By Dennis Seid
Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Shirley Mosby Hendrix, founder of “R&B Specialty Printing” originally built her business on printing business cards, letterheads and resumes. However the business really started to pick up when she set up a kiosk at the mall where she showed off her screen-printed T-shirts.
On the wall of Shirley Mosby Hendrix’s space inside the Renasant Center for IDEAs is a sign that says, “It’s what I do.”
It’s a simple but telling phrase, that sums up her outlook in running her own business.
“The inspiration for me has always been to make people happy,” said the owner of R&B Specialty Printing, a custom screen-printing business she began 16 years ago as a part-time job. “I want everyone to be happy.”
When Hendrix moved with her family to Tupelo, her first business was a restaurant appropriately named “Shirley’s.”
She also worked at Adcom Graphics, a sister company to Aircap/MTD when the seeds of R&B were planted.
“I had learned a lot about the printing business while working there, and I started making mousepads with pictures on them and just gave them as ‘happies’ to the employees there,” she said.
She’d also print other items including name meanings on some kind of background.
“Some of them told me to stop giving stuff away and start making some money because I had a business,” she said with a laugh.
But Hendrix wasn’t initially wowed by the idea of running her own business just yet, so she decided to test the waters a little more before jumping in with both feet.
At the Tupelo Flea Market, she set up a table where she showed and sold some of her work. The mousepads with the photos were a hit, but even more popular were the jigsaw puzzles made of photos.
“The reception to what I had was amazing,” she said. “That’s when the light bulb went off that I did have a business.”
She didn’t have a name for her business at the time, and just to reinforce her growing belief that she might have a hit on her hands, she set up for a few more markets.
“Then I got so good at it, I went to the VF Outlet, rented a space and built my business and client base,” Hendrix said.
And she finally got a name for the business: The “R&B” in comes from her children, Reginald and Britney.
“I want to leave something for my family, so I named it after them” she said.
Initially, her business was R&B Products because she printed business cards, letterheads and resumes along with the other items.
Hendrix hit the big time of sorts when she set up a kiosk at The Mall at Barnes Crossing, where she showed off her screen-printed T-shirts.
“Then I started printing on teddy bears, anything I could print something on,” she said.
The kiosk was in the mall for about eight years, where her children worked during high school. But after they went off to college, Hendrix decided to downsize her operation since she also worked full-time at Philips Day-Brite and couldn’t do both jobs.
But after going through a little downsizing of her on at Philips, she decided to go full-time with R&B. She didn’t need too much space, and found a good spot at the Renasant Center, the business incubator for Lee County and Tupelo.
“I needed to rebuild my client base, and grow the business again,” she said.
To her delight, customers found her again despite the move from one side of to another.
“They remembered the business, they remembered me, they remembered my children working,” she said. “One of the things I wanted to instill in them was a work ethic, and they have excelled through it.”
Like any entrepreneur, Hendrix has her good days and more challenging ones.
But she puts it all in perspective.
“You have to go with the flow; things change and you have to learn to adapt,” she said. “Business will go up, and it will go down, but that’s a part of it. That’s the building-up of the business for you that you go through.”
Customers and customers’ tastes have changed over the years, and she’s adapted as needed.
“You can’t be stuck in your own thinking; you have to listen to your customers.”
One customer, Carolyn Jennings, had nothing but praise for R&B, which she called, “top quality … Shirley is always willing to go the extra mile to ensure you have a high quality product and excellent customer service.”
The custom designed T-shirts are the most popular items, and R&B also produces banners and backdrops.
“If it can be printed, we can pretty much do it,” she said.
And Hendrix has no minimum requirement for orders.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love quantity,” she said. I would rather do more than one or two, but there might be a grandma who wants a special T-shirt for the grand baby, and I’m going to print it.”
Some customers come in with their own designs, or seek her advice. With a computer to work with to show what designs can be produced, Hendrix rarely, if ever tells a customer that something can’t be done.
“I love being creative, and seeing what I can do next,” she said. “Customers might ask if I can pull something off, and I just say ‘sure,’ not knowing if I can or not. But that’s how I work. That gives me the motivation to show we can do anything.”
And the “Specialty” in the business name also has meaning, Hendrix said.
“I can do a job in a day, and sometimes in a hour, depending on what is needed,” she said. “We’re going to make it work.”