Downtown Custom Printwear: The Attic to Erie Story
(As seen in Explore Downtown Schenectady Magazine)
In September 2003, eighteen year-old Benjamin Sadler, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, checked into the historic Parker Inn with his mother on the evening before Union College’s freshman orientation. Sadler described the scene on State Street as a “ghost town.” His mother, Jane Aibel, remembers a very different scene when she graduated from Union College in 1973. Jane had no idea at the time that her affection towards downtown Schenectady would be instilled in her son and become a staple of his future business.
As Ben attended Union, he watched as downtown Schenectady evolved. New businesses popped up, roads were repaved, and new landscapes generated a buzz in the community. Shortly after Ben graduated in June 2007, the Bow Tie cinema complex opened, followed by the popular Union hangout, Bombers. Ben watched as new businesses decorated the developing downtown area.
Ben spent his summers driving a Mr. Ding-a-Ling truck through the streets of Hamilton Hill and the State Street neighborhoods, and his evenings were spent practicing his new hobby: DIY t-shirt printing. Ben used the money from the ice cream route to acquire used screen-printing equipment and set up his operation in the cramped confines of his apartment’s attic. It began as a hobby, but Ben saw an opportunity to transform his passion into a viable business.
Business was hardly smooth sailing, but Ben had the idea to reach out to fraternities, sororities, and other clubs from Union College, along with small business owners looking for decorated apparel. Downtown Custom Printwear was born.
Six months later, Ben moved DCP from his attic space to a small retail space on historic Erie Boulevard. His business included a manual printing press, a few boxes of sample projects, and a lone desktop computer. Ben set out to convert the empty space into a full production facility. Printing by day and building the space by night, Ben dedicated long hours accompanied by his bull terrier, Cassius. Soon ink racks lined the walls, computer stations were strategically placed throughout the shop, and customers entered into a showroom decorated with sample products. Ben mastered numerous specialty-printing techniques to attract new customers and expanded his product offerings. Embroidery services were added to complement his screen-printing operation. With these additions, the DCP production space was bursting at the seams.
DCP now occupies a spacious 6,000 sq. foot, state-of-the-art facility located at 140 Erie Boulevard (now on the 2nd floor) in downtown Schenectady. Ben invested in new, fully-automated printing, embroidery and sign making equipment, along with increasing his production and design staff to manage the new facility.
Fellow Union Alumnus and fraternity brother Dan Leavitt joined the DCP team in 2009, opening a Boston-based sales office and establishing a DCP internship program adopted by students at over two dozen schools across the Northeast. Dan has been pivotal in driving out-of-state sales and has facilitated many upgrades that improved service and capacity at company headquarters in Schenectady. Downtown Custom Printwear is now one of the larger printing operations established in the Capital Region and has become a one-stop supplier for screen printing, embroidery, vinyl graphics, large format printing, promotional items and full-scale graphic design services.
There have been many challenging decisions for Ben though the business development. A growing reputation across the Northeast presented Sadler the opportunity to move the business closer to his hometown of Cambridge, MA. Instead, he chose to keep the business in Schenectady, attracted to lower overhead and a central location in the Northeast. Ultimately, Ben stayed because of the relationship he has forged with the local community. Customers frequently visit the shop to see Cassius or to sneak a peek at the new equipment.
DCP maintains a small-business feel while offering a complete array of services. With minimum order requirements below the industry average, the experts at DCP can decorate your team apparel, design your family reunion shirts, or create a banner to advertise your business, yet the business is equipped to produce large-scale projects of several thousand pieces with sophisticated requirements or meet tight deadlines.
Schenectady has grown alongside Downtown Custom Printwear. The area that Ben once described as a “ghost town” is thriving. Ben is part of a community that is home to several Downtown Custom Printwear customers, from nationally celebrated Proctor’s Theatre and The Parker Inn to newcomers, like Bombers and The Paul Mitchell School. With the iconic General Electric sign visible from his office window, Ben’s business is on the forefront of the revitalization process and he strives to ensure Downtown Custom Printwear plays a pivotal role as the community develops a new identity for downtown Schenectady.
Although the odds are inevitably stacked against any young entrepreneur lacking substantial capital to invest, and limited experience in the business world, Schenectady proved to be a great place to start. Establishing Downtown Custom Printwear in Schenectady, coupled with the support of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation and the Schenectady County Chamber of Commerce, was truly the foundation for Ben’s initial success and continued expansion from an attic operation to full-service production facility on Erie Boulevard.