Making It in Northern Michigan: Alfie Logo Gear

Bonnie Alfonso sees a higher purpose in branding – one that goes beyond simply maximizing sales.

“It generates pride and connection,” said Alfonso, president of Traverse City-based Alfie Logo Gear, which opened its doors in 1990.

Feeling connected as part of a larger purpose keeps employees engaged in their work. Logo gear is one of the ways to foster that connection, Alfonso says.

“When so many people are working from home, the question is how to motivate them, keep them connected and generate pride in their work,” said Alfonso, who oversees 20-plus employees who run machines that embroider and screen print company logos and other information onto everything from T-shirts to sweatshirts, bags and blankets. “So what we do is even more powerful and meaningful than it’s ever been.”

During the pandemic, Alfonso and her team were busy. That’s not to say that these have been normal times at Alfie, which faced challenges in the predominantly overseas supply chain.

“Sometimes we start a project then find out mid-process that the materials aren’t available – they’re stuck in port. Or they will cost more than planned,” she said.

However, customers have remained understanding, she says.

“In the past 15 months, we haven’t had one customer get upset with us,” she said. “They’ve just asked, ‘So what can we do?’ and we ask them to add extra lead time to their projects.”

How has Alfie succeeded for more than 30 years?

First, branded products are popular with folks who own them and businesses who order them by the thousands. Alfonso cites industry statistics to prove the point.

“It’s about return on investment. The average bag is kept about 14 months. During that time, a lot of people will see that product. An ink pen with your logo on it will circulate for several months,” she said. “Something like 70% of all people own a branded T-shirt and they wear it multiple times per month.”

Second, Alfie and her staff coordinate all aspects of a project, making it simple for customers. For example, instead of leaving companies on their own to find materials – say a T-shirt or hat that will stand up well to screen printing or embroidery – Alfonso and her crew provide samples and advise which ones will work best for the project at hand.

“We call it ‘concierge-level’ service,” she said.

Another part of Alfie’s success is its long-time relationships with vendors.

“(The vendors) are trusted partners who provide us with high quality materials from name brand makers,” she said. “We know they’ll work with us on any project and give the most competitive pricing and stand behind it.”

Alfonso believes that a business’s success and relationship-building go hand-in-hand.

“It’s all about the relationships you form,” she said. “It’s not just transactional.”

Those providers are also willing to provide Alfie with something else: flexibility. They’ll fill the order, whether it’s large or small. That opens doors for Alfonso’s team to take virtually any size of project.

All those factors have helped Alfie build a proven, positive track record over three decades. Alfonso said repeat work accounts for “90-plus percent” of her company’s business.

“We have clients who’ve been with us for 30 years,” she said.

And pleased clients become ambassadors.

“One of the best indicators of a successful, vibrant business is the number of referral customers that come your way,” she said. “People want to do business with people they like.”

Alfie Logo Gear, located at 2425 Switch Dr. in Traverse City, is a certified Women’s Business Enterprise. For more, visit goalfie.com.

The Grand Traverse Area Manufacturing Council (GTAMC) sponsors this column. Its mission is to support a sustainable and globally competitive manufacturing sector for a stronger economy; makegreatthings.org.

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