This time of year, under ordinary circumstances, OT Sports would be producing jerseys for clients throughout the sports world. Many of these clients are Minor League Baseball teams, who rely on the Burlington, North Carolina-based company to create a wide array of creative -- and often flat-out ridiculous -- theme
This time of year, under ordinary circumstances, OT Sports would be producing jerseys for clients throughout the sports world. Many of these clients are Minor League Baseball teams, who rely on the Burlington, North Carolina-based company to create a wide array of creative -- and often flat-out ridiculous -- theme jerseys.
But these, of course, are not ordinary times. In the absence of sports, OT Sports is now producing handmade COVID-19 masks. This started as a philanthropic endeavor in the local community, but is now expanding into the world of Minor League Baseball.
Scott Gollnick, OT Sports vice president of sales and marketing, said he began getting calls last month from baseball clients regarding the possibility of a delayed start to the season.
"We could see the writing on the wall," he said. "We knew we'd have to slow production a little bit. Doesn't help to produce but not ship, from a supply chain/cash flow type of view."
OT Sports is one of Minor League Baseball's three national uniform providers. As the company was pondering its next move, its next move came to it.
"We had local non-profits and the school system in Alamance County reach out, knowing we're in the textile industry," Gollnick said. "Could we produce masks for them? So we worked with local healthcare professionals as well as the school system and the Burlington police department -- finding out what's the best material, the best construction, all the different things that lead into it. So that's where it started.
"In discussions with our local healthcare facilities and employees, they advised us that 100 percent cotton works better than polyester materials because it holds less moisture and provides better breathability. For this reason, we sourced cotton fabric for our facial covers rather than use our existing inventory of poly fabrics used for our pro baseball uniforms."
OT Sports acquired the material used for the masks from a local cotton producer with excess inventory. The initial batch of masks the company produced had a wide and exceedingly random variety of patterns, based on what the material had been used for previously.
"Now we're looking at expanding," he said. "What opportunities exist? Not just local municipalities and non-profits but in a larger context."
This larger context has to incorporate larger business realities. Gollnick said that OT Sports, like so many companies at this unique moment in history, is "between a rock and a hard place."
"We'll continue to donate locally here, but we can't donate everything we make," he said. "Our goal is to keep the lights on and have as many of our employees working as possible until the season picks back up. We're offering competitive pricing for groups or individuals who might want to purchase for their local community. We're not in it to profit immensely, but we want to keep our ability to keep the day shift operating as is, to try to get through this time so as not to close the doors. ... We want to supplement our donations by selling masks for others to donate."
The strategy will allow OT Sports to incorporate its clients, new and old, in a direct way.
"Right now, we're discussing doing custom masks, where we'll be able to put a company or team logo on it," said Gollnick. "It's not neccesarily a marketing ploy, but it allows teams to say, 'Hey, we're here to support the community and when we're back we hope you'll be here to support us.'"
The Columbus Clippers and Bluefield Blue Jays have both ordered custom masks from OT Sports, and Gollnick is hopeful that more Minor League teams will follow suit.
The Clippers' goal is to distribute 1000 masks. In a press release, the Triple-A Cleveland Indians affiliate explains that it has "teamed up with the Ohio National Guard for the distribution of personal cloth face masks to those in need with the help from you the fans. For every online merchandise order of $25 or more through the Clippers Cargo Store, the Clippers will donate two personal face masks to the Central Ohio Community."
In these trying times, finding creative ways to further pre-existing business relationships is of paramount importance. OT Sports, like so many entities across the sports world, are trying to get by with a little help from their friends while doing some good along the way.
"It's a spiderweb, this industry. We rely on the existence of so many others for our success," Gollnick said. "The vendors need the teams, the teams need the vendors, the team needs the fans, the fan needs the team. These relationships, these friendships, are what makes the baseball community so great. Everyone wants to help one another and understands one another's role. It's really nice, to have had people reach out to support us. And we can reach out and support our local community in return."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.