Serving Remote Work Force Fuels Global Growth for Imprint Engine
Ever since Imprint Engine landed Uber as a client in its first year of business, the Twin Cities-based branding solutions company has punched above its weight. Founded in 2012 as a tech-savvy alternative in the staid promotional products industry, which hadn’t evolved much beyond printed banners and t-shirts ordered over the phone, Imprint Engine proved just how nimble it could be during the pandemic. The company shifted from being a predominantly events-driven business to selling work-at-home kits and gifts. Think: desktop zen gardens to promote at-home wellness; wine tasting kits customized for top clients, with a note from the CEO.
The strategy worked. Imprint Engine, which reported $5 million in sales in 2019, hit $13 million in 2021 and is on pace to reach $18 million this year. Two years ago, the company employed 18; now the team numbers 75—although partner Zach Sussman warns, that could rise to 80 in another week. Formerly located in St. Louis Park, Imprint Engine recently tripled its size by moving to new office/production headquarters right off of Highway 100 in Brooklyn Center. And just weeks after getting its printers up and running, the company announced global expansion plans starting with an office in Dublin, Ireland.
“Our new U.S. space combined with our global expansion allows us to offer seamless support to our growing list of global clients,” said Imprint Engine CEO Caleb Gilbertson. “We expect continued aggressive growth.”
Having “boots on the ground” in Europe will help the company serve global, high-tech clients including Klarna, Github, and Uber. Imprint Engine recently hired a European leadership team and plans to mimic its successful Minnesota setup with localized European sourcing and sales support.
“A major pain point that we are focused on solving is providing a uniform experience for brands for their recipients around the globe,” Gilbertson said. “We have a strong supply chain around the globe and we will continue to invest into in-house production in the areas that will allow us to maximize quality control and sustainability efforts.”
To keep up with its rapid growth and avoid supply chain snags, Imprint Engine recently acquired one of its longtime vendors, Shameless Inc., to bring embroidery, screen printing and engraving in-house. That means faster fulfillment and more control of product, Sussman said.
Pre-pandemic, Imprint Engine’s business depended heavily on events. When Covid shut down that business, it forced the company to think differently about promotional and branded goods—a shift that Sussman said won’t change even as events return and more people go back to the office.
“I don’t think we’ll ever go back all the way,” Sussman said. “Hybrid is here to stay, and companies are thinking about how to keep their teams engaged, from welcome kits for new hires to wine tasting kits that replace happy hours.” The orders now come from the human resources budget rather than marketing, he said. And now, there’s growing demand for higher ticket items; headphones, Bluetooth speakers and ring lights have replaced branded trinkets like keychains and t-shirts. Some companies come to Imprint Engine to set up their own branded online store and give employees an allowance to shop for their at-home office setup.
The ability to take online orders, which may seem basic, has been an industry differentiator for Imprint Engine from the start, and why a small St. Louis Park startup was able to serve Uber and other Silicon Valley giants out of the gate. Imprint Engine hired its first chief technology officer in 2021. Continuing to enhance technology that improves both customer experience and product quality is a high priority, Sussman said.
Now with leaders in place for human resources, client services and operations, the next task for the fast moving company: setting up a board of directors. Said Sussman, “We’re working on that now.”