FROM THE ASHES: How Thomas Edison Inspired Our Company to Survive the 2020 Sports ShutdownJun 17th, 2020
Thomas Edison’s legendary response to his 1914 factory fire was
“Go get your mother and all her friends. They'll never see a fire like this again.”
I took COVID-19’s effect on our business with a similar attitude. We did not have a fire. However, in the 1st weeks of the sports shutdown, our business was down a MASSIVE 95% in sales over the same period as a year before.
The Challenge & Our Goals
Call it a 100-year challenge. Call it a real-life stress test. Call it whatever. Regardless, the thought of Thomas Edison and his response to his factory fire was emblazoned on me throughout this time.
I knew we had built a SUCCESSFUL business. But had we built a SUSTAINING business? Early on, that answer was truly uncertain.
In true Edison form, I eagerly wanted to know and created 5 goals to find the answer.
1. Stay in Business
For the few orders we had, I wanted to ship them out. We get orders from all over the world, and we felt we were essential for each customer.
We also wanted to be available to process returns. We knew there would be some from cancellations. And that meant money in people’s pockets who needed it. Several days, we had more returns and credits than sales.
Staying in business also meant staying in constant communication with customers through social media, email and Zoom calls.
2. Take Care of Staff and Families
This included keeping them safe. We furloughed several staff who either had an underlying health issue or had someone at risk at home.
We made sure furloughed staff knew how to apply for unemployment (These were our first layoffs in 14 years of business).
We implemented CDC sanitary and social distancing guidelines at work including allowing some staff to telecommute.
3. Pay Our Bills
At the height of mid-March, we owed our suppliers nearly a half-million dollars. This is not atypical when we ramp up inventory for the season. Due to terms our suppliers give us and brisk sales, we can handle that...at least when there is not a pandemic!
As a result, we kept in communication with suppliers, renegotiated terms and made payments by credit card to extend payables, when necessary.
This, with a freeze on non-essential office expenses and an assist from the Paycheck Protection Program and our bank, allowed us to also insure monthly rent and payroll were covered - you know, to keep the lights on.
4. Do Something Good
We launched a 10K Buy-One-Donate-One Cloth Mask Donation Program. At the time of writing, we are at 9,600+ sold and 9,600+ donated to 23 hospitals & non-profits in 14 states.
We organized a Coronavirus Guide for Sports Officials and published several articles on unemployment resources, personal safety and states sports re-openings.
I helped create and launch the Umps Care Charities Blue Crew Insiders, a new giving program geared to amateur umpires with major league benefits.
5. IMPROVE FOR WHEN CUSTOMERS RETURN
We focused on adding more helpful videos, maintaining discounts to make it easier for customers who lost game fees and launching customer experience-focused e-commerce enhancements.
Turn the clock ahead 3 months later, and with sports starting back in 2/3rds of the states to date or soon, business is back to near-normal!
Each goal was accomplished. Sustaining business? Check!!
Thomas Edison would be proud. Hopefully, just like his factory fire,
"We'll never see anything like this again."
- My Staff
- Our suppliers, especially Smitty Officials Apparel
- NASO (for their thought leadership & for championing our mask program)
- Stock Yards Bank & David Krebs
- Kelly King CPA & Troy King
- Megan Bankemper from Senator Mitch McConnell’s Office
- And advisers/community leaders including:
Jason Blackburn - Mid-American Umpire Clinic
Ray Brownlie - UMPLIFE
John Gallante - Tri-State Elite Umpires
Daniel Labrie - Mask Donation Expert
Tommy Owens - Zoom Video Producer and
Mark Stubblefield - MiLB Umpire Training Academy
- Competitors & Friends: Gerry Davis (Gerry Davis Sports) & Pat Madine (Purchase Officials Supplies)
And the biggest: Customers, Friends & Followers - without you, nothing is possible.
Oh, and Mr. Edison.
- Umpire and Referee Store Near Me
- CDC Guidelines Updated for Masks & Gaiters
- Sports Officiating Resources & the Coronavirus Pandemic
- High School & Middle School Associations Decisions on Fall Sports
- The (Nearly) Definitive State-by-State Guide on Sports Re-Openings
- From Little League to Ump-Attire.com President, Hometown Article Highlights Jim Kirk’s Sports Career
- Smitty Making Cloth Masks - Buy One, Donate One Program
- Ump-Attire.com Makes 2020 List of Best Places to Work in Louisville
About the Author
President Jim Kirk
Jim is a leading expert, educator and author on umpire gear, safety & appearance. After playing baseball at Centre College, he worked as a high school umpire. He became involved in E-Commerce while working on an MBA in the early 2000s and bought Ump-Attire.com in 2006, He eventually led it to the leading umpire gear & attire retailer worldwide, a “Best Places to Work in Louisville” honor in 2020 & 2021 and a National Association of Sports Officials (NASO) Preferred Vendor. He maintained a long-standing relationship with Minor League Baseball Umpire Development & Training Academy for 10 years. He serves as an adviser to UMPS CARE Charities, the charity of MLB umpires, served as a 2-term board of director from 2012-2018, and was named their 2015 Ambassador Award recipient. A supporter since the inception of the Wounded Warrior Umpire Academy, he was named to their Board of Directors in 2020.