Have you ever bought a t-shirt or a hat from one of your favorite bars or restaurants in Ocean City? If so, than it most likely came from local screen-printing and embroidery company, New Wave. Lauded as your one stop shop for all your screen printing, embroidery, uniform and promotional needs, New Wave also has bragging rights to 35 years of business on the Eastern Shore. What’s more, New Wave is a family-owned and operated local business with a longstanding commitment to stellar customer service. We took a tour of the West OC shop recently and were amazed as to how little we knew about the screen-printing and embroidery process, not to mention how impressive the machinery is.
“Mom and I are a dynamic duo. Matt is the backbone of everything,” said Colleen Brown, who works day in and day out with her mother, Cathy, and husband, Matt, to maintain the business that her father started 35 years ago. New Wave got its humble beginnings in 1980, after Mike Donovan found himself in need of some t-shirts for the restaurant where he was working as a bartender. At the time, Cathy owned a store in the 45th Street Village and just so happened to have some space available in the attic. Mike decided to buy a manual press, hire an artist, and start printing his own shirts.
“We eventually outgrew the loft and things got really busy so we made our move to West Ocean City,” said Cathy. At that time, they were pretty much the only game in town, Colleen explained, noting that many of the present day printing companies got their start at New Wave with her parents. “I just grew up in it…catching t-shirts, hiding in the boxes.” At its peak, New Wave had 25 employees during the busy summer months, with Cathy running the factory and Mike handling sales. When Mike passed away in 1990, Cathy kept the business running for another ten years before significantly downsizing in 2000, selling all the equipment and working with a few core customers from home. It wasn’t until a few years ago when Colleen returned to Ocean City with her then fiancé that New Wave got its second wave.
Now, 35 years later, the business is still operating under the same unwavering commitment to its customers. “We have had the same philosophy since we started in 1980 – service the customer,” said Cathy. “We like seeing our customer, we like the face to face interaction,” added Colleen. For Matt, what sets them apart is their ‘no job is too small’ attitude. “We’ll do everything,” he said. “Not just your easy projects. We treat every customer the same, no matter if you need 5000 shirts or six shirts. We’ll run as little as one piece in embroidery.”
It’s that same consistency that has kept New Wave running smoothly and successfully for so many years, with an incredibly strong base of clients as ample proof. “We are a family run business. We are involved in every single aspect of the day to day,” said Colleen. The day to day details are wide ranging, from printing screens, to taking orders, to running embroidery, to showing customers samples in the show room. We were exhausted just following along for an hour!
We started in the show room, where Colleen pointed out the samples that customers are able to see before deciding on a product. “We are the only ones in the industry that do this, as far as being able to touch and see our work and what we’re printing,” she explained. Glassware, bags, hats, shirts, sweatshirts, bags, lip balm, license plate covers…you name it, and they’ve printed on it. “Anything you could possibly think to print on we have a source to do it,” said Colleen.
Next we checked out the embroidery room, which is run by Matt and as you can see by the photos, is incredibly complex. The eight-head machine is a monster and watching it in action embroidering hats was pretty incredible. With 15 thread colors, the machine can churn out 600 to 700 stitches per minute.
Watching screen printing and the process of making a graphic come to life on t-shirts was impressive as well, with each layer of color added until completion. The slightest error can ruin a design or final product so it stands to reason that the process is monitored closely. As for the designs, New Wave has a number of freelance artists they use. Once a design is completed, the customer owns their artwork and is free to use it in ads and marketing.
Of course New Wave is in the midst of their busy season at the moment, requiring the addition of a night staff to ensure that all of the orders are met. “We guarantee a two-week turnaround which no one else is able to do,” said Colleen. The busy season continues through the fall, slowing down a bit during the cold months and revamping again come spring. The real kickoff for their season coincides with the rest of the town: the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Ocean City. For the past 35 years New Wave has been making and selling the shirts for the parade, donating 100 percent of the profits back to the Delmarva Irish-American Club who uses the funding for a variety of local needs, uses, and scholarships.
With 35 years in the business, Colleen quipped that there is no one in town that her mother doesn’t know at this point, which explains the loyal following of their large customer base. Of course at ShoreBread, we love any excuse to support locally owned and operated businesses…perhaps some ShoreBread t-shirts and hats will be on the horizon soon!
Photos by Gina Whaley