UMass Amherst student owns a printing press

A young entrepreneur's journey towards having a nonprofit organization with a printing press.

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UMass Amherst student owns a printing press

Alex Pham, owner of Alex's Printing Press, and the press machine behind him

Alex Pham, owner of Alex's Printing Press, and the press machine behind him

Alex Pham, owner of Alex's Printing Press, and the press machine behind him

Alex Pham, owner of Alex's Printing Press, and the press machine behind him

Shannon Macalingay, Lifestyle Editor

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Gathering his papers and printed messages with the seller of his broken press, Alex Pham was anxiously preparing for court the next day.

Pham, owner and founder of Alex’s Printing Press, first started his business in 2017 for fun, but as time passed, he found his talent in producing and marketing printed shirts.

With more practice and investments, Pham abandoned his amateur equipment for a sturdier press he bought from a seller online. However, he was unknowingly given a broken press. After continuous ignored messages from the seller, Pham decided to sue him in November 2018, but his court case wasn’t until December 2018.

“The night before, I spent so long just like, I typed up this long thing — I was so scared,” said Pham. “I printed out all our messages together [and] I printed out his FaceBook thing where he posted the press on FaceBook.”

Alone and with no lawyer, Pham was the youngest one in the room at 18 and surrounded by people who were over twice his age. Luckily, the judge was on his side and ordered the seller to fix the press through a professional third party company.

For the next five months, Pham traveled from his school, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, back to his hometown, Quincy, to oversee the operation. In March 2019, the press was completely fixed and the case was finalized.

Alex Pham in the middle of printing

Throughout the course of those five months, however, Pham traveled from home and to school every weekend with no car. He also had to balance his academics, social life, and constant orders he needed to fulfill without an efficient printing press.

Although it was stressful, this didn’t dissuade Pham from proceeding on with his printing press. With a now newly fixed press, he’s even more motivated to meet his profit goals and improve his business.

“I feel like a lot of people spend a lot of money on shirts and at first, I was thinking how a lot of kids can’t afford a lot of shirts and I was like ‘Oh, I’ll print out shirts and help them out,” said Pham.

From watching his high school teacher use an iron e-press to print a sticker on a shirt, to watching How-To videos on YouTube, Pham first printed shirts for the sports teams in North Quincy High School.

Slowly, he began to print shirts for more school organizations, people and churches. His most notable requests were from the city of Quincy and Andrew Yang, who is running for president in 2020.

Before Pham can even start printing shirts, he has to go through a long process of constant calls to the buyer, shirt company, and bank. Often, Pham has to miss class so that he can answer phone calls or emails to make sure purchases are settled and that the shipment will arrive on time.

When he’s finally reassured about the payment and equipment, he’s back on the road again to Quincy on Friday nights and returns on Sunday nights for classes the following  day.

Although the business affects Pham’s studies, he doesn’t stop: “I don’t necessarily regret it—sometimes I get tired of it, but I can’t really stop,” said Pham. “Then I sleep and I wake up and I’m motivated again. I don’t really regret it because it’s a better alternative, I’d rather work there than anything else.”

The shipment before unboxed

Pham’s dedication towards growing his business and meeting his profit quota did raise concern among his parents and his girlfriend.

While Pham’s girlfriend, Vivian Tran, 19, is supportive of his business, she expressed concern over the amount of orders Pham accepts as a full-time student.

“I think it needs to be either you finish school and do the business full on, or knowing when to say no,” said Tran. “…orders come in, and he’s always like ‘yes, yes, yes’ and it’s like you need to say ‘no I can’t, I’m at school, I won’t be home.’”

She also brought up another suggestion about Pham’s time management.  “Or maybe spring break when you have a week, let people know and you can take orders then but going home for one day for like 10 hours then coming back [Amherst] for another 2 hours is just too consuming and not necessary.”

Tran wasn’t the only one who shared her worries about Pham’s health. His parents do support the business but are scared and nervous that it may damage his health or distract him from school. Since the beginning of his business, Pham sacrificed a lot of sleep to get work done.

They’re afraid that sleep deprivation will eventually catch up to him or that he’ll drop out of school one day. Regardless, they help lessen the load Pham has by working alongside him.

Last Easter weekend, Pham had to go home and he described his work hours: “I got home around 2 a.m. and prepared all the stuff for tomorrow. The day after, I woke up and we [Pham and his parents] were printing from like 12 p.m. to 4 a.m., so I was working a 16 hour shift and then we slept. Then we woke up and went to church, and then we started printing again all day Sunday and we have 500 shirts that we haven’t finished yet, and I have to go home this Sunday to finish it.”

Throughout his experience, Pham learned that it’s easiest to have number goals when gauging his improvement. Recently, he went from $80,000 as his profit goal this year to $100,000. When broken down, $300 is the ideal amount he wants to make every day.

So far, he’s reached his total goal in sales last year, but not in terms of profit. However, with summer around the corner and a recently closed $12,000 deal for the city of Quincy’s environmental program, Pham is close to reaching this goal.

Pham saves the money he earns from his printing press.  Although, he wishes he could split it with his parents who have been integral in the printmaking process.

Clean and attentive, Pham’s mom counts every shipment of shirts—even if there are thousands of shirts. Any drop spilled when printing, she instantly cleans it, leaving the room spotless. Described as a “facility guy” by Pham, his dad is an electrical engineer who fixes any wire mishaps or power outage. His help makes for any easy-going environment.

Alex (right) and his dad (left) holding up the shirts they printed for Quincy’s environmental program

While he currently receives help from his parents, Pham plans to hire and train people in the coming years in preparation for when he serves the country. He aspires to continue the business even during his temporary absence for four years.

His end goal with the printing press is “to have it busy all the time, so in a way it’s pumping in cash.” He plans to start a nonprofit organization with the money he saves. After working in the city hall, Pham realized there was a lot of problems in the city he’s lived in and therefore, seeks to have his non-profit based locally.

“It doesn’t have to be a big nonprofit where you end hunger or something, but I wanted to have a non-profit so that people in Quincy, somewhere close to me, if they’re homeless they can find a job. Or if you have a tough childhood, you can find a place to go,” Pham said.

For now, however, Pham is adamant on doing the work himself and making enough money “to give out random stuff” like the videos on YouTube where a guy gives out iPhones.

Pham can be found on social media @alexsprintingpress.

Email Shannon at [email protected].

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