Biz Profile: District 20 succeeds with potent workforce, dedication to culture

Those of us who wear printed T-shirts, sports apparel and corporate polos might not think about the place that applies their unique art and precisely followed design. If we do try to imagine it, we might not be able to get a clear picture and certainly not a tidy one.

But for anyone who tours District 20 Supply Co.’s warehouse, tidy is the first impression.

The second is friendliness.

District 20’s three co-owners — Dennis “Deno” Noel, Mike Schaul and Matt Timmerman — ensure a warm welcome at the front desk and carry it through to the work areas where 14 full-time and two part-time employees attend to the details of their work, whether front office or in operating areas.

Despite starting out in the car business with his brother, Noel has been in the apparel business for about two decades, and he and Schaul have known one another long enough to be competing coaches for their kids’ athletic teams. While Noel has been selling apparel, Schaul has been following him to buy apparel for business.

Meanwhile, Schaul and Timmerman met one another as partners at Express Employment Professionals.

“Deno mentioned doing apparel on his own,” Schaul said. “We (all) met mid-March of 2020. We started two weeks later and officially opened in August of 2020.”

After overcoming the challenges of getting a business off the ground during a global pandemic and then seeing life slowly return to normal, District 20 shifted from supplying uniforms mostly for sports teams to finding a 50/50 balance between sports teams and businesses in the region.

“We supply uniforms to a youth football team in Woodbury, Minn.,” Schaul said. “We go where our relationships are. Customer service is huge (for us).”

While it’s not terribly surprising to hear business owners claim that customer service is a priority, there isn’t always follow-through with that sentiment. District 20’s three heads, though, have natural dispositions to create strong customer relationships. And they see that customer satisfaction is the end result of their company culture.

“We’re pretty efficient, often ahead of due dates,” Noel said. “As owners, we care about our employees and have to provide them with the best equipment.”

It’s a sentiment borne out by two facts. First, when they began discussing the idea of starting a business, they already had 10 people wanting to work with them. Second, their warehouse space soon needed to expand from 7,500 square feet to nearly 10,000 based on customer orders. Employee retention and increased sales are telling markers that they are on the right track, they said.

“We have 75 years of combined experience (among those in the company),” Timmerman said. “And we’re becoming more recognized in the community.”

To get to this point, though, they had to contend with the warehouse space that was in rough condition and with just a few samples of their work. But they worked through it and using what they had so they could get going.

“It was a complete transformation,” Timmerman said.

District 20 keeps busy each day using top-of-the-line machinery that allows employees to keep orders moving along. Despite busy workdays, though, the owners make sure that the team still has a healthy work-life balance.

“I’m very aware of what the younger generation brings to this business,” Noel said. “Without their ideas and input, District 20 would not be growing at the rate we’re growing. I want all employees to ‘own’ their department and find out ways to make it better and more efficient. And with the group currently on hand, they have done so.”

The quality of their product is possible with a screen printing press that fits numerous screens and with an embroidery machine that handles seven items at a go. And, a second press will soon join the original. Another major piece of machinery is a large, gas conveyor dryer that sets the images. The workflow is surprisingly fast.

“Most orders will take 10 minutes to complete,” Noel said. “Larger orders take about 35 minutes.”

Because of this efficiency, orders come in one day and are out within five days. Employees attend to the details of making sure each individual order within a larger one has a bag with the recipient’s name, making it easier to sort. But there are also details in the embroidery and screen prints that employees emphasize to ensure a quality and personalized final product.

In fact, the final products of a couple of recent team shirts proved that the details matter — images of faces were clear and tiny lettering was legible.

Once apparel travels through the warehouse and gets sorted, Noel said that they personally deliver orders within a 30-mile radius. It’s one of the reasons that customers keep coming back, ensuring that the business grows.

“When someone has a positive experience, we hear from those they talk to,” Timmerman said.

And the word keeps spreading. Along with another screen printing press, they expect to grow out of their space in order to keep up with demand.

And it all comes back to having a strong, dedicated workforce.

“To me, it’s extremely important that the employees have an opportunity to be heard,” Noel said. “I tell them at every meeting that everyone that works at District 20 is an owner, and what they have to offer is just as important as the next employee.”