Detroit Lakes-based Lakeshirts – maker of resort and college novelty apparel – learned during the pandemic that grooming the right kind of leader can make all the difference.
CEO Mark Fritz and CFO Mike Hutchinson picked the right rising star to groom for leadership when they hired Michelle Daggett 24 years ago. When the pandemic hit, Daggett helped them guide the company through the worst financial disaster in the company’s history.
Fritz and Hutchinson hired Daggett as the company’s first-ever human resources director. A few years later, they promoted her to become the company’s first-ever operations manager. Four years ago, they promoted her again to president. They probably had no idea they were creating the kind of leader who would be a perfect answer to a pandemic.
“We have been fortunate to experience a lot of successes over the years, but like most we have experienced some challenges as well. This year is a perfect example of that,” says Fritz. “When those rough patches or challenges arise, Michelle has been able to put things in perspective and roll up her sleeves to help our entire team get through any roadblock or hard time.”
The past 11 months have been difficult for many companies, Lakeshirts included. But with Daggett in the role of president, she was able to help Lakeshirts weather the storm and get back on a path to normalcy.
Just prior to the onset of the pandemic, Lakeshirts had inked deals with Zephyr Headwear and Elite Fan Shop, two partners that would further solidify Lakeshirts’ standing as a dominant player in the industry. They also had brought in a new investor, Carlson Private Capital Partners. The year 2020 was looking rosy for Lakeshirts.
And then, just as March Madness was about to capture the nation’s attention and with resort season just a few months away, COVID-19 turned the world upside down. The NCAA canceled March Madness. Resorts halted orders in anticipation of being closed for the summer.
In March, Lakeshirts had 740 employees and was poised for record profits. But with much of its traditional business at a temporary standstill, Lakeshirts laid off 700 of them. Of those who remained, managers took pay cuts, some as much as 50%. Things were quiet in Lakeshirts’ 300,000-square-foot facility.
“In April, we billed about 10% of what we should have,” Daggett says. “And it was the lowest we had billed since 1996. May was also very low.”
Things are slowly coming back. They’re currently at just over 500 employees now. Resort sales, which showed a modest comeback in June, are still down 30%. College sales are down over 50%.
With the COVID-19 vaccine in mass distribution, Daggett says the worst may be behind them. This summer’s resort season looks promising, she said. And there may even be March Madness this year — albeit without fans — which will help bring things back to profitability at Lakeshirts.
It’s been a trying time for the company, one that has tested Daggett’s mettle. Her path to the role of president gave her the kind of experience necessary to help guide Lakeshirts through trying times.
You can read more about Michelle Daggett and Lakeshirts in the February issue of Enterprise Minnesota® magazine.
January 13 – Driving Continuous Improvement in Uncertain Times
David Ahlquist, one of Enterprise Minnesota’s CI experts, will show you how continuous improvement methods keep employees engaged and focused on value-added activities. Online via Zoom Learn more and register
January 20 – How Your Employees Can help Improve Profitability in the Coming Recovery
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