ShopTalk

BrandRPM is still in the game

David Anderson, from left, Brian Curkendall, Brian Hensen, Vivienne Anderson, Keith Brent and Brad Gilliam make up BrandRPM’s executive team. Consistently hiring “bigger and better” employees, some of whom already come with a Rolodex of influential connections, helps the company win deals and contracts with major companies, such as Under Armour, Adidas, Family Dollar and Patagonia.
David Anderson, from left, Brian Curkendall, Brian Hensen, Vivienne Anderson, Keith Brent and Brad Gilliam make up BrandRPM’s executive team. Consistently hiring “bigger and better” employees, some of whom already come with a Rolodex of influential connections, helps the company win deals and contracts with major companies, such as Under Armour, Adidas, Family Dollar and Patagonia. jmcfadden@charlotteobserver.com

In seven years, BrandRPM, an Indian Trail-based screen printing and embroidery firm, has made a big splash:

▪ A deal with Family Dollar makes BrandRPM the sole apparel provider for the retailer’s 55,000 employees at more than 8,000 stores.

▪ Well-connected BrandRPM employees (there are about 120 of them, including a former Coca-Cola executive and minor league baseball player) manage partnerships with sportswear giants, such as Adidas and Under Armour.

▪ And a $100,000 investment in new equipment paired with an ambitious attitude supplied 16,000 polo shirts for volunteers at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

“It’s about a network of who you know. ... That’s a big chunk of it,” company president David Anderson said.

Together with his wife, Vivienne, longtime business partner and childhood friend Brad Gilliam, and a tightly-knit executive team, Anderson oversees BrandRPM’s corporate office and a 40,000-square-foot production facility filled with automatic and manual printing presses, an embroidery workshop and an art studio.

This well-oiled operation generated $8.5 million in revenue last year, Anderson said. With another major sports partnership expected, Anderson said those numbers should climb.

Despite booming business, the 7-year-old company does see its share of slow months and production lulls – such as in mid-March, when most of BrandRPM’s orders for middle and high school sports teams competing in the spring are nearly done.

To keep the firm visible to its corporate customers, BrandRPM is tapping into the March Madness fervor with special offerings and promotions – all part of an intentional marketing strategy to stay relevant all year. “It’s just something to keep us sticky ... to keep us top of mind,” Anderson said.

Taking a risk

Before BrandRPM, Anderson, 49, spent much of his career riding the wave of the “dot-com era” as an Internet consultant. He moved to Charlotte in the late 1990s when he and Gilliam went into business together.

In 2007, an Atlanta-based company that produces real-estate buying guides hired them to help take the products online. The transition went so well, Anderson said, that the company asked the two to move to Georgia.

But Anderson and Gilliam, both fathers, decided to stay home.

“We spent probably about eight months (asking), ‘What do we want to do when we grow up?’” Anderson said.

Their search for a new venture took them to a screen printing and embroidery shop for sale.

The owner sold it to them for an amount Anderson did not disclose. In 2008, the business re-branded and re-opened as BrandRPM.

Then, “the bottom fell out,” Anderson said. During its first eight months – when the recession was in full swing – BrandRPM’s revenues dropped by 50 percent, he said.

“We were surviving every month by borrowing (on) our home equity lines ... to fund payroll,” he said. “We never laid a person off. There wasn’t a lot of business happening.”

A chance meeting with a middle school football coach changed everything.

Hello, Family Dollar

That coach needed T-shirts for 10 to 15 adolescent offensive linemen. BrandRPM filled the order. When the coach picked up the shirts, he started chatting. “Come to find out, he was the EVP (executive vice president) of store operations for Family Dollar,” Anderson said.

The exec asked whether BrandRPM could handle a uniform program for the retailer.

“We did what any company would say, ‘Sure, we can,’” Anderson recalled.

A groundswell soon followed.

In 2012, BrandRPM scored a contract with the DNC, which requested 16,000 American-made polo shirts for volunteers less than three months before the convention arrived in Charlotte, said Keith Brent, the company’s vice president of strategic sales. The firm invested $100,000 in a new embroidery machine and employees worked round-the-clock to manufacture all the shirts.

BrandRPM has two arms of business – a corporate branch which embroiders gifts, awards, pens, cups and other miscellaneous items for major companies, and a sports branch that stitches names and logos on branded sportswear for thousands of school, university and recreational league teams, said Brian Henson, vice president of team sales.

Now, Anderson doesn’t worry about the bottom falling: “The nice thing about the sports business, when the economy’s down, it doesn’t go down. High schools, middle schools, rec leagues always need equipment and uniforms.”

Let the madness begin

The NCAA’s annual basketball tournament – dubbed March Madness – doesn’t bring a surge of business for BrandRPM, Anderson said. But it does give the agency a chance to keep its name on customers’ minds.

As part of a “Let the Madness Begin” promotion, the firm has created its own bracket and offers contest entrants the chance to win $500 worth of Under Armour products (pingpong balls, tailgate cups and a basketball bottle opener, to name a few).

The aim is to leave a lasting impression with customers who one day might need branded pens, koozies or polo shirts.

Said Anderson: “Who (are they) going to call? BrandRPM.”

Strategies for keeping clients BrandRPM-conscious

Giving back in a big way: Last December, BrandRPM donated hundreds of unused athletic shoes worth $26,000 to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, including Garinger, Harding University, West Charlotte and West Mecklenburg high schools.

Networking: Membership with the Carolinas/Virginia Minority Supplier Development Council helped BrandRPM secure a contract with the Democratic National Convention, said Keith Brent, vice president of strategic sales. At the time, that council’s president left to take a job with the DNC. He recruited BrandRPM to print shirts for volunteers.

Fulfilling every promise: The DNC contract was awarded in June; the convention was in September. BrandRPM employees worked extra shifts to fulfill the order, and even delivered some shirts the morning the convention started.

Offering options: The company creates customized “Web stores” for each of its clients, enabling them to log on and custom create more product designs.

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