An Interview with Founder Andrew Dark of Custom Planet Ltd

Andrew Dark Founder Custom Planet Ltd

Meet Andrew of Custom Planet Ltd

Andrew Dark and John Armstrong started Custom Planet in 2008 from a bedroom while they were still at university. After graduation, they started printing full time from Andy’s mum’s garage and the business took off from there. They have since moved into their own factory and have continued to grow year after year, expanding their range of printing techniques and technology, all while keeping the customer at the heart of what they do.

The company provides a full range of custom apparel solutions including screen printing, DTG, embroidery, printed and cut vinyl, re-labelling and sewn in tags, packing, tagging and barcoding.

1.Can you explain to us how the idea for your business came to you and how the whole process kicked off?

We started as we couldn’t afford to buy our own custom t-shirts for a uni project, so we decided to print our own. They weren’t very good, but it sparked our interest in starting our own printing company.

Eventually we expanded into other print methods as the business grew, and we realised outsourcing wasn’t possible if we wanted to control the quality of our work. We were paying over the odds and getting a lot more mistakes on the stuff we were outsourcing, so we decided we absolutely had to do everything in-house — even if that meant learning as we go. We decided that quality, from products to customer service, would be our USP.

2.What were the biggest challenges you faced when bringing the idea to market?

We knew what we had wasn’t a new idea, but we wanted to work out a better way of doing it. Our approach at the start was to say ‘yes’ to everything then figure out how we were going to make it happen, which was challenging at times. But I believe it was our passion and willingness to do right by our customers that got us through the early days. Obviously, money was the biggest challenge initially, but we worked hard and grew slowly, only expanding as we were able to afford it.

We didn’t start to become really great at what we do until we hired the right people. There have been many milestones for us as a company over the years but the main achievement that stands out to me is our staff retention. This shows that we are doing right by our staff and I believe that if our staff are happy, our customers will be happy too. 

3.Where do you think good ideas come from and what inspires you?

Good ideas can come from anywhere. The important thing is having the passion and belief to follow through with the idea. There were points in the early days of the business where I just had to have faith it would work out. We were two lads working a minimum of 16 hours most days and putting everything we had back in to growing the business. Success didn’t happen overnight, but doing something I enjoy is what inspires me and keeps me motivated every day.

4.What are your company’s values and why are these things important to the business?

Our values have always been about providing a quality product at a fair price and making sure our customers have real honest customer service.

We didn’t decide to do everything in-house because it was a matter of pride, we genuinely wanted to provide our customers with the best quality products we possibly could. And, by sticking to this principle, we can enjoy customer loyalty — which comes with its own benefits. For example, a few of our clients weren’t happy with their current promotional product providers, so eventually we said we would look into it and see what we were able to provide, which led to us expanding to include other items apart from clothing.

5.What is next for your brand?

Before COVID we were growing 20% each year, slowly and steadily increasing our capacity and staff. At the time of our 10-year anniversary, we had a turnover of 1.2 million, had invested over £200k in machinery, and had 15 awesome full-time staff members in our employ.

We have seen this growth start to pick up again in the last few months, and we hope to continue that trend going forward. We’ve recently rebranded and our new website is about to launch, which will allow us to provide customers with their own portals and ordering systems. Again, this is to benefit the customer, to improve their experience and service. 

6.What one piece of advice would you have for someone just starting out on their business journey or currently going through a setback?

You’re going to have really good days and really bad days, but you just have to try and stay level-headed throughout. For example, when we first started to take off, we couldn’t print garments quick enough to keep up with demand.

We would work 24 hours a day to produce huge orders on a single head embroidery machine, and quickly identified that we needed to order a 4-head machine, which was a real industrial piece of equipment. It arrived at my mum’s house, where we were based at the time, and it physically wouldn’t fit through the door. That could have been a disaster, but we took it as a sign that we were ready to spend some money and move to a bigger premises.

7.What resources and tools do you use to remain productive or up-to-date on industry trends etc?

We think it’s important to stay as up to date as possible just in case we hear about a new development that would benefit our customers. There are thousands of new products that hit the market each year and our challenge as a company is keeping on top of these, understanding what they offer, and working out whether they are a better option than what clients are currently using. Before lockdown, we were regulars at trade shows and networking events for people in the industry just to make sure we stayed ahead. Privately, we read industry magazines and make time to do our research online, no matter how busy we are.

More info on Custom Planet Ltd

Brand Name: Custom Planet
LinkedIn handle: Custom Planet Ltd
Twitter handle: @CustomPlanetLtd
Facebook handle: @CustomPlanetLimited
Instagram handle: @customplanet