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24-Hour Tees impacts Kearney biz
If you wanted a t-shirt that read “Klingon in Training” for the upcoming Star Trek Convention or a shirt that is decked out with an awkward family photo in time for the reunion this weekend, did you know that there is a service in Kearney, Nebraska, that offers just that? 24 Hour Tees is not your typical screen-printing operation. They are doing things a little different and making a big impact on their community.
Chais and Shawna Meyer, owners of 24 Hour Tees, have been married for 13 years. Chais has had the entrepreneurial spirit for quite some time. This began with the formation of his first company Gelang, a company that Shawna (his high school sweetheart at the time) fully supported.
Chais made custom hemp jewelry and would attend craft shows on the weekends where he would typically sell $400 worth of merchandise. He then went to India with a family friend when he was 20. Here he taught a native village how to make this jewelry, which would ultimately keep them out of the snake-ridden rice fields. This is where his excitement about international business and outsourcing started taking shape. Since then, Shawna and Chais have turned many ideas into businesses. This has led to where they are today.
More notably, Chais was the co-founder of a local web development company, Control Yours. He sold his shares to David Lano, his then business partner.
Chais and Sawna lived in Thailand from 2011-2013, to fulfill the desire to see different parts of the world. Here the couple ran a popular travel blog. In those two years, Chais honed his website and marketing skills by making a lot of affiliate marketing websites. Life, as it does sometimes, presented him with the opportunity for people to create self-expression through their apparel.
First off, he teamed up with different international designers to create custom shirt designs. They then made a commission if their shirt designs sold. They didn’t have a way to print the t-shirts so they had to outsource that service, and they chose a company in their hometown of Kearney.
Their time in Thailand ended, and Chais and Shawna moved back to the states. They knew there was a need for t-shirt fulfillment overseas, because this was a need they had while operating in Thailand. They started a company called Drip Ship. As an order came in (the drip), they would print it and package it with the company’s branding then ship it out to its destination somewhere in the world.
Part of Chais’s approach to business is to develop an ecosystem.
“Part of the concept I have always believed in is if you have a foundational business, whatever one of your main expenses or costs are, if you could own that area of that business, you just continue to feed yourself,” he said. “That makes sense in a supply chain sort of way. For us, we were doing the distribution for other people. We have all the equipment, all the apparel, why don’t we just have a storefront? There isn’t anywhere you can go to just get one t-shirt at a time.
How can we market that? How can we make it so people can express themselves without it costing $60? We figured out a couple of ways to do it. We bought a used printer. Then we decided to fine-tune our system and create a more retail-like experience.”
Their future plans include the development and utilization of affiliate systems. For example, if a person comes into the store with a card given to them by a friend who referred them, that friend then gets a percentage of the sale. According to Meyer, it is a true, real world affiliate business model.
“We are trying to change the way people think about apparel. If a person can come into the shop in a fashion sort of sense and try on the dozens of styles and touch the fabrics and have a retail experience and also be able to customize that with full-time designers that are on staff, that is pretty amazing and it isn’t being done anywhere else,” he said.
24 Hour Tees is a game-changer. They have seen a lot of interest from people, mainly designers, who want to come and work for them. They're still a small shop and can’t afford to pay big salaries, however, what is attracting talent is the company culture. The culture is very present and visible outside of the internal team. Their main designer, Ryan, is a perfect example of this. He graduated from UNK with a degree in Graphic Design.
Ryan started working for a local company designing ads. He did that for a while because it’s what he thought you do; graduate and work a boring job for a big company. He heard about 24 Hour Tees from a mutual friend. Then, he had his “Jerry Maguire” moment and sent an extensive letter explaining to Chais that he needed a change. He didn’t care as much about the money, but he did care about his happiness. Chais knew he could deliver on the happiness part and the rest was history.
“Happiness; that is where our culture is going. There are always going to be people who focus on money, money, money and those people are always going to be unhappy, unhappy, unhappy the majority of the time,” Chais explains. “So, if you can pay the bills and have a great work day where you can have fun while you're doing it and influence people’s lives by making things people like, for us, t-shirts, we are making happiness every time. And that is pretty awesome.”
They must be doing something right as they continually have people applying to work at 24 Hour Tees. Coincidentally, they are hiring, but finding the right fit can be a challenge.
“If a person can bite onto the concept about being happy in their daily life and not care so much about getting a huge paycheck, then we are perfect for that possible employee,” Chais said.
Although 24 Hour Tees is still considered a “Mom and Pop” shop, they do offer perks like cold beer in the fridge to enjoy after work, gourmet coffees brought in from local coffee shops in the morning, and Chais and Shawna pay for gym memberships for their team. Helping people achieve that wellness is important to their culture.
The culture and satisfaction are not only felt by the team, but by the customers. “I had a special request and they are so accommodating and do great work. I was thrilled the first time and so I am doing it again,” said local customer, Susan Grove on her return visit to the store.
Chais and Shawna are serial entrepreneurs with many ambitions. They also have started a company called DoodleTees. This is where artwork and apparel meet. Any artist of any age can have their artwork printed directly onto a shirt. This can all be done online with a computer, smart phone or even inside the 24 Hour Tees retail store.
The small business duo have agreed that they want to avoid outside funding at this point in their business. They are willing to use their skill sets to bring in enough money to meet their obligations, but everything they make through the business is put back into the business. This is how they believe their business will grow quickly.
The young entrepreneurs at 24 Hour Tees are involved in their community and know exactly how to share their business culture on a broader scale. They agree that if they can help make Kearney a fun place to work and live, the next generation of business leaders will be better for it. They are currently building and developing a website and app that will make it easy for people to find out about activities and gatherings in the community.
They recently created, sponsored and organized the Food Truck Rally in Kearney that happens on a regular basis. Chais and Shawna are willing to step outside of their business to help make this happen because they want happiness to spread throughout the community.
They have accepted the challenge of being influential in the process and are willing to create an impact to help shape and develop their community's personal and professional culture.
So, you can now get that single shirt that sports a mug shot of your cat or wear your 'life mission' on a tee every single day (please be kind and launder it regularly). They work with each customer, one-on-one, to find out how many shirts they need, to get final details for their order, and create a custom design that's right for them at no extra charge. Once the design is approved, they will print the shirts and either ship them to their destinations or they can be picked up at 24 Hour Tees in Kearney.
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