Located in the historic manufacturing neighborhood of Parkville in Hartford, CT, IdleWilde Printing Company offers graphic design and screen printing services. Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price spoke with co-founders Connor Millican and Rachael Guzick to learn more about the startup.
NAN PRICE: Give us a little background. When and why did you launch the startup?
CONNOR MILLICAN: It started in late 2013. I’m the frontman for Hartford-area roots/rock band Wise Old Moon, which had begun touring and wanted to print T-shirts. I bought a home screen printing kit and Rachael and I began screen printing shirts for the band and friends.
It was challenging to find a local printer willing to print smaller runs for someone just getting started in a creative business. I also realized online companies provide a lot of options—but not a lot of customer service.
NAN: When did you realize you could make a business out of what you were doing?
CONNOR: Meeting that demand on our own quickly phased into other people becoming interested, because there weren’t many options out there. We realized there was a need—at least in our community of musicians—and other bands started hiring us. It expanded through word-of-mouth. With our location in Hartford, and so many other small businesses and creators nearby, the environment really lends itself to opening a small shop.
NAN: Rachael, were you involved from the beginning?
RACHAEL GUZICK: Yes. I was hooked on screen printing when we first started. We taught ourselves how to do it and developed the process ourselves. I’ve always been an artist. So, starting this company was productive and a good opportunity for me to have a job I enjoyed.
NAN: Do either of you have startup experience or an entrepreneurial drive?
CONNOR: I worked for a startup digital marketing company doing video production and editing in December 2013. The environment was very self-propelled. I was helping grow a small business that was just starting.
I got a taste for that and enjoyed it. I haven’t really had a full-time job or returned to a corporate lifestyle since I left that startup. Since then, I’ve launched Wise Old Moon, which is an LLC, and started IdleWilde Creations LLC, which is the LLC that launched the printing company.
I’ve always been involved with providing creative services for people. I definitely have an entrepreneurial spirit. I think I’ve always had that drive.
RACHAEL: I never knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. When I was younger, I wanted to be an art teacher. This business fits perfectly because it’s something I’ve taught myself to do that I love doing for other people. And I enjoy inviting people to come on tours to learn about screen printing.
NAN: Do either of you have a business background, or have you been learning as you go?
CONNOR: I don’t have any professional business experience, except for what I’ve done on my own and working with others. I didn’t go to school for business. I’ve been surrounded by inspiring people who have nurtured my entrepreneurial spirit, for instance Hartford Denim Company.
Early on, I got involved with the Small Business Association (SBA) and built out a business plan. So, I have some formal training I’ve gained independently.
RACHAEL: I’ve been a supporter of all of Connor’s projects as he’s been building businesses. We taught ourselves a lot and we’re learning as we go.
NAN: Is one of you more of the creative side and the other more the business side?
CONNOR: The name IdleWilde kind of describes that for us. It means there’s a yin and a yang. As we grow the business, until we have this formalized structure, it’s going to be a lot of one of us picking up where the other person left off. It’s a collaborative process.
While I handle a lot of the sales and the production, Rachael is primarily doing the printing. But she’s also involved in estimating jobs and purchasing garments. Until we have a staff and a better business model, we’ll be supporting each other with these processes. That transparency we’re learning is helping us grow a strong foundation, ideally to help train future staff.
NAN: What has been your biggest challenge as a startup?
CONNOR: It’s challenging because many businesses start with funding, they take out a loan, and build a business plan. With our business, because it’s so creative, we’ve had many different plans as we go. We’re redefining and revisioning our plan almost monthly.
In hindsight, I could say it would’ve been great if I’d built strategy and had a plan, but it’s hard because I don’t know if I could have planned for the growth we’ve had.
Having more resources, reaching out, and asking for help, could’ve helped our startup be more successful early on. I think we were figuring out a lot of stuff on our own and I didn’t even know there were resources like reSET or the SBA when we first started out.
NAN: Aside from funding, what resources do you need most to move your company forward?
RACHAEL: We need definition on our business plan and our business partnership because, as Connor said, it’s something that’s always changing and evolving. With all the production that needs to get done, that tends to get put aside.
CONNOR: This neighborhood is thriving and is starting to grow. I’d love to see more infrastructure put into the street and the community to see our building frontage be developed and have accessibility for people visiting the neighborhood.
NAN: Was choosing to locate the business in Hartford intentional?
CONNOR: I’d been looking at the building and that neighborhood as a spot for our business for more than two years, but we hadn’t been able to grow into it. When we found our basement location, it was accessible and affordable. We had a pull to this neighborhood in seeing the makers. And we enjoy collaborating with other local businesses.
We didn’t know this location would create part of our story and part of our identity to be this kind of hip, accessible business in a cool, industrial area of Hartford. It feels authentic. It feels like a home base for us. So, it was a little unintentional, but that decision has kind of shaped what we are.
NAN: What makes IdleWilde innovative or differentiates you from other printing businesses?
CONNOR: Because we mainly focus on small businesses—particularly a lot of artists and creative people—we’ve developed our own system of customer service where we’re very hands-on with our clients.
We’re involved with the communication, the design work, and the printing. We provide options and allow our clients to see samples before the final printing. You can’t really get that from a corporate company that does mass production. We take pride in working with a local artist to collaborate and create something that’s going to stand on its own and be a part of that business’ product.
RACHAEL: Also, with our experience in the music industry and as artists, we have a real connection with our clients. We can relate to and understand their needs because we’ve been there. Many are friends, so we enjoy marketing them. It’s also a marketing tool for them when they hire us as their printers.
CONNOR: I don’t think we’ve had a job that feels like a chore. It’s always something we believe in. It’s fun to be proud of the jobs and not feel like we’ve got to settle for some work to pay bills. That’s another benefit of being in Parkville. It’s affordable. This area is unique and we’re able to thrive here because of that.
NAN: What’s the future look like for IdleWilde?
CONNOR: We have a lot of big ideas. One is to create a mobile printing set up. Another component we need get off the ground is education and outreach. As Rachael alluded to earlier, we have a process that’s unique and fun to learn, and many people don’t know how it works. That’s something we’re interested in sharing in a few different ways. Ideally having people come in and learn.
We’ve had inquiries from some schools for field trips. It’s been something we know we want to do but we aren’t quite ready. We’re still getting our internal structure built so we can share that knowledge in an easy-to-understand way. That’s something we’d really like to give back to the community.
There’s a lot of opportunity to build a program where we can give back, specifically repurposing some of the materials we’re not using. We’d like to find a way to reduce our footprint.
And we’d like to diversify the business—printing more than just T-shirts. We want to screen print anything. Our next phase is hats and posters. Ultimately, I’ve always wanted to be able to print anything on anything. We don’t want to compromise or limit people’s creative ideas. I think that kind of growth is important.
NAN: What do you enjoy most about being in Hartford?
CONNOR: It feels like we’re directly contributing to the growth of the city with this printing company helping a lot of other local creative businesses build their brand.
I’m also involved with a weekly concert series I host at Hog River Brewing Company called Twang Thursdays. So, I’m seeing the change happen in Hartford. I’m feeling like it’s a great place to live, which I didn’t know if I necessarily felt from an outsider’s point of view a few years ago.
It would be nice to take it to the next level. We’re committed as business owners. We’re involved with the Parkville Business Association. We want to know what we can do to impact our community in a more positive way. How can we be more involved as a small business owner that’s renting now but wants more in the future? I don’t see it tapering off at this point. We want more.
Find out more about IdleWilde Printing Company