By Emily Delzell
S&S Activewear is nearing more than 4 million square feet of warehouse space and more than 1,800 employees after several years of rapid expansion that have taken the imprintable apparel wholesaler from a solid regional company to a major national player.
“We opened our largest warehouse to date in February in Reno, Nevada, and can now reach 41 states with one-day shipping,” says Jim Shannon, president of S&S Activewear.
The business started with the basics, selling t-shirts, sweats and low-end polos, but after its sale in 1998 to the current owners, it began developing a strategy to expand its product line into high-end golf polos, jackets and hats.
“We wanted to keep building our product categories and add brands that we didn’t carry to create more of an offering to our customers of a one-stop shop,” he says.
Today, S&S offers more than 60 brands. Its blank apparel and accessories are rushed from its distribution centers to screen printers and embroiders across the country to fill orders for customers from schools to sports leagues to corporate groups. Shannon estimates about 80,000 customers have bought S&S products in the last 18 months, and the business continues to grow.
“We just celebrated our 30th year in business, and while we aren’t well known to the public, we have become a substantial brand in our industry,” Shannon says.
Creating a national footprint
Until 2009, S&S mainly served the Midwest market. To grow its reach, it began strategizing to expand its shipping range. The company did an acquisition in California, followed by one in New Jersey. In 2016, the company opened a warehouse in Kansas to relieve pressure on the original Chicago facility. And in the last two years, it’s opened facilities in Texas and Georgia and closed its California warehouse to move to an 800,000-square-foot apparel distribution center in Nevada.
“It was an aggressive strategy, but it’s paying off, and we’ve completed our national footprint strategy for the time being,” says Shannon.
The Nevada facility, which alone carries 30 percent more SKUs and three times more inventory than the company previously offered West Coast customers, gives S&S true coast-to-coast coverage, Shannon says. Its ability to carry a sizeable inventory across many product categories is crucial to S&S Activewear’s success.
“Our customers don’t have the space or capital to stock much inventory, so they need it from us as quickly as possible,” Shannon says. “For example, when a local sports team wants to fill a stadium with 20,000 people wearing the same customized yellow shirt, we need to have 20,000 yellow shirts on hand for printing. We typically carry about three months’ worth of inventory and fill orders for everything from one shirt to 100,000.”
Branching beyond clothing
To continue expanding its footprint and meet the goal of being a one-stop shop, S&S Activewear also offers customers a wealth of marketing resources to help shape and present a polished brand. Customers can customize hard-copy and e-catalogs with their logos and information, quickly and easily build websites with S&S templates and access an image library for high-quality photographs to use in promotional materials.
“These tools help customers create marketing content that looks professional and is specific to their market,” says Shannon. “Having access to professional images, content, catalogs, customized flyers and more creates the impression that our customers have a big, robust inventory and supply chain no matter what size they are.”
Staying focused on its business strategy of broadening its shipping range while expanding into different brands and categories has allowed S&S to build on its strengths.
“We’ve had competitors go left, and we’ve gone right,” Shannon says. “Keeping our focus and staying on strategy has kept us successful.”
Relationships drive growth
Hiring the right people is also an important contributor in the company’s growth.
“Our great staff has been able to plan and execute this expansion flawlessly,” Shannon says. “Our corporate culture is designed to retain our excellent employees—we give them autonomy to do a great job and emphasize policies that make S&S a good place to come to work every day.”
Also at the core of the company’s success is its emphasis on relationship building.
“It’s the long-term business relationships we’ve had with our vendors that have allowed us to do these expansion projects in a relatively short time frame,” he says. “Our philosophy is to build success by maintaining great relationships with our customers, vendors and employees.”
The multimillion-dollar line of credit Huntington extends to S&S Activewear allows the apparel wholesaler to offer its deep inventory to customers across the country, says Shannon.
“Without the assistance of our banks, especially Huntington, we wouldn’t have the working capital to fund the huge amount of inventory we carry plus the receivable base that we have,” he says.
“We’ve also done some leasing with Huntington,” says Shannon “All of these components help us from a line and profit and loss perspective. Having that great relationship with Huntington keeps our business strategy working.”
For more information, visit ssactivewear.com.