There was a time in the not so distant past when if you wanted a custom t-shirt, you could go to the mall and get a tacky iron-on, or find a screen printer to do it for you.
Neither was an optimal solution; the mall designs weren’t really personalized, other than maybe a few iron-on letters, and screen printing was time-consuming, expensive, and not ideal for short runs.
The profession has changed, and quickly. The magic of digital fabric printing has opened an online market for unique shirts…but it’s still not cheap, and the process is so automated that you’re stuck managing your own designs and waiting and waiting. and wait.
Big Frog Custom T-Shirts in Mequon has turned the company around, at least locally. Although it’s a franchise, it’s the only one in Wisconsin, and it’s also a family business, run by a father, mother, and daughter. Located at 10952 North Port Washington Rd., it’s about as convenient as it gets, because not only Big Frog print t-shirts – and just about anything else – on demand, it helps the the whole process, from idea to conception to completion.
For manager Brittany Miller, it was also an opportunity to work directly with her own father, a former business creation director who discovered the urge to be entrepreneurial four years ago at the twilight of a career successful.
Miller, a former professional ballet dancer, jumped at the chance to learn how to run a t-shirt printing business close to his home but also serving nearby communities. Being in Mequon is perfect for North Shore clientele who need swag for local sports teams, but she says her clientele spans both north and south.
“Honestly, I thought it would all the time be more kitsch and unique shirts, like what you find at the Jersey Shore,” Miller, 31, said. “But ultimately he was meeting the community and learning the needs of the community.
Nor did she anticipate that Big Frog would evolve into printing larger orders, whether for football teams or family reunions, or for small businesses or large corporations that need goods quickly. .
“We’re a small business that helps other small businesses,” Miller says of the store, which now has five employees, including her own parents. She says 95% of the work is done entirely in-house.
Miller notes that technology in this industry is changing so rapidly that Big Frog can print products that were not initially possible. The “digital on film” process, which uses their already very high-end garment printer, eliminates the need to pre-treat the fabric, speeding up the process and without using additional chemicals. This means that if you can think of something you want printed, they can probably do it: hoodies, koozies, blankets, face masks, foam boards… you name it.
Big Frog also does more traditional printing, including screen printing and embroidery. But even that has evolved, says Miller, who notes that hoodies are a surprisingly big seller.
“It’s not just the shiny numbers that were on the jerseys anymore,” she said. “There’s sparkle and breath and all that cool fashion stuff.”
More interestingly, Big Frog offers free design services within reason. The professional graphic design included in the price is virtually unheard of in this industry.
According to Miller, “Often it’s just scribbling on a piece of paper. We asked kids to bring in their own drawings that we digitalized…and everything else.
All for prices that typically rival ordering a shirt from, say, Red Bubble or Zazzle. For example, if you’re using Big Frog’s most premium shirts, a one-time order costs around $30. They also have no problem with you bringing your own shirts to print. “I like to keep our prices fair,” she says, noting that a more basic shirt will cost less.
And it happens quickly. Typical turnaround time is three days, but it can be quicker, and Miller sees many repeat customers, as the store can produce around 35 shirts per hour.
Yet for Miller, who will one day go from business partner with his parents to full-fledged owner, the greatest thrill is spending time with his father, Basil Bearer, who spent so many hours during the hectic pace of business Americans. Her career has kept her from seeing him on her birthday or her first day of school, and she relishes the chance to work side by side.
“It’s more than just a job for me,” she said, crying a little. “Being here with him and having these father-daughter times has been really cool. When COVID hit and I had the opportunity to bring my son to work with me and take care of him, I love it. J I have a place to bring him, and customers love to see him, which is really cute and adorable too.
Bearer agrees and also speaks on behalf of his wife, Koretta (who does the embroidery projects).
“My old career took me away from home a lot of times,” Bearer says. “So it’s a pleasure to spend time with her and build this business together. I hope my business is a legacy that I can pass on to my daughter and then she can pass this business on to her family.
Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. You can also get a personalized quote on their website.