The Ground Floor: Cedar Rapids entrepreneurs learn to make the rounds in a new industry

Business owners use dye sublimation to create custom golf apparel

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Published: April 23 2013 | 6:00 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 2:22 pm in
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For two Cedar Rapids entrepreneurs, the game of golf already has inspired one successful venture. Now their business is heading down a new fairway.

Steve Fairchild and Rob Brooks initially partnered with the idea to sell advertising for golf courses on the flags at each pin. With 18 holes per course, there were multiple opportunities for revenue — but for one small problem.

“You couldn’t buy single flags,” Fairchild said.

Fairchild, who said he is “a technology guy,” started researching cost-effective ways to manufacture their own flags. This led him to the dye sublimation process.

In dye sublimation, large printers are used to reproduce digital images onto special paper. The images are then transferred to fabric using heat to turn the dye into a gas that bonds with the fibers.

“The printer allows us to get four-color digital images on fabric,” Fairchild said. “The design opportunities are limitless.”

Fairchild and Brooks opened Spackler Golf Co. in 2011, using dye sublimation to produce custom golf flags and banners. But they realized the technology held more promise.

They met a potential investor who held the rights to the Shankopotamus brand. The term for a bad golfer was popularized in a 2009 Super Bowl commercial and subsequently trademarked.

The investor was looking to do something more with the brand. Fairchild and Brooks saw a way to leverage dye sublimation technology in the golf apparel market.

They opened Shankopotamus Global in 2012. The company manufactures custom golf apparel — with or without logos — for tournaments, fundraisers and corporate events. Because of the flexibility that dye sublimation provides, all shirts are printed, cut and sewn on a made-to-order basis.

“No one else is doing this type of thing,” Brooks said.

Fairchild said expansion into the apparel business was an eye-opening experience.

“We had to learn to navigate an industry we had never been in,” he recalled.

For one thing, it was difficult to find experienced sewers. Employees required more training time, and the company did not start making shirts as quickly as Brooks had hoped.

“We produced our first shirt in July. In a perfect world, that would have been January,” Brooks said. “We lost half of last season.”

With the company’s first full golf season ahead, Brooks is excited about the course Shankopotamus is on.

“It’s cool to be on the cutting edge of something.”

  • Owners: Steve Fairchild and Rob Brooks
  • Company: Shankopotamus Global, LLC
  • Address: 931 Blairs Ferry Road NE
  • Phone: (855) 742-6565
  • Website: www.shankopotamus.com

Know a startup in business less than a year that would be great for “The Ground Floor”? Contact business editor Michael Chevy Castranova at michael.castranova@sourcemedia.net.

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