Known now as one of the finest suppliers of inkjet printers and printing consumables in the coding and marking industry, Squid Ink has always delivered high-quality products at fair prices.
Founded in 1991 by an ink salesman named Bill Hoagland, Squid Ink originally focused all of its efforts on creating aftermarket inks that outperformed OEMs and were available at significantly lower price points. At that time, Squid Ink operated out of Hoagland’s garage and delivered ink samples to prospective clients in non-descript five-gallon plastic pails.
Today, Squid Ink has not only long outgrown Hoagland’s garage, but it has also expanded its product catalog to include several industrial marking machines, ranging from laser systems and thermal inkjet printers to some of the best case coders available today.
In this article, we take a look at the history of Squid Ink and examine how it evolved from a small-time ink manufacturer into a preferred vendor of coding and marking equipment for those that distribute on a regional basis.
The story of Squid Ink begins with company founder Bill Hoagland. Although Bill’s educational background was in manufacturing, he did work in passing with a former VideoJet employee named Pete Arnold. Pete Arnold was recruiting for InkJet, Inc. in 1990 when he pitched for Bill to join the company. However, Bill took a different route and instead decided to start his own company of competing products.
Although Hoagland was initially unfamiliar with how to develop ink, he had a friend in Chicago who worked as a chemist. Through their friendship, Hoagland learned that not all ink formulas required sterile labs and years of formal training to produce. Certain formulas used by continuous inkjet and large character DOD printers were so simple that anyone could make them at home as long as they had clear instructions and a few household items.
This knowledge put Hoagland’s entrepreneurial spirit into motion.
After his friend taught him how to make these ink formulas, Hoagland began creating ink in his garage. Using a simple DIY setup, Hoagland was able to produce gallons of ink at a minimal cost. With this ink on hand, the only thing left to do was find clients.
Here’s how David Mylrea, CEO of Engage Technologies and Hoagland’s future business partner, described Bill’s approach to finding clients on the “Over a Pint” podcast:
Hoagland’s sales approach worked, and soon after the company’s founding, Squid Ink was moved out of the garage and into a professional facility.
Squid Ink eventually moved into a facility located in northeast Minneapolis. By all accounts, this facility was not particularly large, and was even described by Mylrea as a “small firetrap.” Nevertheless, this new facility allowed Squid Ink the opportunity to grow its business.
In 1997, Hoagland met David Mylrea, who was working as a lawyer at the time. Mylrea was impressed enough by Hoagland’s drive that he decided to partner with Squid Ink. After working with Hoagland to create a business plan, Mylrea took the plan to a group of angel investors who also saw potential in the burgeoning company. With the help of Mylrea and these investors, Squid Ink was able to turn into a legitimate business.
When Mylrea first became involved in Squid Ink, the company was generating around $25,000 a month. By 1998, the combination of investment money and business success allowed the company to move out of the “small firetrap” and purchase a building in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota. There, Squid Ink was able to majorly ramp up production and produce more than $1 million worth of ink every month.
Also during this time, Squid Ink approached numerous aftermarket competitors to see if there was an opportunity to consolidate the market. Since numerous aftermarket ink manufacturers were at the height of their profitability at the time, many turned Squid Ink down.
Prior to Hoagland and Mylrea joining forces, Hoagland was beginning to expand his horizons beyond aftermarket ink supplies and into industrial printing hardware. In 1996, Squid Ink introduced its first printing system to the world, and by the time Mylrea helped the company grow, it was ready to greatly expand its offerings.
In the years since, Squid Ink continuously added new technologies into its portfolio, gradually incorporating the most popular forms of marking hardware on the market. Today, more than 70% of Squid Ink’s equipment sales are through distribution. Its offerings are diverse, ranging from handheld printers to production line laser coders. Altogether, Squid Ink’s modern-day portfolio includes:
Beyond expanding Squid Ink’s product line, Hoagland was also interested in investing profits from Squid Ink into expanding his business assets in general. He formed Engage Technologies as a parent company to Squid Ink in the mid-1990s, and over time, he accumulated three additional companies to fall under Engage’s umbrella:
Unfortunately, Hoagland unexpectedly passed away in 2016. In his absence, Mylrea became the CEO of Engage Technologies in 2017. Under his leadership, Squid Ink has continued to flourish, doubling in size, and today, it is still known for offering quality products and developing innovative, cost-effective aftermarket inks.
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