some things that you guys could utilize at your events. And I try to let them know that not only should they be dispensing them for people that might sign up and it's an item that you get when you sign up, like if you do a 5k, traditionally, you're just going to get a t-shirt along with it.

But they should be selling them and making some money off of it. Also, find out who your contact is. Make friends with them. Facebook has made this a lot easier. So a lot of times, if there's a market that I'm going to reach out to, I'll try to go in there and find out who's in charge of it, do a little homework there, and then I'll reach out to them.

And, usually a pretty good success rate on making a connection there. A lot of times I'll send them some samples so they can see who we are and what we do and see the quality of our work. And if it goes from there, then I ask for their business, if they say, no, we're not interested, start looking somewhere else. But, as far as a hobby or a niche, if you've got one, do your homework on it, look and see what they've got.

Look, what they sell look at something that they may be, should be selling, that they haven't thought of. You know, you might want to gamble and just make a couple of little items for them and give them to them as a gift. A lot of times, that feeling of reciprocity comes back around and they'll place an order with you.


Marshall Atkinson

And I know, uh, recently I've seen a lot of your posts and you've been doing more and more with hats, especially leather etched, hats, or, and you know, kind of a 3d look, you know, trucker hats or flat step backs, that type of stuff. And how has that expanded your business? Cause it's not just doing t-shirts right?


Scott Dawson

Uh, no, no. We started doing that about two years ago and, uh, it's become its own little creature. It's literally becoming another business. We have clients all over the United States now that we shipped to, we were shipping out of the country, but with COVID it got so difficult and we kind of had to drop that. Maybe if things start to clear up, shipping gets a little easier, we'll pick those customers back. Yeah. We started doing that. You know, it's a trend right now. Hopefully, it carries on for a long time. We've got a lot of embroidery companies that love these because it does a couple of things.

One, it allows them to offer something to their clients. That's kind of new and trendy. It also lightens the load on their embroidery workload. If they're backed up with hats and they might not be able to sew hats or polos or get to that job for three or four weeks, they'll send us our work. We produce their patches. We ship them to them and they don't need a highly skilled employee to do those. Somebody that has a hat press and, you know, somebody making $10 an hour, you can teach them how to put these on. They can do 120 hats in less than an hour. You can't sell them that fast. So the profit margins are pretty good on that for them. That's why they like it. 


Marshall Atkinson

What seems to be the big seller?


Scott Dawson

As far as?


Marshall Atkinson

For like a, like a logo, it's a circle, you know what seems to be the biggest seller? 


Scott Dawson

Oh gosh. Oh, well, I'd say as far as color goes, it would be rawhide, which represents more of true leather color. As far as the style of artwork it's across the board.

We have sometimes, it's a circle, sometimes it's a rectangle. We do custom cuts stuff. It's no extra charge for that. It's just every kind of logo that you can imagine. I mean, we've had some rather large corporate jobs come through our building, not my client, my customers, clients, that, we've seen on television, we've seen in magazines, discovery channel, stuff like that.

That's kinda neat for us. So as far as a common type order, I would say there probably isn’t one.


Marshall Atkinson

Yeah, I, I was watching, uh, a Facebook post that you made the other day and there were some cattle rancher, ear tag hat patches that you made where there's the brand of the, I guess the cattle farm. And there was, it was riveted to the hat somehow that looked really cool. How’d you do that? 

 

Scott Dawson

Yeah. Florida is a big cattle state, so we have a lot of ranchers here. So we started doing some for our local ranchers. We posted them up and that we started getting orders for those. Once again, it's just laser cut. We laser cut the hole in it. It has adhesive backing on it. Now, the screw, it's not a rivet. It's called a Chicago screw and it's kind of like a blind rivet. So we needed something very shallow. So that's why we use those. 

The patches arrive heat press ready so you can heat press them on. But when those, with that, you don't have to heat, press it on. If a client wanted to change out. The little ear tag on it, you simply unscrew the screw and change it to something else.

So they've got that as an option. 


Marshall Atkinson

Yeah, it looks pretty cool. What do you think is the one thing that separates you from other people that might want to market, you know, in your same space? What keeps your customer sticky?  


Scott Dawson

Interaction with them, even if they're not placing an order with them, with you. Be their friend. Be one of them, I'd say under-promise over-deliver. I like to wow them. Sometimes with something they weren't expecting. Always meet your deadlines. If you tell them you're going to deliver, you better deliver on time. Because you only have to mess up once and they're probably never gonna call you.

And like I said, just if you're working on a niche, do your homework before you study them, become one of them, make them comfortable with you. And then that way they're more likely to do business with you. Make it frictionless. Make it easy for them. I think those are some of the keys to being successful in a niche.


Marshall Atkinson

Do you ask these folks questions? What are you struggling with? What's your problem? What are you thinking about three months from now? So we can start doing the research? Talk about how you find out information about your customers to help you serve them better. 


Scott Dawson

I do talk to him while we're at the events, you know, one-on-one,, sometimes it's a combination of that. Sometimes I'll shoot him some emails. I'll tell you one thing that's been a huge plus for us is Facebook. So I'll go into our group and, I want to hear from our tribe. So if I'm thinking about doing something new or maybe offering a new style of shirt or a new color or going a different route with the style of artwork, I might put some images up there and run a little poll and get feedback from my tribe.

