Growing a Giant

For S&S Activewear, 2019 has been the year of growth. In February, S&S opened the biggest wholesale apparel distribution center on the West Coast, changing the game with one-day shipping, and just last month their brand new, 750,000-square-foot LEED-certified distribution center opened in Lockport, Illinois, making it the most sustainable distribution center in its network. These mass undertakings are the latest forward-looking initiatives by this industry giant.

But S&S wasn’t always a giant.

S&S Activewear was started in 1988 by two guys named Steve (so now you know why it’s called S&S!) in a tiny 20,000 square foot warehouse in the Chicago suburbs. Just over 10 years later, S&S was purchased by Jeff Adams and Paul Rohr. Together, with the dedication and expertise of the S&S team, S&S has over 1500 employees nationwide and has distribution centers in Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Nevada, New Jersey and Texas, exceeding a combined square footage of nearly 4,000,000!

We sat down with S&S’s National Accounts Manager, Nolan Parker recently to understand better what has been driving S&S’s growth, as well as to get some inside scoop!

What is the vision behind S&S’s success?

S&S’ vision can be summed up in our merchandising philosophy, as we feel it’s the strongest pillar in our overall strategy: Brands versus private label. We believe our expertise is in the marketing, selling, and distribution of imprintable apparel rather than product development, design, and manufacturing. Since we are not invested in private label, our time, energy, and financial resources are fully devoted to sourcing and presenting what we believe to be the most exciting and comprehensive assortment of brands and styles in the industry. In essence, we leverage the strength of our brand partners’ merchandising, sourcing, and marketing initiatives and bring this expertise to our customers.

What is important to S&S socially?

Socially, our focus is on improving our environmental footprint. For the last 2+ years S&S has been working with Pure Point Energy on a plan to install solar at each of our buildings. Our TX facility has been up and running for a couple months and recently we finalized the design for the Georgia and Kansas systems. When all is complete, this will have an environmental impact equivalent to planting about 250 acres of forest.

“Our company values having fun—and a big part of that is enjoying the outdoors with our friends, families, vendors, and customers. As a company, we’re inspired to operate more responsibly and preserve our environment for future generations.” - S&S Activewear COO Frank Myers

What is the culture like at S&S?

The general culture that S&S has created from the get go can be summed up by a quote from Jeff Adams: “Anyone that worked for S&S, we had a requirement, if you got sick to your stomach on Sunday night thinking about work, we didn’t want you to work here. We wanted people to come in on Monday, charged up, ready to go, and happy about their environment. “

What does S&S do for fun?

We simply enjoy each other’s company. Although we have grown to over 75 sales people and over a thousand employees, I can personally say that the comradery we have today is the same as when I was hired fifteen years ago. As sales guy “#5”, we’d spend our downtime like any group of friends, watching sports, sharing stories over cocktails, going to concerts. The times we are together now really aren’t any different. Be it a wedding, a summer BBQ, or sadly, even a funeral, regardless of the event, we at S&S are there to be with our fellow employees.

What’s in the future for S&S?

S&S will continue to expand on the areas that have made the business what it is today. Expect added square footage and inventory to our existing distribution model, continued focus on all things technical, and what makes S&S unique: more and more brands.

What is the one thing that you want every sales rep to know about S&S?

S&S is in the relationship business, not in the transaction business. We understand that with your success goes our success. So, what’s important to you, be it innovative branded product and the inventory to support, timely accurate delivery, or whatever it is that makes your life easier, S&S Activewear is excited and ready for the opportunity.