When Kyle Short needed a business to get into, he turned to signs and custom printed graphics. What resulted was KC Graphics, which is today perhaps Scott County’s leading printer of signs, banners and similar products.
From their home on Scott Highway in Huntsville, the husband-and-wife team of Kyle and Roxanna Short are the faces behind KC Graphics.
“I had been through the trailer factories, the plant closings and that stuff,” Short said Monday. “My wife had gotten a little ill and I needed to do some work from home. So I decided to start a business and came across graphics.”
With a degree in computer science, computer-generated graphics came naturally in some ways for Short, though it was definitely a “self-taught” endeavor.
“I found a business for sale,” he said. “But I looked at the price and I thought, ‘This is just some equipment and machinery. I can buy it cheaper on my own.’”
So, he did. And slowly built KC Graphics from the ground up.
Originally, in 2011, Short cut decals. Then he bought a laser and started doing laser engraving. From there, it was sublimation printing. Then wide-format digital printing.
“We went from one thing to another, adding new processes and new products to it as we went along,” he said.
These days, KC Graphics does full-color printing for large vinyl signs and banners, photograph printing on rocks, glass, wood, marble and just about any other material imaginable, and customized and personalized photos on glass and slate.
Mostly, though, KC Graphics is about the signs and the banners.
The KC in KC Graphics stands for Kyle and Chad. Chat Hutson, pastor at Landmark Baptist Church in Oneida, is Short’s son. But, while Short’s daughter-in-law handles the t-shirt printing KC Graphics does, “Chad tells everyone that he doesn’t have much to do with it,” Short said. “He tells me that if I need help, he’ll help me, but otherwise he’s going to stay out of it.”
One might think that election years — like the one we’re currently in — is an especially busy time for sign companies like KC Graphics. Short said that’s somewhat true, but at the same time not necessarily so. It mostly depends on the number of new candidates in an election versus the number of candidates who are running for re-election. Most candidates prefer to recycle their signs.
“The election before last we did a lot of signs; in this past election, a lot of those people had their signs from the election before,” he said. “One election isn’t as busy as the another, depending on how many new candidates you have.”
Summers are generally the slowest time of year for KC Graphics, especially the month of July. It is during this time that a lot of people are on vacation. Otherwise, business stays pretty steady throughout the year. Things pick up towards the end of the year, when folks begin ordering products for Christmas gifts.
When Short decided to step into his own business nine years ago, investing hard-earned money into the equipment and supplies that would be needed, he said it was a bit nerve-wracking at first, but not for long.
“At first it was frightening,” he said. “You’re investing in equipment, and you’re not sure that you can make a living at it. But after the first initial small things we bought, we just started adding the things we needed and went for it. We’ve been very, very blessed in this community with our business. That’s the way we like to put it,” he said.
There is some competition in the industry, but no one is making products on quite the same level as KC Graphics.
“Many, many people do t-shirts and dye-cut graphics,” Short said. “There are a lot of Crickets in town. And in Knoxville you can get any of this stuff done.” But, he added, “Different ones do different parts of it, but I’m not sure there’s anyone that does everything that we do.”
Perhaps part of the reason for that is the start-up expenses. It wasn’t easy putting himself into a position to produce the types of items that his customers in Scott County needed. But, eventually, it all came together.
“It’s quite costly,” he said. “That’s one reason we went one item at a time. Then there’s technical support, which is basically non-existent. The only tech support you have is on the phone. There’s no one who will come work on your equipment. You can’t even find a computer mechanic in Knoxville. So you just call tech support, roll up your sleeves and work on it yourself.”
One thing Short has learned in the nine years he’s been in the graphics business: Being a business owner is a lot of work.
“Owning your own business means you don’t have a lot of free time,” he said. “We try not to do anything on Sundays, and we try to take Saturdays off, but we’re normally going 8 to 6 through the week, and a lot of times I’m still doing something after 6. It’s definitely a full-time job.”
After slowly building KC Graphics over the years, the Shorts’ business was never more visible in the community than this past spring, when the coronavirus pandemic forced an early end to the school year for high school seniors. With graduation ceremonies in limbo, many parents turned to personalized photo banners to support their graduates.
“A friend of ours, Lori Jones, sent us a picture of some she had seen online,” Short said of the idea. “She thought that would be neat to try here. So we started designing them, and once we did them, it seemed like everyone wanted one. We thought it was a good thing to do for the high school seniors because of the Covid and everything.”
Even some parents placed orders for banners for their 8th grade and kindergarten students. And now it seems that a tradition has been born, even if the coronavirus scare is over and things are back to normal by the end of next school year in the spring.
“A lot of people say, ‘Are you gonna do that again next year? I’ve got a junior and I don’t want to leave them out,’” Short said. “So I’m sure we’ll do it again next year. A lot of people seemed to like them and I think the kids really enjoyed it.”
Over the past nine years, one principle has guided Kyle and Roxanna Short in their approach to their business: “We’re not trying to get rich,” he said. “We’re just trying to make a living. We have to charge what we have to charge, and it costs to get materials and equipment. But most people understand that. We have been blessed.”
To contact KC Graphics for a sign, banner or other product, call 423-663-3032. Find their listing in the Scott County Chamber of Commerce directory at scottcountychamber.com.