Client Corner: Atkinson Graphics
After having a few jobs during high school and college, he knew he wanted to start his own business after graduation. Atkinson Graphics began in Tremblay’s bedroom at his parents as a side gig, creating graphics and working with local print screeners to create t-shirts for his new client base. Eventually, after the long days between juggling his full-time job and Atkinson Graphics, Tremblay decided to focus on his new business full-time. Since then, Tremblay has expanded several times, hired more employees, and now owns the building they operate in, which has plenty of space to keep up with the high demand of orders. We talked with Tremblay to learn more about his business, the highs and lows of running a small business, and the advice he has for other small business owners.
What is Atkinson Graphics?
Atkinson Graphics is a family-owned & operated, full-service custom apparel & screen printing company located in Southeastern NH. They create t-shirts and other items for school districts, other small businesses, and even large organizations. Atkinson Graphics stands out from competitors because their print screen process is automated, ensuring consistency on every order. The company also features embroidery services and has a graphic design team in-house to help create new images or logos or help work with what a customer already has.
Focus on Employees
Tremblay’s first employee over 25 years ago still works for him today. With seven employees total, the majority have been with Atkinson Graphics for a long time, with many double-digit work anniversaries. Tremblay understands the importance of employee engagement and treating employees right. He leads his team and works with them versus telling them what they need to do or yelling when they make mistakes. Tremblay values his team's opinions asks for their feedback on projects, and makes sure to have more casual conversations about weekend plans or what’s happening after work. Above everything else, he has compassion for his employees. Mistakes will happen, but Tremblay knows that nobody is doing anything wrong maliciously, and sometimes things go wrong. For the projects that don’t go as planned, he turns it into a teaching moment and focuses on what to do differently next time.
Atkinson, New Hampshire, is a small town. Thanks to its size, Tremblay has made many personal connections with community members, other small businesses, local school districts, and even large corporations located nearby. He is frequently a sponsor for charity events or races, has an annual scholarship set up with a local high school, and has donated for major events including 9/11 support and Boston Strong. One of Tremblay’s strengths is his ability to talk to customers. He is honest, never wants to come across as salesy, and works with them to create a shirt they will love. Because of the way he handles business, he has a great reputation with the community.
The Highs and Lows of Running a Small Business
Running a small business is a journey and while there will be many great moments, there are also going to be some more challenging times. For Tremblay, his favorite thing about being a business owner is the joy he can bring to customers when they see their shirt for the first time. He said it feels like Christmas for him every time a customer unboxes their new shirts. His passion is with designing, but sometimes other aspects of the business pull him away from that, which can be hard. When employees have questions, are out of the office for the day, Tremblay’s workload increases and pulls him away from designing. He said that running a business can feel like “a lot of little wrenches all over the place,” but everything always works out at the end of the day.
The most challenging aspect of his small business journey to date was navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. When stay at home orders hit, Tremblay made the difficult choice to lay off all seven employees. The business was closed for about a month and a half and when they were able to re-open business was slow. Staying on top of bills was challenging due to the lack of income. However, Tremblay reached out to all of his suppliers and vendors, explained what was going on and continued to make good faith payments on his bills. He applied for a PPP loan and received it, which made a significant impact on his business. With the funding, he was able to pay all of his business bills and employees. Ever since then, the business has been booming.
Advice to Other Small Business Owners
“Make sure you can back up what you say you do” is Tremblay’s top piece of advice for other small business owners. If you pride yourself on quality and service, make sure you’re following through on those claims. Today customers have high expectations and a low tolerance for poor customer service. Tremblay said if he were to get a call for an order and wait four days later, there is a good chance that potential customer won’t be sitting there waiting anymore. For that reason, Atkinson Graphics strives for high quality and customer service. Prices are slightly higher than competitors, but customers know that they receive a high-quality shirt every time. Additionally, it’s important to communicate and be upfront and honest with customers. As previously mentioned, mistakes are going to happen in any business. If a shirt isn’t 100% by Tremblay’s high standards, he won’t give it to a customer and hope they overlook the flaw. When things don’t go right, he calls the customer as soon as possible, explains the situation, and lets them know when to expect their order. When he follows that process, customers are very understanding and appreciate him reaching out.
How SurePayroll Helps
In the beginning of his small business journey, Tremblay was cutting checks and managing deductions himself. This was an extremely time-consuming process and took away from designing and running his business. For payroll help, he started working with an accountant who managed payroll. He later made the switch to hiring an office manager who suggested working with a payroll company. He has used a few payroll services for help over the years and eventually switched to SurePayroll. Another small business owner recommended SurePayroll, and with the number of employees he has, it was a more natural fit for Atkinson Graphics. As a bonus, the switch saved him money and the system is very easy to use for processing payroll.
To learn more about Atkinson Graphics, visit https://atkinsongraphics.com/ or call 603.898.4646.
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