Heat Transfer Warehouse is a lot like Willy Wonka’s factory; but instead of fruit-flavored wallpaper and chocolate waterfalls, shelves of vinyl and glitter line the walls. Each door leads to another, forming a maze that would be all-too easy to get lost in if it were not for the signs bearing clever names for each room.
Since opening in 2010, the wholesale supplier and distributor of heat transfer materials has expanded to locations in Cincinnati and Las Vegas as well as Fargo. They ship their materials nationwide to be printed onto the type of shirts you pass on the street every day. For instance, here in Fargo, the t-shirts one might buy from local Shirts from Fargo brand use materials from Heat Transfer Warehouse to print their designs.
Although the Heat Transfer Warehouse’s work is primarily behind-the-scenes, the business has proved lucrative. Six years ago, Fargo local Kirk Anton started the company with nothing but an office, his black lab Dakota, and a recommendation from a friend to “look into the heat transfer industry.” By year one they made $167,000.
Today, Anton said they have 33 employees and are on track to make $12 million.
“It’s a lot bigger than we ever realized,” Anton said. “It’s been fun.”
We’ve got the Golden Ticket to a behind-the-scenes tour with Kirk Anton, the company’s founder. Come with us, and you will be in a world of pure imagination.
When we walked through the front door, we were greeted by a cluster of open cubicles (and a friendly grey-whiskered pup). Like the hollow tubes that materials are wrapped around in the warehouse, this office space is the Core of everything at Heat Transfer.
From the Core, we were led through a set of double doors and past an ominous “no customers beyond this point” sign. What awaited us was Rolling Thunder, the high-ceilinged wonderland where products are rolled, packed, boxed and shipped to customers. There are no oompa loompas here, but there are hard-working employees in matching Heat Transfer shirts– and apparently they get into some wicked Nerf Gun wars.
Next we walked up a flight of stairs, through another office area, and into Flock Blocker Lounge. The break room gets its name from flock, the fuzzy material that is popular for kid’s onesies. “Someone said it once as a joke, and it stuck,” Anton said, laughing.
Back downstairs, we stepped into the Chevron Studio. This is where custom production happens– there’s a machine JUST for applying rhinestones. Magic.
Expensive magic. These machines cost around $100,000 a pop, Anton said. Their addition to the Heat Transfer Warehouse equipment signified a big (and risky) investment for the company. Thus far it’s been successful, as the machines very rarely sit still. They’re used to create rhinestone prints for everything from NDSU t-shirts to American Crystal Sugar jerseys.
The Great North, a conference room decked out in decals of the staff’s favorite sports teams, a green screen for photoshoots, and a Wall of Trade Shows.
Our last stop inside Heat Transfer Warehouse was the Deco Vibe room, where we got to watch some heat transferring in action. With a small shirt press, Anton demonstrated the process of applying both heat transfer vinyl and digital print to a shirt– and we walked away with a customized Myriad Mobile baby t-shirt.
Three years ago, Anton and the team at Heat Transfer were working out of a tiny office with plastic wrap over the drafty windows. When they finally decided that enough was enough, they built this warehouse just four blocks east of the original. And with the new space has come new success; the company now has three locations and sells heat transfer materials and equipment in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Caribbean, Canada, Central America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.
But world headquarters will always be in Fargo.
Photos by Emerging Prairie.