SARASOTA – When Angus Martin and Shane Powell were both looking to expand their businesses, the former newspaper production plant at 1800 University Parkway seemed like the perfect location.
Martin’s company, AM Design and Cutting, manufactures apparel, most notably uniforms for Pop Warner football and cheerleading through its subsidiary Apparel Forge.
It also prints designs for fabric pieces used by Powell’s company, Pascale Engineering – a wholesale manufacturer of trade show exhibition booths.
Production-wise, it was already a great match. Pascale’s busy season, roughly the first six months of the calendar year, is opposite the busy season for Apparel Forge and its uniforms.
The two companies leased about 60,000 square feet of space in the 100,000-square-foot building that once housed the printing press and mailroom for the Herald-Tribune – the presses closed in May 2021 – on Jan. 1 and have been recently ramping up production.
“Now that we’re here, we’re really stepping up our game,” Martin said. “We were in a couple locations before, we were bursting at the seams, we had production in one office and the offices in another building. It wasn’t working well for us.
“With Shane’s business, we can kick it up to the next level.”
Martin is especially pleased that the two businesses have given the former newspaper facility a new purpose.
“It’s not just a warehouse,” Martin said. “It’s a living, breathing factory.”
AM Design moved from facilities in the industrial park area of Northgate Boulevard, while Pascale moved from Whitfield Avenue.
It took some time to clean up the former printing plant, which was ideally suited for the business because it was already wired for power to run more than 1,000 tons of printing equipment.
“We have a lot of big machinery that takes a lot of power and this apparently is like the building with the most amount of power in Sarasota County,” said Martin, the 25-year-old founder and owner of AM Design and Cutting. “So it was a dream come true.”
Martin – who moved to the Sarasota area with his parents two decades ago from London – has a goal of boosting American-made manufacturing, pursuing prompt customer service and quicker turnaround time vs. his offshore competition.
Extensive automation in the AM Design plant allows him to compete.
“Being based in the U.S., we can’t compete with overseas in terms of price – we actually have to pay people over here to do the job – but what we can compete on is speed,” Martin said. “Anything you order from us is going to be with you in five to 10 business days.
“That’s really quick, whereas if you got one overseas, you’d be lucky if you got it in eight weeks,” he added, then noted that overseas vendors cannot necessarily handle last-minute changes.
“Being in the states we have the customer service, we’ve got the speed and we’ve got the quality,” Martin said. “That’s the way we compete with the overseas market.
“We’re trying to change the narrative and bring manufacturing back to the United States.”
Given that the winter is the slow season for Apparel Forge, Martin is currently getting by with the same number of employees as he did in the old shop.
“We’re going to have to add people once season comes,” he added.
Prime season for trade shows
For now though, it’s prime season for Pascale Engineering.
Powell and his partner, Rafe Pascal, moved their company from Rochester, New York, to the Sarasota-Bradenton area in 2009. The two met in 2004 in college, while Powell was earning a business degree from the State University of New York, Brockport, about 20 miles west of Rochester.
Pascale, who had done an internship with Ultraform, a trade show display company, decided he could do things better.
“He had this little shop in a downtown parking garage in Rochester, a couple saws, a couple drill presses and he had this idea – a really talented innovator,” Powell said of his former business partner.
Before moving in with AM Design and Cutting, Pascale Engineering was operating out of a 10,000-square-foot facility accessible off of Whitfield Avenue.
Powell met Martin and his father Stuart through another printer. It was an easy match that increased convenience and gave Pascale access to wholesale pricing on fabric.
“He went out and bought all the equipment we needed and we bonded instantly,” Powell said. “He’s a great guy.”
Trade show booths are all made to pack into flat shipping cases and be assembled on the spot without tools.
“In the trade show world you’re not allowed to use tools; it’s all union-run,” Powell said. “But this is all knob-based, so it’s tool-less, portable, it’s lightweight.”
In most cases, Pascale sells wholesale to a network of 25 distributors that will then sell to end-users and help with booth installation.
For some larger customers, notably Venice-based Tervis Tumbler, Pascale handles trade show booth transport and setup, too.
Prior to connecting with Martin, Pascale was getting all its graphics from printers in other states such as Utah and Minneapolis.
That distance added to turnaround time for the end user. Three to four days to proof, five days to print and five days to ship.
Locating in the same facility as AM Design and Cutting means a drastic reduction in that time.
“We’ve been in a growth period,” said Powell, who employs about a dozen people and is just around the $3 million mark in sales.
The opportunity for repeat business depends on the end user.
“We have clients that do one show a year; their booth will last them for a while,” Powell said. “We have clients who do 50 shows a year and they’ll need a different booth every year.”
Some customers need to change out the graphics on those booths between shows. Prior to the partnership, it was cost-prohibitive for Pascale to tap into that market.
