Sandlot Sports is a screen printing and embroidery business in the Great Lakes Bay Region of Michigan. The shop was founded in 2008 by Ryan Dost and Adam McCauley. The pair offers its services to a range of customers from high school sports, clubs, and boosters to small businesses, corporate executives, fire departments, and church groups.
The business also offers inhouse graphic design and promotions services with much of its clientele in the sports and events industry. With the pandemic, there’s been massive closures across the nation, as well as the cancellation and postponement of sporting events and large gatherings, which directly affects Sandlot Sports and its target customer base.
In this Q&A, McCauley talks about his experiences and how he’s continued to serve some of the personalization industry’s heavily impacted sectors.
How is Sandlot Sports doing right now? Are you open and running at full capacity?
Right now, we are doing just fine. We are fully open now. We went weeks tiptoeing through both the manufacturing and retail executive orders in Michigan, but we are finally up and going. We have a full staff on hand.
With COVID-19, at what point did you have to shut down, and for how long?
March 23, Michigan was told to shut down. We did not come back to work again until May 18. There were a few executive orders that we could have tried to sneak back open again, but it just was not a good fit for us.
During the time you were shut down, what did you do to manage? Were you planning on new ways to operate? What have you been doing with downtime?
During the first two weeks, we had to reach out to customers and clients and reassure them that their orders were going to be completed as soon as we get back. If we had their pieces in the building, we let them know where we were in their order process. We had no idea how long we were going to be closed. Everyone was extremely understanding during this whole thing.
During the break, our leadership team had a couple of Zoom meetings, the other owner and I spoke almost daily, trying to make plans and secure PPP funding. The most difficult challenge was trying to make a plan for the company knowing that the variables were changing daily.
With the school year and sports at a halt, what did you do to keep your shop alive?
With signs of trouble coming a few weeks before the actual shut down we had staff reach out to small businesses in our area that we may not have had a relationship with and ask if they’d like to allow us to create a fundraising store for their business. That kept things running along and helped introduce ourselves to clients outside the sports realm. Also, like many print shops in the country, we created a fundraising store for our local community with $10 of each purchase going toward a participating small business. Those stores created a backlog of work for when our staff could finally get back.
How are things now that state orders are beginning to lift? What products/projects are customers inquiring about during this time?
Now that orders are lifted, we are seeing some of the business we missed in April and May start to come back. Our 2020 May online sales increased over 2019 May numbers, which was a shock and welcomed surprise. Obviously, face mask sales have increased dramatically, but we are also seeing a large increase in business clients wanting more branded apparel. When their staff had been spread out and stuck on Zoom conferences for months at a time, they lost that sense of company team, culture, and comradery. New branded apparel gives them that instant, identifiable sense of community. We have seen an uptick in corporate apparel for us.
If you’re comfortable sharing, can you talk about sales a bit? What’s this year looking like compared to this time last year? What do you attribute this to?
Our 2020 sales were rocking and rolling. Our goal for the year was 35% sales growth, and we were at 34% before COVID hit. We attribute that to new marketing strategies, new sales staff, and a more focused business approach. Right now, we are at -22% over last year, and we are happy with that. I still think we have room to grow this year. We probably will not reach that 35% goal, but we are not taking it off the table yet. Losing sports in our market hurt a lot, but we did not just sit still. We had to reach out of our comfort zone and market our decorating solutions to other markets. Now we are leaning into corporate sales, and when the school sports and recreation programs come back, we will treat it like icing on the cake.
What are some of the major changes Sandlot Sports has faced over the last few months?
One of the major challenges we have faced these last few weeks has been protocol on employees being sick. The health of the staff is now at the front of all our minds. We have got to be creative with production when people are sick because they are now out for a long time. Luckily, we have always had decent cross-training through the years, but this has caused us to review those processes just to make sure illness does not leave us in a tough spot. Decent cross-training is just that, decent. We can improve and get better.
With everything going on, what’s keeping you motivated and in positive spirits during this time?
We have a better appreciation for what Ryan and I have built at Sandlot Sports. We have heard horror stories of businesses failing, and it makes us really appreciate the health of not only our business but, more importantly, our families and friends. We are proud of the position we were able to put our company in before COVID hit. Fortunately, because of some of the things we have done, we are able to take a hit and keep going, and we know some businesses were not in that same position.
Lastly, how have the last few months’ events shaped the way you do business now and in the future?
These events have really made us focus on our customers. We must do a better job nurturing our clients and customer base. We had staff reach out to clients while we were closed just to check-in, and it was extremely beneficial for the clients and us. Too many times we get so focused on the sale, or customers get focused on the due date, that we forget we are all just people trying to contribute to the communities that we live in. This pandemic has also focused us on finding new ways to make working with Sandlot Sports easier. When you have three locations, and the governor says no one can walk in, do you have a great process to make sure customers can easily order from you? We thought we did, but now we have got to get better again.