January 10, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“He does everything I don’t want to do and vice versa,” says Andy Robinson of his business partner, Brad Richling.

Maybe that’s what has given RetroShirtz such momentum. In rapid succession, the business launched in January, opened its first storefront in May, and opened its second location in Westroads Mall in early November.

Their first storefront (OmahaShirtz), at 464 S. 84th St., is like many shirt-printing shops: It’s tucked on the back side of a small shopping center, and Robinson will give you directions over the phone. RetroShirtz, on the other hand, can be found on the first floor of Westroads, between DSW and Journeys.

A presence in a mall, among the foot traffic and the food court, makes more sense for their nuanced approach to the printing business—custom-ordered shirts printed while the customer waits.

“We can print a shirt in four minutes,” says Richling. “We make, right then and there, their product, exactly as they want it—their size, their style, their color.”

Customers can choose from hundreds of designs already made or provide their own photo, image, or quote. And then they can choose from a wide stock of shirts—or even bring in their own.

“We’re in a mall,” says Richling. “You want to print on something different? Go buy it, and, as long as it’s 100 percent cotton, we can print on it.” He adds, “Today, for example, somebody came in with a maternity shirt”—a market that doesn’t seem to have much selection in quirky t-shirts.

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Their designs will include retro cartoons and throwback references, as well as pop-culture references and parodies. Customers can create their own ideas or bring in their smart phone and get a photo printed on a shirt—or a canvas, another major offering from RetroShirtz.

What makes their rapid service possible is a new technology that connects the fabric printer directly to a computer. Everything is digital.

This isn’t a traditional screen-printing process, where screens have to be burned for each order, which takes some time. The cost of a screen is often placed on the customer, or at least there’s a minimum number of items you have to print. Nor is it an iron-on process, where the image has a separate field from the fabric and a plastic feel.

Their process, according to Richling, is “somewhere between tattooing and airbrushing 
the fabric.”

“The shirt will wear away before the image wears away,” adds Robinson.

This quality is a chief priority for the pair. “We want people to see our shirts and say, ‘Whoa! Cool shirt! Where did you get that?’” 
Richling says.

They’re confident that their level of quality will keep people coming back, especially coupled with their emphasis on customer service.

“We always ask each other when a customer leaves, ‘Did that person leave happy?’” Richling says. “We know that returns and referrals are going to drive the business.”

They’ve already started developing a return clientele, which has fueled their rapid growth. Looking on to the holidays, they do anticipate sometimes getting behind on orders, even with their four-minute print time.

“If we do get backed up, we’ll be able to say, ‘Come back in 45 minutes. Go shopping or go get lunch in the food court, and it will be ready by the time you come back,’” Robinson says.

They are happy to make arrangements for later pick-ups, particularly with larger orders, and they do have shipping options.

Mostly, they’re just really excited. Both are first-time entrepreneurs and have loved creating a new avenue for a beloved tradition. Richling says, “We live in a culture of people that want it now, so we’re going to try to provide for that.”

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