Mitch VanDuyn and Jan VanDuyn are CTO and CEO, respectively, of CatPrint in Rochester, New York. CatPrint is a boutique color printing company offering premium short-run printing services.
We talked with Mitch and Jan VanDuyn about the growth of CatPrint from its humble beginnings in a basement to its current expanded facility. Learn how small-business owners can recognize when it's time to grow. The transcript below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What’s the story behind CatPrint?
Our CTO, Mitch, was born in Bangkok, Thailand, and our CEO, Jan, is a Michigan native. Both attended and graduated from Michigan Technological University, then eventually moved to Rochester, New York. Mitch worked at Xerox for over 20 years, which was where the idea for CatPrint originated.
In 2004, CatPrint started in the basement of one of our old houses in Rochester. We used to own four cats and wanted to associate the beauty and cuteness of cats with printing.
What inspired you to pursue digital printing services?
At the time CatPrint was started, custom short-run printing wasn’t something you could do. You generally needed to meet minimum fixed quantities of 100, 250, 500, etc. If you lived in a small town without a local print shop, how could you get three greeting cards printed? You couldn’t. Now all you have to do is upload your designs through the web and they’ll get delivered right to your door on a pre-determined delivery date.
Who’s the typical CatPrint customer? What sets you apart from other printing services?
All types of people use CatPrint, including graphic designers, DIY brides, greeting card designers, business owners, and comic artists looking for an affordable venue to pursue various projects – whether it’s one poster or a thousand brochures that need to be printed.
The number one thing that customers are always raving about is our exceptional customer service. Every single order that is placed is checked for general quality and common file issues, and if there are any concerns, we contact the customer. We go out of our way to make sure that the customer is satisfied.
What’s it like to work at CatPrint?
We aspire to promote a friendly, relaxed, creative, and open atmosphere. All levels of the company are completely open, and every employee can always speak with anyone in the company, including the executives, if they have any questions, ideas, or concerns. We don’t want to be the type of company that has multiple cubicles with minimal interaction.
This open interaction has allowed most of our processes and procedures to be developed and implemented in-house based on employee suggestions and ideas from all levels, not just management.
We have a relaxed and casual dress code for the most part, and we invite individuality. We are also pet friendly, as long as the pets are also friendly! It’s not uncommon for at least three employee animals to be roaming the offices on any given day.
When did you realize it was time to expand CatPrint to a bigger workspace?
As with any business, as sales increase, the number of employees and equipment also increase. When we first moved out of our basement and into our first actual facility, we needed production stations that would never fit in a home basement. We’ve moved and expanded over five times in the past nine years. Moving is always an issue.
Since moving into our current facility, we decided to expand the second floor because we purchased new equipment. Obviously, if an area is too crowded, workflow efficiency decreases. With the extra space now available, efficiency has increased in customer service, research and development, and production.
What “growing pains” did CatPrint experience during expansion?
The first part of the expansion was probably the hardest. The original space needed significant remodeling, reconstructing, and wiring. We knocked down some old walls and added new ones. Waiting for the space to be ready felt like a long time. Everyone felt crowded and simply needed more space.
Now for the moving part: there are no elevators in our building and the doors are pretty narrow. Anything that needed to be moved upstairs was difficult, especially bulky items, like desks, because they had to fit through the doors. In the end, all of the patience and hard work was well worth it! We were definitely able to see improvement in production efficiency because of the added space and new arrangements.
Did anything surprise you about starting and expanding CatPrint?
Not that CatPrint has ever done anything wrong, but most people don’t realize that when you start a business, you have to make sure you don’t do something that could potentially break the law. It’s been a learning process for everyone with all of the rules and regulations that are in place – to actually know them and make sure that our business practices are legal.
Does CatPrint have future plans for more growth?
We probably won’t look into expanding our office space again in the near future. However, we are always working to expand our service offerings. We just launched our Template Gallery at the end of 2014, which allows customers to customize ready-to-print designs with their own details and images. It’s a very useful service for people who aren’t designers themselves but still want to CatPrint their items.
What’s your advice for small businesses struggling with the decision to grow?
Whether or not you’re a big fish in a little pond, or a little fish in a vast ocean, if you’re really good at something, then do it. There have been massive printing companies for decades, but no small shops for everyday people and small businesses that only need certain quantities printed. We stepped in with the idea that everyone can print something and have it delivered to their door by a guaranteed delivery date.
When we first started this company, we had many experts and advisers tell us that what we do is impossible. But we believe in what we do and we’re good at it, and that’s what other businesses should also do.
Tell us about CatPrint’s Foster Cats.
As mentioned earlier, CatPrint got its name from the many cats that we’ve owned over the years. Our current customer service manager, Nicole Gallo, used to work with a local animal rescue group called GRASP, Inc., so we began fostering stray cats that needed a temporary home in the office. Most people don’t understand that some stray pets that are kept caged get depressed, making their situation even worse. Animals need love and care, just as humans do, and we feel that CatPrint is a perfect environment for a pet down on its luck.
Check out previous posts in our Small Business Spotlight series for more small business stories and tips.