Eighteen years ago, after completing an arduous, yearlong residential drug rehabilitation program, Kevin McCracken found a job as an assistant at a custom screen-printing shop. Six years later, he was running the business; and in 2008, McCracken and his colleague Jeff Sheinbein created Social Imprints, which has become the go-to merchandising company for Silicon Valley’s buzziest companies.
Based in San Francisco, Social Imprints employs about 30 people, 85% of whom are in recovery from addiction or have criminal records. As the winner of the 2015 Mercedes-Benz Fast Company Drive Your Business Forward Contest, Social Imprints received the all-new Mercedes-Benz Metris Van and $10,000 toward customization. Here, McCracken explains exactly what this win means for Social Imprints and its mission to empower those who have earned a second chance.
You provide your clients with custom-made web stores, complete with branded T-shirts, hoodies, baseball caps, tote bags, and even onesies, but your social mission is what makes you unique. How has hiring from "at-risk" populations affected your business?
We hire individuals who not only need the support but who also have an incredibly high desire to succeed. What we give them is the opportunity to do just that, and we are constantly training them to be better at their jobs. These people aren’t just looking for a light retail job—our employees are extremely motivated to become industry leaders.
How has winning the Mercedes-Benz Metris Van made Social Imprints more effective and efficient?
Before we got the Metris, we were relying on one of our own cars for deliveries—and we spent a lot of money on UPS. When we did events, we used to ship equipment to the locations. That was a big hassle. Now, we’re not only able to deliver products, but we house the printing equipment in the Mercedes-Benz Metris Van and print right on-site. The Metris Van has made the lives of our employees so much easier.
What makes the Mercedes-Benz Metris Van a perfect fit for Social Imprints, as opposed to similar vehicles?
There’s a great deal of prestige that comes with the Mercedes-Benz name. The idea of customizing the Metris Van to the point where we would be able to show up at outdoor festivals—simply pull up and print—just blew our minds. The navigation system and driver controls also appealed to me, and when it comes to safety, it’s an incredibly advanced vehicle.
You have upfitted your Metris to be essentially an on-the-go branding unit with endless possibilities. What specific customizations were you and the Mercedes-Benz Vans team able to make?
Some pretty specific stuff, actually. We had a single-head printing press installed that rolls out of the back. We even made a mount for the dryer hat we use after our apparel is printed. There are shelves that drop down so that, wherever we are, we can display our work. The printing station is removable, so we can take that out when we need more cargo space.
The Mercedes-Benz Metris Van is unique in that it’s large enough to hold nearly 200 square feet of cargo while still being compact enough to navigate through traffic and fit into parking spaces. How do you find the driving experience?
It’s not easy to get around in San Francisco with a big, bulky van, so the Metris Vans’ size has been crucial. We love how smoothly it drives. Even in an area with all kinds of construction and traffic, it’s very easy for our driver to get around.
You recently brought your new Metris to the South by Southwest festival in Austin. How did customers respond to the van?
At South by Southwest, we not only printed at trade shows during the day but also moved around to print at events in the evening. Customers absolutely loved it, and they definitely noticed we were there! When we show up with this completely mobile printing station, people get excited and start mentioning other events and jobs they want us to do.
What are your plans for using the Mercedes-Benz Metris to grow your business?
We’re going to take the Metris Van to potential clients and give them a mini walk-through of Social Imprints, physically showing them what we’re all about. That will make our relationship with our customers even stronger.
How will winning this Metris change the impact you're able to make?
As a small company, the ability to have a Mercedes-Benz is a huge win. We’ve been able to hire another person to focus solely on deliveries, which is a very big deal! Something like that usually takes a client spending $300,000 to $500,000 per year on our services. We pay higher than the industry standard, and we offer health insurance as well. The Metris Van has enabled us to hire more people, and in that way, it’s literally going to change lives.