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Part-time hobby led to 3 Alarm Graphics

James Maulden, left, checks to make sure everything is ready while printing T-shirts. Maulden owns 3 Alarm Graphics with his wife, Elaina.

By ROSS FLINT - rflint@shelbynews.com

James and Elaina Maulden’s home got quite a bit emptier about a year ago.

Up until then, the local firefighter and dispatcher, respectively, based their business, 3 Alarm Graphics, in their home, making life a little cramped.

But with business steadily increasing, in no small part because of their connections with the emergency response units in Shelby County, the Mauldens decided to move their business to their current location at 425 E. Washington St.

“We ran out of room,” James Maulden said with a laugh on a crisp April morning.

The equipment they use, starting with a 24-inch vinyl plotter before buying a 30-inch version, started out in the dining room. As more orders came in, they started adding equipment, eventually causing them to move the equipment into the basement. Eventually, some of the equipment was moved into the garage, which they had added onto for more room.

By the time they moved to a new house, it was time to move the business, too.

“It was just time to get it out of the house and get it in here,” he said. “We’ve got plenty of room here, we have decent parking, it’s right on the corner so we’ve got quite a bit of visibility, if they look. Most people just drive on by. I had to put a sign on the corner and sign out front. We’ve been here a little over a year now, and we still have people come in and say, ‘Well I drive by here all the time and didn’t see it.’”

The business, which includes screen printing, embroidery, banners, vinyl graphics and signs, started as a hobby when the couple was going to do some “odds and ends” jobs for James’ mom, who owns a shop out east.

It grew from there.

Since opening at the current location, 3 Alarm Graphics is seeing more foot traffic, James Maulden said.

But one thing has remained the same: A lot of the couple’s customers are from the Shelbyville fire and police departments.

“That’s really kind of where we got our biggest start, with the vinyl side of it, probably the screen printing, too,” he said.

The convenience of picking up a new police uniform, instead of driving to downtown Indianapolis, placing an order, and having to drive back to pick it up, has meant a lot of repeat customers.

Police and fire department vehicles are just some of the jobs 3 Alarm Graphics has done, including the Shelbyville Police Department D.A.R.E. car.

Balancing work at the fire department and at 3 Alarm Graphics is still a challenge, Maulden said. He works every third day at the fire department, and on those days, the business nearly comes to a stop because he’s the only employee who knows how to “do most of everything in here.”

Because of that, orders tend to get backed up.

Elaina’s parents sometimes come in and help and her mother is learning how to embroider, James said.

“It’s tough. I was telling one of the guys at the station, I don’t really have time to come into work (at the fire station) the next day,” he said with a laugh.

There are times a customer will come in with a design on a napkin drawn at a local bar. Other customers come in without any ideas. Maulden prefers having some guidance.

“You always have got to have a little guidance,” he said. “It’s hard for me to know what you’re thinking. There’s been times where I come up with something and its ‘no, that’s way off,’ or ‘yup, first time I love it,’ which answers a prayer. It happens once in awhile.”

3 Alarms Graphics is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.