Theron Keller: Desire to Grow, Determination to Succeed
Theron Keller is the owner, founder, and sole employee of 317-Print-It, an Indianapolis-based wide-format producer of signs, banners, and other graphic applications. He is an industry Rising Star with profound plans for the future of his business and a commitment to doing the hard work to get there. “I have the will and I want to learn,” he says.
“Theron is a rambunctious, eager entrepreneur, and definitely a go-getter,” says Trai Majors, vice president of operations at Firehouse Image Center (Indianapolis). “He’s been working deep within the community doing pro-bono work for schools and churches. It’s really gotten his name out there.”
Keller was first attracted to the industry when he took a graphic design class in high school. “I always thought I would be more of an engineer,” he says, “but graphic design is more creative – seeing your work out there is great.” After going through a couple of other company names, he settled on 317-Print-It about a year ago. He hopes to ultimately build his business into a franchise operation with locations nationwide, named in relation to the local area code.
Earlier this year, Keller moved the company from his home to a designated commercial space, which allows room for production, space for growth, and a bay to facilitate vehicle graphic installation. “I’m getting more customers and more work,” he says, “and with the new name, I’m getting calls off of Google.”
In his production area, Keller’s main printer is an HP 700W latex-based printer, his third latex model. He also recently installed an EFI GS3250 UV-printer, which will increase both capacity and capability. The shop also has two SEAL laminators, one with a cold roll and another with heaters and other controls. He also uses a Graphtec plotter/cutter and would like to expand his cutting capabilities with a unit from Summa. Looking forward, Keller sees possibilities in adding a flatbed inkjet printer and CNC cutting table. While he currently outsources flatbed-focused work, he says “within our current customers, I know it would bring in extra revenue.”
As a young entrepreneur, Keller says his biggest challenge is to maintain the capital needed to advance the business, so he can take on larger, more desirable jobs. “I’m not giving up while trying to achieve this,” he says, “even with up and down cash flow, I’m keeping the faith it will all work out.” A goal for his business, he says, is to have enough clients with large enough accounts that he can really begin to grow. He views building his business as an extended learning curve that includes what work to accept and how to manage customers. “I used to take smaller jobs that I would not take now.” He says that based on how he declines those small jobs, he may still get work from those customers in the future.
Despite these current challenges, Keller says he prefers being his own boss. He says he has worked under people who he thought didn’t value his opinions. “I try to work differently, and I want to have a different take on what I’m doing. I enjoy being in charge of my own destiny. If I’m down, that’s because of what I did.”
Keller finds it rewarding to witness the growth of his business, noting that when he opened his commercial space, he started seeing more revenue and more possibilities for 317-Print-It. “I’m starting to see that it can really happen,” he says. “Success can really come, and you can see it.” A next step for the business, he says, is to hire some help. “By getting people in here,” he says, “I’ll be able to put out more, produce more. I can only work so fast.” Currently, about 95% of the work Keller prints is also designed by him.
As a Black entrepreneur, Keller says that – though not many will admit it – the experience of growing his business is very much different. “Being a man of color,” he says, “it’s going to be different to get jobs.” He says he’s seen other companies get work “when they don’t necessarily have better equipment or better skill.” He believes race could be a factor in not getting call-backs when he is attempting to sell his services. “It could be many factors,” he says. “I just gotta keep working, and it’s a challenge.”
For those considering, or just starting their graphics businesses, Keller’s biggest piece of advice is to know the numbers, whether for pricing jobs or calculating pay for employees. “When I first saw my business’s numbers, I was able to see some of the fees I was paying, are realizing the savings off of them can actually bring profit.”
Keller sees a bright future ahead, with a nurturing edge: ”I’ve always enjoyed teaching,” he says, “and I want to have a team of designers and help them succeed.” His goal, he says, is to have a team under him – people who can do what he can’t.
Outside of work, Keller dreams of one day taking his family on vacation. For the time being, however, as owner, founder, and employee, time is limited. ●