By Tom Daykin
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Whitney and Julie Teska started Orchard Street Press LLC in their basement to supply limited runs of logo-printed T-shirts for Milwaukee-area bands.
Seven years later, Orchard Street Press still rocks. The business is moving from its shop to a much larger space, with plans to add more employees.
But the band business now makes up a small part of the company’s sales. Orchard Street supplies screen-printed shirts and other apparel to dozens of area restaurants, bars and other businesses, as well as nonprofit groups staging festivals and fundraising events.
Orchard Street’s Milwaukee roots are a selling point.
“Local businesses love to support other local businesses,” Julie Teska said. “So we get a lot of customers that way.”
It also helps that Orchard Street Press does good work.
William Seidel, a bar and restaurant operator, grew up with Whitney Teska. Seidel has hired Orchard Street to print T-shirts, sweatshirts, tank tops, knit caps and stickers.
“Besides being friends, they are also very talented designers and screen printers,” Seidel said.
Other customers include restaurants, a coffee shop, a natural grocer and community groups.
Orchard Street Press plans to move this spring.
The company has 10 full-time employees and plans to add an estimated 10 full-time and two part-time employees within two years, according to Milwaukee Economic Development Corp.
MEDC, a nonprofit business lender, recently approved a $171,000 loan to help finance improvements Orchard Street is making at its new plant. That work, totaling $190,000, includes $19,000 in equity capital.
The new building will provide much more efficient space.
At the cramped current home, “we’ve pretty much got everything jammed in every space,” Whitney Teska said.
“We’re at the point where we can’t continue to grow in this building,” he said.
The couple launched their business in 2008 in the basement of a house they were renting.
Whitney Teska learned to print T-shirts as a teenage band member.
“I kind of just fell in love with the process,” he said.
Orchard Street Press was financed with $7,500 they won through a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee business plan competition for students and recent alumni.
Julie Teska, 34, graduated in 2003 from UWM with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She was working at OnMilwaukee.com, writing under the byline of Julie Lawrence, her birth name.
Whitney Teska, 33, graduated in 2004 as a history major and was working various jobs while also drumming in bands.
“We were not business students,” said Julie Teska, who grew up in the Milwaukee area.
But they took advantage of the mentoring provided through the contest and learned to write a business plan. The couple had a lot of friends who were in bands, and they built a case for a company that would print small, affordable runs of T-shirts for those customers.
They also pitched Orchard Street Press as using environmentally friendly supplies, such as soy-based biodegradable cleaners and water-based ink.
The contest judges “saw we had a market, and we knew the market inside and out,” Julie Teska said.
The Teskas, who married a year later, bought a different house and moved Orchard Street Press to its basement. They continued to work their other jobs so they could invest their company’s profits back into the business.
Within a few years, each had quit their days jobs to operate the growing company, where Whitney Teska oversees operations and Julie Teska handles sales and office work.
The business grew mainly through word-of-mouth, leading to a 2011 move to its current location _ and now the expansion.
The couple and their two young children.
They plan to grow Orchard Street Press in a sustainable manner that doesn’t rely on huge orders from a few customers. The business also has expanded into selling its own printed clothing and accessories atorchardstreetapparel.com, and at over 30 stores in Wisconsin and seven other states.
“We’re trying to be smart about it,” Julie Teska said.