Since design is at the core of every piece of printed merchandise, apparel, and promo product, having a knack for intricate artwork can help a business stay ahead of the competition. Especially if that shop serves a niche where word of mouth spreads quickly. 

For Gannon Beck, the owner of Shirts for Heroes, combining his creativity with the power of InkSoft is how he’s built a reputation as a go-to business for decorated apparel and accessories for the military.

Gannon is a designer at heart, but he also serves as art director for Sans Screenprint, where he prints his shirts, giving him an insight into apparel production. 

Learning on the job 

Gannon’s initial experience with designing artwork for apparel started before he had his own standalone business. While he was serving in the Marine Corps, his platoon sergeant noticed he had a specific talent.

“I started doing T-shirts because I was ordered to,” says Gannon.  “My platoon sergeant came to me and said, ‘Lance Corporal Beck, you are in charge of platoon shirts,’ because I was the one in the platoon that could draw.” 

shirts for heroes

Once his platoon took notice of his knack for cranking out designs, word spread in the Marines and other armed service branches of Gannon’s talents, and he took on more design jobs for shirts. In the early days, Gannon’s T-shirt designs were hand-drawn, and he collaborated with local screen printers to bring his creations to life.

Throughout his time in the Marines, Gannon continued to create artwork for various service members and platoons as a fun side hobby. When he exited the Marine Corps in 1995, the requests continued to pour in. 

Building a Business

As the demand for military and service-related designs continued to grow, Gannon simultaneously expanded his skillset with design, transitioning more into digital graphics and speeding up his turnaround time. He worked for a screen printing company while his wife was stationed in Oahu for the Navy during the day. At night, he attended classes to build his computer graphics skills. 

Eventually, the couple moved to Virginia after Gannon’s wife left the Navy, and that’s when his unique position as a military veteran with artistic skills and a deep understanding of military culture became his foundation for a business. In 2003, Gannon started Shirts for Heroes, serving branches of the armed forces, police, and fire departments nationwide. 

The Integration of InkSoft

As Shirts for Heroes became a full-time business, Gannon says he needed a better way to streamline operations for ordering, organizing jobs, and keeping track of customer inventory. At that time, smartphones weren’t widely available. Working with military personnel with stringent schedules regarding when they could leave their posts and meet in public made it complicated. 

If officer candidates sent Gannon an email, it would usually have to be from an internet cafe during limited hours, or they would need to meet him in person to finalize the order, which often meant carrying large amounts of cash around, which was a headache for all parties involved. 

“Once we switched to InkSoft and everything went online, it was a godsend,” he explains. “These customers now had online stores specifically built for them.” 

Now, those customers with very regimented schedules could easily place orders, check orders, and communicate on order details in their off time, Gannon said.

Additionally, InkSoft helped remedy the headaches of dealing in cash and arranging in-person transactions.

“With the InkSoft stores, everything’s paid for, and one person doesn’t have to go around collecting money from everybody in the platoon for the shirts or keep track of who ordered what,” he states, adding that an online system made it easier to reduce errors that used to happen with manual order entry and submission.

“Before InkSoft stores, someone would invariably fill out a paper order form incorrectly, and somebody would get the wrong order.” 

A better system for customers 

That improved ordering system has also made life easier for people who build orders for platoons, police forces, or other customers. Once the design is confirmed, Gannon says he creates a store with products and sends that link to the person designated to take the orders. 

“Everybody places their orders, and then it’s all organized and easy to find in InkSoft,” he explains. “From there, we have a clear picture of the order that we need to print; we go ahead, print that out, put it in our job jacket, and deliver the shirts.”

Shirts For Heroes also gives the customer in charge of the order a copy of the manifest so they can distribute the shirts. That system has helped reduce errors and keeps much better track of the money, he stresses. 

Overall, Gannon says integrating InkSoft has saved Shirts for Heroes a significant amount of time from the mockup phase through delivery with these tools to make life easier for him and the customers. 

He’s been able to balance work and life and reduce the traveling he previously had to do when working with military customers when he would have to meet them in the proximity of bases. 

Shirts for Heroes

Comic Book Creativity 

Alongside his full-time business, Gannon is also a comic book creator. He’s even created his own series, “Space Corps.” That continued commitment to hand-drawn illustration is something that benefits his T-shirt business, Gannon notes.

“My T-shirt designs for the military use a process similar to that of making a comic book: First pencils, then inks, and finally colors. Working on comics helps build illustration skills that help with the T-shirt designs,” he notes, pointing to the industrial repetition good comic art requires.

“For example, if you average six panels a comic book page over 200 pages of comics, that’s 1,200 illustrations. That kind of skill repetition just really stockpiles and adds up over time. It forces you to get better.” 

That attention to detail has filtered into all the artwork he’s done over the years for military clients, which he estimates is around 3,000 T-shirt designs to date. 

Looking Forward

Word of mouth has been a strong driver for the business since the start, and that trend doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing down. Even though he and his wife aren’t currently on active duty, the trend of one service member recommending Gannon’s work to another keeps building the customer base as the years roll on.

The business is also taking other measures to grow its name to bolster that word-of-mouth growth. 

“We’re heat pressing a ‘’ label in every shirt so that people know where the shirts came from,” he notes.  “Because unless you’re the candidate, corporal, or captain that organized the shirt order within your unit, you might get to a new unit and not know where that shirt came from.” 

In the near future, Gannon says he hopes to continue refining the production process and saving time as the business grows and takes on more customers. 

And even with a focus on business optimization, he’s still a person who’s passionate about the craft. 

“I’m a T-shirt guy. I love to do it, and it’s a really cool art form,” he says. 

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