RevUp program helps Fernie apparel business grow
Fernie’s Giv’er Shirt Works has been styling Western Canadians with high quality screen-printed and embroidered apparel since they opened their doors in 2003. The garment decoration specialists put business logos, slogans, custom designs and unique artwork onto bulk orders of everything from t-shirts and hats to mugs and backpacks.
Owners Kieran and Erin Summers built Giv’er Shirt Works from the ground up with a rented retail and production space in downtown Fernie. When the retail landscape shifted to more online shopping due to the pandemic, they strategically pivoted their business model to ramp up production and focus on their online presence. In September 2021, they purchased a 6,000 square foot building to replace the retail store with an expanded production-only facility. They also invested in software upgrades including new accounting programs and an industry-specific shop management platform.
With a growth plan in place, the Summers were accepted into Columbia Basin Trust’s Basin RevUp program, where they benefited from expert guidance in the business accelerator program that supports companies poised for growth. Between October 2021 to June 2022, the Summers worked closely with a customized coaching team on how to further scale up the business, focusing on financial management, growth strategy and leadership support.
Redesigning pricing structures
RevUp coaches helped Kieran identify that the business’ finances required the most immediate attention due to a loss of revenue from their former retail store. This deficit, along with rising inflation costs, meant they needed to make some changes.
‘With all our suppliers raising their prices, the RevUp coaches encouraged me to go through our profit and loss statements and really look at our margins to nail down our monthly numbers. We then created a quarterly business review presentation for three new coaches we hadn’t worked with—a humbling experience, but also a lightbulb moment. They showed me that being out of business in a year or two was a very real possibility if we didn’t take a hard look at our prices.”
Kieran evaluated the most profitable departments of the business through market research and retooling his pricing model with the help of a new shop management software. He’s since become more strategic about how he approaches the business’ different revenue streams, setting a goal of hitting a 45 percent gross margin in the next fiscal year.
“I learned that about 65 percent of our revenue comes from screenprinting, and with such a complex pricing structure, it was really important to get a handle on it,” says Kieran. “RevUp helped us analyze our numbers to make sure our profit margins were where they needed to be. Now I input all my monthly expense categories into a customized spreadsheet that automates our pricing matrixes to ensure we meet our margins, which is a huge asset that works really well.”
As Kieran says, “the proof is in the pudding,” with a 15 percent increase in gross revenue in their most recent fiscal year, solely generated by their new production space.
From organic growth to expanded opportunity
Having a physical presence on Fernie’s main drag for many years built Giv’er Shirt Works’ reputation enough that they had historically been able to rely on organic growth through word of mouth instead of investing in marketing. However, RevUp coaches worked with Kieran on how to target new markets and sales contacts to prepare them for the future.
“RevUp helped us put together sales lists and identify niche markets like craft breweries to contact after our peak production season,” he says. “It left us with lots of ammo for our future arsenal, especially when it comes to our two leanest quarters in early winter and early spring. I plan to focus on increasing sales during those slower months.”
He says the key to expansion is about striking a balance: growing too fast will be difficult to keep up with, requiring more staff that will need thorough training.
“If we grow by, say, 30 percent, we’ll need three more production staff,” adds Kieran. “Staff retention is really important to us because we know how tricky it is to find and train people. RevUp kept us accountable by implementing consistent quarterly reviews, where we sit down with staff from each department to find out how we can better provide support and make improvements.”
The coaches also helped fine-tune their hiring practices, developing job descriptions and organizational charts, and streamlining their interviewing model to make the process more efficient. Kieran hopes to apply these practices to hire an operations manager so he can spend less time on the production floor and more time in his own leadership role.
Trading tools for leadership
The knowledge Kieran gained through RevUp has empowered him to embrace a CEO mentality, and he’s now more excited than ever about steering the business from his office while his six production staff work the tools.
“RevUp taught me to work on my business instead of in my business,” he says. “I’m such a hands-on guy, but being a leader means delegating and trusting my team so I can focus on pushing the business into the future. I now have everything I need to succeed.”
Erin remains responsible for account management, client care and daily administrative tasks. However, with the assistance of RevUp, she further developed her HR role in preparation for team expansion and gained insights into viewing the company from a high-level perspective. She’s thankful for everything she and the business gained through the program.
“Kieran has always been the entrepreneur and we joke that I’m the dream squasher,” she says, laughing. “But I like to say I’m the realist, more day-to-day task-oriented than a big-picture person. The RevUp coaches ultimately helped us shift to ensure our business remains successful. After so many changes in the world over the last three years, it was so advantageous to have these trained eyes on our business.”
Kieran encourages any business owner to participate in RevUp because he believes it’s valuable to learn and benefit from the guidance of experts.
“Even if you run the tightest business in the world, you can always learn something new. Putting in the effort to work with the coaches helped keep me accountable and got me excited to focus on developing my business further. I want to say thank you to the Trust for making a resource like RevUp available to business owners like me.”