North Texas Daily

UNT alums screen printing business is booming

UNT alums screen printing business is booming

UNT alums screen printing business is booming
January 21
08:25 2014

Morgan Gentry // Staff Writer

If you’ve been to local events and festivals like the Holiday Lighting Festival, 35Denton, Wakepalooza, Oaktopia, the Dead Week Print Show, Pistons and Paint or the Day of the Dead festival, then Pan Ector Industries may sound familiar.

“We’ve always had a knack for staying in tune with the local arts and music community,” said one-third of the Pan Ector partners Nick Webber. “And a big part of our success, [came from] working with different festival organizers and other community leaders. We’ve kind of carved out a little niche for ourselves in Denton.”

Four parts printmaking and one part design, five roommates and UNT alums (Yovanny Canales, Drew Elam, Michael Little, Taylor McClure and Nick Webber) quickly turned into business partners at the end of 2009.

The screen printing company has grown into a local favorite with its in-house and handcrafted designs in a mid-century industrial style mixed with pre-vintage and modern flair. Not to mention the worn-quality of its soft shirts, hoodies, tote bags, koozies and posters. Merchandise prices range from $20 to $30 on Pan Ector’s online store.

A stack of koozies with a freshly printed design on them. The design is for a new art magazine by one of Pan Ector's production assistants, Jonny Riecke. Photo by Edward Balusek  / Staff Photographer

A stack of koozies with a freshly printed design on them. The design is for a new art magazine by one of Pan Ector’s production assistants, Jonny Riecke. Photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer

“They have an edge for doing very different work,” DIME (Denton Independent Maker Exchange) store co-founder Shelly Christner said. “Stuff that has a general appeal, its different, but everybody loves it.”

Pan Ector continues to expand since its days on the corner of Panhandle and Ector with plans of moving to a new warehouse in February. The group’s success includes a recent first “in-store run” with the DIME store, an internship program with UNT plus future hopes of bringing live printing to festivals and events outside of Denton.

After its first successful move to a studio space on Piner Street in 2012, Pan Ector is looking forward to more additions: a larger space, more employees and bigger equipment to keep up with the cliental it has accumulated. It also hopes this space will grant  the possibility to explore new ventures within printing.

The studio space, located right off the square, was a test-run for the small business, but it quickly became too small as the company progressed. The current plan is to relocate to the warehouse off Shady Oaks on Feb. 1, which is two and a half times bigger than the space it has now.

“You can see us through the windows working at night, its like a shadow box,” Webber said about its current location.

There aren’t any signs or blinking lights that advertise its studio, but the two electrifying orange doors with rectangular windows catch eyes at night as Pan Ector unpacks boxes and gets orders ready to go.

“Yeah, it’s like a back-lit stage for drivers on Oak street,” Michael Little said.

The business partners aren’t too worried about the presentation outside of the its studio but the creation that takes place inside of it.

“Really, we have a slightly different approach to printing and we know what we like and we don’t really settle; so people can appreciate the quality of our work and come to us for that,” Webber said.

Designer Thomas Rodgers works on an idea for a Mardi Gras on Fry Street shirt. Rodgers graduated from UNT in 2012 with a B.A. in printmaking. Photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer

Designer Thomas Rodgers works on an idea for a Mardi Gras on Fry Street shirt. Rodgers graduated from UNT in 2012 with a B.A. in printmaking. Photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer

How it started

Once a hobby and a place for the group to experiment with its creativity, the Pan Ector house soon became the place to go for friends, local bands and artists, and organizations to get its prints.

“We got our first real setup from a student [printmaking graduate Josh Reames] at UNT who was moving on to grad school and had some stuff he acquired through family friends and sold us this package,” Webber said.

It started as something Pan Ector did for fun but it quickly snowballed into something bigger.

Working with Gutterth productions and the music venue Rubber Gloves in December 2009, the group had its debut with a live screen-printing at the Dead Week Print Show. Pan Ector encouraged visitors to bring t-shirts, bags, pillowcases, etc., along with individual designs, which Pan Ector then printed on the items.

“At that point we weren’t aware of anyone else doing that,” Webber said.  The group realized that live printing was a great alley for marketing and a way to get its name and faces out there.

The show was a success and it sparked an idea that separated them from the other printmaking companies in town. Still working part-time jobs, free-lancing and keeping ties with UNT after graduation, the group started receiving more requests and decided to keep its focus on the birth of its company.

Live printing became its niche and the value was apparent.

“From an event organizer’s perspective there’s a lot of risk involved in buying merch for a new festival and that risk of getting stuck with boxes and boxes of t-shirts and bags event specific and dated for that year,” Webber said. “But with our setup we’re working with the organizers and it allows them to be a little more creative and add a few more products.”

Growing and Expanding 

The risks of being a small business are high and are constantly in the back of the founders’ minds, but the Pan Ector group strives to muscle through and continue to expand for years to come.

As the chief financial operations officer, Michael Little worries about the small business obstacle of steady income flow.

“Luckily we’ve had a lot of positive encouragement from the community and families and so we’re excited to take this risk and see where it takes us,” Webber said.

The company reaches out to a lot of the bars around Denton, both on Fry street and around the Square. Printing all the shirts for the Oak Street Draft House and Cocktail Parlor and Lucky Lou’s, the guys not only create for the community but show support.

Co-owner of Pan Ector Drew Elam, right middle, explains how to insert a stencil on to the manual press to printmaking seniors and interns Lauren Alexander, left, and Samantha Neel, middle left. Production assistant Jonny Riecke, right, also assists the interns. Photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer

Co-owner of Pan Ector Drew Elam, right middle, explains how to insert a stencil on to the manual press to printmaking seniors and interns Lauren Alexander, left, and Samantha Neel, middle left. Production assistant Jonny Riecke, right, also assists the interns. Photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer

At Lucky Lou’s, the printmaking company became involved during the bar’s Pint Night on Tuesdays. With the purchase of a pint of Texas beer, customers receive a coupon, which is usable for on-site Lucky Lou’s t-shirt in its choice of color and style.

At the Oak Street Draft House, there is an app for attendees.  The app tallies how many drinks are purchased and they receive a Pan Ector-produced t-shirt once they hit 15 total.

“I love them, they’re a great company and I’m super happy with them,” Lucky Lou’s owner Lou Delany said. “[They have a] good artistic eye and the best quality print results of any local company I’ve ever used. I’ve been here for almost 20 years and the quality of the shirts they make is peerless. [They] definitely do the best work and put the most care and attention into it.”

With three partners, a full-time designer, two part-time production staff members and one part-time designer. Plus one sales and customer service representative, with interns pooling from UNT’s printmaking and communication design programs, Pan Ector has a full house and are  looking to add more along the way.

“Outside of standard screen-printing and design we’re expanding into other production markets and types,” Little said. “So if people have any ideas for projects, even if isn’t directly related to screen-printing, some sort of printed good lets us know. We’ll try to figure something out or send it to someone who can do it.”

Feature photo: Co-owner and creative director of Pan Ector, Nick Webber, left, and production assistant Jonny Riecke discuss the placement of a stencil. Webber and Riecke received their degrees from UNT’s College of Visual Arts and Design. Photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer 

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