Customer Story

Custom Ink: Managing rapid growth through an always-connected collaborative culture

Custom Ink

By leveraging G Suite, Custom Ink efficiently manages growth through a constantly connected collaborative culture.

Google Cloud Results

Saves thousands of dollars yearly via productivity boosts

• Enables Office Technology Manager to continuously innovate and improve IT experiences while traveling full time between locations

• Saves money on otherwise expensive video conferencing gear limited to use in dedicated conference rooms

• Saves employees time by enabling quick communications via always-on Hangouts Meet sessions

Custom Ink launched in 2000 as an online retailer of custom apparel for groups and events. Since then, the Fairfax, Virginia-based company has sold tens of millions of custom t-shirts and other apparel, while also opening nearly two dozen brick-and-mortar stores across the country, including those in Houston, Texas and King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Custom Ink also maintains eight corporate offices as far-flung as Los Angeles, California and Prague, Czech Republic.

Along the way, the retailer has received accolades for its collaborative work culture. Fortune named it one of 2018's 20 Best Workplaces in Retail.

But like any growing company, Custom Ink faced a challenge: efficiently managing its expansion while maintaining its collaborative, productive culture.

"Getting everyone to move to G Suite was no problem, because they understood the integration between the tools and knew the ease of use would make their lives easier." - Andrew Debnar, Office Technology Manager, Custom Ink

G Suite Business is playing a pivotal role in helping Custom Ink meet these challenges. The retailer is leveraging G Suite in surprising ways, too. For example, ongoing, open-ended Hangouts allow team members across geographies and time zones to collaborate constantly and instantly — the digital equivalent of stopping by someone's desk for a quick chat.

Hangouts Meet and other G Suite apps have also made it possible for Andrew Debnar, Custom Ink's Office Technology Manager, to literally live on the road and constantly travel between the retailer's various locations to support business operations, hire new IT team members, and help build team unity.

"When you expand to multiple locations, you've got different leaders across different locations and they need to communicate easily," says Andrew. "With Hangouts Meet, Calendar, Gmail, Team Drives, and the other G Suite apps we use, we're breaking down geographical barriers. We're saving time and money, and we're continuing to foster an open, friendly work culture."

Making lives easier

Before switching to what is now G Suite, Custom Ink employees used separate email and calendar software. The disconnected applications created extra steps for employees and hindered collaboration. In addition, separate apps were difficult to manage, and there was frequent downtime. "Getting everyone to move to G Suite was no problem, because they understood the integration between the tools and knew the ease of use would make their lives easier," he adds. "And, because G Suite is so reliable, we no longer have down time."

Dito, a Google Cloud Premier Partner, was instrumental in Custom Ink's migration and rapid adoption of Google productivity apps. "The expertise and help we received from Dito is one of the biggest reasons why our G Suite migration was so successful," says Andrew. "They've continued to be invaluable as we've acquired companies that needed to migrate to G Suite as well." Dito significantly streamlines and accelerates the process of migrating an acquired company's G Suite account data into Custom Ink's G Suite domain.

"We have monthly meetings with Dito so they can keep us informed on what's new with Google and how it might benefit us, which is really helpful," Andrew adds. "And if I have a question, the support team is always available for me to quickly contact in a Hangouts Meet or Hangouts Chat."

Bridging the gap

A few years ago, Custom Ink opened a new production facility in Charlottesville, Virginia – a two-hour drive from the company's Fairfax offices. To help bridge that geographical gap, the company equipped each location with a vendor's video conferencing gear, which proved expensive and restrictive, with employees waiting to use the sole room in each location with the equipment.

"Hangouts Meet is saving us thousands of dollars a year, if not more, while also increasing productivity. For example, with open-ended Hangout sessions, teammates can seamlessly contact support teams to resolve technical issues, giving them more time to focus on their core responsibilities." - Andrew Debnar, Office Technology Manager, Custom Ink

Initially, the IT department began using Hangouts to collaborate across locations, and IT team members appreciated its ease-of-use and affordability. Today, Custom Ink has a total of 60 Hangouts Meet hardware licenses, with G Suite video chat setups deployed in all conference rooms.

