When the COVID-19 pandemic began to cause closures and impact business, Tony Bevevino, the shop’s sales director, tells GRAPHICS PRO it initially made staff cuts, to the point it was working with a “bare-bones crew.”
The shop’s office employees worked from home, while only a few production staff managed and produced the small number of jobs trickling into the shop.
Bevevino adds, “Luckily, we were able to sell masks that deemed us essential and gave us the ability to slowly bring back employees at a safe pace.”
After some brainstorming and chatting with local businesses owned by family and friends, the shop started a T-shirt fundraising campaign that not only raised nearly $90,000 for businesses in the area but also kept the shop’s doors open.
During those unknown times, Bevevino says most challenges the shop faced centered around trying to communicate while also keeping up with physical production remotely.
“Screen printing is a very hands-on process, so members of the team are always walking the production floor for quality control or resolving art issues on the press. That’s pretty tough to do from your couch!” explains Bevevino. “And just like everyone else, one of the biggest challenges was our immediate dip in customer outreach and orders coming in as most places weren’t looking to spend any money while businesses began to shut down.”
When asked if these challenges were the catalyst for the shop’s fundraising campaign called Shirt Off Our Backs Movement, Bevevino says, “The Shirt Off Our Backs Movement came from multiple ideas, one of which was how could we possibly bring in more business during this time where we could get our employees back to work as quickly as possible, and the other was is it possible to help others in need, who may not be fortunate enough to have the ability to open their doors?”
He explains that Axelrad, like other print shops, had the unique opportunity to close its doors to the public and still operate and produce products while still making money.
“A lot of family and friends’ businesses thrived on foot traffic and human interaction, and that’s where most of my inspiration came from,” Bevevino adds.
The fundraising campaign was straightforward—Axelrad built a web store where a local business could sell a T for $15. Five of that went to Axelrad’s printing and production costs, while the remaining $10 went straight to the business owner.
When it came to getting businesses involved and behind the campaign, Bevevino says the first 10 participants were friends and family. He wanted their feedback on the idea and to see if they’d be interested in participating.
After the web store launched and those first 10 businesses started to promote it using content provided by Axelrad, Bevevino says the Shirt Off Our Backs campaign “spread like wildfire,” and the shop had hundreds of emails with no shortage of interested participants.
“As more businesses were added and people continued to share on social media, the numbers quickly grew at a pace we were not expecting!” Bevevino explains.
The shop first launched the store on April 6, with the initial goal of raising $10,000.
The last day of the campaign was June 2, just days before Luzerne County entered the “green phase” where businesses could start to reopen. In those 57 days, Axelrad raised $87,550 for local businesses while also taking care of its staff.
“We started with a goal of $10,000 and reached that in merely six days,” Bevevino explains. “It showed us just how caring people could be, and now whenever we see those shirts in public, it’s a friendly reminder of what an impact we made on our community.”
That’s no small feat, and Bevevino says he’s “forever grateful to the public” for helping support the Axelrad staff in the process.
Based on how well this campaign went, Bevevino says the shop would talk about rerunning it if closures became a reality again.
“It was an amazing experience that managed to shed light on a very dark time in all of our lives,” Bevevino says. “Regardless of whether lockdowns return in the future, we’re already discussing ways that we can give back to our community in the near future. We caught the “giving” bug!”
And while shops look to get creative during these difficult times, Bevevino tells them to “never underestimate the power of a T-shirt.”