Ken Johnson and his wife Linda are survivors.
Over 42 years of marriage, they've gone from the San Francisco Bay Area, to Medford, to Tigard, and now Yamhill.
Now, in the midst of trying times, the Johnsons are again evolving, adapting their print business to survive the economic minefield of COVID-19.
Specialty Screen Printing, which specializes in the latest innovations in screen printing, is the Johnsons' second iteration of what has been two businesses and nearly three decades of printing experience.
Ken Johnson, who met Linda while working in the restaurant business in the late 1970s, got his start in the tech industry printing circuit boards for a manufacturer that supplied test boards for a couple of rapidly growing semiconductor companies, Intel and AMD, while Linda worked in quality control for a manufacturer that printed circuit boards for the first Apple MacIntosh computer. After nearly a decade, the couple — tiring of the city — moved north to Medford, where Silk Screen Images was born.
The Johnsons' newest venture combined the experience and knowledge both had gained in the tech world, and applied it to new and more colorful screen printing applications for both marketing and industrial clients. That combination proved valuable as Silk Screen Images built a clientele including local customers looking for posters and decals, to some of the country's biggest tobacco companies — which built quite a sturdy foundation.
But the heyday of tobacco advertising was nearing its end. And when the climate shifted regarding tobacco and its marketing strategies, Silk Screen Images was left without the work that at the time made them tick.
"When all those tobacco lawsuits came down the pike, all that work went away," Ken Johnson said. "That forced us to have to go work for our competitors for a couple years, then we decided to move."
That was 2004, and after relocating to Tigard, Ken found a job working as part of the in-house screen printing department with a local company. Not long after, he and Linda started thinking about a new business, which would eventually become Specialty Screen Printing.
Since then, the Johnsons have spent the better part of 16 years developing a successful business that offers custom fabrication screen printing on nearly any surface imaginable — although they don't do clothing — for both commercial and marketing agency clients.
"We provide screen printing services on everything from stickers to decals, yard signs, overlay-like labels, and more," Ken Johnson said.
In what one might call a "sign of the times," more recently, Specialty Screen's work has transitioned a bit from more traditional signage, product displays, labels and direct mail campaigns to things like personalized graduation banners and protest signs.
Ken Johnson said the pandemic has slightly altered the couple's business plan, but for the most part, they've been able to navigate the change in climate pretty well.
One of their latest projects is working to regrade labels for old Sega standup arcade games. Johnson said the company only made somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 original machines, so finding parts to refurbish them is difficult.
"Most of the stuff they want and need just isn't available anymore," Johnson said. "People are having a lot of problems finding parts. So we can make decals and overlay labels to put on the front of the machine."
Johnson said it's that type of specialization that helps his company differentiate themselves from much of the competition.
"I don't know that a lot of the shops out there are able to do everything we do in regards to the materials, designs, as well as all the printing," he said.
While business was good, Ken and Linda Johnson were both looking to get further from the hustle and bustle of town, and back to a quieter existence. With that in mind, they found a home in Yamhill, a few miles south of Gaston and Forest Grove. Since moving in 2013, they have thrived.
Despite distancing themselves from town, they were able to stay near enough to existing and new businesses in the Portland and Salem areas to keep clients there.
"We just got tired of the rat race," Johnson said. "It just takes a little more legwork, but when you consider traffic or what time of day it is, it's really not much different. It's a nice quiet spot."
That has been good for the couple, who have two grown kids living in the Portland area.
"We've worked together since I was a cook and she was a waitress back in 1978, so obviously it works," Ken Johnson said of his wife with a chuckle. "But certainly, we have our moments."
Johnson said he hopes to continue to grow the business and maybe expand with a yet-to-be-determined product.
"I'd like to come up with a product, but I haven't come up with anything yet, just focusing on the service," he said. "We're pretty diverse in what we can do. We can print everything from anti-static bags to overlay labels, so I always say if anybody has something in mind, we'll take a look at it."
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