20190605-wbr-nymbl

A model wears a T-shirt printed on demand through Nymbl’s service. The platform has gained more than 1,000 users since its recent launch, entering a crowded segment with no true end-to-end solutions incorporating stores and printing. Courtesy photo

A self-described Shopify-style startup focused entirely on print-on-demand services in Cheyenne said it crossed 1,000 users on its nascent platform recently, causing a spike of “growing pains.”

In January, Nymbl announced that it had brought in $300,000 in funding from public and private sources for a private beta, which has since rolled out to the masses.

The company positions itself as a Shopify competitor of sorts that allows entrepreneurs, designers or side hustlers to put custom logos on swag ranging from T-shirts and coffee mugs to leggings and shower curtains – without stocking inventory or needing to build a complex online store.

”Invent-ory,” not inventory

Inventory has long been a thorn in retail’s side, pushing entrepreneurs making custom products to invest more heavily than they want in products they’re not always sure will sell.

But according to Bria Hammock, a graphic designer living in Cheyenne and working as creative director for a Sheridan-based agency, print-on-demand services have allowed her to experiment with her side hustle – to invent without fear.

That makes her inventory more of an “invent-ory,” where roughly half the merchandise is printed only when ordered. The other half she knows will sell, and she has buyers directly or in local retail stores.

Hammock’s side business, Go SloWyo Apparel, sprang to life in 2016 when she and her husband mused on how a vintage Volkswagen they restored and drive throttled them to a top speed of 50 mph.

“Starting a company, we found it ironic how the (Volkswagens) in life make us slow down and enjoy the ride,” she said. That formed the backbone of her company.

She and her husband collaborated on building a website using her design skills and his software engineering expertise. But that didn’t allow them to know how many T-shirts or hats to stock for any given design.

“I’m a pretty risk-averse individual,” Hammock said. “I came across the print-on-demand industry, and worked that into our process.”

She indicated that costs are higher, but risk is lower. But when retail chains began to approach her about peddling her merchandise, she had to adjust her thinking to a hybrid model, where unproven designs start as print-on-demand products before graduating to the inventory model.

Three years into her side business, Hammock said she’s been surprised to find that print-on-demand still has its uses.

“I thought I’d use (print-on-demand) for a little bit,” she said, citing profit margins as the primary reason to leave that model behind. “But it has stayed as a pretty great resource for exploring new things.”

In fact, she’s even decided that her next side hustle will probably be on Nymbl’s platform for a simplified approach to what she’s already doing with Go Slo.

Growing pains

Like Hammock, Nymbl founder Zac Folk got his start in business through print-on-demand. His nonprofit, CommonThreadz, donated a school uniform to schoolchildren in developing nations for every clothing item it sold.

But it sometimes proved to be more pain than it was worth to set up a retail merchandise store, he said.

“Long story short, it … became tedious to create stores and mockups and get printing and different components involved,” Folk said. Over the next 10 years, he worked to develop various automations that made the process easier from automated photorealistic mockups to Excel macros for easy imports.

The pain was especially real for small-scale T-shirt projects that rotate in and out quickly. The processes he created mutated into the technology backing Nymbl today. Through Nymbl, a user can sign up quickly and have realistic mockups in a store within 30 minutes if they have art ready to go.

Folk called Nymbl “the next level of Shopify” in that it allows users to generate products on demand without the risk and expense of inventory, while still offering the user ease of building a store through a platform like Shopify. And finally, Nymbl also fulfills customer orders, meaning they don’t need to store a credit card on file for entry-level users.

“We like to say we’re the only end-to-end solution focused on the print-on-demand industry,” Folk said. He added that his system allows users to create convincing mockups of three-dimensional products like T-shirts or hats that can then be placed on their storefront immediately.

One board member’s son ran with the technology to make “Psycho Ducks” apparel around an inside joke he and his friends had going. Folk said with only a share on social media and telling friends and parents of friends about it, the boy made more than $100 in profit.

Of course, others take it more seriously. Green House Data, a Cheyenne-based data center, used the platform to create a store filled with merchandise featuring the company logo. Folk said the company gave employees gift cards for the store at Christmas, allowing them to pick their own holiday loot.

But as the platform has grown in its early stages, another set of growing pains is beginning. Folk pointed out the growing pains cheerfully.

“It’s kind of cool to run into our first growing pain,” he said. In essence, the connectors on the back end were checking all Nymbl domains, meaning with a roster of 1,000 domains to check, things began to slow down. Site installs ran far slower than they should have until they were able to clean up the issue.

While not all users on the platform are making money, Folk’s team is focusing on converting sign-ups into active users who can make money on the platform.

Beyond that, Folk said they continue to hone the user experience to make it as friendly, quick and as easy as possible.

“We’re definitely headed in the right direction,” he said.

The on-demand industry

While Nymbl currently outsources printing and fulfillment, he said they may bring some printing in-house eventually.

“We’re making sure we have a fulfillment network and will investigate other options down the road,” he said.

While in-house printing presents scalability issues, it has the potential for more control and lower costs.

Whatever the case, the print-on-demand industry, in general, is reaching a maturity level where the wheat and tares are being separated and the industry is gearing up for change.

A 2018 infographic by MerchReadyDesigns said there were 40 print-on-demand platforms and 26 print-on-demand Shopify apps that marry Nymbl-like technology to a trusted e-commerce platform. About 10,000 Shopify customers use print-on-demand shops, indicating a lot of interest for the seamless, packaged service Nymbl provides.

“I think you’ll see some consolidation on the big guys and distributed technology on the small side,” he said. “It’s a kind of dual growth as costs come down on printing and fulfillment.”

As far as Nymbl goes, Folk said he’s trying to cast people into the vision of an end-to-end print-on-demand platform where the store is built in simply, including the mockups, with fulfillment ready to go.

“Nymbl has been an interesting new popup in the local Wyoming sphere,” said Hammock of Go Slo. “I hope everything continues to go well.”

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