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.

Olsen Thielen CPA - Oct 2020

Events Calendar

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
Michele Neale, a talent & leadership expert, will demonstrate how you can foster an engaged and productive workforce as part of your employee retention strategy. Online via Zoom  Learn more and register

January 28 – Thriving in a State of Change: Leveraging Purpose, Process and People
This Executive Forum is for SE manufacturing executives who want to grow and innovate to work through the COVID-19 recovery. Three of our expert consultants will show you how to identify gaps that may exist within your purpose, processes, and people and help you create a step-by-step action plan to achieve a clear company direction, optimize process improvement, and more readily navigate change. Online presentation  Learn more and register

February 4 – A Model for Manufacturing Excellence Using ISO 9001
ISO Certification expert Keith Gadacz will show you the value of the ISO and how it can help your company grow. Online via Zoom  Learn more and register

See more upcoming events

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Industry News

Southern MN fabricating community bands together to support welding program
South Central College of North Mankato now has a state-of-the-art welding lab and waiting list of students thanks to donations from local manufacturers. Jan. 2, The Fabricator  Read more

Climate by Design International welcomes Pierre Menard to the company
The Owatonna-based manufacturer of dehumidification and air handling products for commercial and industrial markets welcomes Pierre Menard as new Engineering Manager. Dec. 31, Climate by Design International  Read More

Upward trend in cooking from home drives demand for fresh vegetable kits 
Minnesota Fresh Inc., a “fresh — never frozen” vegetable meal kit producer based in Long Prairie, MN has been positively impacted by a 27% increase in demand since the onset of the pandemic. Dec. 30, Duluth News Tribune  Read more

West Central manufacturing leader begins term on MN Chamber of Commerce
Jim Sieben, president of two manufacturing companies in Willmar, MN, began his term on the Minnesota Chamber Board of Directors. Dec. 23, WillmarRadio.com  Read more

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