Lawrence Company Spotlights Clients’ Brands, Not Its Own
| 2017 Q2 | story by Emily Mulligan, photos by Steven Hertzog
Though you may not have known it at the time, you’ve likely sipped a brew from a Grandstand mug.
Just about every Lawrencian has used or worn a Grandstand Glassware and Apparel product; they just don’t know it.
Grandstand’s products are ubiquitous in restaurants, local coffee shops and craft breweries across the nation. Yet, consumers may not recognize the company’s name—but that is by design, as Grandstand’s mission is to spotlight its clients’ brands.
Founded in Lawrence and located here since 1988, Grandstand, which is privately owned, is a perfect example of a small-time company that has hit the big time. With 195 employees in its East Hills Business Park headquarters and continual recent growth, Grandstand’s glass is definitely half-full.
As its name states, Grandstand specializes in designing, printing, distributing and marketing glassware and apparel for thousands of specialty beverage companies nationwide.
The company began as a small screen-printing shop on Haskell Avenue, headed by Chris Piper, previously notable in Lawrence as a University of Kansas men’s basketball player. For the first year, most of the company’s business was printing T-shirts and water bottles. The shift to incorporate glassware came in 1989, when a new restaurant, the Free State Brewing Co., opened its doors on Massachusetts Street. Free State remains a Grandstand customer.
Business grew steadily for two decades, and then the craft-brewing trend hit the beer industry, which was great news for Grandstand. Craft brewers and craft-beverage makers now account for 40 percent of the company’s business. Grandstand moved to its current facility in 2011 with 56 employees and has grown exponentially in the past six years.
“It’s a tribute to the leadership there and the employees, that they’re doing something right. They continue to innovate and look at other opportunities, and it’s a really good story,” says Steve Kelly, vice president of economic development at The Chamber.
“Pour” Over all the Choices
The company has four aspects to its operation: decorative glassware and drinkware for all types of beverages; screen-printed and decorated apparel, including shirts, hats and server uniforms; promotional items, such as sunglasses and dog bowls, which are decorated by a separate vendor; and creative services, which include creating logos, artwork and branding for newly established clients.
Grandstand’s business model is not just about being a clearinghouse for products and artwork for its customers, though. Instead, owners want their customers to see Grandstand as a partner to their own brand. And with the services Grandstand provides its customers, to round out and enhance the production process, customers can easily “drink in” all the expertise.
“We work with well over 4,000 craft brewers. That allows us to see trends on the west coast and the east coast, and different industries,” Marketing Director Josh Christie says.
So, at the same time that Grandstand is offering more and more options to its customers, the company is also making it more turnkey to take advantage of those options.
“They’ve done a good job of putting themselves in good market segments, but beyond that, they’ve done a great job of performing for their customers, giving their customers and clients the service and products to help them be successful,” Kelly explains. “It has allowed them to continue to grow and be sourced by these companies.”
Grandstand’s recent expansions with the creative services department and fulfillment warehouse ensure that when a customer orders merchandise to sell, Grandstand can do all the finishing so the items arrive “retail ready” and can go straight onto display shelves. That can include providing customized decorated packaging, such as boxes that Grandstand staff assemble, or rolling T-shirts into eye-catching bundles that make nice souvenirs and gifts.
“We look at the products as a profit center, not as a cost center,” Christie says.
In other words, the decorated glasses might cost a little more than plain ones, but that also means the beverage customers will want to buy one to take home. And that translates to more dollars per brewpub customer.
Grandstand sees its role as a retail consultant for all the merchandise, not just the glassware, that a beverage maker may want to sell. Staff analyzes the merchandise lineup and ensures there is enough variety of apparel and other items to appeal to wide-ranging tastes. And when the weather is getting warmer, for example, Grandstand offers to add something like a tank top or visor to keep choices fresh.
Grandstand has even thought of all the possible ways to take the order-fulfillment burden off its customers by supplying a customized e-commerce portal with the brewery’s merchandise that its customers can access seamlessly through the brewery’s website.
For example, Grandstand sells decorated glassware to craft brewers so they can stock their bars and serve their customers. But Grandstand also goes a step further and allows that craft brewer’s customer to order glassware for himself or herself directly, and the company packages and ships the order straight to that customer. So, if customers enjoy a craft beer on vacation at a brewery, and they want glassware but don’t want to pack and carry their new glasses the rest of the trip, they can just order some to be shipped to their home.
