A Rallying Cry For the New NormalApril 28, 2020
“This wasn’t part of the plan.”
As a business owner, you can spend a lot of time worrying about things that never happen. How do you react, then, when things do go wrong? What do you do when social distancing, closed doors, and the Coronavirus pandemic become the new normal for everyone?
For Brendan Pape, CEO of Brist MFG. in Bellingham, Washington, what happens is that you take a step back and you see that there’s still work to be done. An idea from a staff member becomes the beginning of a collaboration, a 180-degree pivot in the way business is done, and a rallying cry for how we can move forward.
And about a week later, the We Got This, America campaign is born, selling t-shirts through a central website and affiliate links. Each t-shirt sold gives $10 back to local small businesses and non-profits.
“Let us not forget who we are.”
From its inception in 2015, Brist has focused on serving small and mid-size businesses through apparel design and manufacturing. It was many of Brist’s clients in the outdoor, beverage and hospitality markets among the most heavily affected when the pandemic became a reality in mid-March. Lockdown mandates caused most to restrict their business to carryout or delivery orders only, and some to close their doors completely.
Brist itself has also been deeply affected by the pandemic. About 75 percent of its 48 full-time employees have been laid off until conditions improve. “We’re crossing our fingers and hoping for the economy to come back,” says Brendan. “This has made us look at things from a new perspective and think creatively.” Despite their struggles, Brendan is inspired by how businesses are adapting to make ends meet, and confident that they’ll emerge from it stronger.
“We are community, fearless in the face of adversity.”
The We Got This video is a reflection of this confidence and optimism, and the spearhead of a campaign that seeks to support and unite the people who are hurting the most.
The video and the overall campaign came together in just a few days. From a concept presented to leaders on a Monday, a website was built and marketing materials created by Friday. The Brist sales team, meanwhile, performed a similar pirouette and shifted from selling apparel to a nationwide outreach to find customers to sign up for the campaign.
The video script was written overnight and workshopped over a few hours. Local Bellingham locations were booked, including Lynden High School, Boundary Bay Brewery and Makeworth Market. Shooting the video took place over the next two days, with the writer of the script stepping in front of the camera to deliver it in slam-poet style. The editor pulled an all-nighter to have a rough cut ready for Friday morning.
“It was incredible to see how agile the team was, and how well they adjusted to a completely different direction,” Brendan says with pride in his voice. “We didn’t need all the answers immediately. We took feedback and adjusted every day. Sometimes the best way is to just go.”
“You are not alone.”
When looking for ways to get the word out about “We Got This, America” SanMar was one of the first companies Brist reached out to. Robin George, an Army veteran and a SanMar Territory Manager, found that the message resonated with her values. “It just spoke to my heart about the fortitude and resilience of our citizens and small businesses.”
The support of companies like SanMar has been crucial to the campaign’s early stages, which has also been promoted through social media, press releases and industry influencers. So far, over 120 nationwide businesses have signed on and thousands of dollars have been raised to support them.
“Dreams will not be postponed.”
The campaign continues to grow, with tech publication Geekwire soon to publish a feature article about it and ActionSprout (another local Bellingham business) set to add momentum in social spaces. Brendan has big goals in mind, both in the short term and over the long haul.
“We’d like the campaign to raise $1 million, which means selling 100,000 shirts, so we’re continuing to work towards that.” While the original purpose is to support small businesses in a time of immediate need, they’re also thinking about what happens after the pandemic passes. “There are ongoing conversations about what we want to do with this. It can become a platform to do good and give back to communities in a pinch.”
Brendan has already learned a lot from this experience, and has come away with a new perspective and a new set of priorities. He’s discovered that things don’t need to be perfect to have a positive effect. “Perfection doesn’t really exist anyway. One takeaway from all this is that the Brist team can be agile and move fast, and have a real impact.”
With plenty left to do, the campaign goes on, carried forward by a simple message that we can all get behind:
“America, we got this.”