Building a Print Business: Sticker Printing with Ace High Printing

Building a Print Business: Sticker Printing with Ace High Printing

The News Views and How To’s Blog spoke to Rick Herbert from Ace High Printing who lives in a world of stickers. Quite literally. The walls of his sticker, sign and graphics shop in St Petersburg Florida are adorned from top-to-bottom with stickers from top musical artists like Five Finger Death Punch and Saliva as well as radical tattoo designs and supercool, colorful sticker characters that stare down from the walls. It looks like the dream hangout for a heavy metal fan or a skateboarder, but it’s not. It’s actually a super hard-working sticker printing shop with a laser focus on quality and customer service that sets Rick Herbert’s business apart from other sticker providers.

Find Your Space in the Market

Ace High Printing is not a large online company like “Sticker Mule” or “Sticker Giant” that has an app and the capacity to turn over hundreds of thousands of stickers, but what it does is fill a niche in the market where customers want the kind of personalized service where an owner will take fifteen minutes or more out of his busy day to talk to them and make sure they are getting what they need. They also take time over the stickers they produce to get a detailed, brilliant print every time, as Rick explained, “We do it slower than other people, that’s the key. We have TrueVIS machines that we take the print speed down to 600, 900 to make really superb quality. Does it take us a bit longer? Sure! But you can see it in the details? Yes!”

“We do it slower than other people, that’s the key. We have TrueVIS machines that we take the print speed down to 600, 900 to make really superb quality. Does it take us a bit longer? Sure! But you can see it in the details? Yes!”

A selection of the outstanding quality stickers that Ace High Printing produce for clients — printing standout color and details for cool companies.

Rick interned at sign shop for a short time where he learned how to operate Roland DG machinery. When he started his own sign shop, Rick invested in a Roland DG machine, created a website, and started printing on a small scale from his garage, printing 2-inch, 3-inch, and 4-inch stickers, 100-to-200 at-a-time and publishing them on his site and on social media. He described the way he has quickly grown his shop since 2004, saying, “When I started out it was just me, now I’ve got eleven guys in this shop alone doing everything from the printing to the laminating to the cutting…  we have a shipping department and quality control, which is me, because I want to see them from the very beginning to when they’re shipped out-the-door.”  

“When I started out it was just me, now I’ve got eleven guys in this shop alone doing everything from the printing to the laminating to the cutting…  we have a shipping department and quality control, which is me, because I want to see them from the very beginning to when they’re shipped out-the-door.”  

Building great customer relationships is a critical part of Ace High Printings philosophy as a print business. Rick Herbert speaks with passion about this aspect of his business, saying, “Whether they’re a garage band, a bakery, Fox Sports, the NLB Network, the Dali Museum, the police department, we print for all, and I’ve not had a single client that I’ve had to cut ties with.” For anyone starting out in the sticker printing business, Ace High Printing is the perfect company to use as a model for how a sticker printing business should think and operate, because even though they’ve been very successful, they’ve kept a small business mentality of supplying quality and providing a personal service. Rick described this special relationship, saying, “When you put an order in with us, you’re speaking directly to me, the owner of the company. It’s not some automated bot, it’s not an email box. I will call you, email you, and if you’re here in person you’re speaking with the owner.”  He continued, “We’ll do anything within reason to keep people happy. There have been times when I’m in the middle of a press run and hours have gone by, and I’ve had to toss it because I’m not happy and needed to start over again.”

When you put an order in with us, you’re speaking directly to me, the owner of the company. It’s not some automated bot, it’s not an email box. I will call you, email you, and if you’re here in person you’re speaking with the owner.”  

A selection of stickers that Ace High Printing produced for some big-name rock bands as well as local record stores reflecting their “print for all” business philosophy.

Rick has the kind of entrepreneurial personality that is needed to grow quickly from a garage business to a full-on graphics and printing business with multiple machines and employees. However, he’s done this by making a lot of smart decisions. In the beginning, he happened to be in a band and was printing stickers for his own band and had the idea to go after other bands in the local area for a source of business, he said, “Suddenly the lightbulb went off and I thought, hey! If I can do it for me, I can do it for everyone else, which goes back to that old saying of know your market and know your customers.” He also talked about some other markets that he recognized the potential of early on that are now huge sign and graphic markets, saying, “We printed for markets that no one wanted to print for at the time, surf shops, skate shops, tattoo shops, niche markets that no one had a foothold in. In my early twenties, that was what I was into at the time, surf, skate, bands, bars, and it worked. Go with what you know.”

“We printed for markets that no one wanted to print for at the time, surf shops, skate shops, tattoo shops, niche markets that no one had a foothold in. In my early twenties, that was what I was into at the time, surf, skate, bands, bars, and it worked. Go with what you know.”

