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Giv’er Shirt Works finds success navigating challenging economy

Owner Kieran Summers said business coaching helped them adapt to inflation
Kieran and Erin Summers are the owner of Giv’er Shirt Works in Fernie. The couple found success growing their business during a challenging economic time through business coaching and by streamlining their work (Photo courtesy of Giv’er Shirt Works)

A local Fernie business managed to find success amidst a challenging economic climate.

While inflation soared and pandemic closures led to a decrease in sales for some stores, Giv’er Shirt Works emerged more prosperous with an increase in gross revenue and new clientele, all through working with business coaches and taking steps to simplify business procedures.

Run by Kieran and Erin Summers, the business specializes in garment decoration. Staff adorn t-shirts, hats, backpacks, mugs and other paraphernalia with logos, slogans and art. They work with businesses, schools, events and teams on custom designs.

In 2021, the Summers closed their longstanding retail store on 672 2 Ave. and relocated to a new building on 1542 10 Ave. to focus specifically on the production-side of their business. They began working with specific clients on custom designs rather than selling their products directly to the general public — a strategy which helped streamline their business. Kieran said the retail store only generated approximately 10 to 15 per cent of their overall growth sales in a given year, but contributed to 80 per cent of their work.

They worked closely with business coaches through the Columbia Basin Trust’s RevUp Program, who helped identify the most profitable area of their business and adjust prices to match inflation. Coaches analyzed their balance sheets and profit and loss statements, and looked at their margins and pricing structure. They also helped the Summers determine that screen printing — a method of embossing — generates 65 per cent of their revenue.

The Summers recently completed their first fiscal year since implementing the recommended changes and have already seen benefits. Their business has seen a 15 per cent increase in revenue and they have made more headway within niche markets, like the craft brewery industry.

“2021 was a crazy year,” said Kieran. “There was a lot of inflation. Things were just going through the roof. We were so focused on moving into the building and getting our business set up, we didn’t really pay attention to our costs and how much our costs were increasing in terms of supplies, like our screen printing supplies, our blank goods that we were purchasing.”

The coaches showed them they could lose quite a bit of money if they didn’t adjust their prices to match inflation.

“The coaches said, ‘you know you guys aren’t making any money right now and if you keep going down this road you’re going to continue to lose money. Your sales might be solid but your profitability — you might lose money at the end of the year.’”

While the pandemic and economic inflation were not the reasons they moved or pursued business coaching, the extra help enabled them to navigate a challenging period of time and a move to a new location, and they were better off for it.

“I didn’t go into the RevUp program specifically because of Covid or specifically because we’re moving our business. It just happened to coincide. I feel like it really benefited us,” Kieran said.

“Covid just made us really hyper-aware of what can happen to our business. When we’re at work, we’re looking at opportunities to be better. It was like, let’s keep our ears and eyes open for ways that we can make our business better coming out of covid because there’s going to be a lot of opportunities. For us, that opportunity was, hey, there was a building. Let’s buy that.”

Now that they’ve completed major business changes, they’re working on fine-tuning certain operations. Kieran said they want to boost their online presence by investing in better software, and either refurbishing their current website or creating a new one.

They’ll also be working on their staff structure to ensure they have the people who can produce what they need.

Their goal is to hit 45 per cent gross margin in the next fiscal year.

“Moving to this [new] area has really been a good investment into our business’s future and it’s really allowed me to educate myself on some new things. When you’re in business for 20 years, it’s really easy to stagnate. It’s a really big challenge to make this transition and make it actually succeed,” he said.

“We’ve moved into our new store. We’ve done the coaching. We’re rolling along really nicely now and now we can look to the future.”

About the Author: Gillian Francis

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