How to Start a Print Shop

Print Shop Image

Printing shops offer a variety of print and copy services to the public. This includes online printing, direct mail, and business printing. Most printing stores offer additional services to the public, depending upon the specific needs within the community.

Learn how to start your own Print Shop and whether it is the right fit for you.

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Start a print shop by following these 9 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple step guide to starting your print shop. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

STEP 1: Plan your Business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:

  • What are the startup and ongoing costs?
  • Who is your target market?
  • How long it will take you to break even?
  • What will you name your business?

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.

What are the costs involved in opening a print shop?

Before identifying your budgetary needs, you must first determine the exact services you intend to offer. Industry leaders report spending between $146,000 and $400,000. Your initial investment will include the following:

  • Location - Many novice printers start out working out of their homes. To realize significant success, however, a storefront location is recommended. To offer a full menu of services, you will need enough space to house all your printing equipment and enough workspace to spread out and work on multiple projects at once. Start-up costs for your brick and mortar will include first and last month’s rent and a security deposit, which could range from $4,000 to $12,000, depending upon location.
  • Electrical upgrades - Prior to opening your doors and testing out equipment, make sure you have an electrician out to inspect your shop’s electrical needs.
  • If you want to do digital printing, you need to start out with $300k-$400k and will need to get the electric upgraded in your new shop
  • Equipment - The equipment you invest in will be defined by the specifics of the services you offer. This could include: embossing machine, offset printing press, plate maker, color copier, standard copier, laminator, and finishing equipment. Each item ranges from $1,500 to $12,000 in cost, but can be purchased used for a fraction of the cost. To save on start-up costs, many entrepreneurs choose to lease the equipment, paying for their equipment over time.
  • Computers - You will need at least one computer to handle your design and administrative needs. Many print shops also invest in at least one floor computer, which can be used by clients for a by-the-minute fee.
  • Software - Design software such as Adobe, should also be purchased. Many software companies now offer software licensing for a monthly fee. It is also recommended that you invest in business management and accounting software, to insure proper management of your organization.
  • Franchise fees - Entrepreneurs realizing significant profits report having invested in a franchise such as The UPS Store or PostNet. While start-up costs are higher, the expertise and support of industry leaders has proven invaluable.
  • Website
  • Insurance
  • Marketing materials

What are the ongoing expenses for a print shop?

In addition to the standard overhead costs that come with running a business, there are a number of items you will need to budget for each month:

  • Design software - Software vendors offer monthly contracts, ranging anywhere from $30 to $150/month, depending upon the product and your specific needs.
  • Equipment leasing fees - Varies depending upon a variety of factors
  • Maintenance and replacement of equipment
  • Materials
  • Payroll costs
  • Insurance

Break-even monthly sales average between $10,000 and $15,000 a month, with approximately half of that going to materials. This number varies, depending upon your area.

Who is the target market?

The most successful print shops target a number of different audiences including: small businesses, large businesses, and individuals. While each group will require a slightly different marketing strategy, this diversity sets your business up for greater success.

How does a print shop make money?

Print shops generate revenue from each account they attend to. The more services your store offers, the better you’re able to thrive and serve the needs of your community.

How much can you charge customers?

Fee specifics will vary from project to project, depending upon the specific needs of the client, the intricacies of the project, and how much printing the client needs. As indicated, working with reputable vendors will help insure quality products at a fair price. Business owners who pass that savings on to their clients will gain a loyal following.

How much profit can a print shop make?

New print shop owners are urged to plan for one to three years of little to no profit. This offers ample time to develop relationships with clients and vendors, and establish a name for yourself within the community. Business owners in larger cities realize quicker profits than those from smaller communities.

How can you make your business more profitable?

While quality work will help your profits grow year-by-year, there are a number of additional services you can provide to accelerate growth:

  • Expand your target audience to include online customers
  • Offering premier services, such as delivery, will make your business more memorable
  • Sell office supplies and products
  • Offer additional services such as notary, passport/ID photos, and shredding
  • Many print shops have also found success offering packaging services and partnering with the postal service and other shipping companies. PO boxes have also proven to increase annual profits.

What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your print shop is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC's, and DBA's.

You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

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For most small businesses forming an LLC is a great option, but if you still want to weigh all your options check our our article, What Structure Should I Choose for My Business?

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!

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You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.

STEP 5: Set up business accounting

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.

STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses

Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a print shop business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

For information about local licenses and permits:

Certificate of Occupancy

A print shop business is generally run out of a storefront. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO).  A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.