Use of Hangouts Meet has grown organically among the wider employee population, too. "People would go into smaller meeting rooms that didn't have a Hangouts setup and would jump into Hangouts on their laptops," says Andrew. Once Google added support for dialing into Hangouts, Custom Ink began encouraging its vendors and partners to join scheduled Hangouts as well.

Ongoing Hangouts save time and money

The IT teams, which are located in Virginia, Texas, and Nevada keep a Hangout running among members to facilitate quick conversations. "Because I'm always working remotely, the IT team and I have a Hangout open all day," Andrew explains. "It makes it so much easier for us to communicate. Instead of going to look for someone for a face-to-face conversation, you just unmute your microphone and the team member is there. Our web operations and desktop support teams keep Hangouts running, too. It saves everyone a lot of time."

"Hangouts Meet is saving us thousands of dollars a year, if not more, while also increasing productivity," Andrew adds. "For example, with open-ended Hangout sessions, teammates can seamlessly contact support teams to resolve technical issues, giving them more time to focus on their core responsibilities."

Custom Ink is also saving about $40,000 a year because it no longer needs to pay a third-party vendor for an email, file, and chat archiving solution for eDiscovery. "Custom Ink was growing to the point where it needed to track, archive, and log data for legal audits," says Matthew McLaughlin, Vice President of Sales at Dito. "So, one of the drivers behind the IT team's decision to go with G Suite was Vault, which is saving them a lot of money because it's included at no extra cost with G Suite."

As one of the first Google Cloud Partners, Dito's past experiences informed its decision to suggest Vault as a replacement to the expensive third-party solution Custom Ink was using. "We have a lot of trust in Google and it's served us well," says Matthew.

Living on the road

After a summer spent living on the road with his wife, Andrew pitched the idea of working remotely full-time to Custom Ink's senior management. The team quickly saw the benefits of having him available to launch new locations and working closely with remote IT teams.

"We have a lot of trust in Google and it's served us well." - Matthew McLaughlin, Vice President of Sales, Dito

The productivity tools in G Suite make it feasible for Andrew to efficiently work from anywhere he can find a strong internet connection. "Our open-ended Hangouts help me stay in touch with my teams," Andrew says. The team can easily share information with each other by posting router and call logs into Docs for review. Andrew adds that before a scheduled Hangout, team members post meeting topics and questions in a shared Doc. During the Hangout, the team goes through the Doc, item by item, and adds action items for follow-up. "It's a really efficient way to work," he says.

"Sometimes, Andrew's team doesn't know where he is," adds Matthew. "With G Suite, it doesn't matter, because wherever he goes, it's business as usual."

Tracking progress, simplifying management

The IT team heavily relies upon Hangouts Chat for direct messaging and group conversations as well as for creating dedicated rooms for specific topics. "Our team is constantly in Hangouts Chat, communicating about technical issues that come up," says Andrew. "It helps us track everything we've done and any fixes we've made. When we've resolved the issue, we can easily track what we did and when we did it, which helps us when we do postmortems."

With guidance from IT, some Custom Ink executives have switched to Chromebooks, most notably the Google Pixelbook. "A Pixelbook gives our directors everything they need to be productive," Andrew says. "Chromebooks are easy to use and easy for us to manage. We're hoping to get as much as 70 percent of our employees onto Chromebooks."

Maintaining the company culture

As Custom Ink opens additional stores, it will strive to preserve its open and friendly work culture, which is a differentiator for the company in attracting talent.

"It's important for us to help all team members feel they're a part of Custom Ink, even if they're in a store far from one of our offices," Andrew says. "We want everyone to feel they can reach out to others and get a quick response. That keeps people engaged and productive. G Suite, and especially Hangouts Meet and Chat, will continue to be a big part of maintaining that open feeling in the future."

Google Cloud Premier Partner


Dito is a Google Cloud Premier Partner helping organizations adopt Google enterprise solutions.