Grandstand also offers direct online ordering for liquor distributors across the country. If a regional distributor is holding an event and wants to serve in brewery-specific glassware, they can order straight from Grandstand, even if the distributor isn’t a Grandstand customer.
The Cup of Ideas Runneth Over
Two Grandstand product lines illustrate best how the company’s operations, services and products complement one another.
The first is the Craft Master Grand, which is a beer (or coffee) glass Grandstand created exclusively with German glassware designer, Rastal. The glass launched this year and offers characteristics that the traditional pint glass cannot: It stacks without sticking, its design is a lot less susceptible to chipping, and its wider opening allows more of the drink’s aroma to reach the drinker’s nose. The Craft Master Grand looks nice but is still practical, with its 16-ounce capacity and ability to fit in a standard dishwasher, as well as its weighted bottom that won’t tip on trays.
Along with the Craft Master Grand, Grandstand has an exclusive partnership with Rastal to provide all of the increasingly popular specialty-beer drinkware best suited to different varieties of beer, such as stouts, Belgians and barley wines. They can all be decorated and customized—and of course custom-packaged, fulfilled and shipped.
The other product line that integrates Grandstand’s across-the-board efforts begins with the Grandstand-trademarked phrase “Support Local Beer.” There are 50 different designs, one for each of the 50 states, of T-shirts, coasters and glassware—nothing short of a full merchandise line, naturally—that breweries can provide and sell to promote the concept of local beer in their area.
“ ‘Support Local Beer’ is registered to Grandstand. Anytime you see that somewhere, that’s us,” Christie says.
2017’s marketing plans have included focusing on some other burgeoning craft beverages. Grandstand has compiled glassware and drinkware product lines so it can branch out to coffee shops, cider brewers, distilleries, wineries and soda brewers. Alchemy Coffee House in Lawrence already uses a full line of Grandstand products, such as growlers and glassware, for its coffee and cold-brew products.
Christie says the artisan trend from microbrew beer has spilled over into other beverage categories, with drinkers of all sorts making small batches on a local scale. Grandstand’s products easily translate to those other beverages, as well.
“We believe that we put a superior product out there, and we provide a superior level of service,” Christie says.
No Glass Ceilings, Only Glassware
Grandstand works to foster a collaborative environment for all departments. Production for both apparel and glassware decoration runs 120 hours per week. Since moving to East Hills in late 2011, there has been growth in all departments. The Creative Services department, which began in 2013, now has 16 full-time designers. There has also been growth in fulfillment, finishing, technology and e-commerce, marketing and sales.
“There are not a lot of layers here—it’s very flat. In all of our meetings, we have everyone involved, so ideas can come from any department, and they are heard by everyone,” Christie says. “Working at Grandstand is one of the few opportunities you get, no matter what position you get to, to see the impact you have on the company every single day, by seeing people use literally the product you printed.”
Sipping on Some Trends
Specialization and specification of certain glasses for certain types of beverages continue to gain in popularity. Grandstand’s partnership with Rastal all but guarantees the growth of that concept.
There are a couple of new trends in glassware decoration that have expanded Grandstand’s capabilities. Glass “nucleation,” or engraving on the inside base of a glass, not only gives drinkers a little design flair at the end of their beverage but also sets off the carbonation in beer to continually distribute vertically in the glass. (Next time you finish a beverage in a restaurant, make sure you notice the bottom of the glass.)
The state of California recently updated Proposition 65, which is designed to prevent toxic chemicals from reaching drinking water. That includes the glass that contains the water. So now, decorated glassware must be printed with only organic ink. Grandstand has adapted an organic formula, made of monomers and pigment, which can be used to decorate its full range of glass products.
Apparel trends include T-shirt hoodies, fitted unisex and female T-shirts, soft fabric sweatshirts and T-shirts with equally soft printing that doesn’t bunch or poke, as well as custom headwear, Christie says.
Raising a Glass to the Community
“A lot of our efforts in Lawrence aren’t necessarily to promote Grandstand,” Christie explains. He lists Grandstand’s involvement with Lawrence Restaurant Week, the Craft Brewers Expo and Lawrence Oktoberfest as examples.
There is also the company’s “Best Places to Work” committee, which meets weekly to figure out how to best be involved in the community. Through that, Grandstand employees have volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, Lawrence Humane Society, Douglas County CASA, Sexual Trauma and Abuse Care Center, Van GO Mobile Arts, Boys and Girls Club, March of Dimes, Just Food, Penn House, Ballard Community Services, Lawrence Arts Center and Downtown Lawrence Inc.