How I Got the Job: James Swanson

Screaming Images’ principal on printing his passions, working in Sin City, and how his punk rock lifestyle taught him how to stand out in the business world.

Q. Tell us about your day job.

A: My day job is pretty cool. I own a printing company that has grown over the years to one of the biggest and best shops in Las Vegas. The folks we work for are all awesome, and the niches we work in are some of my favorite things: sports, bands, festivals, casinos, beer. What more could a guy ask for?

My day usually starts at 3 a.m. I work in my home office for an hour setting up my day, and then hit the gym. I’m at the shop by 6 a.m. We work two shifts, so I have a full crew in early to get the printers fired up. I spend the day making sure everything is sent out at its highest quality, and that all of the customers are super taken care of. My day never ends, really, and I’m fielding calls and messages up until bedtime around 8:30.

Q. What were you doing before Screaming Images? How did you become involved in the wide-format world?

A: I’ve been in this industry 30 years now. I started working for a litho/separation company in downtown LA back in 1987. I started in the shipping department and worked my way up to the proofing and print departments before finally landing my apprenticeship as a 4/C table stripper. I was there as the first modern computers, made by Scitex, started being used to create the graphics. I operated a Scitex Assembler, then a Scitex Star, up until they started bringing in the Mac with Photoshop, Illustrator, and QuarkXPress.

At that point, I had finished my four-year apprenticeship and was a journeyman. They were bringing in Mac operators at lower rates. I saw our union breaking, and decided it was a good time for me to go into sales, which all of my bosses had been suggesting to me for a couple of years. Large-format printing was still in its infancy, and was actually called “Photo” back then. I saw this as the next big thing, took a leap of faith, and decided that’s what I would start selling. Three years into that I felt like I had enough knowledge and experience, and started Screaming Images. That was 2002.

Q. What’s it like working in, and for, Sin City?

A: I moved my business out here in 2005. Nevada is a great state to build a small business. Most of my work at that time was sports- and venue-related, and McCarran Airport made travelling super easy. Eventually, one of my sports clients brought me into the casinos for an event, and it just stuck.

Most of the work we do for casinos now is for events and short-term. Everything is on a quick turnaround, and you have to be really prepared not only with your equipment, but also with your staff and facility.

Another thing we do a lot of in this town is building wraps. Nevada is one of the toughest states on this type of application because of the heat, so you have to be really well-educated about substrates to make sure you’re giving your customers the best products.

Q. What’s currently on your plate? Any interesting projects of note?

A: We have a ton of cool stuff at the moment. Today, actually, we’re doing a small building wrap for the Cinco de Mayo weekend boxing fight here in town at T-Mobile Arena [see cover to the left]. We’re also currently printing and installing a huge building wrap for the D Casino downtown. We just finished up a couple of minor-league baseball stadiums, including the LV 51s here in town, and we also just finished a huge job for Tecate out at the Long Beach grand prix. This week we have a couple of building wraps out in LA, and this weekend is the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Festival, which we did the entire signage package for.

We also just finished another phase of a massive project up at Champions Center in Boulder, Colorado, for the Colorado Buffaloes. Last week we shipped out some huge 70-foot-high mesh banners for the Pitt Panthers that were hung up on the exterior of Heinz Field.

Q. What’s the most challenging part of your job?

A: Deadlines, and putting out fires typical of the print industry. You can invest the best you can in good people and technology, but, like in baseball, anything can happen. You just have to be prepared, and hopefully build in cushions prior to deadlines to allow time to adjust and adapt. As with any business, some clients are more demanding than others. I try to be a good manager with them all, however they wish to converse. Personal communication is very important in this industry and I pride myself on serving customers well. Nothing feels better than seeing a gnarly huge graphic backdrop at a big event and seeing a client smile about it.

Q. What’s one technical advance you’ve seen in the last few years that you couldn’t have imagined your life without, professionally and personally?

A: The digital advances each year (and sometimes each month) are amazing, and it’s not something I could have totally envisioned when we started in the ’90s. We recently moved locations and invested in new, typically larger print equipment, and we couldn’t cut corners because we didn’t want the investment to get dated in only a year or two. We had to invest in the most high-tech equipment possible. On top of digital printing advances, the internet and wireless technology have made exchanging graphics and overall communications faster than ever before.

With that said, the biggest advancement I have seen personally and professionally in the past few years has been the smartphone. Communications are now instantaneous. From communications with customers, to marketing and operations, the smartphone has truly changed the game in a big way.

Like most printers, we’re predominately a Mac-based company. Our prepress and creative department run the latest 27-inch iMacs along with our sales staff and even our CSRs for data entry and job tracking. So, the iPhone is an amazing tool that almost all of our employees use daily to sync up to their workstations, check schedules, clock in and out, update delivery statuses, take measurements and photos – all of which ultimately helps daily to get the job out, on time, and under budget.

Q. Kiersten, Big Picture’s associate editor, and I toured Screaming Images last fall. During our time there, we witnessed your many passions highlighted throughout the shop. What are your interests outside of work and how do they play into your professional life?

A: Like I said earlier, I work on some pretty cool stuff. All of the displays on the walls are of actual jobs. Jonny Two Bags played a set at my shop for the grand opening party for our new facility, and commented between songs, “There’s some history on these walls.” I was pretty stoked about that, seeing as he plays guitar in my favorite band of all time, Social Distortion – who is also a client of 13 years!

Two of the things that have influenced my life the most are sports and music. I played baseball from 6 years old into my 40s, and it taught me how to be a team player. It also taught me that sometimes the best way to your goals is using your head as well as your physical capabilities. I’ve been a huge music guy since I was a kid, and coming from the LA punk rock scene in the early ’80s taught me a lot of things that I apply to my business every day. Punk rock taught me that it was OK to be different. It was OK to do things yourself. It taught me how to be an individual, and that the best way to represent myself was to stick with my true personality. Punk rock gave me the guts to take chances.

I’m also a weekend warrior. Things I enjoy are riding my 2013 Harley Road Glide, hitting the lake on a Saturday, and snowboarding in winter. And I try to never miss a show when my favorite bands come to town. T.S.O.L. this weekend!

Explore the rest of our May 2017 "One-Two Punch" issue or meet last year's subject of "How I Got the Job," Sino Tour.

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