Company culture at CustomInk raises the bar for employee perks
October 16, 2017
Apparel and promotional-gear printer CustomInk’s Reno factory, on Longley Lane north of McCarran Boulevard, is a bustling place.
In one area of the 56,000-square-foot facility, there are 18 hand-operated silk-screening presses arranged around six dryers, between which runners push tall transfer racks laden with T-shirts to be printed or shipped.
The air is filled with hissing, clacking, beeping — the noise is slightly muffled amid the factory’s expanses of storage shelves that contain piles of vibrantly hued shirts.
At the same time, the scene is more sedate in another section as rows of comparatively silent digital printers handle more complex design tasks.
One factor is common to both production areas and to the cubicle carousels in the office space out front: almost everybody is dressed casually. As in a day at the park casually.
“When you print T-shirts, you should be able to wear them,” said Beth Clark, general manager of in-house production for the company’s western-most printing facility.
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The company is happy to accommodate this viewpoint.
“You’ll never buy another T-shirt when you work here,” said Brady Sedler, team services manager for both Reno groups.
Despite the buzz of activity in the silk screening section, the overall atmosphere is relaxed at the Longley building and at CustomInk’s retail and pre-production office on Gateway Drive in the South Meadows Business Park.
Maybe more so at the Gateway office, where — thanks to the absence of heavy machinery — employees can wear flip-flops.
The effort it takes to maintain the production level that’s required at CustomInk is why the company makes it as pleasant as possible to work there.
Despite being the smallest of CustomInk’s three printing factories (the other two are in Virginia and Texas) the Longley Lane facility turns out a high volume of work.
“Many, many thousands of T-shirts are coming out of this facility on a weekly basis,” Clark said.
CustomInk employs 477 people in Reno, most of them — around 325 employees — at the Gateway site.
The Longley building is typical of the company’s approach, starting with front-office cubicles that accommodate graphics artists on either side of a wide informal lobby shaded by large, green-nylon leaves.
Both production floors open to a long, airy employee dining room with a newly fenced outdoor patio and an attached lounge with a table-soccer set and a multi-dispenser trail mix bar.
There is space to store homemade lunches for those employees who don’t want to take advantage of the free meals and snacks the company provides in the Gateway building.
Small offices, called “huddle rooms,” are scattered throughout, bearing names such as The Hawk, The Star and The Camp, for the murals painted on the back walls.
The casual atmosphere, the comfortable surroundings, the food and other perks all are a counterpoint to the intense workload the employees are asked to handle.
“We work very hard, and we expect a lot of our employees in terms of commitment to and longevity in the company,” said Laura Peterson, who joined CustomInk as a production artist in Northern Virginia more than a decade ago, and now is director of learning and development in Reno.
“We’re looking for people who will want to make a career with us, not just someone who’s looking for a job,” said Peterson, who had been a college softball coach and had learned silk screening at the National Gallery of Art before starting at CustomInk.
“CustomInk really values its team members,” Sedler said. “We live by our core values: the Golden Rule, ownership and innovation is everything we’re about. It’s the basis for everything we do.”
Ownership and innovation combine in the company’s main communication tools, an internal real-time messaging system called The Circuit.
“If a printer sees an issue with a shirt from an artist prior to printing it, they might send feedback through The Circuit to get it fixed before it gets printed,” Sedler said.
“We provide recognition through The Circuit; we provide what we call ‘wows,’ which show that you’ve done an outstanding job in some area or function,” he said.
Treating employees in this manner has helped place CustomInk among the best-rated business among the nation’s business press, including two years (2015 and 2016) on Forbes magazine’s “100 Best Places to Work” list.
“If you’re happy when you come to work, you’re going to get more productivity out of your team, you’re going to have more engaged team members,” Sedler said.
And the company is more likely to keep those team members.
“One of my proudest moments from when I was a production manager was hiring 60 production artists,” Peterson said, “and then seeing 50 of them still working for the company 10 years later.”