But because he’s working with Martin and his company, that’s an option, too.
“We just did 40 table covers on Friday and that’s a part of the business that we couldn’t get into because of cost,” Powell said. “Our cost has dropped significantly and we’re able to print graphics wholesale.”
The increased space at the joint-use facility has allowed Powell to keep more materials needed to build trade show booths on hand and build larger projects – both in volume and size.
For example, Pascale is currently creating a 100-foot-by-100-foot booth for Ellucian Live, a global technology conference this April in Denver.
“We’re doing the full show,” Powell said, including a welcome area, hospitality suites, reception center and 6-foot by 6-foot by 2-foot foam logo.
It would have been difficult, if not impossible to assemble a booth that large in the old facility.
A passion for creation
Martin, who graduated from Out of Door Academy, started the basics of the company while in school, when he became fascinated by the Computer Numeric Control or CNC table used in his father Stuart’s side-business to cut out the patterns needed for knee braces and supports from neoprene.
“We had someone who manufactured uniforms come to us and ask if we could cut out their pieces so they could sew them together,” Martin said. “Eventually we had a complete sewing factory so we decided to continue on from that and expand that as much as possible, it’s a lot more lucrative than doing the knee sleeves.”
Martin, who paused his studies in aeronautics at Florida the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne to concentrate more on the business, notes that he’s operated every machine in the factory at one time or another.
“I just fell in love with the production,” he added. “It’s very satisfying when someone comes to me with an idea and five to seven days later, here it is, it’s done and it looks fantastic.”
Along the way, AM Design and Cutting progressed to acquiring machinery to print designs using a dye sublimation process to transfer designs to fabric by using a printer that operates at a temperature of 400 degrees and turns the ink into a gaseous state.
In that gaseous state, the ink patterns permanently bond with fabric.
“You can’t get that vividness with anything other than sublimation,” Martin said, as bright crimson uniforms roll off the press.
Fans circulate air through the open-air room, to keep employees cool. It would be cost-prohibitive to air-condition the process in an interior room.
The decorated rolls of fabric are then trimmed by those computer-guided laser cutters into the appropriate pieces that are then sewn together or, as appropriate for cheer and dance costumes, bedazzled with rhinestones.
While Pop Warner football is seasonal, Martin said, cheer and dance are year-round.
Last year, Apparel Forge assembled 50,000 uniform kits and capacity is currently at more than 200,000 uniforms a year.
“Pop Warner is a real American staple,” Martin said. “It’s good to have that sort of thing made in America.”
Local Pop Warner programs that have contracted with Apparel Forge include the Sarasota Sun Devils, Manatee Wildcats and East Manatee Bulldogs.
More than 300,000 children between the ages of 5 and 16 participate in Pop Warner leagues nationwide.
Apparel Forge is launching Pop Warner as a brand and people who visit https://www.popwarnershop.com for fan apparel are directed to a site linked to the company.
Larger schools, he said, have contracts with big suppliers, such as Nike and Adidas but Apparel Forge has been able to make some inroads elsewhere.
“We’re sneaking into that market, slowly but surely,” Martin said. “We’ve done some stuff for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Detroit Pistons – their Xtreme teams, the guys with the trampolines who do the stuff on the halftime show.
“So, we’re sneaking in, our name’s getting out there, it’s really great to see,” he added. “A lot of people are really excited about doing USA-made stuff and obviously with the turnaround time that we have, no one can match it.
“We’re one of the biggest in the U.S, the size we are now, and that’s a shame.”
While there are larger factories in California that are tackling the dye sublimation fabric printing process, Martin believes that already, there’s no one on the East Coast that can match AM Design and Cutting for scale.
The printing process has applications beyond apparel and trade show booths.
In addition to the blankets and rugs, Martin has landed contracts to make carpet and chair covers for seating at the Asolo Repertory Theatre, printing fabric rolls for the theater’s costume department and new carpeting for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Incubating future business
Martin and Powell are both working locally to encourage additional manufacturing. Both recently attended a job fair at the Ringling College of Art and Design and are in the process of hosting an incubator and co-op zone at the 1800 University Parkway building, where companies can come in and learn the apparel industry.
“We’ll help them, they’ll help us,” Martin said.
The hope is that when clothing entrepreneurs have developed their vision, the end product can be manufactured by AM Design and Cutting on site too.
“There’s a super high barrier of entry into the apparel business, there’s a lot to learn,” Martin said. “We’re here to help people with classes and having everything right here at their disposal as opposed to somewhere across the country – let alone around the world – doing their manufacturing.”
Earle Kimel primarily covers south Sarasota County for the Herald-Tribune and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism with a digital subscription to the Herald-Tribune.