Local biz in da' Burgh: A Q&A with Dan Rugh of Commonwealth Press
Pittsburgh is bursting at the seams with exciting and interesting local businesses and behind every great business is a great business owner. These people toil long and hard hours to make their dreams a reality. In this series, we’ll introduce you to the faces of some the most exciting businesses in the steel city.
First up is Dan Rugh, the owner of Commonwealth Press, or CWP. Take a peek at any of his Twitter or Instagram feeds and you get a pretty good idea of who he is: a fun-loving father of two who’s passionate about his craft. We talked to Rugh about how he ended up in our fair city and why, if he leaves, he’s taking the Pittsburgh with him.
How did you end up in the Burgh?
I grew up in Punxsutawney, Pa. and after college I moved to Virginia, where I was the senior web designer for a firm called susQtech. They needed the designer to have a graduate degree so when I was accepted to grad school at Duquesne, I began working remotely for the firm while going to school. I picked Duquesne because I’ve always loved Pennsylvania.
What lead you to the career you're in now?
I moved to Pittsburgh right after the dot-com crash. I could see the company I was working for was going under and it did during my last semester at Duquesne. The semester before that I started taking on freelance clients while I was working full-time and doing double credits at school. It was a crazy time and it was the beginning of what would become Commonwealth Press.
How would you describe the creation of your business?
I bought my first press with one of my student loans. It was web design in the attic and screen-printing in the basement. The screen-printing started taking off, to the point where my wife, Shannon quit her job and started learning how to print.
Shannon is the other half of Commonwealth Press. She’s the person that actually makes it work as a business. At one of our first meetings, she told me if we ever wanted to make money, I needed to stop giving away free stuff.
How did the name come about?
At first I went with Union Media, which was the “unofficial” name of CWP. I actually had the paperwork filled out and before I turned it in I was having a conversation with my friend and felt it just wasn’t right. He suggested, “Commonwealth Media,” and I hated the term “media” and wanted it to sound more old-world. I wanted it to be the about the press part too, so as soon as he said “Commonwealth,” I said, “Commonwealth Press.” It was like I heard a bell ringing.
What do you like about being a local business owner?
I desperately want my kids to understand how the whole process works. Amelia (my daughter) asked if she could draw her own t-shirts and I felt my heart just swell. I told her that she could do her own t-shirts but she’d have to draw them, print them, sell them and write the thank you notes. We’re literally a mom and pop business, so it’s cool to see her taking an interest.
Describe a day in the life of Dan:
An average day is making sure the schedule’s set, taking care of whatever’s going on press or going out, what customers are coming in, or whatever marketing plan or designs need done.
For instance, today I came in and was helping a friend do video work and while I was there, I was putting together some poster orders. Tonight, we’re sponsoring an event at the Bayardstown Social Club.
Within the past year we’ve really focused on having the right equipment and the right amount of people to do the job, rather than Shannon and me working 16-hour days.
What is the craziest printing request you’ve received?
An Army vet came in and asked if we could print on anything and showed us his prosthetic leg. We made up a drawing and had a flex wrap with designs of fake robotic muscles made. Exactly what he wanted.
Is there any local business owner you admire?
Drew Topping from Pipers Pub. It’s a South Side institution. He made me work to get his business. He asked me to be honest with him about the pub and I told him his menus were outdated. He told me that if I could get people in from just viewing the menu outside, I could rebrand his stuff. We turned it around so that instead of 75 percent of people passing by after viewing his old menu, 80 percent were coming in after reading our design. That’s how we started working on his new Pub Chip Shop branding.
Is there anything you could see yourself doing to expand your brand?
We’re involved in a skateboard company, making decks that we sell. We also have Commonwealth Press Ale, with Penn Brewery, which has been an incredible experience. I never could have imagined that happening. We’re also thinking about a fall beer barge.
What is your favorite Pittsburgh-ese word or term?
I caught myself accidently saying “slippy” the other day. Someone called me out and I tried to say no, no I didn’t say that.
If you were banished from Pittsburgh forever, where would you go before being banished?
I’d take Pittsburgh with me! I’m a loyal subject of Pittsburgh. What did I do? I can’t be banned… I got Pittsburgh!