Nelson Ink Company History1994 – Nelson Ink Established
In 1994 Bryce Nelson was busy working in a screen printing shop in Beaufort, SC and living on Hilton Head Island, SC with his wife, Melissa a graphic designer. His father Larry Nelson who owned an Embroidery and Screen printing shop in Middle River, MN offered Bryce an opportunity to purchase the screen printing side of this business, Bryce agreed and Nelson Ink was born. It may seem strange to move from South Carolina to Middle River a town of 300 people, but this was coming home for Bryce.
We started out small our shop consisted of three rooms; an office, a dark room and a production room. It might have been humble but Bryce and Melissa had not only experience in graphic design and screen printing, but were passionate about their new business and excited to see it grow. Our biggest customer was Larry's company (thanks Dad), but thanks to the US Postal Service and direct mail, our business started to grow. Back then our internet connection was a 28.8 telephone modem and email was available, but certainly not an outlet everyone had. So between the postal service and the telephone we started making contacts and getting orders.
1996-1997 – Nelson Ink moves to a new location and starts selling promotional items.
Within two years, 1996-1997 we'd outgrown those three rooms, added a couple employees and moved into a building with more square footage and a lot of remodeling potential. In other words, our new shop might have been bigger but certainly needed some TLC. This was also the time of the huge winter snow storm in Northern Minnesota and Eastern North Dakota, that ultimately resulted in huge flooding for our region. Everything was a bit crazy for a while, but once a sense of normacly arrived we looked to expand again. After all we had a mortgage to pay. During this time we'd also added promotional products to our product offering. It was a natural evolution for our business, after all decorated apparel falls right into promotional products so why not. With this new addition of promotional products it enabled us to offer over 300,000 different items all with the ability to be decorated. After all these years, it still surprises us the number of items and products that are available, plus it's ever changing. If we'd offered a custom imprinted selfie-stick in 1997, some one would have offered to beat over the head with it. Need Pens? Mugs? Magnets? Sticky Notes? And yes even Selfie sticks? We've got that!
Our marketing efforts continued with direct mail and telephone calls, but now with sales representatives manning the phones and establishing customers. Not only did we add a few sales reps, but we also started traveling to our customers every so often for a face to face meeting or two. I think we've always tried to establish and build a relationship with our customers. Coming from such a small area, like Middle River we try to keep to our roots and around here our neighbors are a big part of our lives so enriching our community and building lasting relationships is just natural. This is both with Bryce and Melissa as well as our employees who come from our area.
Y2K – Nelson Ink survives the end of the world and adds Embroidery
It's funny when looking back through the years the points that stand out. Before 2000, Y2K was a big deal a lot of time was spent backing up our art files and database system and after 1/1/2000 came and went - well we had a nice back up system. We also purchased our first in-house embroidery machine. You'd think we'd have started with embroidery right after screen printing but surprisingly enough inks and threads are a lot trickier to mesh than you'd think. Digitizing and mapping out stitches is way different of a process than creating digital art and printing separations. What was no surprise is Bryce was pretty good at it. We expanded quickly from our original two machines to four within a year.
2002 – Embroidery upgrades
With our trusty new embroidery machine, we couldn't help but try out a few new processes. One of which was appliques – material cut and sewn onto a garment. When we purchased our first material cutting machine and given the freedom to cut various fabrics to sew on to sweatshirts, it was a magical time and not only did it inspire a lot of new ideas for embroidery, our designers had fun too. After all it starts with a graphic designer in a vector program compiling type or objects, once the initial design is completed, the digitizer takes over to map out the stitches and set up the material to cut. In reality it's a perfect merging of traditional art and embroidery digitizing and it can really produce a beautiful final product.
2004 – Broadening our customer base and taking on a few bigger customers
It's one thing to print a job for a family reunion or a fun run, it's another to produce a garment, package and fullfill orders for a large retailer. Nelson Ink got it's first shot at doing larger runs for a customers catalog. Our employees spent a lot of time learning new processes and our company began to purchase more equipment to help us fullfill orders on a larger scale. This was a new and very welcome addition to our business giving our little company a chance to work with the big boys.
2006 – Banners, get your full color banners!
It's amazing the versatility one new piece of equipment can add to a business. We purchased a high end digital printer to do full color transfers are small run projects. What we purchased allowed us to open the door a whole new world of digital printing on stickers, banners, signage, perforated window cling, wall adhesives and more. We had no idea the draw of especially banners to our business. Now we are able to print, produce and ship banners within a couple of working days after art approval.
2008 – Resorts and Retail Marketing
After finding a lot of our area resorts wanted a lot more freedom in customizing their apparel and gift shop selections, Nelson Ink began to create our first ever stock catalog of designs. After taking it to a few of our customers who loved it, we have since expanded to several hundred designs many of which are offered online in our "stock design" section of Designstudio. Offering customers the ability to not only create their own design, but use one of ours to create the look and feel they want.
2010 – Our first automatic screen printing press
With production and time in high demand we upgraded to our first automatic screenprinter. Our reaction? "What took us so long?" It's an amazing machine that eases up the burden of the screen printer pushing ink through the mesh of a screen.
2012 – Upgrading our software
With all the upgrades in equipment over the years it was time to really reflect on the ins and outs of sales. When we first started it was with a mailing list and telephone numbers. Back then it was a dial up modem and most people didn't even have an email. Over the years this has changed drastically. Not only do most of our customers have an email, they are now able to get them over their phone, so it made sense to review some of our procedures. The first we upgraded was our internal database of customers and marketing information. Our new system has all the bells a whistles, including order tracking, purchasing, inventory, accounting, design libraries, product grids and so much more. The new database allowed us to organize our information better and eliminated the need to double enter information from one system to another, making our small company much more efficient.
2013 – Upgrading our Website
With the upgrade of our internal system, it was time to welcome a more user friendly site that really showed our customers our passion for screen printing and decoration. Our new site at this time featured a DesignStudio that allowed consumers to create their own designs, place it onto the shirt or product they desired and fully check out with that item. Thus, giving our customers the ability to create an order start to finish. This is amazing and a big hit with our business customers as well as smaller one time purchasers.
2014 – Nelson Ink Retail and Resort Catalogs
Although we'd done printed special and flyers and maybe a catalog or two, Nelson Ink began creating a new Resort/Retail featured catalog to help our resort customers find the pcs just right for them. This is a continuing feature that we hope to continue and expand as we go forward. We've even expanded to begin including an ecatalog version on our website.
2015 – Online proofing with every order.
That's right – we proof every order with a specially designed online system that allows real time updates to help everyone stay on track an your order moving forward.
2016 – A new Website... again?
Yep, times are changing faster then ever now days. After we upgraded to a design and apparel specific website, many of our customers who purchased promotional items felt left out. Well no more, our new site not only features our popular DesignStudio, but we have added a database and custom search feature for over 300,000 promotional products. It also has a specials page with our current sales. An eCatalogs page to allow customer to browse our favorite suppliers. A virtual sample designer where you can upload your logo and place it on a product. A quote cart that you can add all products you are interested in and it will automatically send to a Nelson Ink sales rep to update. We also have popular links to our Facebook and Twitter pages. Our new site will be an ongoing resource for learning about what Nelson Ink does and how you our customers can benefit from our services.