Full Turn Custom Apparel had just secured a Major League Baseball license for 2020 Team apparel when the March 19, 2020 COVID-19 state mandate landed like a third strike in the ninth inning: Californians working in non-essential roles were ordered to stay at home.
“We had just sent custom apparel down for the Giants’ spring training and were very excited to get into this new line of business–Major League Baseball,” Chief Financial Officer Larry Nally ’78 explained.
For 15 years, the San Leandro-based company had been selling its custom apparel to top golf clubs and resorts and more recently into the NBA and National Hockey League, colleges and corporations, but the MLB license marked a new and promising venture. “And all of a sudden,” said Nally, “it just stopped.”
Abiding by federal and state orders for non-essential businesses, Larry and the company Founder and President Mark Killeen, were forced to close the business and send their 10-person staff and 15 outside salespeople home. But they committed to continue paying everyone through April, when they would reassess the situation.
With their company’s future and employees’ livelihoods at stake, the two men quickly realized they needed to find a way to become an essential business to keep their doors open. The pair seized on Killeen’s idea of making face masks.
“We realized we had the resources and talent to help solve consumers’ and corporations’ immediate need for face masks,” said Nally.
The businessmen quickly began creating prototypes and assembled a team to bring their idea to fruition, starting with longtime partner Blue Frog Embroidery, owned by Mike and Yvette Givvin ’96. The Givvins immediately brought back some of their own employees—also let go during the COVID-19 lockdown—to start the essential work of sewing masks.
“Making them domestically enabled us to bring back our employees and some Blue Frog employees right away,” Nally said. By April 1, all Full Turn and many Blue Frog employees were back at work.
With design and preliminary manufacturing plans in place for the newly-named DistanZ face masks, Nally and Killeen set out to market the product. An accountant and CFO by trade, Nally said his Santa Clara University education prepared him for this moment.
“Santa Clara helped me become not just an accountant and CFO, but also made me a well-rounded person capable of wearing many hats in small and medium-sized companies,” he said. “I was able to create our new DistanZmask website over that first weekend and help work with our factories and business partners, internal support staff, and our external sales organization to make this new business happen from scratch, virtually overnight.”
The company started selling its masks directly to consumers, with initial sales to family and friends, but word spread quickly and business boomed. “Within the first week we started getting calls from many of our customers that had heard about what we were doing,” Nally said.
To date, Full Turn has shipped over 400,000 custom masks. “It’s amazing. A new line of business, new products, no marketing department—and we’re learning along the way,” said Nally.
Nally predicts the company’s quick pivot will sustain Full Turn until its regular custom apparel business picks up. “We’ve been really fortunate to have jumped on it so quickly and then to have businesses of all types embrace the quality of masks we’re making,” said the SCU alum. “This team effort kept us from closing the doors.”
Written by Audrey Redmond M.A. ’19