market research part of writing a business plan for a letterpress shop

Hello, my name is Cassie and I’m in the process of opening a small design studio/letterpress shop! I have a Vandercook 01 proof press and am hoping to purchase a C&P as well, but funding startup costs is proving to be a little troublesome and I’ve decided to apply for a small business loan.

I’ve got the business plan written except for the hard part—the numbers! The graphic design market is easy to find market information for, but I guess I’m just not sure how to go about researching the current letterpress market online or at the library without talking to letterpress printers in the industry.

I don’t know if I should break it down into the markets I’d like to be a part of—wedding/baby announcements, music venue posters, business card/stationery design & printing, etc.—or if there is actually documentation out there of the size and trends of the letterpress market as a whole.

If anyone can give me some personal experience with this or at least point me in the right direction for where to look, that would be super helpful! Thanks!

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Well a better question would be to ask what you want to print. There’s a world of difference between high end, made to order wedding stationery vs retail cards sold through a wholesale distribution network. Frankly, I suspect you should be able to do all of the above, but some markets will be easier to access (business cards, small format work) because the overhead costs (plates, ink, printing time) are going to be lower.

Market trends are probably best determined by Googling “Letterpress (where ever you live)”. Find out who the competition is and see what they are and, more importantly aren’t doing. That will point out the trends.

Is that loan going to buy just the press, or additional equipment (a paper cutter is almost a must have)? A real important question that a bank will ask is “Are you receiving any income from “this letterpress printing thing”? I would be rather leery of getting a loan unless I had work to pay for it and that any additional equipment would create or serve a market that would pay for itself.

Starting out is tough, no doubt. I guess I got into the hobby before is was “discovered” and the price of equipment has gone up. Good luck with your endeavors though.

There are no longer any industry figures for letterpress printing, it is now part of the bottom 10%, and lumped in with several other nearly obsolete processes. You will probably have to either have collateral, or a co-signer for a loan. Many banks will want you to have as much in your bank account as you are asking for in loans.

I have to say that starting out with a No.1 Vandercook is a really hard way to go. In no way is it a production press, and although you can print on it, the time involved in operating it will be very hard to either price competitively, or realistically. A C&P is more the production machine, so I would suggest that you concentrate on items that can be easily done on it.

Like Mike said, you need to see if you have any competition in the field, and also try to locate local markets in which you could market you printed items. Your location, printing ability, and salesmanship are all critical to your success. Several folks I know built their businesses just by tapping their circle of family and friends. Keep your goals long-term and you have a better chance at success.

Hi! Thanks for the comments. I’m opening my press in Evansville, Indiana, and as far as my research has shown me, there aren’t any letterpress printers operating commercially within 100 miles (Louisville KY, St. Louis MO, and Bloomington/Indianapolis IN being the closest.) I’ve been working as a freelance designer for 3 years, have a steady client base, and I had the great fortune of learning how to print from Cathie Ruggie-Saunders at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I got my BFA in Visual Communications. I’m thinking that the financial power of this business will come from my digital design work, and letterpress will be available to a different clientele or clients of mine who have projects more inclined to fine printing.

I’ve got a proof press and a small collection of type, furniture, etc., as well as the money for the C&P press, paper cutter, and supplies—the loan would just make it possible for me to immediately move into a studio/shop space instead of printing out of a garage. So far I’ve reached out to a few local businesses and have a small art school that wants me to teach about letterpress, a music venue who wants wood type posters, and a stationery shop that wants to showcase small prints & greeting cards of mine, but not much else than that.

Thanks so much for your help! I figured I would ask, but breaking the market for my shop down into my target markets (digital design, wedding/baby, greeting cards, stationery/business cards, show posters/prints, etc.) was how I planned on going about it. And I’m lucky—a design client of mine that I’ve had for all 3 years I’ve been working is a small business consultant and life coach who started her own million-dollar-a-year salon at the age of 22, so I’ve had a lot of guidance in building a smart business plan.

Unless you need the retail exposure, a garage is just fine. Not only that, but the rent money stays in your pocket, allowing you to increase your capabilities and replace depreciated assets (computers and software). A years rent can turn even the lowliest garage into a very presentable studio.

Of course if you want/seek/need retail exposure, then I guess you would need to find an appropriate studio space, but be prepared to spend a lot more time dealing with walk in traffic that does not necessarily pencil out as orders.

Don’t mind my conservatism though, I actually need to knuckle down on the financing to increase the size of my shop (which is the garage. Space is one of the most valuable tools you can have in a shop/studio. Crowded space becomes oppressive and spoils the creative and productive urge.

Cassie….. congrats on starting your own business. It’s not an easy row to hoe, but the rewards can be well worth the effort.

About your market research and business plan: no matter what type of printing you plan to do (invitations, posters, cards… whatever) keep in mind that letterpress is much slower than other forms of printing, and thus cannot compete at the lower end of the price spectrum. As almost anyone who has been in the letterpress business for any length of time can tell you, you should not plan on doing run of the mill work like envelopes, business forms, and so forth. BUT based on what you say, that’s not your plan anyway.

Another note to keep in mind: if you do decide to buy a full sized C&P, you need to know that operating one in a business situation is an iffy situation due to their safety issues. According to OSHA, you can’t ever let an employee operate one, and your insurance may not cover you even if you have no employees. Those of us who use them do so at our own risk.

Good Luck on your plan.

winking cat—thank you for that information! I didn’t know that about OSHA. At this point it’s just me, but that’s awesome info to have.