Cory Stemp says he’s taken baby steps to grow his Kennewick screen printing business.
In the Kennewick native’s case, though, baby steps means moving from an 800-square-foot storefront to a 3,500-square-foot building and ordering state-of-the-art equipment — all in just a few years. And there’s also the clothing line he and his wife, Katie Stemp, plan to launch in the coming weeks.
But while Stemp Screenprinting & Embroidery is undergoing some major transformations as it expands production to meet demand, the Stemps said they are still committed to producing quality work and being more than just a business to clients.
“They’re more friends and family,” Cory Stemp said.
The Stemps are graduates of Kennewick High School, where they met. Cory Stemp’s father, Bruce Stemp, owned his own screen printing business along with a partner when Cory Stemp was a kid. He often hung out there, as did some of his friends, and fell in love with the process, which involves using specially-made screens to transfer ink designs onto shirts, bags and a variety of other items.
Cory officially launched his business in 2005, and it didn’t take long for it to also take over the couple’s basement. When Katie Stemp was laid off as a nurse several years ago, the couple saw it as an opportunity to dedicate themselves to the business and rented their first shop on Dayton Street in downtown Kennewick. Their new location at 424 N. Fruitland St. is the second expansion since then. They moved there in March.
The business’ work with nonprofits is a large part of why it keeps growing, the Stemps said. They waive fees for those groups, which include schools, athletics teams and youth organizations, to set up accounts, and they keep coming back and referring others. This is the second year they will produce T-shirts for the football camps put on by ex-Seattle Seahawk Deion Branch. They also make apparel for a school in Alaska.
“It’s in one of those towns where FedEx only delivers twice a month,” Cory Stemp said.
The Stemps see online retailers of screen printed goods as their big competition, and gauge their prices to compete with them. But cost isn’t the main reason their customers keep coming back, they said.
“I think our pricing is competitive, but when people order online, they wish there was somebody they could call,” Katie Stemp said.
A.J. Marquardt, a teacher and the baseball coach for Kennewick High School, worked with Cory Stemp when he was a player and then an assistant coach with the team years ago. The team has had shirts, sweatshirts and other gear made by the Stemps for years, crediting the quality of the work and the affordability, which is a big help to some players and staff.
“We wanted to make sure we supported a friend and a local merchant,” Marquardt said. “He definitely hasn’t disappointed.”
They also put a lot of that money back into community service. Stemp Screenprinting is or has been a sponsor of various athletic camps, an equestrian drill team, a motocross athlete and other Mid-Columbia teams. When the Carlton Complex ravaged the Methow Valley in Okanogan County last summer, the Stemps printed special shirts to raise awareness and donated all the proceeds from those sales to fire victims.
The shop can produce up to 200 shirts an hour with a single ink color, Cory Stemp said. Their new automatic sRoque press, due in the coming weeks, can produce 1,000 shirts an hour in eight different colors. A new screen dryer will allow the Stemps to produce shirts with water-based inks, which are used on softer fabrics.
That will give their clients more options, including the few who use the Stemps to produce shirts for their clothing lines, such as Tri-City-based Hope Outfitters and Infinite Wake, which is sold at Sundown Sport & Marine at 1238 Columbia Park Trail in Richland. It will also give the Stemps more creative control as they launch Choose Happy Clothing, their own line of shirts and sweatshirts with typographic designs with a vintage feel.
But for now, they’re just trying to find the time to get their new storefront set up in between orders, which should be easier once the new press is up and running.
“We’re thinking the new equipment will be like a new employee,” Katie Stemp said.