As a business, he believes that it’s critical to be aware of what’s going on around you and to find gaps in the market, focusing your business energy on a few things rather than trying to provide everything, as he explained, “Look at what the competition are doing. Look at their turnaround times, the quality of products they’re producing and pick a few items and do those few items really well. Don’t try to offer 50 different products. Too many people try to do that and get burned.”

“Look at what the competition are doing. Look at their turnaround times, the quality of products they’re producing and pick a few items and do those few items really well. Don’t try to offer 50 different products. Too many people try to do that and get burned.”

Produced with Roland DG printers— an ultra-vivid collection of stickers from Ace High Printing, showing the surf, skate, band, and bar markets that have helped build their business.

Passion for What You Do is Everything

Ace High Printing is a full-service print provider, but their main market is stickers. Talking to Rick about stickers, it’s quite clear that he hasn’t lost his passion for printing and producing them and that’s critical for any business— you must have an emotional investment in your work. As Rick pointed out, “If you start doing jobs you hate and that bore you, and you get frustrated with them, you’re not going to want to do this anymore.And when you lose your passion for this, what’s the point.” Fortunately for Rick, stickers are a product that’s easy to be passionate about. They are both relevant marketing materials and nostalgic products that remind people of their youth— an eternally fun print product. Rick described these sticker qualities and the joy of producing them, saying, “I remember getting those sticker packs as a kid and sticking them on walls, sticking them on folders, sticking them where you’re not supposed to. I think it’s a way for people to personalize their own surroundings with reflections of their own personality… Being a company that’s able to take bring that from a thought to a tangible product is just really cool!”  

“If you start doing jobs you hate and that bore you, and you get frustrated with them, you’re not going to want to do this anymore. And when you lose your passion for this, what’s the point?”

Growth is Good but be Smart About it

Rick appreciates that growth is important as a company, but he also warns other businesses that trying to do too many things, too fast is also a bad idea, as he explained, “Trying to grow too fast will put you out of business. We’ve seen it before.” Ace High Printing as a business has taken the approach of continuing to perfect the things that made them a great company in the first place. Rick describes how it’s important for businesses to keep growing and to identify changes that need to be made but to stay true to your core business. His ideas right now aren’t to radically do anything different, but instead to make adaptations to his website and to start looking into exciting new materials and to keep making stand-out quality stickers, as he explained, “I don’t think I’m going to move into anything new right now, rather than tweaking what we’ve already got. We’re getting ready to launch a new website, working on some new sizing options, and we’re going to rebrand the whole company but none of the products are changing and none of the quality is changing. The next thing I’m looking into printing is the holographic material and glow-in-the-dark stuff.”

“I don’t think I’m going to move into anything new right now, rather than tweaking what we’ve already got. We’re getting ready to launch a new website, working on some new sizing options, and we’re going to rebrand the whole company but none of the products are changing and none of the quality is changing. The next thing I’m looking into printing is the holographic material and glow-in-the-dark stuff.”

Rick identifies a lot of new opportunities through his customers who are asking for products, but he also does this with a critical eye, using good judgement to avoid short term trends. He described the way Ace High Printing look at the market by saying, “It’s not so much that I do the research myself, it’s that customers start asking me in the span of a couple of months, about products I don’t do or haven’t heard of. That’s when I start thinking that this must be pretty big because people are asking for it right now. Then I ask myself, how do I do it? Why don’t I do it? Is it feasible to do it? Is it cost effective?” He added, “A lot of the times it’s kitschy, one-off-stuff like those fidget spinners— I’m thinking, they’re hot right now but is this something I can maintain long term? I’m not going to jump into something that’s cool now but in six months, I’ve got 6 rolls of film and specialty inks that I can’t ever use again!”

“A lot of the times it’s kitschy, one-off-stuff like those fidget spinners— I’m thinking, they’re hot right now but is this something I can maintain long term? I’m not going to jump into something that’s cool now but in six months, I’ve got 6 rolls of film and specialty inks that I can’t ever use again!”

Some other applications that Ace High Printing have added to their full-service print portfolio, including apparel, banners, and printing on canvas

When speaking with Rick Herbert, what is very apparent is that he hasn’t lost any of the excitement and enthusiasm for stickers and providing this supercool product for people. He explained how much he still enjoys his work and coming into the office everyday, saying, “I can’t believe I print stickers all day! I’m a gigantic five-year-old with better toys! It doesn’t seem real some days.” He continued, “It’s fun knowing that I took this from nothing into something, but to me it’s about taking someone’s ideas and artwork that they spent hours drawing, sketching, creating on the computer, and turning that into a physical product— the way their face lights up with pride and sheer joy when they see it for the first time, that’s what gets to me still.”

It’s fun knowing that I took this from nothing into something, but to me it’s about taking someone’s ideas and artwork that they spent hours drawing, sketching, creating on the computer, and turning that into a physical product— the way their face lights up with pride and sheer joy when they see it for the first time, that’s what gets to me still.”