Business was good and we had mastered the use of our two automated T-Shirt printng presses. We were busy and had grown the business to over $ 1M / year, but we were about to experience the thrill ride of our life.
As a backdrop, back in 1982, there was no licensing by sports Teams for their logos on shirts or hats. They had not yet seen the potential revenue stream for printed apparel with their team’s logo. Wealthy professional sports team owners had no idea of the revenue stream available through licensing of their trademarks.That would soon change, but in 1982 as the Cardinals won the pennant it was anything goes in terms of printing. The attitude in St. Louis by old man Gussie Busch who owned the Redbirds, seemed to be… “What’s good for the Cardinals was good for St. Louis.” It also turned out very good for Helene and I and Sports Energizers, Ltd.
Back then, our mini plant and shop was a hangout forthe Overland Police force . I met many of the officers when I organized a police bowling league back in the early 1970’s when I was working for my uncle, Charlie Bianco at Bowl-A-Rama. The local cops spread the word about our business and we began to sponsor any team a cop or his kid joined. It didn’t take long until we were printing our name on Soccer Jerseys, Basketball uniforms, Softball shirts and Jackets. We became active athletic SPONSORS ( I could have said AthleticSupporters:) in the community and had a great relationship with our local officials. Another great lesson in my business life…Make sure you personally know the policemen where your business is located and help them with any civic events and sponsorships they might need. It will someday pay off, not just in your own peace of mind, but by doing the right thing for your community and those who serve that community.
It was against this backdrop that the late Officer Ed Waggonner walked into my shop and asked if we could make some St. Louis Cardinal T-Shirts as the team was about to go into the World Series. He had some friends who owned a small restaurant nearby and they wanted to dress their staff in Cardinal shirts before the world series started. There were no playoffs back then so the Cardinals enjoyed about 5 days as the National League Champs. We did some artwork of the Cardinal’s famous Birds on a Bat Logo and set type to read…
St. Louis Cardinals-National League Champs 1982
We made Officer Waggoner one dozen shirts and told him they were $ 5.00 each. He went to deliver the shirts and stopped by a few other local businesses to see if they wanted any of these cool RED T-Shirts. By the time Ed made it back to our shop he had sold 120 shirts. As the Cardinals started the World Series a few days later, the word had spread to the other officers in the department and pretty soon, they were selling over 500 shirts a day right in the little suburb where Sports Energizers was located. We were BUSY, but we had no idea what was waiting.
On October 20, 1982 the St. Louis Cardinals won Game 7 and the WORLD SERIES over the Milwaukee Brewers.Jack Buck delivered his infamous “GO CRAZY” line quoted above and
St. Louis, which had not won a world series for 18 years literally “WENT CRAZY”- especially for Cardinal T-Shirts. Remember in 1982, printed T-Shirts were still a relatively new phenomenon.
The entire city went crazy and the song CELEBRATION was introduced for the event and is still being played today for many sports team celebrations
Our sales force grew from the local police force to both city wide and county wide policemen as well as officers in the surrounding outskirt areas in Illinois and Missouri. By October 22, 1982 we were printing around the clock and we had police cars lined up all day and night waiting to load their police cruisers. It was one of the greatest distribution schemes I had ever thought of. The cops loved it because they could make $ 1.00 / shirt and I was ecstatic because it was all cash and carry.
We were taking in so much cash that the cops actually were taking our deposits to the bank for us. We hired every teenager and unemployed Mom we knew to help us stack, pack, and fold the T-Shirts. Those days seemed to never end and within 2 weeks we had used up every RED T-Shirt in the USA, and we had to switch our production to ¾ sleeve baseball jerseys with Red sleeves and finally to Gray or White T-Shirts.
This craziness lasted for over 1 month as the supply would never satisfy the demand. We took in over $ 300,000 in that month of production in 1982, and I was able to put away enough money to send my kids away to college 10 years later. It was a crazy scene and as the T-Shirt production settled in, Helene used her embroidery skills to start making Cardinal Jackets and Sweatshirts.
By the time it all calmed down in December, we had taken orders from some big department stores as well as the St. Louis Cardinals themselves. I was 35 years old, and had made more money than I ever dreamed possible. The experience not only gave me wealth, but hammered home my idea that it was OK to think outside the box when it came to distribution, and that I could solve any production problems if I had the orders. It also taught me the great lesson about CASH FLOW. Get your money up front and you will never be in a cash squeeze
As an addendum, in 1985, The Cardinals once again won the pennant, but by the this time Major League baseball had a full licensing program and the FBI actually paid a call to my shop to see if we were printing illegal T-Shirts. I wasn’t, but I was printing shirts and completely skirted the issue of licensing. You can read about it in an upcoming story of my business history.
The FBI reinforced the famous quote by Bob Dylan that I’ve always used as my one of my mottos in business. “Keep a clean nose, watch for plain clothes, and you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”