The Chiefs heading to the Super Bowl isn’t just a good look for the team — it’s a win for small business owners as excited Kansas Citians buy local to keep the party going, said Mark Launiu.
“I was really stoked for the city obviously, but I just texted my friends like, ‘Man, if you haven’t started a business yet, I’d just highly recommend it,’” said Launiu, owner of MADE Urban Apparel. “It’s a beautiful time to be an entrepreneur in Kansas City right now. You’ve got to catch the wave now. This is just going to be a huge help for everyone in the city for years to come.”
Kansas City pride in the Chiefs is swelling the love for all things local — a ripple effect that echoes what founders saw from enthusiastic customers following the Kansas City Royals’ championship win four years ago, he said.
“In 2013, our clothing brand had just started and it was a hard time. The Royals going to the World Series in 2015 really boosted our sales because the more we played off the idea of the Royals — people were just so happy and were going crazy for it,” Launiu added. “Now that in the last few years the Chiefs have been doing very well, a lot of businesses have eaten a lot from that as well. It’s like Christmas all over again.”
Bumping up ‘a couple levels of fandom’
The national spotlight on Kansas City can reinvigorate city spirit in locals and bring attention to the non-sports related amenities to the area, said Keith Bradley, co-owner of Made in KC.
“Whether it’s the excitement of seeing Kansas City profiled on national coverage for the SuperBowl or having national [media] correspondents come in and do profiles on our best barbecue restaurants or coffee places and all the other things that make Kansas City great that aren’t sports related … that re-energizes the city,” said Bradley. “It re-energizes everybody to take another look at their city.”
An achievement like a run for the Super Bowl championship can change and heighten a person’s view of the city in a great way, he added.
“It sort of moves everyone up a couple levels of fandom,” Bradley said. “A casual sports fan will become a much more loyal fan or an engaged fan and that has ripple effects that lasts until the next couple of years or that person’s lifetime — and then is tied intricately with the city of Kansas City itself.
“So there’s [along with that] knowing that when there is a big event like this in the city — we’ve built up a really great customer base that comes to us looking for ways to commemorate it,” he added. “So we continue to plan on having new stuff in our shops for customer to purchase and get excited about.”
Flexing an extra creative muscle
The excitement pushes Kansas Citians back into the community, said Dan Mahaney, owner of Normal Human , and that too can help small businesses.
“It’s goes a long way in getting people more in the habit of getting out of the house, seeing their friends, going to bars to watch the games. … You’re also just in general seeing more people in the store or online, like people who maybe didn’t know about you,” said Mahaney. “Even if they don’t care about football or sports or whatever, they might see something else you offer and go for that or just start following you on social media — that’s huge benefit.”
Another layer in the hype comes from designers finding creative ways to appropriate the Chiefs’ colors or football-themed shirts, he said.
“There’s a lot of benefits to it because the employees are excited to flex an extra muscle that they may not [typically] get to and there’s a lot of positivity around how that affects our internal operations,” Mahaney said.
For a marketplace like Made in KC, which features wares from a variety of artists in different styles, the self-expression from so many centered around a single event will be interesting to witness, added Bradley.
“[We’re] in unique place right now,” Bradley said. “Part of it is being ready and stocked, which is what we’ve been working on since [Sunday] night, and the other part is continuing to rely on the hundreds of artists that we work with that are [going to] express how they are feeling about this event through their own designs or certain products.”
Chiefs fans across the country are joining the celebration and looking to commemorate it, Launiu added.
“We’re shipping to Maryland and I’m like, ‘What are we doing in Maryland?’” he said, laughing. “We just want to create dope stuff for everyone to be able to support the city wherever they’re at, for people to wear it with pride and represent across the country.”
Ready for the rush?
Preparing for that huge uptick started weeks in advance, but the fate of those designs just had to wait for game day, added Bradley.
“As a fan and a business owner I was definitely preparing for, hoping for, and praying nervously for that win,” he said. “But even as a small business, we have a really great ability to be nimble with the artists that we work with… It’s just a lot of constant communication. Immediately after the game, I was telling my business partners that my inbox is blowing up with people just excitedly going, ‘Hey let’s get this going.’ So it was really a lot of back and forth.”
For some, the win means more work and less play, said Geoff Miles, owner of the Kansas City Clothing Co.
“As a Chiefs fan, it’s just a lot of fun. It’s something that’s great for the city. But now there’s a lot of work to do and I couldn’t really celebrate like I wanted to because I knew I had to get up and put orders in, put a rush on orders, and try to get product through,” said Miles. “I also knew that all the other local companies and national companies are doing the same thing.”
The apparel game then shifts to understanding how to set the brand apart from the many others looking to accomplish the same goal, he said.
“How do you not get too far out over your skis but also break the mold and do something creative … do something where you’re not spending too much money and hurt yourself?” added Miles. “You gotta watch, being a small business. You gotta be smart about what you’re doing and you just gotta figure out what makes sense for your brand.”
Mahaney had been curating a “small bank” of ideas since the Kansas City team had begun to show promise in recent years, he said, noting the ease of printing in-house prevents stress about competition or time constraints — though the brand is planning to take their time to release new items.
“Our plan is to release a new design as soon as possible, but our biggest concern is putting out something we’re proud of and that we think won’t be done by any other local shop. That’s about as much as we worry about competition,” he said. “There’s millions of people in KC who’re going to want to celebrate with a new shirt, so there’s generally plenty of room for different shops to be releasing items.”
“[We] just want the Chiefs to get that final win and to make our fans happy with whatever we put out there,” Mahaney added. “Sports success isn’t something we can reliably count on as part of a business model, so we view these opportunities from a retail standpoint as icing on the cake.”
‘We just knew this was coming all season’
Being a wholesale-oriented brand with significant lead times on printing, KC Clothing Co.’s focus is expected to be on restocking and meeting the high demand during the time constraints associated with the lead-up to the Super Bowl, Miles said.
In playing it safe, the brand also had to place an unusual order — one that canceled if the Chiefs had lost Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans, he said.
“Because we were planning ahead, we had to get in touch with our wholesale customers and saying, ‘Hey can you place an order that will only go through if they win, but we need to get that now so that we can send it right away once we know for sure,’’” he added.
For Launiu, there was absolutely no question about who would win the critical game, he said.
“It’s crazy because we’ve been prepared for this. We just knew this was coming all season,” Launiu said, noting that he has been an avid Chiefs fan from even before immigrating to the U.S. from the Samoan Islands.
“I just grew up really liking the Chiefs, but when I moved to the States, we lived in San Diego originally and [one day] we got a call from my aunt saying, ‘Hey, I think it would be a better move for us to live in Kansas City because I don’t feel like driving for 24 hours in San Diego … and my siblings just looked me at, kind of upset because my brother was a Broncos fan and my older brother was a 49ers fan,” he said, laughing. “It’s crazy that that was 25 years ago.”
The theme behind MADE’s Chiefs-centered apparel represents a “tour merch” aesthetic, dubbed, “Revenge Tour,” Launiu explained, with the apparel signifying the Chiefs going throughout the season defeating all the teams that beat them in previous games.
“We might or might not have already made some Super Bowl [championship] merch but … I can’t really speak on that right now,” Launiu joked.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.