It’s been just six years since Austin Smith launched his business, Identity Design, in a 500-square-foot garage. Recently though, the company more than doubled its size by moving into a new 10,000-square-foot building in Jacksonville, Florida, where he started in 2009.
“I tell everyone it’s been kind of a ‘hold on by the seat of your pants’ experience since,” says Smith, whose shop specializes in wraps but started as a full-service print shop and remains one today.
It was a sign shop up the street from the house he grew up in that first attracted Smith to the world of printing. After graduating college with a four-year degree in marketing he took a job working for America Online in its fraud department, but cashed out – literally – when AOL stock was at its peak. He left the company and sold his stock, using the proceeds to buy a house and a piece of that print shop he worked at in high school.
Eventually the sign shop people bought him out and he went to work for a restyling company. But the bug of opening his own business eventually got to him.
“I was doing the typical sun-roof installation, leather installation, accessories for dealers, and had done that for about 6 ½ years for this company and I was working an obnoxious amount of hours, and I said, you know what? If I’m going to do this I can do it for myself – I jinxed myself,” Smith says with a laugh, adding that starting his own company has meant at least as many hours as he used to work.
In launching Identity Design, Smith took a shoe-leather approach to drumming up business.
“From day one I wanted a product that I could walk into almost any business and offer them services and create a relationship, and that happened very easily with business cards, flyers, you know, things like that,” Smith says. “And as it expanded we really took to wraps – doing a lot of solid-color wraps as well as commercial wraps.
“I knew that if I could do some lettering on a window, or a business card order, or something like that, I would at least have the opportunity to get them under my wing and really show them a great customer service experience.”
At the beginning he used equipment he bought from a friend whose shop was struggling, hiring the friend to work for him as an installer. The 500-square-foot garage they started in was barely enough for a couple vehicles and a worktable, Smith says.
He later moved to a 3,500-square-foot facility before moving to his current 10,000 square feet, which gives him plenty of room for service bays and storing wrap and printing materials. The company has grown to 12 employees.
“Today we do an average of 120 to 150 full wraps a year,” Smith says. “Last year was about a 60-40 split between commercial wraps and solid color.”
He said that the Mimaki machines he bought from the other shop to launch his business impressed him so much he continues to use Mimaki printers and plotters to this day, calling them “a solid contributor to our business’ success.”
That marketing degree comes in handy too – he says he uses it every single day in his shop.
“It’s really worked well for us,” Smith says. “The customers get a product that literally does work for them, not just sticks to the side of their car. And it increases their business. And as their business increases they come back – and it’s a vicious cycle that continues to work for us as a company and also each one of my customers’ experiences with their own business.”