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Lakeshirts unit specializes in quick work

Down the line they go: Bison T-shirts come off the assembly line at Lakeshirts on Saturday evening. Submitted Photo1 / 2
Go Bison! Some of the T-shirts produced the same day that NDSU won. Brian Basham/Tribune2 / 2

The NDSU Bison football team walloped Sam Houston State Saturday afternoon to win its second straight Division I Football Championship Subdivision title.

Before the fourth quarter was done, about 30 people on six screen print presses at Lakeshirts in Detroit Lakes had swung into action, cranking out T-shirts and sweatshirts celebrating the Bison victory.

The 6,786 championship T-shirts and sweatshirts were printed, packed into color-coded boxes and loaded onto a truck bound for Fargo by 11:30 p.m.

Late-night teams of employees waited at Scheels, the NDSU bookstore and other retailers to receive the victory garb, ready to go on sale when the stores opened on Sunday.

It was a quick turnaround, but that's what the "Hot Market" team at Lakeshirts does -- get product into the hands of retailers during peak demand, said Julie Bommersbach, art and marketing director for the Blue 84 (college) division at Lakeshirts.

The busiest times for the Hot Market team is the March Madness college basketball championship, the College World Series, and college football bowl games and national championships.

The Bison championship run generated big orders from Lakeshirts -- in all, 13,559 T-shirts and sweatshirts were printed "from the time they found out they were going to the championship to today," Bommersbach said Tuesday.

The Hot Market team takes orders on an "if-win" basis. Prior to the Alabama-Notre Dame game, for instance, retailers placed orders for 8,300 pieces if Notre Dame won and 7,488 pieces if Alabama won.

Alabama did win, but they were not necessarily cheered on by the Lakeshirts crew watching the game.

From a strictly business standpoint, "we would have preferred Notre Dame," Bommersbach said. "We cheer for whoever buys the most T-shirts -- it has nothing at all to do with the teams," she said.

"If Notre Dame had won, we would have seen a lot of re-orders come in this week," she added. "It's a bigger deal for their fans because it's been a long time since they've won a championship. Alabama won last year (and have won three of the past four years) so it wasn't as big a deal for their fans."

Lakeshirts employees on the Hot Markets team may not start off as sports fans, but they often end up that way -- herself included, Bommersbach said. They watch the games on a TV in the break room so they can get an early jump on printing.

Most shirts are designed ahead of time. There were eight designs used for the Bison championship game, she said.

If a game is a blow-out, the printing starts early -- in the third quarter for the 42-14 Alabama-Notre Dame game, she said.

"Score shirts," which feature the game's final score, obviously can't be printed until the game is over.

So the Hot Market team includes artists as well as production people. The artists design the score shirts and do small redesigns as necessary on the other shirts. On one Bison shirt, for instance, the trademark was forest green on a forest green shirt, and had to be changed to gold so it would show, she said.

They work fast.

"We are known in the industry for our quick turn times," she said.

The Hot Markets team does their work in about 6 hours, but about 65 percent of all the screen printing work across Lakeshirts divisions is turned in 24 hours, she said.

Some of the industry giants, like Nike, can take months to turn an order, she said.

Faster turn times mean more shirts available and more revenue for retailers, she said.

The six-year-old Blue 84 college division generates perhaps a third of Lakeshirts' revenue.

Another division is the 3-year-old Blue 84 Spirit, which focuses on the K-12 school market, much of it through online sales.

The original Lakeshirts division focuses on resort sales and other specialty markets -- and a new division just getting underway will focus on sales to bars and restaurants.

"The economy being as poor as it is has not affected us nearly as much as some industries," Bommersbach said.

Business is good, and to keep up with growing demand, a 72,000-square-foot expansion project is underway to increase the size of the Lakeshirts production area. It is expected to be finished in March.