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T-Shirt shop partners find it's easy being green

Big Frog focuses on custom designs, quick turnaround for schools, events


by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Big Frog Custom T-Shirts store owner Ryan Reif and General Manager Ryan Graham show off custom-designed T-shirts at the Murray Scholls Town Center they opened in early 2012.If you told Ryan Reif after he graduated from the University of Oregon in 2009 that his livelihood be defined by slogan-bearing casual garments and a large felt frog, he may have told you to, well, go jump in a lake.

“I never thought I’d be making T-shirts,” he admits. “I didn’t foresee that coming. I stumbled across it.”

As he researched franchise possibilities as part of his career quest, however, something caught his eye about Big Frog, a custom printed T-shirt business based in Tampa Bay, Fla., with 40 stores, mostly in the southeastern United States. Why not, the Portland resident thought, bring one to suburban Oregon?

“It was something different,” he says. “I liked that it was based on new technology, in a niche market of the garment industry. I thought if I did go with a franchise, it would be something with technological advancement, rather than just going for a name.”

With a business called Big Frog, of course, he got both. With the help of his friend and store General Manager Ryan Graham, Reif, 27, opened Oregon’s first Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More in early 2012 at 14795 S.W. Murray Scholls Drive, suite 107, in the Murray Scholls Town Center.

With a high-speed digital printer behind the counter and graphics designers Lindsay Chestler and Mercedes Smith there to assist customers, Big Frog offers customized T-shirts with a seemingly endless array of art and logo options. Customers can design their own shirts or work with Chestler or Smith at one of the stations in the colorful storeroom for no charge. Depending on the size of the order, they can walk out with printed shirts in a matter of minutes or come back the next day.

“We do pretty much anything that’s flat and absorbent,” Graham says. “If we can fit it in the printer, we can do it. Anything in stock, we guarantee a 24-hour turnaround. A lot of the time when someone comes in, we can do it on the spot.”

Prices for a standard T-shirt at Big Frog are $15.99 for white and $16.99 for a colored, one-sided print, he says. A 5 percent discount kicks in for orders of five or more and progresses from there.

In its first year of operation, the store has worked on projects with representatives from the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce, Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District and parents, teachers and coaches from schools such as Hiteon Elementary and Southridge High.

“From the very get-go, we had our eyes on Beaverton,” says Reif, whose mother is a former teacher at William Walker Elementary School. “This business model works a little better in a suburban area. We’ve gotten involved a little bit with the chamber and done some stuff for small businesses around here.”

A Wilsonville resident whose father graduated from Sunset High School in 1968, Graham has known Reif since fourth grade in Canby, where they both grew up. He says it’s the personal interaction that sets Big Frog apart.

“Rather than just printing shirts and sending them out, here it’s more about the experience,” he says. “Our biggest referrals come from people loving their experience. The number one thing we sell is customer service.”

With larger screen-printing shops handling the larger, contract-based deals with schools and local governments, Big Frog caters more to elementary schools and events such as fun runs and parades.

“We don’t go after things like high school football teams,” says Graham. “Most of those deal with huge contracts. We work with elementary schools. Cooper Mountain and Hiteon elementary students of the month clubs come in and design shirts for the kids.”

The friends in business showed their community solidarity last summer with an appearance in the Beaverton Parade. Donning the felt costume of the Big Frog mascot as the temperature soared, Reif learned an unexpected drawback to his new career.

“He was in the suit, and I was driving,” Graham says. “It was a hot day. Let’s just say that frog suit had to be dry-cleaned. (Reif) thought maybe he’d get a break, but you can’t break character. The kids had fun.”

Crediting support from his family with helping him succeed as a first-time businessman, Reif says he and Graham realize how fortunate they are to find a way to make a decent living without being mired in day-to-day office drudgery.

“At the end of the day, you’re making T-shirts. It should be fun,” Reif says with a grin. “As long as we’re having fun, and the employees are having fun, that makes the customers have fun as well.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Big Frog Custom T-Shirts owner Ryan Reif watches as a high-tech digital printing machine imbeds an image onto a shirt at the stores Murray Scholls Town Center business location, the first Big Frog franchise to open in Oregon.



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