Lessons Learned from Hatch Show Print

Jim Hamilton
Mar 10, 2015

I was in Nashville recently and I took the opportunity to visit Hatch Show Print, the letterpress shop that today is co-located with the Country Music Hall of Fame. Hatch Show Print is well known for the iconic posters it has been creating for well over 100 years. Given that I usually write about cutting-edge digital printing technologies, you may wonder why I would want to write about a service provider that uses tools developed more than a century ago.

There are three reasons why I think print service providers of all types have a lot to learn from Hatch Show Print:

  • “Preservation through Production” – These are the words that Hatch Show Print lives by. In practice it means that they use their old wooden and metal letters constantly and find new uses for previously used linoleum and woodcut illustrations. In part, this extends the life of the wooden hardware type and illustrations (they say the oils in the inks keep the wood from drying out) but I think this also comes from a philosophy of making the most of everything, whether that means reusing broken type or cutting down the colorful waste sheets from multiple make-readies to sell as postcards (example below). Not only is this recycling in a novel way but it also instills a mindset in employees that they should always be on the lookout for new ways to conserve resources and/or make money.

  • Location, location, location – Hatch Show Print has had several locations over its long history and part of its success has come from being close to its customers, many of whom were musicians. For a long time, Hatch Show print was located near the Ryman Auditorium, the famous country music venue which housed the Grand Ole Opry for many years. When the Grand Ole Opry moved to another location in 1974, for a period of time the Ryman fell into disrepair. It was no longer ideal for Hatch Show Print to be nearby, and it moved to a more visible location on Broadway in 1992. That was also the year that Hatch Show Print’s assets were donated to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. In 2013 Hatch Show Print moved to its current location where it is co-located with the Country Music Hall of Fame. This is a highly visible and desirable location that provides more space for the workshop, gift store, exhibit space, and classrooms. Being part of a non-profit like the Country Music Hall of Fame isn’t a business strategy for most print service providers, but the importance of location is an ongoing lesson that we all can learn from.

  • Use the most appropriate technology – The posters and other printed pieces done by Hatch Show Print have a visual look and feel that ties back to the tools they use. For other shops, the type of technology is more likely tied to its quality, efficiency, and cost effectiveness. There is no reason to move to a new technology just because it’s the latest thing. Understanding the cost implications of any technology change, and also leveraging tools that you already own to their fullest, these are the lessons that I take away from Hatch Show Print.

Jim Sherraden, the manager and master printer at Hatch Show Print, says that Hatch Show Print has a responsibility to its heritage, and in that sense it’s a working design and print museum with an amazing archive of type and images. Jim (understandably) was a little cool to my idea of using 3D printing to make halftone plates (they currently work with a third-party chemical etcher for those needs). Their heritage certainly compels them to be true to the traditional tools they have used for decades, but that being said, there are others who may be looking to change course. For those folks, InfoTrends’ business development and assessment services can be a great way to adapt to the 21st century.

An excellent video called American Letterpress: The Art of Hatch Show Print provides additional background, though because it was completed before the move in 2013 it has their old address. Next time you are in Nashville, just find your way to the Country Music Hall of Fame and be sure to sign up for the Hatch Show Print tour.

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