Couple Puts Their Own Imprint on Small Firm

WEEKLY BRIEFING by David Greenberg

Vivienne Houghton and her husband, Darrell, were attending a home remodeling show in Long Beach two years ago when they stumbled upon a company that sold custom imprinting machines, which print images and text on a variety of surfaces. After researching the firm and taking a three-day course on how to use the machines, Vivienne quit her job as an executive assistant at an advertising agency and formed West L.A.-based Mango Bay promotions.

"I saw the products that were imprinted with this machine and it clicked that it is a huge market. Every church, school, government agency, non-profit association, small business, big business and wedding all use imprinted products.

"We bought $20,000 worth of equipment. We use a transfer printer, which looks like a drill press. You have your image on one station and an arm with a silicone pad picks up the image and transfers it to the item you're printing on. We can print on any surface and imprint any design, text, logo or photograph in up to five colors.

"Our most popular items are golf balls, pens, trade show bags, trophies, plaques and apparel, such as polo shirts for employees, T-shirts, embroidered hats. But we can do Christmas ornaments, champagne flutes, teacups and lunch boxes.

"Our least expensive items would be pens, which sell from 10 cents a piece in quantities of 250, to maybe a nickel each for 10,000. Our most expensive items are glass sculpture awards signed by the artist. They sell for $2,750. We sell 600,000 different items. We order the items from suppliers all over the world and imprint them here. This year we expect gross sales to be $120,000. We don't advertise. It's all word of mouth. We pass samples of our products memo boards, golf balls, pens and key chains to business contacts and people we associate with. Darrell is quitting his job as a Web designer at UCLA this summer to work our business full-time. We'll need to hire help in a couple of years."

David Greenberg

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