Fort Collins, Colorado
Industry: Contract Manufacturing
Products: T-shirts and promotional apparel
Owner Todd Lackie supplies bands, breweries, and distilleries with custom screen printed T-shirts to sell to their fans.
"We're working with over 60 breweries at the moment," says Lackie. His customer list includes a who's who of acclaimed beer makers: Oskar Blues, Odell, Funkwerks, Cigar City, Allagash, Fat Head's, and Crooked Stave. Due to Go West's work for their "good friends" at Dogfish Head, Lackie gets an invite each year from that Delaware brewery to attend one of their annual parties: "It's become, like, a vacation, going out there and seeing those guys."
When Lackie relocated from the Chicago area to Fort Collins in 1997 in order to join Go West, he already had about a decade's worth of experience screen printing T-shirts; it was experience that the then-owner of Go West didn't have -- and needed help with -- as his business was expanding. Until opening his own shop, Lackie says the previous owner had been acting as the middleman, taking orders, then having the shirts printed elsewhere.
Early on, Lackie describes how the company established a soon-to-be-booming, mutually beneficial relationship with the then-fledgling New Belgium Brewing Company, dating back to its founders' earliest days "selling bombers out of their garage." Lackie says, "[New Belgium co-founder] Kim [Jordan] had approached [Go West] about doing a handful of shirts with the Fat Tire logo on it." He cheerfully recalls that early on, "They just monopolized so much of our schedule that 80 percent of our work was New Belgium to begin with."
And thanks to New Belgium's massive orders, Go West was soon able to pass environmentally friendly T-shirt options on to its other customers. Lackie says, "[New Belgium] would buy at such a level that we would be able to secure a price point where we could offer organic options to smaller breweries at a closer price point to a regular shirt, because we were just buying so much of [the organic shirts]. . . . We helped spread a sustainble awarenenss that way."
Overall, Lackie says the company prints about 500,000 T-shirts a year. Lately, the company's largest volume of orders comes from Tito's Vodka out of Texas -- although the smaller, award-winning Colorado brand Montanya figures into the mix, as well.
Rather than expand the business beyond its current capacity, the company sometimes directs potential customers to other trusted shops in the Fort Collins area. Lackie likens the networking to a "Fellowship of the Squeegee." Still, he adds, "We're always open to a new brewery."
As part of its "work hard, play hard" ethos, the company maintains its own beer bar. "If one of our brewery customers shows up with a keg, we've got room for it," says Lackie. Not only that, the company is prepared to offer the customer a pint of one of Go West's own beers, brewed in-house. "Our number one press operator is our head brewer," says Lackie.
At the shop, there's a six-color, eight-color, and 12-color press. Shirts cycle around a carousel, with a different color of ink applied to the shirt through each separate screen. After the ink is applied, the shirts run along a belted dryer, taking about 2.5 minutes for a "full cure." The company also has its own graphic department to help customers who need assistance. Want a shirt that has a metallic sparkle or that glows in the dark? Or maybe one with a soft vintage look? Go West has the specialty inks for those jobs.
When he still lived in Illinois, Lackie says he used to make bootleg Grateful Dead and Widespread Panic T-shirts, selling them in parking lots at the shows while following those acts on tour. Since then, Go West has printed official merchandise for both of those bands. Like a T-shirt going around a print station, Lackie acknowledges how, for him, the world of printing has come "full circle, for sure."
Challenges: "We're always looking to find the next interesting fashion trend," says Lackie. That's especially important, given the changes taking place in the brewing industry: Brands aren't experiencing "straight-up, rocket-ship growth" like in previous years, leading Go West "to be more nimble, offer more things, be a little more proactive in coming up with what might be the next hot fashion item that brewery customers will latch onto."
Opportunities: Keeping things fresh, discovering new fashion items, says Lackie. "Things that will sell, that won't sit on [customers'] shelves." In addition to T-shirts, Go West produces screen printed trucker hats, hoodies, and work shirts.
Needs: "Sustainable options," he says. "It's improving, but there's a lot of room for more improvement. Especially for made-in-America garments . . . hemp has yet to break into the market [in major, cost-effective way]."