ST. LOUIS — The official flag of the city of St. Louis is helping to save the year for Jeff and Randy Vines’ small business, STL-Style, a 1,700-square-foot retail store in the gritty business district along Cherokee Street.
The twin brothers sell sassy St. Louis-themed T-shirts, other apparel and corporate logo products, with a client list that includes the St. Louis Cardinals, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Washington University.
This year, their 10th as a full-time business, was supposed to be their best. Sales had grown 82% in the prior five years to reach $1 million in 2019. Hitting $1.2 million was not out of the question in 2020.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.
When they closed their retail store March 15, they worried about the safety and future of their employees — who supplement their income with side gigs that quickly evaporated.
“What would we do if we go dark?” Randy said. “We have only so much money in reserve, and after all, how important are St. Louis T-shirts in a crisis like this?”
Rather than accept that this could be the end, they searched for other sources of revenue. “You can’t spell hustle without STL,” Randy said.
First they created a “Flatten the Curve” T-shirt depicting the city skyline and the Arch doubling as the trend line. Orders poured in.
“We were toying around with ideas on how to keep that going,” Randy said. “All of the experts were still saying not to wear masks.”
Then they started seeing ads for face masks on their vendors’ websites. They placed an order April 10 for 3,500 face masks, embroidered with the St. Louis flag.
At $5.95 for a single and $19.95 for a four-pack, they sold out in 24 hours.
Even shipment delays that lasted two weeks didn’t dampen customer enthusiasm. They placed another order, for 10,000 masks, with most already sold. They foresee a third order soon for another 10,000 masks.
“We were getting three orders a minute for several days,” Randy said. “We have never seen so much volume.”
Face mask sales, which look like they will exceed $100,000 for the year, will help offset expected losses of more than $100,000 from custom screening work, custom logo products and canceled festivals and events in St. Louis, giving them a chance to hit $1 million again.
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