T-shirt Business Passes Screen Tests by Roger Button, BUSINEWS Columnist
"It's what you expect in a big city, but you can get it here locally from us!" said Joe Rafaniello, co-owner with wife, Elena, of Gemini Apparel & Accessories. They're two successful, hard-working entrepreneurs who exemplify the American dream as they grow their business in Venice.
Attending Venice High, Rafaniello preferred graphic arts and offset printing. When the school installed one of its first Macintosh computers he was delighted. Graduating in 1991, he found it difficult getting a job in printing, so he became a shop helper until a printer departed to the armed forces and he stepped in and learned to screen print.
In November 1997 Elena presented him with twin girls and by the following February out of necessity he started his own business, choosing the name Gemini, the astrological sign for twins.
Conditions were very difficult, operating all the equipment in the single-car garage and laundry room of their 1,200-square-foot home. Inventory was stored in the living room, and Elena, with the twins, handled phone calls from their office, a small desk in the bedroom.
The first three years were tough. With Joe having quit his screen-printing job and little income from his own business, through necessity he was forced back into the pizza business, working 60 hours or more a week, Tuesday through Saturday in a pizzeria, then Sunday and Monday at home printing custom T-shirts.
"It was really tough, but we managed and got through it," said Rafaniello.
Needing more space in February 2000, they took a 2,400-square-foot industrial unit in Nokomis at 1060 Endeavor Court, Suite C. Joe still worked two days a week at the pizzeria, ensuring they had extra income. The move was a big jump in rent, electric and phones, so it was 12 months before they hired their first employee. She began their embroidery production on a single-head machine, one at a time. They have since moved up to two multi-head machines doing eight at a time, 15 colors per head. They brought the six-color manual printer from their garage and then acquired an eight-color auto-screening machine producing upward of 400 items an hour at top speed, compared to 400 a day on the manual.
|This month the Rafaniellos are moving again, to a new 5,040-square-foot unit with a 2,000-square-foot loft storage facility at 105 Triple Diamond Blvd., Unit 103, North Venice.
More production space will enable them to install a second press with capability of up to 12 colors. Major and higher-end lines – Nike Golf, Adidas, Antigua – will be displayed in a 550-square-foot showroom. All design work continues to be done in-house for immediate production and customer service.
Rafaneillo will need two to three more full-time employees as business increases with regular orders like 1,200 Jogathon T-shirts for Laurel Nokomis School.
|Gemini's biggest order was 3,500 T-shirts for a heart walkathon.
"We are the one-stop store of promotional printed and embroidered items like coffee mugs, can coolers, pens, magnets, hats, towels, T-shirts and everything with a logo on it for an event or function," Rafaneillo said, confirming there would be no interruption in service as they work out of both locations until the move is completed.