“The biggest asset a company has is its people,” Hank Derleth, founder of Ripon Athletic says. “The skill level and what the people bring to the company is what makes the company work. You end up selling a product, but that product doesn’t get made unless people are there to write up the order, to process it, to do all the measuring and the sewing and the cutting – even before the order gets here, someone has to work with the customers and dealers to bring the orders in.
As Ripon Athletic celebrates the iconic Sand Knit brand’s centennial milestone, they have excelled in this one category above all others. To understand the greatness of Sand Knit and the apparent magic that occurs at 290 Junction Street in the small town of Berlin, Wis., one must first understand the incredible job the company has done of discovering and developing exceptionally skilled professionals over these many years.
The end result may seem simple on the surface, but so many different skill sets must be applied flawlessly for just one jersey to ship out the door with confidence. Remove a single team member’s focused application of his or her unique skill set, and you’re left with not only an inferior product, but damaged relationships as well.
“It is absolutely amazing how we can put it all together,” says Luke Ott, Ripon Athletic National Sales Manager. “There are probably 10-25 steps that go into every uniform. We have to make sure the fabric is right, the pattern is correct, the seam lines, the imprint and the embroidery are perfect, so that every jersey that we send out is up to the standard.”
These skills don’t develop by accident. The team at Ripon Athletic practices patience with each new employee. They strive to create an environment where everyone flourishes in the long-term, as they gain an increasingly better understanding of both their own skill set and the way in which it fits into the larger mission of excellence the team as a whole pursues.
“It’s a process. You’re not going to learn everything in six months or even a year,” Ott explains. “Every day there’s something new, and that even goes for someone like me who has been here for 12 years. We learn the basics first and go step by step.”
The examples of team members who started with no experience and eventually became invaluable leaders are too many to recount. It seems as though every department is led by a supervisor who has been honing the craft for decades.
Ripon Athletic Product Manager Marsha Mattice, for example, wasn’t exactly a walking uniform-manufacturing manual when she was hired. She admits she had no plans to make this a career, but after trying her hand at several distinct skills and gradually finding her own unique gifts and passions, she has continued to grow in influence and responsibility over her 24-year tenure.
“When I started in imprint, I had no idea what | was doing,” Mattice says with a knowing smile. “I was 19 years old and didn’t really have a clue, but we have great people training new employees who have been here a long time. It’s hard when you are new, because they don’t teach these skills at school. We’re lucky to have the veteran group that we do.”
“It takes people who can adapt to new technology and learn new things. A lot of people have been in this building a very long time, but are still willing to learn,” says Plant Manager Michael Derleth. “We are able to create or manipulate patterns and walk out to the factory floor to have our prototypes cut and sewn and likewise, they can bring them right back to make adjustments. A lot of places can’t do that. They’ll have pattems made off-site or even in another country.
“We make the patterns here. We make the adjustments here, and we have skilled people to make the adjustments efficiently so we can go back to our customer with a confident response, ‘Yes, we can do that for you.’”
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In today’s modem age, where technology and computers make it hard to find companies that still truly believe in investing in people, Ripon Athletic and Sand Knit continue to lead the way. And when the next of their beloved team members retires after 40-plus years of dedicated service as one of the best in the world at what they do, they’ll be able to say with full confidence where they learned their trade.
Not at a trade school. Not from some big corporation. Not even at a prestigious university. No, they learned from the best at a family-owned operation in the tight-knit, small-town community of Berlin, Wis.
To learn more about Ripon Athletic’s 100-Year Anniversary Celebration of Sand Kint, visit RiponAthletic.com, or facebook.com/OfficialRiponAthletic.SandKnit.RiponJackets.