SquadLocker finds ways to stay in the game

STRINGS ATTACHED: SquadLocker Inc. employee Hugo Rosa operates an embroidery machine at the Warwick manufacturing facility. / PBN PHOTO/TRACY JENKINS
STRINGS ATTACHED: SquadLocker Inc. employee Hugo Rosa operates an embroidery machine at the Warwick manufacturing facility. / PBN PHOTO/TRACY JENKINS

PBN Business Excellence Awards 2020
Excellence in Entrepreneurship: SquadLocker Inc.

THE YEAR 2020 will be a year to forget for most Rhode Island businesses. But for Warwick-based SquadLocker Inc., it will certainly be a year to remember.

Bolstered by a $20 million Series C funding round in February, the athletic-apparel manufacturer made some strong hires and also managed to increase sales year to year, having already equaled all of 2019 sales in late October.

One part of this year’s sales success stems from SquadLocker’s decision at the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring to initiate manufacturing and selling team-themed face masks. Printing logos on children’s masks required some ingenuity, CEO Gary Goldberg said.

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“We have a very unique and proprietary technology that allows us to print any one item, and we had to adjust that process to do small little pieces, such as children’s masks,” Goldberg said. “Getting logos on them is a little bit trickier than some other garments.”

By the end of October, the company had sold more than 250,000 masks, with more than 7,500 of its accounts having added decorated masks to their stores.

Goldberg indicated that, despite being well-prepared for the challenges that 2020 has brought, it did not mean that the early days of the pandemic were not hair-raising.

“March and April brought significant declines in revenues,” Goldberg said, “and an opportunity for us to figure out how to manage the pandemic and the transition.”

While office staff shifted to working from home, working remotely was not an option for those in the manufacturing sphere. “We had to be extra thoughtful and careful and well-educated about how to keep them safe,” Goldberg said.

While the sales, marketing and other office-based staff performed well using shared online video platforms and videoconferencing for a few months, Goldberg still found that not being at the office eventually “became kind of trying.”

The company made good use of the three months that people worked remotely. SquadLocker reconstructed 20,000 square feet of modern office space across the parking lot from their manufacturing facility on Bald Hill Road for employees to work in a more spacious environment.

“There’s plenty of room for social distancing in the new office,” Goldberg said. “But people who still need to work from home, for whatever reason, are still welcome to do so.”

Seventy-five percent of the company’s staff is back on-site in multiple aspects, Goldberg said.

A business founded to support young athletes and their coaches around the country, SquadLocker has a practice of hiring former athletes throughout the organization. Those hires include former New England Patriot Dan Koppen as enterprise brand advocate, former professional baseball player Tip Fairchild as director of sales and former University of Connecticut hockey standout Tiffany Omicioli as national account manager.

“The DNA of an athlete is very, very effective when it comes to business,” Goldberg said. “Athletes have an understanding and respect for team collaboration, relying on each other for each other’s success.”

With all the challenges facing sports administrators around the country this year, the sports industry being down is understandable. Nevertheless, despite lost seasons and postponed tournaments, SquadLocker has managed to thrive.

“One of the things that we’re finding is that people still want to play,” Fairchild said, “and in different areas of the country, they’re going very hard.”

Among the reasons for the company’s robust 2020 sales, Fairchild said, was the team-apparel industry’s readiness to grow beyond the brick-and-mortar world in which it had been largely confined. SquadLocker had already perfected the art of contactless delivery – delivering orders to individual athletes rather than to frequently overburdened coaches and athletic directors – ahead of the pandemic, which was just part of a technology-heavy system designed to streamline and minimize stress within the experience of purchasing uniforms.

Goldberg predicts 2021 promises to be a year of even more robust growth.

“We have a massive backlog,” Goldberg said. “We know of orders that will come in once we’re on the other side of this.”

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