You know, these are the people that are going to buy the items, the hats, the t-shirts, those things; who better to ask? Let them tell me what they want. And then I just go from there. Sometimes whenever I'm dealing one-on-one with the customer that picks up the phone to call us to get the project started, we found that sometimes they like to put their thumbprint on it.

And if I see that the design is kind of going in the wrong direction, a lot of times I'll stop them and ask them. “Say now I - I've been doing this since 2004. I know what our crowd likes and I know what they don't like. And I think the styles may be going in a different direction. I know you like it, but we need to make sure the masses like it because I don't think you alone are going to buy three or 400 t-shirts that weekend. So let's, uh, let's please the masses”. 

And I get a lot of that feedback via social media. That's the new way for us. 


Marshall Atkinson

Oh, so you'll talk to your client and then you'll post something on Facebook and say, Hey, we're thinking about doing this. What do you guys think? And then everybody will comment, and then they'll either validate that or say, “Hey, that's wrong, that's the wrong choice”.


Scott Dawson

Yes. Yeah. And that kind of gives some positive reinforcement back to the client that might be wanting to go with artwork that maybe, won’t be our best seller. And if we've got enough heads up and the, my contact allows it, we've done two designs before and then let the masses pick which one actually lands on the t-shirt.

That was a lot of fun. They love the fact that they can have some say so in it. And what better way to find out what they want to let them choose. And then when they show up at the events on Saturday and Sunday, there's the shirt that they chose. They're more apt to buy it. 


Marshall Atkinson

Oh, that's good, that's interesting.

As an artist, I hate double the work though. 


Scott Dawson

Yeah. So, well, the beautiful thing about it is sometimes I'll keep the artwork somewhat generic enough that if they pick Design 1, Design 2 can be used later in the season. And I just change out texts on it. Almost like a name drop.


Marshall Atkinson

Right. Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. 


Scott Dawson

So it's not, it doesn't always happen that way, but it's not always just wasted effort either. 


Marshall Atkinson

And do you ever go, Hey, we're thinking about our red shirt or a blue shirt? Which one would you like better? 


Scott Dawson

We have done that also. And we get a lot of feedback that way these guys are, they're not scared to voice their opinion.

They'll tell you real quick what they want and what they don't want. 


Marshall Atkinson

Right. 


Scott Dawson

And it works great. 


Marshall Atkinson

And you know, when I think of motorcycles I always think of black shirts. You know, I guess this is the Harley thing, right? Blackshirts. That's not the most common choice for… cause you’re dirt bike racing, which is different than like, you know, I'm on a Harley cruise, correct?


Scott Dawson

That is correct. Yeah.  Now black shirts are hard to push on this bunch. For a couple of reasons. Probably the most popular reason is it's so dang hot in Florida. Nobody wants to put on a black t-shirt even though. I wear one almost daily. I'm not outside though. So yeah. Blackshirts are hard to move.

Obviously. White shirts are no, no, because we're outside of these events and they get dirty and dusty. Yeah. It's a lot of earth-tone colors. If the art lends itself to it, we'll do like some, you know what I call like, beach colors, like some teals and coral colors and stuff like that. 


Marshall Atkinson

Yeah. Have you ever tried a, you know, kind of the tie-dye pattern, the looks kind of model, you know, not like traditional grateful dead tie-dye, but the one that's kind of got the interesting pattern on it that kind of looks stained almost? Have you tried any of those?


Scott Dawson

Yeah, we have done some of those that some of we don't do those in large quantities because the clubs get a little nervous that they might not sell because they have to pay. Obviously, the shirt cost us. An extra two or three bucks, as opposed to just like a standard, let's just say thousand G. So I just tell them to say, look, that's a specialty shirt.

It's going to cost you a little bit more, but you need to be selling it for a lot more. And they do let us do that. And typically those are sold out within minutes. So it's worked out pretty good the way I really, if somebody's wanting to try to offer something like that up and the client is a little nervous and it's an event situation?

The way I got them to open up to me doing that was a couple of years back. I said, Hey, look, I've got a couple of different types of shirt that I'd like to print on. They're expensive. But I think our client, our customer base is going to like them. And they're like, no, we don't want to do that. So I'll tell you what, I'm going to print up four dozen of them.

If they sell you, pay me for them. If they don't sell, I'll take them home with me. And they sold within. I think like 18 minutes or something like that. 


Marshall Atkinson

There you go. 


Scott Dawson

Yeah. So I needed to prove to them that this would work, and they didn't have any financial risk in it. And now, they're, if I tell them, “Hey, let's do a specialty garment”. They don't ever question it.


Marshall Atkinson

Again, that’s going back to you're the expert and you're giving good advice and you're being frictionless. 


Scott Dawson

Yeah. Yeah. That's the biggest thing is we just want to make it easy on them. And it works. 


Marshall Atkinson

Okay, well, awesome. So, Scott, thank you so much for sharing your story of success with us today.

If someone wants to learn more about what you do or how you can help them, what's the best way to contact you? 


Scott Dawson

Sure. Obviously, the best way is just going to be via email. And that email address is [email protected].


Marshall Atkinson

Awesome. Thank you so much for your time today, Scott. It was awesome hearing all about motorcycle racing t-shirts and stuff like that. I appreciate you, buddy. 


Scott Dawson

Thank you, Marshall. 


Marshall Atkinson

Well, that's our show today. Thanks for listening. And don't forget to subscribe so you can stay up to date on the latest Success Stories episodes. How many suggestions for future guests for topics?

Send them my way at [email protected]. And we'll see you next time.