Fresh off back-to-back quarters of record sales in 2019, Norwood-based custom screen printing company OTO Supply Co. had bright expectations for 2020—until the pandemic hit. With local storefronts closed and events canceled, OTO, which prints clothing and creates signage for other businesses and events, lost a decent chunk of its business.
But cofounder Cam Shafer pivoted. Since the pandemic began, the company has found success by transitioning to e-commerce. And last September, Shafer even found the footing to pursue his dreams during COVID, co-launching online apparel brand LFG Cincy as a partially-owned subsidiary of OTO Supply Co.
Shafer began making T-shirts around 2013, while he was still a business student at the University of Cincinnati. He and his older sister Holly Shafer, a designer, were tired of “tacky” Greek-life merch and women’s sports apparel. So the two bought a $500 printing press and sold tees on social media. In the years that followed, Holly left the company and Shafer ran “Over The Ohio Supply Co.” (which was later shortened to OTO Supply Co. as the company shifted away from Ohio-centric merch) while working a full-time job. Around 2017, Shafer moved OTO toward a business-to-business model, viewing custom screen printing as a way to finance his own dreams of designing and selling his own apparel.
In 2019, Shafer set up shop at 4114 Montgomery Rd. and quit his job to pursue OTO full-time. He kept the company focused on serving other businesses, offering manual screen printing and embroidery. OTO creates custom items that clients can distribute at events, give to their employees, or sell to the public. Business “exploded” late in 2019. But in early 2020, the pandemic arrived.
Shafer’s immediate response to the lockdown was to create merch and donate all the profits to local clients who had closed their doors and had yet to receive PPP loans. Then, he tweaked his business plan. Shafer recognized that consumers weren’t going to brick-and-mortar stores, where OTO Supply Co.’s products are often sold. Instead, shoppers were at home, ordering items from the comfort of the couch.
Since entering into the e-commerce space, the company has found success offering print-on-demand services. When a customer buys apparel from an OTO client online, OTO prints and ships the product to the customer and takes a portion of the revenue.
With e-commerce experience now in his back pocket, Shafer decided it was time to pursue his dreams. In September 2020, he and friend Ben Galluzzo launched LFG Cincy, a “bro” brand that prioritizes making cool, “edgier” Cincinnati-themed clothes. Items on the site range from fashion-focused (like a Gucci-inspired Cincinnati design) to tongue-in-cheek (see the “Mike Clown Tee,” which features the Bengals owner with a red clown nose) to unique Joe Burrow apparel. In fact, it was the anticipation surrounding the rookie quarterback that pushed Shafer and Galluzzo to launch LFG. “We were like, Hey, we need to capitalize on Joe Burrow being as amazing as he is,” Shafer says.
For Shafer, what sets OTO Supply Co. and LFG apart from other merchandise companies is a focus on comfort, quality, and customer service. OTO and LFG customers can find pre-shrunk tees in a variety of cotton blends with high-quality designs. Shafer strives to choose sustainable options for his business and make the ordering process as simple as possible for customers. OTO, he says, is “a customer service company that just happens to do screen printing.”
It seems his business model is working: OTO Supply Co. is moving to a bigger space in Norwood later this year to keep up with demand. And as for LFG Cincy, big plans are in store. The co-owners will drive their “Merch Wagon,” a red Volkswagen bus, to host pop-up events in Hyde Park, Oakley, Columbia-Tusculum, and OTR throughout the summer and fall.
And of course, LFG plans to tailgate the merch wagon at every single home Bengals game. “That’s what our brand is, right?” Shafer says. “Drink a few beers, have some fun, listen to good music, socialize with people, wear comfortable stuff. Look good and feel better.”