By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
This summer is going to be one that we will greatly appreciate, even with some of the traditional sports schedules having been cut short. It’s a good bet that family reunions are going to be especially popular, and what is a family reunion without a customized T-shirt? That’s where Athens Athletics, located at 701 US-31 S in Athens, comes in. Randy McKinney, who started the business almost 17 years ago, is thankful that they are able to keep the shop open and be compliant with all social-distancing regulations. This is due to the fact that one of their many services includes renting U-Haul moving equipment, which has been designated as an essential service during our global bout with COVID-19.
Like many other businesses, the stay-at-home orders could not have come at a worse time. Randy literally was working on the shirts of several teams in preparation for the spring and summer sports seasons when the shutdown occurred, but he and his crew have landed on their feet.
By way of the history of Athens Athletics, the shop has been an example of parlaying a love for baseball in particular into a fulltime business. Randy worked at Steelcase for 20 years, and felt blessed. However, there was something in him that desired to be an entrepreneur, and taking over this business was the perfect fit. “I always wanted to be my own boss,” he told me. The shop has old posters of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. And Randy has made a point of travelling to places like Fenway Park and Wrigley Stadium, just to soak up the history of the game that has been called America’s pastime. He likes the Braves and is especially fond of the Boston Red Sox. He taught me about baseball bats, the history of aluminum bats vs. wooden ones, and how guys seem to like structured baseball caps that stand up a bit, as opposed to women who seem to prefer unstructured caps that fit more closely to their heads. Athens Athletics carries all manner of sporting goods, and bats are custom-ordered.
Athens Athletics specializes in T-shirts, and a tour of the facility showed me how complex custom T-shirt production can be. They can produce shirts that sport up to six colors (although those are rare), and have made a name for themselves as being able to turn orders quickly. Recently, they produced the “We Are One Athens Limestone” T-shirts, as a visible brand of comfort for and commitment to our community during the quarantine and beyond. “We donate a dollar of every ‘We Are One’ T-shirt sale to the Full Tummy Project,” said Randy.
While custom T-shirts are the “bread and butter” of Athens Athletics, they offer several other services that can be seen all over our area. “We are a custom embroidery, one-stop shop,” Randy told me. He showed me the computer-driven machine that produces the logos for shirts, jackets, hats, and more. He loves doing the embroidery but finds that he has to delegate it because T-shirts demand so much of his time. The shop also has a rather remarkable laser machine that can do wood, metal YETI-style cups, (which he gave our Business Network International/Limestone Leaders crew for Christmas) and plastic. My favorite laser product is the wood burned trophy plaques. They are the perfect blend of “artisan” and “professional.” You can see a local example of the wood laser-craft work on the wall of Frame Gallery off the Square on Marion Street.
Another custom product offered by Athens Athletics is what is called sublimation. Have you ever seen those smooth, shiny “license plates” that appear on the front bumper of cars that have sports logos or the names of kids, dogs, or lovers on them? That’s an example of sublimation, and they are created by a heat process where the design actually goes into the metal. The result makes the colors bright for years, and they stay free of rust and corrosion.
I asked Randy why I should come to Athens Athletics for all my T-shirt, embroidery, sporting goods, laser, and sublimation needs. Oh, and don’t forget U-Haul! On more than one occasion Athens Athletics has rented equipment for us to quickly go move people in need, and they have always treated us like VIPs! His answer was simple: “We have always tried to make the customer number one, and we want people to leave here satisfied.” I can say from experience that this is what they do, and I invite you to come see what I am talking about.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner