Small businesses find support in local business owner’s campaign
By Taylor Shillam
As a business owner with experience spanning more than 10 years, Coeur d’Alene local Andrew Willis knows the hardships of starting and maintaining a small business. He also knows the profound impact of a strong support system among peers and community members.
In the last several weeks, small businesses have been forced into uncharted territory. The COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible for many businesses to continue operating under normal conditions; with a majority having to make immense sacrifices and even close their doors, holding on to the hope of reopening in the near future.
While physical doors have closed, this unprecedented time has opened the door for businesses and community members to get creative in finding opportunities to support one another.
Atomic Threads’ Print It Forward Campaign is dedicated to exactly that solution-focused creativity. Their website claims their mission to be “doing what we can to help small local businesses to sustain until we’ve returned to normalcy.” Since its launch, the campaign has seen incredible success.
Inspired by a colleague and born out of Willis’ desire to help his fellow business owners struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic, the campaign provides an accessible opportunity for locals to support their favorite Coeur d’Alene area small businesses.
T-shirts with designs submitted by business owners, groups and individuals are created and posted on the company website for $20 each. From the cost of each shirt, half will go to the business associated with that design, and half will go back to Atomic Threads, helping to cover costs of buying shirts, inks and paying their dedicated crew.
“Small-town business only works by supporting the businesses who support you,” Willis said, grateful for the immediate positive feedback and excitement generated by the campaign.
His company has been thankful for the opportunity to offer a solution in a challenging time; one that could keep them afloat while allowing them to offer a low-risk helping hand to those in the same situation, all while maintaining safe social distancing practices through a completely online business.
“I couldn’t imagine being a new business owner right now. There’s a lot of stress and time away from family,” he said, reflecting on his own experience of how difficult starting a new business can be, even in normal times.
Located in Hayden, Atomic Threads is a local expert in screen printing projects, decorated apparel and custom embroidery. The company is dedicated to quality, custom printing, and maintaining a genuine, caring presence amongst the many nameless, faceless companies offering similar services online.
Typically printing over 1,000 shirts daily, they stayed busy with merchandise and detailing orders from local schools, fundraisers, events, and of course, fellow small businesses. Like many businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic had a swift and significant impact on Atomic Threads’ flow of business.
At the cusp of spring in the Inland Northwest, a season when graduations, races and events would be on the horizon in abundance during a normal year, the necessary cancellation of such events to maintain social distancing practices had an immediate impact. Within 48 hours of the stay-home mandate coming into effect, Atomic Threads’ order queue went from extremely busy to “literally nothing.”
When panic mode set in, Willis had no choice but to decide where to draw lines and cut costs, from small luxuries like an Amazon Prime account to the difficult decision of laying off crew members. Willis’ first thought when the coronavirus changed his life was, “What can I do to help other business owners?” He put his focus into finding a solution, searching for something that could make a difference for his business and his community in a time when there seemed to be no answers.
He found inspiration in a post shared by a colleague, Tiny Little Monster. With their #HereForGoodStl campaign, the St. Louis-based screen-printing company encouraged making a difference in your hometown—exactly what Willis sought to do. He borrowed the idea and tweaked it to fit Atomic Threads’ process, and the Print It Forward Campaign was born.
Since its launch, the campaign has only continued to grow. Each week, the campaign has picked up several new businesses to support, adding to their “Print It Forward family.”
Over $9,000 was raised for local businesses and charity by early May, affirming Willis’
faith in business owners supporting one another.
No shortage of love and care can be found within this group, and all are welcome.
Willis regards the collection of business owners as “people you’d see at the farmers’ market”; owners of micro-businesses with a very low marketing budget. The ability to offer shirts to their followers with no up-front risk is a capability he’s proud to help provide.
CDAide has aligned with Print It Forward to make donations possible through the Atomic Threads site, with funds to be distributed directly to restaurant and hospitality workers who were laid off due to the quarantine. Some business owners with shirts in the campaign have opted for their portion of shirt sales to be donated to CDAide or to charities such as Children’s Village.
Willis believes in the power of coming together as small-business owners who understand each other.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding and assumptions out there,” he said, referring to misconceptions that a majority of business owners are “just rich, or workaholics.” Quite the opposite, Willis started his business to be able to spend more time with his family; to travel and experience the world with them.
With the Print It Forward campaign, he seeks to continue being a source of support and understanding, enabling fellow business owners to stick together.
“We’re helping out the community who helped us.”
The help they provide is more than financial; it’s hope, positivity, and connection that will see a community through to the other side of a difficult time.
You can contribute to the Print It Forward campaign by purchasing shirts or nominating a small business to add to the campaign. Shirts, donation opportunities and nomination forms can be found online at AtomicThreads.com.