The Life of Z!NK
Narrated by Owner, Founder and CEO, Glenn Zansitis
I grew up with an artist for a mother and a builder for a father. Naturally, being a “creative” and a “maker” was embedded in my genetic code. I didn’t fully take advantage of this until later in life though. I thought I should take full advantage of my youth by participating in many beverage related sports and activities. After twelve years in the hospitality industry, five years of car sales and a criminal justice degree, some sort of lightbulb finally turned on inside my brain. Why not use these natural talents as a career so I could live and breathe my passion: art. I have been an illustrator for as long as I can remember. Mom still has drawings from when I was very young of detailed other-worldly landscapes filled with dragons, hobbits and other mythical creatures. Yes, we grew up with the Lord of the Rings.
My beginnings in the custom screen printing industry started in 2008 when my brother Mike and I created a clothing line called “Eye Live Wild” when we were living down in the Hudson Valley. The amazing little town of New Paltz is nestled in some of the most breathtaking mountain ranges in New York, the Shawangunks. On any given day you could go hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, sky diving or cliff jumping. Or, if you felt like relaxing, you could head up to the Mohonk Mountain House for a great dinner or have a cocktail next to the natural glacier lake that is their backyard. Being surrounded by all of this natural splendor and seeing how humans interact with it, is what our clothing line was all about. We used a local screen printing company for a while and every time we went to pick up an order I became more and more curious about how the screen printing process worked. I would always poke my head into the production area and ask as many questions as they would allow before kicking me out. The custom screen printing process took hold of me and I needed to know more about it! Also, there is nothing like the feeling of a t-shirt that is “hot off the press.” It takes me back to when my Mom used to do laundry and I would throw on a warm hoodie before going outside to play in the piles of leaves on a crisp, cool autumn day in upstate NY.
The time came to cut out the middle man and print our own graphic t-shirts. I had enough money saved for an entry level “learn how to screen print at home” kit and signed up for the YouTube university of screen printing professionals. (There is no such thing, but seriously, YouTube is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to learn how to screen print.) So being homeschooled and having that “maker” mentality, I understood the value of a dollar and was able to MacGyver together most of the equipment I needed. For example, a shower curtain, a Rubbermaid container and a pressure washer make for a good washout booth! Once I converted my apartment into a t-shirt factory and pulled the first few good prints, it was time for me to take over the world, one t-shirt at a time.
My girlfriend, now wife, and I moved way up state to Oswego so she could continue her education in school psychology. This seemed like a more than adequate place to lay down some roots for my start up idea: Zansitis Ink. This name was quickly changed to Z.INK because A) no one can pronounce my last name, and B) everyone thought I was a tattoo parlor. This naturally morphed into Z!NK as time went on.
Some folks want to start a business and get an entrepreneurial spark that eventually fizzles out. I have an entrepreneurial fire with enough fuel reserves to stay lit for three lifetimes. After many long days pounding pavement and knocking on doors, then printing the orders out of my small apartment until four o’clock in the morning, I taught myself to work smarter. I learned how to maneuver my way through the maze of business development resources and wrote a solid business plan. I then presented my plan (which was more novel sized) to the local community development office and was granted an extremely low interest rate loan so I could run the business properly. Across the street from our apartment was a nearly abandoned church, which I had my eye on for quite some time. The loan allowed me to move into one of the (haunted) classrooms in the attached church school, purchase my first production press and conveyor dryer and hire my first two employees.
Having the staff allowed me to do what I was good at: networking, networking, networking. I have always had a strong sense of community pride and love meeting new people. I am also a huge advocate for strengthening the local economic landscape because that it is what makes small towns thrive. The local Oswegonians quickly began to realize that I was one of them and accepted me with open arms. Z!NK quickly became the go-to spot for custom screen printed apparel and graphic design. Another attribute that people quickly noticed was my passion for the craft. I am one of the rare screen printers that treat each project, no matter how big or how small, like a unique piece of artwork. Our customers are not just another entry in a project pipeline or dollar figure in Quickbooks, they are people with needs. Going into a project with this mindset allows us to create something that truly represents the individual or organization. If you are different, you will be remembered, and that is a good thing.
Our outstanding customer service mentality and top of the line printing capabilities quickly led to an expansion. It became an increasing logistical nightmare to try and carry boxes of shirts up and down a flight of stairs (we were on the second floor of said school) and we were simply running out of space. Also, we were headed into the winter of 2013 and there was no heat in the building so that was a big influencer for the move. I had my eye on a place across town that had been empty for quite some time. It was the basement of what used to be a coffin factory… also haunted! This is when we really found our rhythm and really started to build a lot of traction. If you look up “work hard, play hard” in the dictionary, there should be a picture of the Z!NK crew. We had extra space at this shop so we converted the loading dock into a concert venue and would host all of our favorite local bands and some travelers! This helped us in continuing to carve our unique branding niche because we would print band merchandise, as the bands were playing! The local music scene responded very positively, dubbing Z!NK as “one of the most interesting and different venues around.”
This era also came with its fair share of growing pains. Due to the significantly increased workflow, manual screen printing began to take its toll on our bodies. Working 12 to 14 hour shifts on your feet, printing thousands of t-shirts will make any man second guess his life choices. But I took it as a lesson. I must persevere. Work smarter, not harder. In 2014 I bit the bullet, reached out to my economic development contacts for some pocket change, and bought an automatic press! Little did I know that the transition to automated printing was almost like learning the craft all over again. It was not an immediate stress reliever like I once thought. Any printer who has made the switch knows exactly what I am talking about. One quote that always helped me survive the day was “once you stop learning, you start dying.” It would help me stay focused and remember why I started. I was destined to be on this path and I would stop at nothing to make it a reality. Once the intensive training and countless hours of trial and error test printing was completed, I was able to take a step back and realize that I taught myself and my crew a complicated new skill set. That’s when an overwhelming feeling of pride and accomplishment began to set in.
It was apparent at this point that we would one day be a dominant force in the screen printing industry. To me, this doesn’t mean being the largest company or being able to beat any competitor’s price but rather strengthening the industry with high quality products, unsurpassed customer service, and remaining true to the art focused roots of silk screen printing. It means being able to support my family and the families of my employees. It means having liquid assets that I can pass on to many future generations. It means being able to help those around me that are not as fortunate, and by doing so, making the world a better place.
Fast forward to 2017: Z!NK currently resides in an amazing 8,000 square foot production facility in the heart of Downtown Oswego and has 8 dedicated employees. We operate state-of-the-art printing equipment to make sure we stay sharp and consistently deliver the best products on the market. Future plans include expanding into neighboring cities such as Syracuse and Rochester and continuing to grow our online services. My integrity and values have been passed down the chain of command so everyone has the same level of commitment to our customers. This trend will continue as we surpass 100 employees.
I want to thank each and every person who reads this for becoming a part of the ZINK family. I look forward to our journey together!