Corporate t-shirts can unify a metal fabrication business

In a metal fabrication shop, workers come and go. Unfortunately, the same is true of the company’s branded t-shirts offered to them. Nick Martin of North Carolina-based Barnes MetalCrafters writes how T-shirts with the company logo should be earned. Getty Images

I’m going to go ahead and throw this out there. I have a ton of T-shirts.

Anyone who knows me knows that might be an understatement. Go ahead and add hats, jackets, and shoes as well. But my collection of T-shirts on my side of the bedroom drawers is a little silly. Honestly there isn’t a lot of space on my wife’s side in the clothes storage as I have a dresser full of it and they overflowed into the closet with my work clothes.

Like many people in the metal fabrication industry, you probably have a collared t-shirt or shirt with your logo on it. And you probably wear something with your name on it every day, especially if you’ve been working on it for a while. As Halloween approaches, I thought it would be a good time to tell you about the curse of the T-shirts in our store.

T-shirts come from everywhere: sporting events, gifts, souvenirs or even a store uniform. We didn’t always provide t-shirts or uniforms but once we did it kind of unified the store and we looked a bit more professional. I remember when I first started working at the store, none of the T-shirts I wore to work better were good. He had to get so dirty that he would never be the same color again. The welders were even worse: it looked like someone had used their t-shirt to practice on target with a shotgun. There’s no way around the holey mess unless you’re wearing a welding jacket, but that’s not always possible in a hot store.

So when my dad and Barnes MetalCrafters owner Tim decided to buy everyone’s shirts, it was a big deal. When he first handed out a few shirts to each employee, they wore them almost every day, for the most part. Everyone was grateful and we all started to ruin them in the store as a result. The problem was, many people almost expected a new shirt every time it got dirty or a few small holes. The shirts slowly disappeared, and we went several months without restocking them.

On the second round of the shirt order, most of the same crew were still there, but there were a few new guys. This time we decided to give everyone five shirts and changed the colors a bit. It was obviously more expensive, but we started to look like a team again. One thing I noticed was that one of the guys who got new shirts quit about two weeks later. My dad wasn’t happy that we just gave this guy some new work clothes and then he left us. But there was not much we could do about it.

We had several shirts left from the order and got a new employee. Without anyone thinking, he was given several new T-shirts. I spoke to my dad and said, “Are you sure you want to give this guy several new shirts when we don’t even know if he’s going to cut the mustard?” My dad wasn’t too worried, and of course a few weeks later we had to let him go. Several other shirts in the sewers.

So by now we’ve kind of realized that. Put in a few months of hard work, give us some confidence that you will get there, and then we will think about providing a uniform. We hired another employee and noticed that he was wearing a different t-shirt from different manufacturing companies almost every day in our workshop. I spoke to the store manager, Nick Trueheart, and we started asking him about the different shirts he was wearing. He would growl and tell us a story or two about each flavor of the day. We weren’t too impressed. It looked like a job hopper. Needless to say, he wasn’t going to receive any shirts from us.

The next day I got to work, he was wearing a Barnes MetalCrafters t-shirt. I didn’t say anything out loud, but inside I wondered who the hell had given this guy a shirt, let alone several of them. We did some research and found out that one of our coworkers, without permission, decided he was the welcome cart and went into the closet to buy him some shirts. We were not happy and all employees were ordered to stay away from shirts. So a few weeks went by and the guy didn’t show up for work. He apparently quit and moved in with a bunch of our new shirts. The story repeats itself. Are our Barnes MetalCrafters shirts cursed?

Fast forward several years, and some of our employees have several shirts from years past. We have become much wiser in our disbursement of threads. We are now waiting two to three months before handing out the shirts to the new employees. I mentioned to Nick recently that I was going to write about the shirt curse. “Here’s a good one!” he said. “It’s true, I saw it! It has happened several times. If we give you T-shirts too early, you will only work in our store for a few more weeks.

North Carolina Metalworking Shop T-Shirts

An assortment of Barnes MetalCrafters T-shirts.

Another thing is that our name is on these shirts. I learned a long time ago wearing my soccer uniform at school on game days that I represented our team. The same goes for any established business or organization. Don’t do anything stupid that will affect their integrity or their portrayal while wearing their name.

Now, new hires usually don’t ask before working here for a while. However, I had a new worker bug on the shirts for several weeks. Some days I avoided it so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. He didn’t know he didn’t need the shirts because he was going to get let go. He didn’t cut the mustard.

So when hiring a new employee, be nice, but hold back the discussions a bit. They can end up as shop rags or work shirts at an upstream company. At least they do a little bit of publicity if worn in public, hopefully the kind of positive promotion.

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