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Could a kickball game help with talent retention in Springfield? SGFCO is willing to give it a shot.
The Springfield-based and Springfield-inspired clothing company has gotten into the events business, bringing people together to create warm memories in and fuzzy feelings toward the Queen City of the Ozarks.
“I think part of our job is to get people together,” said Jesse Tyler, co-founder of SGFCO. “If you independently want to try to get your friends together to play kickball, it’s probably pretty hard to get 20 people to show up to something. So being a brand that has an audience we have a little more leverage to get attendance for things that need numbers to work.”
City leaders have been concerned about talented young people leaving Springfield instead of settling down here to live, work and raise a family. A local company helping to create a community of young professionals who enjoy living and playing here could help with talent retention.
Yes, kickball. SGFCO hosted a handful of games over the summer and early fall, on the grass field near Gerald Perry Tennis Courts. They printed jerseys to be purchased or borrowed — for the “teams,” the Springfield Cobras and Route 66ers — and invited anyone who wanted to play to join them. People showed up to play and cheer. Now, will they choose to stay in Springfield to work, play and raise a family?
Launched as an apparel brand in 2017
SGFCO (pronounced ess-gee-eff-co) is an apparel brand. It was founded in 2017 by Jacob Scowden, a Springfield native, and Jesse Tyler, a transplant from New Jersey. Back then hats with “KC” on the front — for Kansas City — were popular.
“I was like yeah, that’s cool. I like this, but what if there was a hat that had an ‘S’ or ‘SGF’ on it so we could have more city pride, more Springfield pride,” Scowden wondered. “Around that time it was in the air, too, in design circles, of branding your city. So that was kind of the original idea.”
It also capitalized on the good vibes they were feeling toward Springfield.
“I think the momentum for it was us having all of these really warm feelings toward the community that we were in at that moment,” Tyler said, noting those feelings continue to this day.
“At that time what was inspiring us was the feeling of going to our favorite coffee shop that’s independently run and seeing all of our friends there. And having cool bars opening up that had unique concepts and were as good as any big city. And those were also independently run.”
Tyler said they wanted to make a brand to represent all of that.
“Our initial motivation was if someone’s going to build something they’re passionate about — and build it beautifully and do it for all the right reasons in Springfield — we hope they’ll want to wear an SGFCO cap while they do it,” he said.
‘This place is as good as any’
Scowden came up with a lighthearted slogan for the company: “This place is as good as any.” Some five years later, he feels like it still fits the brand.
“That slogan is important to us because it maintains a sense of importance,” Scowden said. “You could highlight the good and talk about what is good. But it also sounds like a folksy, ‘Well, this place is as good as any.’ We don’t want to be self-serious. We’re not telling you Springfield is the best town in the world. That would be silly, it’s obviously not. But the best town in the world can be the one you’re in. That’s kind of the spirit behind what we’re doing.”
The company’s website sells those SGF hats now, alongside T-shirts, sweatshirts and gifts like keychains, stickers and Pineapple Whip-scented candles. The gear is all Springfield-themed, often drawing on the city’s history.
Designs have referenced the Cobra Scare of 1953, the railroad, Moon City and Route 66. Some are even simpler, like shirts emblazoned with the word “Springfield” or “Nature.”
There are also some SGF deep cuts. One of SGFCO’s latest shirts references the “Mister Furniture” sign that still decorates the back of the old Woolworth building downtown, despite the store having been closed for years.
Committed to local
It’s not just the products that are hyper-local, though. The designers are as well. Scowden and Tyler handle most of the design work themselves but do contract out for some work with one crucial catch.
“We try to work with people who have at least some sort of tie to Springfield,” Scowden said. “We’re trying to at least keep it somewhat local in who we hire to do any sort of contract work.”
That includes artists like Daniel Zender. His latest for SGFCO was a “Neighborhood Watch” shirt that features a Baldknobber (the vigilante, not a Branson musician).
The early response to SGFCO was positive. Friends were buying the gear and a local news outlet wrote a story about the fledgling brand.
From apparel to outings
“It got a little bit of traction when we first launched,” Scowden said. “Really what’s made us feel like it’s a positive is going to Cider Days (as a vendor), and in the last couple of years we started doing events, outings we’re calling them.”
The outings have included those kickball games between the Cobras and 66ers. Tyler said as people who really care about design and branding, they designed the jerseys for those games.
“There’s something really magical that happens when people are wearing a jersey and have a team,” Tyler said. “Most of these people are not super-competitive sports people. It was just people hanging out. It was very casual. But the energy of it was very good. People were cheering for their friends, high-fiving each other, making new friends.”
Scowden, too, has enjoyed the kickball outings.
“Kickball has always been really fun because people get really into it and there’s always new people,” he said. “We have a core group that goes every time, but I always meet three people I’ve never met before who just came to play kickball.”
