OSWEGO, NY – T-shirts and Guerilla Marketing fit together like pencil on paper and when combined can transform a person into a walking billboard of promotion, thoughts, emotions, ideas, solidarity, or art for its own sake.
Using this approach, illustrator and self-styled Guerilla Marketer Glenn Zansitis created Zink Shirts, a small business on the ground floor at 19 E. Cayuga St., in Oswego.
Zansitis’ all process T-shirt business is part art gallery, part not-for-profit go-to, part venue for local musicians, and mostly a people-powered T-shirt making machine.
In 2011, Zink Shirts began a lot like the other 28.2 million small businesses nationwide, first in its owner’s heart and then in his basement.
But the local entrepreneur grew hungry for the screen printing world while working for his brother downstate at Eye Live Wild.
“We would design a shirt and do a digital mock-up, and then get feedback from customers,” Zansitis told Oswego County Today during an interview. “Then we would release it. At that point we were using another screen printer in that area.”
It was in that print shop he said he really got hooked on learning how to perform the process start to finish.
“I would go into the printer and I really felt interested in what they were doing,” Zansitis said. “They gave me a tour of the shop, Antilogy Design, they’re great guys, but I kept looking into it and doing research online, watching YouTube videos, and decided, ‘I’m going to do it.'”
Jumping off from there, Zansitis bought a hobby press and the bones of Zink were forged, or rather, squeegeed.
“I still have that press,” the businessman said. “We still use it for one-offs and other small projects.”
When he relocated with his fiancé to Oswego, Zansitis eventually began the journey many small business owners take.
“I bought a very cheap exposure unit that somebody made, and put the darkroom in my basement over on West Third Street,” he said. “You know the basements in Oswego, you can’t even stand up straight, so I’d be down there all bent over working and I just continued to teach myself how to do the whole process.”
As a driven entrepreneur looking to keep himself off the unemployment line, it didn’t take long for Zansitis’ efforts as illustrator, Guerilla Marketer and T-shirt designer to begin paying off.
“As I started to get busier, meeting new people, I had a few orders that were two hundred or three hundred pieces. My fiancé would help me with them, working out of the spare bedroom of our house,” he said. “We’d be working sometimes until three or four o’clock in the morning to get the order done on time.”
He knew then that his business had grown to the next larger size.
“(The vacant) St. John’s Church and school was right across the street from my house, so I went over and checked one of the rooms out and thought, ‘this would be perfect.’ I could stand up straight, and there were windows! It was great,” he said. “That was when I approached the Community Development Office, and I took the Micro Enterprise Program classes.”
Zansitis met Chamber of Commerce Director Greg Mills while Mills was working at the Community Development Office. “I got a small business loan and he was a loan officer there at that time,” Zansitis said. “He just saw that spark in my eye, I guess. He’s really been there for me since day one.”
The entrepreneur also lauds the support of SUNY Oswego Small Business Development Center’s John Halleron and Larry Perras as key players to his success. “I can’t say enough about how much they helped me.”
As a result of the Micro Enterprise Program, armed with his business plan and start-up capital, Zansitis was able to buy the equipment he needed to set up in the new space, increase his productivity, and the quality of his product.
“I had a customer friendly environment and my marketing tactics were working and I was able to hire two employees,” he added.
“When we started to get real busy in the winter of 2011-2012 I had to make a decision whether to try and heat that space at St. John’s or find someplace else to work,” the business owner said. “It was a nice stepping stone, but it was on the second floor of the building, so we were hauling all of our boxes and equipment up and down the stairs.”
So, in December 2011, just six months after he hung out his shingle, Zansitis decided it was time for the next bigger size, and found his current location on the lowest level of the Wet Paint Company building at East Second and Cayuga Streets.
“It was a great move,” he said. “Look at the amount of space we have now. And it was necessary. We’ve never really slowed down.”
Now, three years later, it takes a staff of four including Glenn, each artists of their own right, to keep up with demand.
Although Zink Shirts works with big accounts like SUNY Oswego and Novelis, the man behind the business is dedicated to supporting small community non-profits.
“A lot of the events and organizations, I sponsor them. I put my Zink tag on the back of the shirt,” Zansitis said.
The benefit featured a donated artwork auction, live music, and of course signature T-shirts created by Zansitis, Lee, and Zink employee Evin Fravor.
Zansitis’s venue, called The Dark Room, is set up in the back of his business space like an old-school garage band scene, where he also does open-mic nights for local artists.
“Strengthening the community bonds with other local businesses in order for an area to thrive economically, people have to support each other,” the T-shirt illustrator said. “So, the fact that anybody in this town or community, school districts, businesses, events, not-for-profits, anybody can literally just come here and sit down and talk to me. This is what you want your design to look like? Let’s work on it together. Right from the very first pen on paper to the final T-shirt.”
And like most small business owners, Zansitis likes being able to call all those shots.
“Our tag is, Designed by artists, Printed by craftsmen,” he said, noting the slogan was created by graphic designer Justin Mastrangelo. “I’m very proud of that.”
Note: The original version of this story did not include attribution for Zink’s slogan and has been updated to include its author. -jlr