* Small Business Owners: Kid Icarus

In a world where all your document needs can be taken care of by a laser printer near you, Bianca and Mike (not Fuji trademark brands) personally oversee the screen printing of each of their clients’ orders at Kid Icarus in Toronto, Canada. Their 5-year-old boutique printing business seems to have no business surviving past the era of email attachments. Yet, it has. And if we’re going to get romantic about it, we might say that Canadians still care about lovingly hand-printed keepsakes. But, while on vacation in Tokyo, Japan, these two entrepreneurs sat down on my heated carpet eating spring rolls for lunch and while they were under my dietary control, I outright suspected them of being smart about finances.

For brevity, and because everyone’s faces were being stuffed and because I might be a bad listener, I will refer to them as “B&M” in this interview (not sure who said what, but pretty sure it was said).

Me: What is it that gets done at Kid Icarus?

B&M: We have a screen printing studio and a retail shop of mostly local hand-crafted products.

Me: How did you ever think this small, boutique idea of doing screen printing as a business would work?

B&M: Bianca went to school for graphic design and was working at a design firm. Mike was doing silk-screening on the side as a passion and hobby. He wanted to do it full-time just because he loved it, but it wasn’t feasible. 8 years ago, a regular part-time job was needed to pay the bills. In fact, for about 2-3 years we needed income from other jobs. Bianca was working full-time at a design firm and was getting pretty fed up with the industry and wanted to do something with full creative control. As for knowing how such a business might work out? We didn’t, but it was both our passion to do something niche and creative. We have always been part of the community in Toronto that enjoys well-made, hand-crafted products, so we knew there would be some kind of market for this.

Me: How did you know when it was OK to quit your jobs and go full-time with the business?

B&M: In Bianca’s case, her firm was moving to another location and she was ready to move on to another creative venture. Mike’s screen printing side business was becoming more than he could handle on his own, so he quit his part-time job to dedicate himself to it fully. This was a good time for Bianca to quit her full-time job to help Mike with growing the business. 

Me: So, did it all just grow from there?

B&M: In the first few years, things grew, but slowly. It can be pretty scary to go from a company paycheck to the relatively small earnings of your start-up. But, at least bills were being paid on time. And you have to understand that your business will need time to grow. Our business started in March, but we perceived that Christmas (i.e. holiday gift giving season) would bring us a lot more orders. So, in the leaner months, we would market and prepare for our busy season. We also partnered with many talented local and Canadian artists and made a large part of our business a retail store selling their hand-made goods.

Me: Did the big months end up covering the leaner months?

B&M: For the most part they did. And we have been doing this for 5 years, so whenever we perceive that we could be having a stronger season, we take a look at what services and products are bringing in the highest margins and concentrate more on them.

Me: If you do that, does it feel like you are making a business choice rather than an artistic one?

B&M: Well, we love everything in our store and what we do, so once we established that, nothing is really compromising. Some products or orders will just bring in more money than others, so recognizing which ones they are is important to keep the whole operation alive.

Me: If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?

B&M: I think there is a lot more support (in Toronto) for new start-ups now, compared to when we began. I think we would try to seek out funding. There’s the Ontario Arts Council grants—but it’s pages and pages of paperwork and it’s rather obscure, so you really have to hunt down some of these grants online to even apply for them, but it really could be worth your time. Also, we would, and I guess we could at anytime, look into raising funds via Kickstarter. That’s a great way to raise money among your client and community base, who already care about your business. And it is a great way to advertise what you do to new people, at the same time.

Thank you Mike and Bianca for letting us know a little more about how to keep a small business alive and thriving!

If you are in Toronto, drop by and see about

Kid Icarus!

Check them out on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest!

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