More Than Survival
The initial reaction most business owners had to the COVID-19 pandemic can often be summed up like this: “How do I get the company through this? How do we survive?”
Andrew Willis, President of Atomic Threads understands that response. As events were canceled and schools were closed, he looked for a way to keep the business moving and keep employees working. What he found was something that spoke to his personal history as well as a growing trend in the apparel field.
Everything Just Stopped
Atomic Threads makes its home in Hayden, Idaho, a little less than 100 miles south of the Canadian border, and they’ve been a part of their local community for more than 10 years. They specialize in high-quality, creative company apparel, often supporting events such as marathons or fundraisers, as well as local restaurants and brewhouses.
Andrew recalls his reaction to the first wave of the pandemic along these lines: “Oh, everything just stopped. What now?” With most of their customers shutting down for the foreseeable future, many standing orders were canceled. He had to lay off some of his staff just to get by and had to figure out how to bridge the gap that still remained.
In an industry group Andrew follows, he discovered the beginnings of an answer. Halfway across the country, in Missouri, Sloan Coleman had developed a fundraising campaign at Tiny Little Monster that sparked a similar idea for Andrew – a way forward that recalled something from his past.
Print It Forward
Andrew’s wife sometimes takes their children out to get 25-cent ice cream cones after school. In addition to treating her kids, she also puts an extra two or three dollars in to pay for the next few customers as well. “We call it ‘Pay It Forward’ ice cream,” Andrew explains, with a note of good humor in his voice. “They love seeing the reactions as people realize their ice cream is free today.”
The same principle informs the Print It Forward campaign Andrew developed at Atomic Threads. Borrowing the structure of Tiny Little Monster’s similar “Here For Good” fundraiser, Print It Forward uses a centralized web store to support local businesses. Each participating business submits a shirt design and each shirt sold sends half the proceeds back to that same business, it’s a win-win-win scenario for all involved.
“In the end it helps the decorator making the goods, the group being promoted and it keeps us busy too.” Andrew believes that the good will the campaign generates in the community is equally important. “It creates good feelings all around,” he adds.
It took a crash course in digital marketing and working with several local non-profit organizations to promote the campaign. One group that helped get the word out was CDAide, which pays benefits directly to restaurant and hospitality workers in the Coeur d’Alene area to help them get through a crisis. Local charity Children’s Village was another important partner that had t-shirts for sale on the Print It Forward website to benefit their residential home for at-risk children.
Atomic Threads is no stranger to fundraising, but they weren’t sure what to expect from this new twist. “We didn’t really have a goal in terms of numbers for Print It Forward. The response was overwhelmingly positive.” Andrew describes a check they received during the campaign and a short note that came with it: “I don’t really need any t-shirts now but I’m sending you $20 for your community spirit.”
When all was said and done, Print It Forward raised about $11,500 for local businesses and organizations. “It kind of blew me away,” said Andrew. It met the only goal they had established early on – it helped other businesses and their own get through a difficult time.
For now, the Print It Forward campaign has run its course, but it’s set up in case it’s needed again. The pandemic has helped Andrew adapt to running with a leaner crew. “It was do or die at the time,” he recalls, “and we have the scars to prove it.”
The threads of the Print It Forward campaign can be found in Hayden, Idaho and in St. Louis, Missouri. It is colored by the sudden advent of a pandemic and by free ice cream after school. When these pieces come together, they provide the rarest of commodities: hope for a better future.