University alum Rishi Narayan, co-owner of Underground Printing, has launched his entrepreneurial pursuits down the street from his former student address on South University Avenue and to 10 states in the past decade.
Narayan, who graduated from the University in 2003 with a degree in chemical engineering and went on to earn a master’s degree in engineering in 2005, founded Underground Printing in Ann Arbor in 2001. Since then, his business has grown to 16 locations in college towns mostly in the Midwest.
Despite the business’s geographical expansion, Narayan said Ann Arbor continues to be a focal point for the company.
“The whole business model was based on how much we love South U,” said Narayan, who added that he lived in the surrounding area and thought it was the perfect location for an emerging business.
Custom-made shirts are still the greatest percentage of Underground Printing’s merchandise, but the business is constantly evolving by focusing on students as vital costumers and trendsetters, Narayan said.
“Students tell us what’s popular, (and) we take a lot of that information and translate it into collegiate apparel,” he said. “What students want becomes what everybody else wants.”
Narayan said his experiences at the University as an undergraduate student were essential to his success as a business owner. His work in organizations including Dance Marathon at the University of Michigan, Michigan Student Assembly and Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity helped him understand the needs of student customers, like the desire for in-person costumer service.
“It’s convenience, quality, price and customer service” that set Underground Printing apart from competitors, Narayan said.
Along with Underground Printing’s two Ann Arbor locations on South University and Main Street, the company just launched a new website and extended the store’s business hours to cater to students’ needs, Narayan said.
Though the company is always on the lookout for new styles and ideas, Narayan said he also understands the importance of the basic T-shirts his company makes for student groups.
“When it comes to a shirt, it’s a badge of what you’re able to do with an organization,” he said.
Ten years after Narayan opened the first Underground Printing store with business partner Ryan Gregg, he still loves what he does.
“I like dealing with people,” Narayan said. “I have a lot of customers I handle myself.”
While future plans for the company include constructing new stores, Narayan said he is carefully calculating the business’s next move.
“Our plans are to grow, but grow in a manner that is best for the company and our customers …” he said. “We’ve had years when we’ve tried to add a lot of stores. We’re now at the point to where we’ve matured as a company, (and) we only want the best spots. We don’t want to compromise for growth.”
Narayan offered advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and stressed the importance of having strong problem-solving skills and being open to new opportunities.
“I like to tell people (to) learn everything. Be proficient in everything,” he said. “Don’t feel like you have to choose your path right from the get-go.”
Narayan added that he likes to tell students that they can choose whatever path is right for them.
“Your degree from the University is a ticket. It opens up doors. It’s a ticket,” he said.