With 19 employees, local printer continues to grow
NITRO, W.Va. — With a loyal customer base in Cabell, Putnam, Kanawha and Boone counties, East Coast Tees has seen the demand for the business’s services grow steadily over the past 13 years.
“We’ve experienced a slow but healthy growth since the early days,” said owner and consultant Steve Zubrzycki. “Our philosophy is pretty simple because we just want to keep customer service alive and well in a time when that isn’t always the case.”
Zubrzycki, who also serves as a real estate agent for Real Estate Central, wasn’t looking to get into the printing business, but he seized an opportunity - or perhaps made the best of a bad situation, depending on perspective.
“In a nutshell, I got into the business to help out a friend of mine,” he said. “I bought the big press for him to make payments on and I was doing well in real estate, and long story short, he didn’t make the payments and by happy default I created East Coast Tees.”
The facility serves as the work space for employees with decades of experience in the business as they churn out orders for screen printing, embroidery, large format printing, banners and signs, vehicle lettering, promotional items and trophies and awards, among other services.
Zubrzycki believes that a quality and experienced workforce is where success starts.
“January made our year 13,” he said. “I had sold a house to a friend that worked at Toyota. His friend, Dave LaLonde, was up in Bay City, Michigan, and did screen printing and embroidery. He was thinking of relocating and he made a trip down to see the shop and didn’t come on board at the time, but later on the opportunity came back around and we put our heads together with the goal of employing some local people and printing some shirts. It has evolved into so much more with promotional products and vehicle wraps. The signs and banners have really taken off. I’m excited about how far we’ve come.”
Experienced employees like Gary O’Dell, who served as the head printer at the now-closed Balzout brand in Nitro, West Virginia, for two decades, bring fresh ideas and passion for the business to the table. Rob Stoneberger, Holly Halstead and Justin Burdette are also former employees of Balzout who found a home at East Coast Tees.
“Gary is such a perfectionist that we just call him the ‘goat’ (greatest of all time) around here, because if it doesn’t look good, he simply won’t print it,” he said.
Many remember Zubrzycki as a radio disc jockey (Steve Animal) spinning records for Rock 105 and Z Rock throughout the 1990s and beyond. His distinctive rasp and endless sharp-witted banter made him a local favorite.
In 2014, East Coast Tees left their original facility in South Charleston, West Virginia, as they were outgrowing the space.
“We got to the point volume-wise that making things work in that little 1,900-square-foot shop was an arduous task,” Zubrzycki said. “We were set up for shirts and then we’d have a yard sign order, and it was back and forth. We knew that we had to go big or go home at that point. We actually cut back on production in 2013, and that is no way to grow a business.”
Zubrzycki, 55, said dealing with the competition that online sales presents his business has found East Coast Tees correcting orders that internet shops have gotten wrong for area customers.
“It just shows you that actually speaking to someone can mean the difference in getting what you want and that customer service can go a very long way,” he added. “I can’t tell you how many times that we have had to fix things for people when they could have saved a whole lot of headaches and money by calling us or one of our local competitors. We will do price matching. I just need to take a look at it and evaluate what you are getting for your money.
“All we are asking for is a chance to take care of you, and this gives you the opportunity, as a consumer, to keep your money local and help our local economy grow. I think we all win when we do that.”
East Coast Tees has found steady business through the school systems in surrounding counties, government agencies, corporations, politicians, festivals and nonprofit groups.
Teachers chose East Coast Tees to design and make shirts for their rallies and organized events to promote fair pay and benefits at the West Virginia Capitol.
They have found customers in Ohio and Kentucky as their creative services department has found success through corporate branding, logo design and brochure production.
“When you treat people with respect and give them a good product for their money, the word spreads,” he said.
“We believe that if you give us a shot one time, we’ll be your ‘go to’ in the future. Even if you don’t buy from us, please buy from our local competitors.”
Zubrzycki’s community involvement includes serving as a host for charitable events and fundraisers.
He works with the Marshall University Quarterback Club of Charleston, is the Police Civil Service commissioner for St. Albans and is a member of the Rotary Club of St. Albans.
Visit EastCoastTees.com for more information, call 304-720-8677 or email Zubrzycki for quoting information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phil Perry is a reporter for the Coal Valley News. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @philipdperry.