The Average Fella Robert Gozzolla And His Superior Screen Printing Business

“My story is going to be different than the average fella. You hear about those (successful) guys who don’t finish high school – well, I’m one of ’em. We don’t make a million dollars every year, but every two years we make a million dollars.” – says Robert Gozzolla, grinning through the phone.

Robert is the owner/operator of Superior Screen Printing. He’s a successful and happy man with a nice family. He owns his cars, home, and business outright. How did he get here though? And without even finishing high school?!

“I didn’t graduate high school. Growing up I watched my father work really hard. If something wasn’t going well, he’d jump in there and work it; whatever he had to do to fill in. I’m a hands on guy.”

Although he still cautions:

“That’s worked for my particular application but it doesn’t work for a lot of people. There’s no such thing as too much school.”

It doesn’t hurt to learn new things, on a daily basis even, but it’s safe to say that not every idea or business venture needs an MBA behind it.

The humble beginning:

As with any story, there are many chapters. Becoming a successful business owner doesn’t typically happen over night. You have to start somewhere. Robert got his start, strangely enough, working for Holiday Inn.

“My father was an innkeeper for Holiday Inn. He traveled a bit – eventually moving us from Chicago to Texas and then to Florida (to take care of the Detroit Tigers who were in Lakeland for their annual spring training). At 16 I was working as an a/c repair man, and my father was selling retail T-shirts and hats next to the hotel. He would buy embroidered old-English ‘D’s, press them onto hats and sell them for $10 as replica hats for the Tigers. Soon we needed more and more custom decals so we went to Mr. Ralston’s Screen Printing, who could print whatever we needed. We were then contacted by the SCA (Sports Club of America) and they asked us if we could do some custom work. After a year of that Mr. Ralston said, ‘You’ve spent $30,000 in a year. Here. You can buy the company for $20,000’ – So my father did. That was in 1984.”

Over time, the company outgrew the original  facilities and had to move to a bigger location. It was during this time that Robert, seeing his father’s success, tried to start a delivery service – delivering product to other screen printers for his own clients.

“I had my little rental car. All dressed up in my suit and tie – out there selling and hustling. I was overwhelmed with the turnaround. It would take weeks to get the product back to my clients. I never wanted to do that again. I was better off taking the little money i did have and buying some equipment to get the job done myself,” says Robert of his first solo venture.

The startup:

1992 was the year Robert created Superior Screen Printing with an $800 homemade press and a heat gun in his backyard.

“Originally I had a secretary and did everything else myself. It took me two years to hire on a third employee. Of course i was a lot younger then. I could put in more hours and work a lot harder and faster. I was on a shoestring budget.”

I filled out a credit application with the Lakeland Ledger. They had, at the time, a 1-inch column ad for $6. I used big giant letters that said ‘WANTED: T-SHIRT CUSTOMERS’ with my phone number. To this day I’ve gotten more calls from that one inch than anything else Ive done.

Robert watched his own company grow. He leased a building (which he’s since purchased), went automated quicker than most screen printers, and paid as he went.

“T-shirt suppliers would and will recommend me when customers pull in with a big project and pick up their shirts. On big projects like that we’ll run three split shifts and work 24-hours around the clock. You just have to be able to pull in the manpower- to be able to bend over a little bit.”

Moving forward:

“At one point the SBA (Small Business Association) was going to loan me $450,000 – and I almost took it, but the payback was something astronomical. It would’ve taken me 20 some odd years to pay back and all I wanted to borrow was $200,000 to buy this building. They always want your business plan, and they want you to borrow twice what you need. That might be, in the real world, what you need to do, but I kept punching the numbers into a calculator and it just didn’t make any sense to get the extra money. At the time I didn’t realize that the extra capital might have done me good or made me move quicker, but I was looking at the bottom line and what I was going to owe back. It worked better for me to pay everything off early. It’s been 3 years since everything has been paid off. I see bigger shops going out of business all around me- calling almost everyday to sell equipment. They extended themselves too far for what they have coming in.”

“Stay loyal to one thing. I’ve seen more places fold because they started one thing and tried to do another – keep it simple and don’t over finance. If you start simple and put your heart into it, stay focused on one particular item, one venture, one particular whatever, and ride it out- you’ll get somewhere.”

Robert isn’t overextending himself. In fact, he aims to start pulling in a million dollars worth of business annually within the next two years. As a new grandparent with a second wind, he’s fired up.

“We’re trying some new marketing, some phone soliciting. We’re calling different businesses from the white pages and even making some cold calls – which we haven’t done in 20 years. We’re also in a half dozen publications like Today & Tonight and those little magazines you see in restaurants and the music stores. We’re going to lease a $35,000 plate maker that’s incredible. We can go straight from computer to screen. Bypassing the camera, laser printer, and the exposure unit – It’s going to streamline my business even more. Get me out the door quicker and cheaper. It’s a win-win.”

Through the years Superior Screen Printing has worked on projects for Discount Auto Parts, distributors for Beall’s Outlets, and even for one of Oprah Winfrey’s companies. He’s no stranger to hard work and long hours, but after running his own company for almost 20 years, Robert has this to say about being his own boss:

Flexible hours is good, but the icing on the cake is being able to set my own goals throughout the day; and achieving them. That’s rewarding to me – being so relaxed and being (almost) 50 years old not wearing a watch.

To find out more information on Superior Screen Printing please call (863) 687-2466.

About the Author: Daniel Ballard

Daniel is a Writer and Entrepreneur. He is Co-Founder/Main Author/Editor of BossStart and Co-Editor/Featured Author for BossStart's sister site, PauseStart, launching early 2012

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5 Comments + Add Comment

  • This is a good example of “hard work pays off” great article!

  • Good read. Inspiring.

  • Quality article! I enjoyed the story, had excellent structure 🙂



  • Screen printing is all about hard work, there are no safe short cuts, Robert is exactly right about not over stretching which is difficult given the price of good screen printing machinery.

    • Steve, I agree completely. Rob is a personal friend of mine, and “Hard Work” is definitely his recipe. How long have you been in business with Advertees?

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