With so much focus on bars and restaurants on Madison Street, it’s easy to forget that Forest Park is home to manufacturing too. Real American factories where goods are made.
Energy Tees, which has been located at 1401 Circle Ave. for over 20 years, is a production facility that customizes apparel. Jerseys for sports teams, for example. Polo shirts with embroidered corporate logos.
But it was recently purchased and is part of a larger, made-in-the-U.S.A. personalization business, providing thousands of branded items on an individual or corporate level. If you want a cutting board with your dad’s name on it for Father’s Day, you can get it. Need a thousand T-shirts printed with your company logo for a 5K? You can do that too.
Owner Eric Priceman purchased Energy Tees on May 28, and with it the machinery and facility on Circle Avenue. What’s cool is that the manufacturing happens right there: employees spread shirts on a machine that prints logos on them. Some items are hand painted using stencils. In another room, embroidery machines sew lettering and logos onto shirts.
Also of note is that Priceman’s business, which provides a wide range of personalized products to companies and individuals, has sold nothing from overseas since 2018. Everything is manufactured in the United States, most of it in Forest Park, Oak Park and Austin.
The Forest Park location is the third addition to Priceman’s local production facilities. He already owns a factory called Victory on the West Side of Chicago in the Austin area, and in 2019 he purchased Shirtworks in Oak Park at 127 N. Marion St. It’s now called Personalization House, but more than the name has changed; the focus has pivoted from apparel-only to quality, personalized products of all kinds: Barbecue grilling sets. Serving trays. Champagne glasses. Branded Adidas or Yeti items.
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Energy Tees will add a wider variety of apparel to Priceman’s offerings, and apparel will be produced at the Forest Park location while non-wearable products will be produced at Victory.
Priceman’s background is in the trophy business, selling sports and corporate trophies, plaques and awards. At one time, he was the largest purchaser of trophy marble in the United States. But he said the industry has changed, and people are looking for something different.
“People like personalization,” Priceman said. “They want something more than the old staid trophies.”
“People like things they can use,” added Lauren Nemiroff, president of Personalization House and VP of marketing for Victory, Priceman’s factory in the Austin neighborhood. “Trophies collect dust.”
Nemiroff joined Priceman in 2018 when he hired her to do graphic design. “My task was to build a website with a shopping cart feature,” Nemiroff said. Now, she’s business partners with Priceman and in charge of brand building, and she said the local connection is important.
Not only do they manufacture and sell their products in Forest Park, Oak Park and Austin, but Nemiroff and Priceman look at those three locations as being interconnected, and they want to be involved on a deeper level than as business owners.
“Servicing the local communities is important to us,” Nemiroff said. “We want to give back to the community.” They plan to partner with local nonprofits to help in fundraising efforts and raising awareness.
Priceman and Nemiroff also plan to sell community-branded merchandise, such as a shirt with a map of Oak Park or Forest Park that features local landmarks.
That kind of personalization, looking to offer what people want and what’s important to them, is what Nemiroff and Priceman say sets them apart from other vendors selling branded merchandise. A quick online search reveals a multitude of online stores where you can order pens or teddy bears or aprons with your name or company’s logo on them. But, said Priceman, there’s an irony in the fact that the personalization business in general is so impersonal.
“It’s the romance that sets us apart, that’s the difference between us and others,” Priceman said.
“Romance” is an interesting choice of words, and it’s the local connection that makes the difference. Talking to someone in-person instead of just filling out a web form (which is also available if you prefer to do it all online). Trying out a pen you want engraved before ordering it.
A customer can walk into the Oak Park location, for example, and sit down with an employee who will help with design or provide advice on products. There are samples there too, so a customer can touch and feel the items before making a purchase. And the items are engraved or personalized in Forest Park, Oak Park or Austin.
“What most people order online, we’re producing locally,” Nemiroff said.
To be expanding now, after COVID, is a success story in itself, and Nemiroff said they did well throughout the pandemic, looking for opportunities to adjust the way they did business to not only survive but thrive. They partnered with a local orchard, for example, that had started producing hand sanitizer.
But Priceman said he’s always looking at ways to change and expand, to offer more and better services and products to customers. He likes his employees to be both octopus and sponge, he said, soaking everything in while reaching out with eight arms to explore opportunities.
“Maybe it’s a cliché,” Priceman said, “but we don’t ever want to pigeonhole ourselves.”