January 28, 2022
From beanies and blankets to caps and koozies. Messenger bags, sticky notes and writing tools, too — you name it and North Georgia Promotions can brand it. Need proof? Visit its website and check out the Alpharetta, Georgia-based shop’s scrolling, mesmerizing product board. Customers can use the site’s category lists to check out the thousands of products the family-owned company offers for branding, marketing, publicity or communications-related needs.
At the helm is Shawn LaFave, president and chief branding officer, North Georgia Promotions. After trying his hand at several businesses and a brief stint in corporate America, he decided to take his entrepreneurial talents into an area of proven opportunity.
Whether it was his experience in scouting or the marching band, LaFave remembered the mad dash for apparel and branded items. In 2010, he and his wife, Laura, started learning the basics, eventually finding a few contract suppliers to help fulfill the orders they secured.
Eventually, they purchased a singlehead, six-needle embroidery machine. However, it wasn’t until they received their first 100-piece cap order that the LaFaves realized that singlehead wasn’t going to be enough. After attending an Impressions Expo — then called the Imprinted Sportswear Shows (ISS) — in Atlanta, they purchased a 6-head/15-needle Barudan embroidery machine.
“We were actually able to fit the machine into our basement and made that our home shop,” LaFave recalls.
However, after losing the constant battle with stacked boxes, which began to take over their home, the LaFaves landed a brick-and-mortar location. Two moves and scores of boxes later, North Georgia Promotions relocated to its 5,000-square-foot Alpharetta location, strategically
situated in Atlanta’s northern suburbs.
Not unlike the journey that any entrepreneur takes, there would be other turns and twists in the road. Early adopters of DTG printing, North Georgia Promotions’ business plan wasn’t set up to continue offering the decoration process, so LaFave sold that equipment. He decided to add a large-format printer and heat transfers, followed by a manual screen-printing press.
Eventually, a Workhorse Sabre 10/12 automatic screen-printing press and an Interchange MD-8 gas dryer were added to the equipment mix. In addition, North Georgia Promotions has Hotronix Fusion IQ and 360IQ hat heat presses; a Geo Knight auto-release clamshell heat press; a Roland SPi300 printer/cutter; a GCC media cutter; a BWM Hopkins 6/4 manual press; and a Pfaff Post Bed sewing machine.
Staying the Course
When one of your biggest business segments is corporate clients, a highly contagious virus with an unprecedented global reach isn’t good for business. In the first five months of the COVID-19 pandemic, North Georgia Promotions’ sales decreased 80%, driven downward by the fact that all its clients’ events were canceled.
While current sales gradually are creeping back up to 2019 numbers, LaFave says the road back took a Herculean effort — one that eventually will pay huge dividends.
“We reevaluated everything during this time and implemented a more streamlined process to help the business run leaner. Our client retention was strong. We did not lose many clients. It just took a reason for them to start buying again, like employee-client appreciation orders.”
Today, driven by its intimate knowledge of the B2B market, North Georgia Promotions knows bigger and better days are ahead. “We know what [our customers] are looking for and how they work,” LaFave says. “We are always working on ways to increase our saturation into that market. We know what we do well and we focus most of our time on those clients. We want to offer the best products and services so that our clients will rave about us.”
Resilience Pays Off
The past two years have been filled with an incredible mix of challenges and
successes — experiences that can push small-business owners to the very outer edges of the “bend-but-don’t-break” line.
“The whole experience has taught me that our industry is extremely resilient and helpful,” LaFave says. “There have been a number of videos and podcasts done — more than ever before. People like Charlie Taublieb from Taublieb Consulting and Marshall Atkinson with Atkinson Consulting have been helpful. They have provided so much great content and interviewed so many leaders in our industry over the last few years — conversations that have made it a lot easier to keep moving forward. Full disclosure: We have used both consultants in our business.”
With a business landscape that still is sorting its way through the continued effects of the pandemic, there’s no telling what 2022 — and beyond — will hold. The best course of action, as the LaFaves have always managed to do, is to stay committed to the plan and make changes when required.
“We plan to continue to evolve with the current labor shortage,” LaFave says. “We still need four to six more people to help us reach our business goals, so we are committed to finding new ways of creating efficiencies. We also are planning to fine-tune our concierge-level service program with our top clients so they become more reliant on us as we service them better.”
The North Georgia Promotions team also plans to add another 6-head Barudan embroidery machine in 2022.
“I have always believed that when one door closes, another one opens,” LaFave says. “We started by offering promo as a way to become a one-stop shop but found that it is so much more than that. Promo has its learning curve, and without being involved in our local [promotional-products] association (GAPPP — the Georgia Association of Promotional Products Professionals), it would have taken me a lot longer and would have had a much bigger learning curve.”
In a way to give back to the association that helped in his growth, LaFave has been named GAPPP’s president for 2022. The new year also will see a 900-square-foot showroom added to North Georgia Promotions’ facility.
“We found that when your clients are able to come in and compare tumblers and apparel, they will find more in their budgets to get the ‘nicer’ stuff,” LaFave says.
Michael J. Pallerino is an award-winning writer who has written for a number of national consumer and trade publications. For more information or to comment on this article, email Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.
North Georgia Promotions at a Glance
Company Name: North Georgia Promotions
Address: 4040 Nine McFarland Drive, Suite 1200, Alpharetta, GA 30004
No. of Employees: 7
Decorating Methods Offered: Screen printing, embroidery, sublimation, heat printing, wide-format printing
Company Website: ngapromotions.com
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