Editor’s note: The following is part of Startland News’ ongoing coverage of the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Kansas City’s entrepreneur community, as well as how innovation is helping to drive a new normal in the ecosystem. Click here to follow related stories as they develop.
Production of the famed KC Heart tee has stopped in the wake of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis — but hustle never quits, said Chase McAnulty, and that sentiment will keep the heart of Kansas City beating long after the pandemic passes.
“It’s almost like your hands are tied behind your backs, and what are you going to do with that?” McAnulty, founder and CEO of Charlie Hustle, said of the company’s approach to stalled operations and opportunities to lean into what the iconic apparel company says it represents: a connected community.
“To me, the question was invigorating and almost exciting,” he continued. “We can’t run our normal business, but it allowed us to think outside the box and say, ‘What can we do?’”
The answer came in the form of a now-common pivot for some apparel and fashion companies — producing face masks.
But doing so required more than just a shift in operations, McAnulty said, detailing Charlie Hustle’s investment in a full blown campaign dubbed “Masks for KC” — which aims to produce 100,000 face masks, with one protective mask given for every one purchased.
Click here to buy three KC Heart-emblazoned face masks for $25.
The effort is expected to support local hospitals that include Children’s Mercy, as well as area first responders.
“[I said,] ‘If we’re going to do something like this, it’s gotta be big,’” he said, recalling the decision, which was ultimately rolled out by the company’s nonprofit arm, the Heart of KC Foundation.
“We took our time [and did research.] … Obviously it was a little touchy with the nature of things right now, but we wanted to be able to support the community,” McAnulty continued, adding the opportunity to give back to the community dovetails with the genesis of the KC Heart and its representation of a united Kansas City.
“It was always something that was bigger than Charlie Hustle. I think right now, with the message of, ‘We’re in this together,’ this is something that really celebrates the message of, ‘We are one,’ and the Heart pulls through as that icon that guides that message.”
Click here to read about the KC heart’s recognition as the official regional symbol of Kansas City.
Foundation for giving
Nearing the halfway mark toward its aim of producing 100,000 face masks — with less than 10 days left on the clock — McAnulty said he’s confident the company will reach its goal, noting the experience could usher in a new era of community engagement for Charlie Hustle and serve as a proving ground from the Heart of KC Foundation.
“It’s a great starting point to show that we can do a whole lot more as a company,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of give-back through our product lines — now we’ve got a chance to give back even more through the voice and the brand equity we’ve developed here.”
In late February, Charlie Hustle announced the launch of its “Heart of KC” summer event series — which was set to open with a golf tournament in May.
All events under the brand have since been canceled in support of social distancing guidelines, McAnulty said.
“We’re going to regroup and evaluate what that looks like next year and focus on other ways to grow our business and build on the The Heart of KC Foundation,” he said, noting the series was intended to serve as the foundation’s first sizable vehicle for giving back.
Click here to read more about plans for the “Heart of KC” event series.
In order to give back, you must also give within, McAnulty explained, sharing Charlie Hustle’s commitment to keeping employees on the job during the crisis.
The company was approved for federal relief though the Paycheck Protection Program and has seen widespread support in the form of bulk orders for its masks by the U.S. Postal Service and a slew of large corporations.
Relieved by such support, McAnulty said there’s still fear of what lies ahead for the economy — even for one of Kansas City’s most successful small businesses.
“It’s one thing to be able to pay your employees and retain them and keep them on — that’s a really nice thing the SBA and our government has done. But at the same time, that doesn’t necessarily make up for the loss of revenue,” he said, specifically noting the impact the postponed seasons for the Kansas City Royals and Sporting Kansas City have had on the company, which specializes in apparel rooted in a love of local teams.
“You’ve got to make up for the rest of the loss of your business. You have to make up for all of the sporting events. We’ve got a retail store, we have corporate projects, but all that shut down.”
And with work scarce, community support for Charlie Hustle has surprisingly skyrocketed, McAnulty said.
“Our focus is 100 percent eCommerce [right now] and we’ve had a lot of great support from our community that has always supported us,” he said. “I think that’s where it is our duty to step up for them.”
“It’s a great time as a business leader to rally your own troops and say, ‘This is what we stand for,’” McAnulty continued.
In line with such a mission, Anheuser-Busch forged a partnership with the company that will see $5 from the sale of every KC Heart shirt — up to $25,000 — donated to hospitality workers throughout the month of April, with Charlie Hustle matching the gift, he explained.
Click here to support the Hustle for Hospitality campaign which pairs Charlie Hustle and Bud Light.
“We switched to really focusing on the philanthropic community side of our business. And I think we have somewhat of a civic duty to do our part in lifting people’s spirits and utilizing our resources to help support the community,” he said.