  • If you plan to lease a location:
    • It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
    • Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a print shop business business.
    • After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
  • If you plan to purchase or build a location:
    • You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
    • Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your print shop business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.

STEP 7: Get Business Insurance

Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.

STEP 8: Define your brand

Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.

How to promote & market a print shop

To insure potential clients understand the services your enterprise offers, have a simple, yet informative website built. Position yourself as a thought leader in the industry by regularly publishing a blog. This content marketing strategy educates your clients and helps search engines like Google target your business. As your experience and projects expand, make sure to update your online portfolio. Prospective clients who are surfing the web are more likely to partner with an organization whose work is available for viewing.

Additionally, it is recommended that your shop regularly offer business promotions to attract and retain customers. Partnering with reputable vendors and negotiating the best prices is also critical. This insures each client receives the fairest price, without sacrificing quality. Allow your work to speak for itself by printing your own quality marketing materials. Consider your target audience(s) and design promotional material to fit each niches’ needs.

Online directories such as Printguide also offer unique, cost-effective ways to reach prospective clients. It is also recommended that you join local business associations and attend networking events. National Print Owners Association and Printing Industries of America are a great resources for both novice and experienced print shop owners. Convention booths will set you back approximately $3,000, but the connections you make will be well worth it. Entrepreneurs who have included car wraps in their marketing strategy have realized a significant return on their investment. One $2,500 car wrap stands to bring in an average of $15,000 in profits annually.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

Delivering consistent, quality service will be your primary retention tool. This, combined with your strong interpersonal skills, is what will set you apart from the competition. Building long-standing relationships with vendors, community business leaders, and customers will insure a positive reputation. We live in an information-rich business landscape, meaning there is no room for error or poor customer service.

STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence

A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Start A Print Shop In Your State

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Is this Business Right For You?

Industry leaders indicate that, due to the services offered, the individual with a background in printing is most suitable for this business venture. If you have the background, necessary capital, and are ready to work hard to insure a stable financial future for you and your family, now is the time to consider becoming your own boss.

What happens during a typical day at a print shop?

Since your print shop will likely offer a wide variety of services, each day will be fast-paced and very different from the last. Modern day print shops typically offer the following:

  • Professional small business printing - digital printing, offset printing, binding, laminating, and other document finishing services.
  • Online printing - client uploads and submits documents for printing and finishing.
  • Personal and professional copying - both self and full service
  • Package and mail services

In addition to managing your client’s printing needs, you will also want to dedicate a portion of your time to your own business’ demands. Marketing is a critical component to every business owner’s day, as is administrative duties such as accounting and corresponding with representatives from various accounts.

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful print shop?

Whether you plan to take an active or inactive role in the day-to-day operations of the business, it is important that you fully understand the particulars before formulating a business plan. It is recommended that you work in the industry for at least a year or two. This will give you an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the equipment, processes, terminology, and pricing. Those taking an active role should not only be an astute businessman, they must also possess design and printing skills. Strong leadership skills, including attention to detail, delegation, and communication, will also prove critical to your enterprise’s long-term success.

What is the growth potential for a print shop?

Collectively, the printing industry is poised to grow at an astounding 30% over the next few years. Entrepreneurs who have led the market, however, urge novice business owners to strive to provide a full menu of services. While this business strategy requires employing a more educated and talented workforce, the long-term benefits far outweigh the increase in payroll costs.

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Take the Next Step

Find a business mentor

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a print shop?

The printing industry is very competitive. Therefore, it is critical that you stand out for your exemplary service and dedication to your clients. If someone calls the shop at 5pm, hoping you are able to print a complex report by 10 am tomorrow, be realistic when considering the job. If you are able to complete the work, without sacrificing quality, do so. Such a service is what sets you apart from the competition and gets your shop recognized within the business community. Enterprises are willing to pay a significant rush-job fee, as long as the job is completed accurately and on time. To insure you work efficiently and remain competitive, stay aware of industry trends and adjust accordingly.

How and when to build a team

Many business owners start out working every aspect of the business themselves. To avoid burnout, consider starting out with at least one team member, even if it is just to handle administrative tasks. As the business grows, more staff members will be necessary. Since customer service is your primary marketing and retention tool, make sure you hire individuals with prior experience. While a well-rounded employee will cost $22 to $26 per hour, they will save your budget in the long-run. Industry experts cite reprints from employee mistakes as one of their largest business costs.

Next Steps

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