Springfield-inspired tattoo pop-up sold out
There was also a one-day pop-up event at Liberation Tattoo, located downtown. Participants could choose a tattoo from a sheet of designs that were all Springfield-inspired, like a carry-out carton of cashew chicken or the dinosaur from Fun Acre.
“We were really scared that we would have Liberation do all this artwork and then no one would come get a tattoo because that’s a really big commitment,” Tyler said. “But we had one person lined up two and a half hours early. I think there ended up being 15 or 16 people lined up and (Liberation) could only do 12 tattoos. So basically the only people that were able to get tattoos were those people who got there early, and some of the people who showed up early got turned away.
“We were pretty shocked at the turnout for that. Now we have to figure out how to facilitate more people. But that was a fun surprise.”
Outings ‘felt like pre-COVID life’
Other outings have included a pizza party hosted by Prairie Pie and Therefore, Pizza, Springfield Cardinals games, a movie night at Moxie Cinema and bowling at Sunshine Lanes.
“The experience was great,” said Nick Warnock. He joined SGFCO for a Springfield Cardinals game. “It felt like a time for friends new and old to come together and enjoy a local pastime. It was one of those things that felt like pre-COVID life.”
There was even an SGFCO Trash Crawl. At that event, participants cleaned up litter between The Flea and Cherry Picker, along Cherry Street. SGFCO has adopted a stretch of Cherry through the City of Springfield’s Adopt-a-Street program.
“The outings are a way to say if we’re about having a community here and hanging out and having a nice time appreciating our favorite parts of Springfield, we have to facilitate those things or else the brand is kind of meaningless,” Tyler said. “We’ve found a lot more purpose in doing events and getting people together than in designing T-shirts and hats.”
They’ve found purpose and community.
“This started from the feeling that we get from going to Cherry Picker or Coffee Ethic and running into friends and hanging out on the weekend,” Tyler said. “We’re using SGFCO as a way to manufacture those moments and set them up, but also invite people into them — people who weren’t part of that group or didn’t know that kind of thing was happening.
“It’s been really cool because it’s been a combination of we get all of our buddies together for these outings, but also people we’ve never met before come join and are welcomed into it. They have a really good time and are talking about how they never knew the businesses that are facilitating existed, or they hadn’t met these people or didn’t know there were other folks like them that were hanging out in Springfield. It’s cool.”
Talent retention ‘relevant’ to SGFCO outings
That’s good news for Springfield. The phrase “talent retention” has been on a lot of lips in the past few years, as city and business leaders look at keeping young professionals here instead of shipping off to bigger cities. These events could have an impact when it comes to keeping young professionals here.
“When we do things well there’s an outcome that I think does affect talent retention,” Tyler said. “I think that is relevant to it. There are certain things that Springfield can’t compete with and we have to be honest about those things. Sometimes people leave to go to a bigger city and they do get bigger opportunities. They can make more money, they can get better recognition, but when they leave it’s really important to us that Springfield can’t get left empty.
“We still have to be able to pour into the things that are distinct and that are worth protecting. That’s kind of a job that we see for ourselves as people who have committed to a place, and specifically Springfield. I think when we do these things well it gives people a reason to stay and rewards people who do stay.”
“(Talent retention) is definitely part of it,” he said. “We know people in creative professions in bigger cities and we get messages from them saying how fun it looks. I think Springfield’s always going to have a problem of people wanting to go to Los Angeles or New York or wherever, but people who are in those places are seeing what we’re doing and realizing there’s something special to it.”
A labor of love
SGFCO is a labor of love for Scowden and Tyler, who own All True, a studio that specializes in naming, logo design and brand strategy. That day job pays the bills and allows them to create things with SGFCO.
“We’ve never personally been paid by SGFCO,” Tyler said. “It’s maybe bought us a couple of lunches. The money is not really the motive here.”
“I think of it like SGFCO is like having a house and buying a nice piece of furniture,” added Scowden. “That furniture’s not paying you money, but you get paid off by enjoying living with it and when someone comes into your house and sees it and goes ‘Oh, that’s really cool.’ They think you have good taste and maybe they want to buy one of those, too. That’s kind of what SGFCO is.”
More outings coming in 2023
Tyler said the duo is looking at 2023 as a “clean slate” for outings. Both Scowdwn and Tyler stressed the outings are truly for everyone who’s interested.
“We do feel fearful at times that the brand could be perceived as a clique or something really exclusive, and know it attracts a really specific sub-group of Springfield,” Tyler said. “But it is open and if someone looks at the event and the merch and is into that, then they’re our kind of people. They’re the kind of people that are invited. And I know that isn’t for everybody, but it isn’t really meant to be like a little secret society, a little clique even if it is really small and the base is our close friends. We see that growing and have seen that grow.”