1981 – Hoppin our way to success – Our relationship with KangaROOS Shoes
Our business had survived those crucial first five years. The world was at our feet and the printing of T-shirts seemed endless. We were forced to move from our little shop and in 1981 we settled into our new home on Brown Road. We went from about 600 square feet to almost 7500 square feet. We were able to buy our own building that was located less than a mile from our first shop but was highly visible to traffic on 2 major streets. We bought our first automated press and now had 3 full time printers working for us and went up to 12 employees total.
We were printing shirts and jackets for every small local business. Business was good and we were rapidly building a great client list, We printed lots of softball and soccer shirts for teams, as well as occasional work for some larger companies in the St. LouIs area. Luckily, we got a call one day from another rapidly growing St. Louis Company, KangaROOS shoes.
This was a shoe company started by a man named Bob Gamm. Mr. Gamm was a classmate of my father back at Soldan High School n St. Louis during the late 1930s. Mr. Gamm was one of the first entrepreneurs who began to import shoes from Korea. His shoes featured a small zipper pocket in the front of the shoes so a runner could keep keys or some change with them while he or she went for a run. He was also the first major tennis shoe manufacturer who targeted KIDS as his market. The shoes he made were colorful, fun, and had a POCKET in them. Kids loved them
It wasn’t long before KangaROOS became a sponsor of FUN RUNS for Adults and Kids. This was a great marketing scheme to add customers. As companies like NIKE and ADIDAS dominated the running market, Mr. Gamm saw opportunity to increase his market share by catering to kids and adults who enjoyed non-competitive running. It was great for KangaROOS, and even better for us. In 1983, they placed the biggest order ever placed with Sports Energizers. It was for 27,000 shirts for an event named the ROCK and RUN held in L.A. and featuring the infamous FLEETWOOD MAC Rock Group as the race leaders.
Here is a pic of the 4 guys who turned out this massive order. From left to right ..Kirby Barnard who came to work for us when he was 17 and homeless. He became a honest, hard working young man and spent 10 years as a printer with us. His claim to fame in our business was when the screen printing industry invented a photo sensitized emulsion that we coated screens with. Kirby loved to coat and make the screens for printing and his favorite song in life was Aerosmith’s SWEET EMOTION. Kirby would head to the dark room to coat screens and you could hear him sing…”SWEEEEET EMULSION”
Next to Kirby was a young man named Rick Winfield.who was a cousin of my best friend, Don Platt. Next was Mike Ensminger. I knew Mike’s dad Glenn from the Bowl a Rama years. Glenn was the bookmaker while we all bowled jackpots all night. Mike was just one of those guys who was pleasant all the time. He started his career with me and ended up getting into the Teamsters union and got a great job driving a dump truck. He loved his job at Sports Energizers and like his father had a great sense of humor.
On the end was a guy named Mike Alberts. He stayed with us a long time and when he was sober he was a great worker. ‘nuff said
Here is a pic I found of the Rock n Run shirts
The back was printed with the words….Featuring Mick Fleetwood and Fleetwood Mac Band and had the date and Los Angeles, California. Not that anyone was counting but we folded the shirts in 1 dozen bundles/size and packed them 6 dozen to a box. That’s right. We shipped a truckload of 375 cartons out to L.A.
This was the birth of the “FUN RUN” and I am happy to know I helped launch that phenomenon.
It was also our first order over $ 100,000.00. At the time, I did not have the financial strength to purchase that many T-Shirts and Mr. Gamm advanced me $ 50,000 so I could buy the shirts and supplies. I will always remember him as a soft-spoken, white haired gentleman man who was honorable and fair in all of his business dealings.
Our relationship continued with Kangaroos over the next 10 years as they began to open their own stores and we supplied T-Shirts for sale. Here is Helene wearing one of the designs we came up with for the KamgaROOS stores
I was fortunate in that I was given the job as shirt designer as well as the manufacturer. I maintained a 10 year relationship with KangaROOS and it was one of the sustaining companies for our prosperous business career. The company is still in business and so are we.
As a side note, one year Helene and I took our kids for a trip to Mexico. We went by car up into the interior mountains to visit a Mexican family we had met the year before in Puerto Vallarta. We were in this mountain town named Patzquaro and while walking in the city, we saw a woman wearing a Kangaroos T-Shirt. It was obviously a knock-off, but it was my art I had designed only 8 weeks before and introduced into the Kangaroos stores. Back then there wasn’t much intellectual property protection and when I tried to stop the lady to ask her about the shirt, she got scared by the gringos and ran off down a side street. Amazing, but true.
1-20-11- While finding more pictures for this blog, I came across this pic of me up in Canada with a stringer of Walleye which I caught and were going to eat for dinner- NOte the Kangaroos shirt I am wearing.