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Old Eltons

Carys Evans speaks to Jack Merrony, owner of Old Eltons, about how certain experiences have helped him to navigate an unfamiliar industry and grow his business at a rapid rate

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(L to R) Jack Merrony, owner of Old Eltons with Gethin Hewson, screen-printer and Britt Francis, head of embroidery

Taking the industry by storm

From an idea around the kitchen table three years ago, to setting up a starter kit in his parent’s garage, Jack Merrony, owner of Pembrokeshire-based Old Eltons, wasn’t quite prepared for the rate in which his embroidery and print business was going to grow.

An experienced digital illustrator, Merrony had little experience of the print industry, and this is where he faced his first hurdle – months of learning how to screen-print.

“I was on the phone to the professionals over at Dave Roper and Pyramid Printing to see if there was any information they could give me in order to successfully burn my first screen,” Merrony explains. “A month went by and still no luck, so I decided to reach out to The Print Haus in Cardiff. They were happy with me bringing my whole exposure unit up to them where we ran loads of tests.

“It turned out that the bulbs that were sent with the machine weren’t intense enough in order to burn the screen correctly. Once I changed these out, I did it. I burnt my first screen, and man, it was such a good feeling. I was going to give up the week before and just throw months of hard work away, but I am so glad I pushed on.

I was going to give up the week before and just throw months of hard work away, but I am so glad I pushed on

Massive thank you to Tom, Shaun and Jude of The Print Haus for helping me get over this part in my career.”

It is this grit and determination that has helped Merrony overcome many personal and work-related struggles since Old Eltons was established in 2016. Head of embroidery, Britt Francis (The Stitch Queen) and screen- printer, Gethin Hewson (Wiggles) make up the rest of the tight-knit team. Not forgetting Merrony’s two Welsh Bulldogs Norman and Matilda who also make a regular appearance.

Welsh Bulldogs Norman and Matilda regularly visit the studio

Old Eltons currently offers screen- printing, embroidery, heat transfer vinyl, and logo design. Being in his element in illustration, Merrony explains how he started out using a Mac Book Pro with a Wacom Bamboo tablet in 2010, and now does everything on an iPad Pro.

After six months, the company had grown out of the garage and the business moved to an industrial unit. Just one year on, and Merrony and his team may already be outgrowing their newly inhabited studio.

Merrony screen printing in his studio

Originally a community hall, the studio is equipped with a camera room, two offices, a meeting area, embroidery room, screen-print room, dark room, packaging room and a stock room. “We’re starting to outgrow this space now too and we’ve only been here since February 2019,” Merrony says, adding: “It’s a great, but very daunting feeling.”

Reflecting on how far the business has come in the relatively short time it has been operating, Merrony says this is something he struggles to comprehend some days: “I have so many more ideas on where I would like to take this, but it all takes time. I’m going to keep my head down and see what happens, I mean, that’s all I’ve done from day one. I think the biggest evidence for me is employing friends and seeing them enjoy what they do – that is really fulfilling.”

A sense of community

Merrony runs the business on the basis of honesty and openness with an ethos of producing high-quality products and being connected to local businesses. Having experienced mental health struggles himself, he has created an open workplace where customers can drop in, or even work alongside Merrony and his team – creating a real sense of local community.

“We call it ‘the Pinball Machine’ because I always feel like that’s what my mind is constantly doing, bouncing around from job to job,” he comments, adding: “The kettle is always on and we are always around to listen.”

We call it ‘the Pinball Machine’ because I always feel like that’s what my mind is constantly doing, bouncing around from job to job

Whilst the firm doesn’t operate any form of strategic social media marketing, Merrony finds that getting out and showing his skills and services through live printing is the best way to generate new business. “I am from a relatively small community, so word of mouth is worth a lot more than putting it into adverts right now,” he explains.

“I guess the only major bit of marketing I do is when I go out to festivals and do some live printing. Fortunately for me, I’ve grown up with people locally who have gone on to do some pretty sweet things that I can now be a part of.”

Through this local network, Merrony found himself being approached by Get The Boys a Lift - a local charity which uses merchandise and fundraising to promote healthy conversation around mental health. However, when the charity’s founder, Gaz Owens initially approached Merrony the timing wasn’t right.

Eltons regularly completes customised work for local charity, Get The Boys a Lift. Image: Angharad Thomas Photography

Merrony explains: “Unfortunately I was in the garage at my parent’s house still trying to learn how to screen-print, so I said to him I couldn’t help. About a year on, he messaged me again and this time it was perfect timing.

“I’d had a rough couple of months of counselling so my head wasn’t in the best place. These boys helped me so much throughout my last few sessions, even without them knowing it. I knew I was part of something that was helping people that were in similar situations to me. A year on now and Gaz is a great friend and a great customer.”

From this collaboration, Old Eltons now regularly completes customised collaboration orders for companies and organisations wanting to raise money for Get The Boys a Lift.

A breath of fresh air

In the wide-format print industry, the issue of an aging workforce and a lack of fresh skilled people is a wide-spread concern, and one that organisations such as the British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF) are working to change. Having entered the industry in his twenties, Merrony reflects on the benefits of being part of a younger generation of print and sign-makers.

“I am very lucky to have been brought up in a world where everything is at our fingertips. I have an idea? Bang, I’ll draw it out in Adobe Draw on my phone and save it for later. I’ll open up my Mac and it’s there in Illustrator, it’s honestly an amazing piece of technology. The way technology is going right now, I cannot wait to see what I can add to my work environment.

“I do, however, feel like it can be quite disadvantageous at times. People look at me, ‘the young kid covered in tattoos with a business, he has no idea what he’s doing,’ which in some ways, they’re right. But at least I’m having a go at it and I’m having a damn good time.”

People look at me, 'the young kid covered in tattoos with a business, he has no idea what he’s doing'

Over the last year, Merrony has been working on his own brand Old Eltons Clothing, using his spare time to draw and be creative through the design of his own clothing. The slogan for this is “Stay Strong” in tribute to his parent’s advice to him during a tough time last year. Looking forward, he hopes to move into another space locally where he plans to expand his embroidery machine fleet and invest in another manual press to speed up production as the company currently runs on one of each machine.

Live printing at local festivals and events is Meronny’s main marketing method

“I am a member of a local networking group called CoLab and this group of professionals has helped me from day one,” Merrony adds. “It’s actually where I met Britt. I think being a member of this group is me thinking about my future as we’re forever expanding, getting new members and local businesses in the room to potentially do business with.

“I didn’t plan to get this far, so if I can be anywhere as good as where I am now, next year, Ill be happy,” Merrony concludes.

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