We set out on a t-shirt voyage
2020 has quickly become the year where all bets are off. The sense of unknown, caused by COVID-19, that lingers in the air has driven us here at Southland Supply to take the plunge and dive into opportunities that may have seemed out of the question before March. Our t-shirt fulfillment partners have been negatively hit by COVID-19, and as a result, businesses like ours are struggling to ensure timely production and shipping to our customers.
The solution to this, you ask? A road trip across the mighty Mississippi to acquire new production equipment for our little business, of course. Well, let’s be honest, the list of “why nots” for this sort of thing was a mile long. Can we fit this equipment in our home office? How do we learn to operate it? How will we pay for it? What happens when it breaks? Will it even work to begin with? Will it turn into a money pit??!! Spoiler alert: we caved and trekked across state lines to Siloam Springs, Arkansas. All in the name of t-shirts. Many things played a role in the Southland crew deciding to make this voyage, but let’s back it up a little bit. On a day to day basis, this crew consists of myself, Justin, and the Southland co-owner (and one of my best friends), Jason. We’re always looking for ways to grow this business and work more efficiently as two stay at home dads. Finding balance in operating a small business, while also raising our children, has been a journey of its own, and one we are constantly navigating day in and day out. So with this in mind, and knowing our business is growing greatly, we knew we needed a new, reliable screen printing machine to expedite the t-shirt production process and get products out to our customers in record time. But first, we had to find the right printer. We needed to find a working machine that didn’t cost 10K+, which isn’t an easy thing to do. But the internet is a magical place, and with some digging, we found just the thing! TC Screen Printing in Siloam Springs, AR had the exact machine we were looking for and turns out, they needed it gone to make room for new(er) equipment.
After a brief exchange through Instagram DMs, I made the call to Tyler (owner of TC Screening) and we chatted for about 45 minutes. Not just about the printer but about pandemic life in Arkansas, managing home life with the kids, trying to keep t-shirt businesses afloat, and so on. I had a good feeling about these folks. After talking and catching up, I asked Tyler how much money he needed for me to take this printer off of his hands. After a pause, he drops a bomb on me…”Hey man, if you are willing to come pick it up, I’ll give you TWO printers, plus all the extra goodies (stands, ink, maintain supplies, cleaning solution, etc)!” Wait a second, hold the phone…did he say we would give us two? This quickly seemed like one of those “too good to be true” kinda deals. But, our minds were made up, and the road trip commenced. You see Jason and I are no strangers to road life. We met through music. Jason joined my funk band - The Funk Brotherhood - around 2017, and since then we have spent countless hours in a van traveling to and from gigs. So, we knew we could handle this trip no problem. But then our grand planning came to a screeching halt. What the hell are we gonna do with the kiddos? Jason has three boys under the age of 6, and I have a 5 year old boy and 2 year old little girl. We’re at home with our kids day in and day out, even before this global pandemic struck. Our wives both work “real” jobs, and we get to do the fun stuff between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm...Make t-shirts, prep snacks, change diapers, facilitate naps, more snacks, shuffle the kids outside and then back in, and even more snacks. You get the idea. But we’re lucky, and our wives always support our crazy ideas. So, they give us the green light to haul ass to Arkansas and back. There was no time to take in the sights or drag ass…we needed to go and get back.
By the next day, we had rented a cargo van and set off on a buddies trip to Siloam Spring, Arkansas. We left at 12 pm on a Friday with the goal of making it all the way, or at least really close to our destination, and we did just that. We sat in that van for 12.5 hours for 800 miles straight. The funny part about road tripping through the south is that once you get through Atlanta, most of the trip is really relaxing and peaceful. Picturesque almost. I never realized how wide open and rural most of Mississippi and Arkansas really are. Between Birmingham and Memphis you don’t see much as all. Only long stretches of highways for ever and ever.
At this point in the journey, we stopped to refuel. And what better place to do so than in Memphis, Tennessee? Which I hadn’t seen in almost a decade, since my touring band days. We found a local burger joint downtown that had solid COVID guidelines in place, and we sat for a quick bite. Only 5.5 hours to go, but it was already 9 pm our time (EST). Time to hunker down in the van and burn some more rubber. We were getting so close.There wasn’t much to see on this last stretch of the drive. Just wide open roads, funky tunes blasting, and a lot of BSing. At around 11 pm, I almost let us run out of gas - that was really fun. But to be fair, there wasn’t a single rest stop or gas station for miles - gotta love the rural south. But alas, we found a gas station, filled the tank, and landed at a hotel around 2 am to catch some shut eye. Are you on the edge of your seats yet? At 7 am the next morning, we were up and back on the road. After about 30 miles, we made it to TC Screening in Siloam Springs. We met Tyler at his shop, and he gave us a quick tour of his place where he and his team are doing really cool things in the t-shirt world. Tyler turned on the printers and gave us a quick run down before we started to load the van. You’d probably like to know a little bit more about what these *amazing* printers at this point, huh? These DTG printers are huge and weigh about 250 pounds each. Jason and I had to channel all of our dad strength to get these bad boys in the van. We needed to be really careful with these machines, too. It wasn’t out of the question that we could ruin these printers while in transit and immediately regret this seemingly risky road trip decision. On the road again..now remember, we left at noon on Friday, and it was now 9 am on Saturday. We are 12 hours from home, and we would lose an hour due to the time change. Our goal was to be back in Athens by 11 pm. We hauled ass….I mean really. We only stopped three times for gas and a quick lunch. I even did the last seven hours from Tupelo without stopping - a new personal best! And drum roll please….We made it back to the Classic City with time to spare by 10:30 pm. Our new printer allows us to print full color designs on just about anything you can lay flat on the press. We can produce a full color t-shirt in about 40 seconds. The technology in these machines blows our minds. I have no idea how they come up with this stuff, and I sort of think it may be black magic.
We plan to take on some contract printing for other brands in our area and anyone in need of a quick t-shirt. We are thankful that our brand has been able to stay afloat during all of this, but we know this heavenly equipment is going to help us sleep a lot better at night and deliver the products our customers love efficiently. This trip really couldn’t have gone any smoother, and I welcomed the change of scenery after all of this quarantine time. There are always so many variables when traveling - van breakdowns, tire blowouts, major highway backups, bad weather and so on. But we were able to soak up some quality chats, enjoy the country roads, and take the time to be really grateful for our health, our lives, and this t-shirt business. I have to admit - this voyage was also a nice break from being locked up at home with our crazy kids. No one asked us for a single snack for a whole 26 hours! Major win.
Written by Justin Willis, Owner of Southland Supply Co.