How One Hour Tees Handled Increased Demand During the Olympics


Every year, you can count on a couple of time-honored surges in demand. There's Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Christmas. You get the idea. And every two years there's the Olympics. You might remember them -- and if you run a certain kind of business, you might have been affected by it.

One Hour Tees knows this firsthand, having been around for two summer Olympics and one winter one. The Chicago store, which, as the name suggests, gives custom-designed shirts to customers within an hour, wasn't inundated, per se, but received plenty of orders for "clients who are doing Olympic BBQs [and] clients who want to show their support with Team Gabby shirts." And that's on top of their usual breakneck turnaround rate for garments.

To find out how the store handles these swells, I gave Ryan Barkan, its owner and CEO, a call.

How do you manage sudden spikes in demand?

Ryan Barkan: I mean, there's always growth in an industry. We started about five or six years ago right when these digital printers that we use came out and it just keeps growing and growing as people are learning about the process, so in the summertime in Chicago, obviously, people are going to buy more T-shirts than in the winter. I guess it's different when you're in Florida and places where it's nicer, but we do a lot of orders for schools. We work with about 500 different schools all over the United States and it's good because schools are in session during the winter and they have clubs and sports and they needed hooded sweatshirts and all that kinda stuff. So, we kinda stayed busy throughout the whole year but there is a huge spike in the summertime, like, right when spring starts in Chicago everyone's doing softball teams and they got their sports teams and they wanna get their stuff. It gets very busy around that time. It's hard to manage, but we do it.

Does it get harder to manage when there are bigger events like the Olympics that overlap? I would assume since you mentioned the summer that the summer Olympics might be crazier for you guys.

Ryan Barkan: They're definitely busier. I don't really remember making too many winter Olympics stuff. I guess people are more into the summer Olympics than the winter ones, in terms of apparel and all that kinda stuff, because we've been doing tons of different orders for people putting on their own Olympics or their own events and representing different people that are in the Olympics, or friends of theirs, or something like that or they wanted to get shirts just to wear around. But definitely a little bit busier because of the Olympics because we got a lot of Olympic-style orders. Right around this time is probably our busiest time in general. We probably double the amount of orders that we do normally.

Is the way you manage that demand today different than it was years ago?

Ryan Barkan: It's hard because with these machines we have the ability to print -- if we get an order, we can print it the next day, we can have it done with manual screen print machines, which we don't really use in our store. There's a lot of setup involved, and they can't really do orders for one for five or six shirts or something like that. We're one of the only companies that can do low runs quickly and get it done. So, we're doing 50, 60 different T-shirt orders a day and those orders could be one shirt, they could be 50 shirts, it could be 250 shirts. I mean, we just work more if we have more to do.

Right. So there's no real way you can exactly prep for it if the orders aren't in.

Ryan Barkan: No, not really. One day, like, today we only had 15 orders to print. But on Friday we were doing 56 orders. So it's hard to know what we're gonna do. If we do have a lot of orders, we'll be working 15 hours versus working an eight-hour day or something like that.

Is there any advice you would give to people thinking of entering a similar space as you guys to be better prepared for that stuff?

Ryan Barkan: I guess you gotta think about how popular your product's gonna be and how quickly it's gonna grow if it's gonna catch on. Ours caught on fairly quickly, at least in Chicago. Not a lot of people knew you could go somewhere, get a T-shirt in an hour and then walk away with it. Yeah, with the new digital printers anyone can really get into it, you just gotta have a good knowledge of how to design and how to print quickly, because if you're spending an hour designing a shirt, you can't really do that and print in the same time. People think they can get into the T-shirt business and then they realize how much work it actually is if you don't actually have experience with graphics and knowing illustrations and stuff like that. People definitely assume it's easier [than it is]. 

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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