This time of year, Lucky Dog Custom Apparel should be printing out piles of T-shirts for high school seniors, baseball teams and graduation parties, but as the coronavirus pandemic spread in March and events were postponed and sports cancelled, owner Cindy Pitts realized she and her six employees would have to find a new way of doing business. Within weeks, the company had converted its website to sell hundreds of shirts on behalf of other local businesses, sending them checks for $10 from each shirt sold. The “Local Tees” program is now a day away from closing and Pitts hopes to exceed the $25,000 sales target her team set itself.
“We just wanted to do something to help show that we’re community,” Pitts said. Crediting the idea for Local Tees to another business owner in St Louis (which ran a similar campaign called Here For Good), Pitts said it seemed like the right thing to do. “We’re a small local business too,” she said, “So for us, it was a way for me to maintain my staff all still on payroll.” The Local Tees sales do not cover Lucky Dog’s bills, but it has helped bring the staff together. “It’s been a real boost for our whole team, to feel like we’re working on this project to help so many people.”
Pleasantville, NJ-based Lucky Dog Custom Apparel has been in business for 15 years. When the impact of the closures first became clear, Pitts said she needed some time to just breathe. But when she went to her employees with the idea of selling shirts for their customers, they were all behind it and helped come up with the project name. They started Local Tees by reaching out to their customers to see who might be interested in joining but the idea spread, and businesses that ordinarily use other screen printers also reached out. “It’s really nice to know that you can do a little bit to help,” she said, “I mean, we’re a T-shirt shop, but we have an online presence, so we want to use that to the best of our ability.”
Some of the companies in the Local Tees campaign used the coronavirus as a design prompt. Atlantic City’s Little Water Distillery has a gray shirt that says “Wash Your Damn Hands”. Somers Point’s Gas Up Barbershop & Shave Co added a mask and a roll of toilet paper to their usual design, with the hashtag #KeepPushing. Other businesses got creative with marketing and fundraising. Pitts said the basketball team South Jersey Lady Starz is giving the proceeds from its shirt sales to the food bank, as well as to the campaign to keep Wildwood Catholic open.
Operating during the pandemic has meant significant changes, but Pitts said her team is working through it. They rotate staff for onsite work. They are sending electronic invoices and using their Clover charge machine for remote payments. Now, they are getting more orders for fulfillment, with customers wanting shirts and other items bagged by size or even individually. For orders that can’t be mailed, Pitts dons protective gear before walking out to customers in the parking lot and depositing shirts and other items direct into the trunks of their cars. Working remotely, the team meets up virtually to discuss new projects. Pitts, when I called, had just finished attending a funeral via Zoom.
“We’ve learned it’s always good to be positive. And that creating goodwill and good karma can never hurt you in the end,” she said.
“What we’ve been saying these days is, even if we aren’t together in the same place, we can be together in the same tee,” Pitts says, laughing. “It’s corny, but you know, T-shirts, people! It’s a great place to put a message.”