Small Business Success Story: The Shirt Stop
Embracing his rural roots, owner Tanner Thompson has found entrepreneurial success and strong community support in Richfield, Utah.
Some people leave home to pursue their dreams; Tanner Thompson did the opposite.
Studying entrepreneurship at Brigham Young University, the Richfield native had two goals that weren’t necessarily compatible: to start a business and to return to his hometown, a rural community of less than 10,000 people.
“Starting a business in a small town can be higher risk,” Thompson said.
Despite this awareness, he purchased The Shirt Stop — a 30-year-old screen printing business on Richfield’s Main Street — while still in college. Initially that meant making the 240-mile round trip drive from Provo to Richfield daily.
Thompson decided to leave school and move home so he could pour all his energy into the business — a decision that ultimately paid off.
Commitment to “highest quality goods in Utah” pays off
Over the last five years, The Shirt Stop has grown steadily, now with 32 employees and a second location in Lehi, where it counts many tech companies in Utah’s Silicon Slopes among its loyal customers.
Thompson attributes the company’s success to a strong team of employees who share a common commitment to quality.
“Our motto is ‘Highest quality goods in Utah.’ We genuinely believe that and run our business that way,” he said. “When a customer picks up a company shirt or family reunion clothing we want them to feel like they could have bought it at Nordstrom.”
Pivoting during the pandemic
The year 2020 started strong for the company, but as the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic began to take a toll on businesses, The Shirt Stop was no exception. Some of its larger corporate customers put spending on hold, creating uncertainty about the immediate future.
“I think like anyone, we were uncertain and a little bit afraid,” Thompson said. “Everyone was looking at me and saying, ‘Are we OK? Are we going to keep our jobs?’”
The company had to adjust and remain flexible through uncharted waters. When a rock-climbing company asked for 20,000 face masks — something The Shirt Stop had never done — it was able to deliver.
A banker in his corner
Paradoxically, it was also Thompson’s small-town ties — the reason he moved back to Richfield in the first place — that helped carry the company through the crisis.
As businesses vied for federal COVID-19 relief funds, he turned to his banker, Rick Robinson, who also happens to be the local high school sports radio announcer and someone he's known most of his life.
As manager of Zions Bank's Richfield branch, Robinson helped The Shirt Stop obtain a forgivable loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program shortly after the program launched.
“I was able to come back to work and tell everybody everything’s going to be fine,” Thompson said. “Everybody was able to breathe a little bit of a sigh of relief.”
Today, business at The Shirt Stop has mostly returned to normal.
“For the most part, we’re as busy as we’re used to being, and we’ve been able to carry through it,” he said.
And while economic challenges may lie ahead, Thompson knows he has the support of his rural community.
“My relationship with Rick (Robinson) gives me peace of mind as someone who has our back,” he said. “He’s just as much part of our strategy as any of our employees, and that’s a huge benefit knowing there’s someone in our corner who can help finance us in the future.”
For Robinson, the feeling of respect is mutual.
“He’s got one speed and it’s full speed,” Robinson jokes of Thompson. “I love helping small businesses and Tanner is just a great guy to work with. It’s not by accident that his company has grown.”
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Kallee Feuz is a Public Relations officer for Zions Bank.