116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Ironside Apparel’s licensed university merch is bustling
Business ‘just kept growing’
By Steve Gravelle, - correspondent
Aug. 12, 2022 6:45 am
CEDAR RAPIDS — The continued effects of the pandemic’s supply-chain disruptions occupies a lot of Mark Ironside’s time.
“Just this morning I’m looking for some safety-green T shirts for a construction company — the high-visibility stuff,” Ironside, owner of Ironside Apparel and Promotions, said earlier this month.
“You can’t find size large or extra-large anywhere in the country. They’re just gone. The issue with all the supply chains out there right now is not going to get any better any time soon.”
A licensed supplier of clothing for the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa and area colleges, Ironside was preparing for Iowa’s annual FRYFest football season kickoff Sept. 2.
“If we could just go on the computer and order whatever we needed today, our life would be so much easier,” he said.
“There’s so many times the product is not there, so I have to shop around for it. Most of it is foreign-produced. It’s been a nightmare just trying to get products for our customers.”
That’s prompted Ironside to carry more inventory on hand.
“Which is hard when you’re a small business like us because we don’t have the extra money sitting out there or space to warehouse a lot of extra inventory,” he said.
“We need to have product here so we can sell it, so sometimes we probably have a lot more product on hand than our cash flow allows. But that’s what you’ve got to do, and we’ve been selling it.”
A former Iowa wrestler, Ironside launched his business in 2007 from his home in Swisher after working as a sales representative for another apparel supplier.
“At that time there really wasn’t a lot of Iowa wrestling apparel out there,” he said. “I was able to get licensed with the University of Iowa so I could sell Iowa wrestling apparel along with the generic Hawkeye stuff.
“It just kept growing from there and it’s developed.”
After a few years working out of rented warehouse space, Ironside built his company’s current home in southwest Cedar Rapids in 2011.
Sports fans in search of their school’s gear followed, boosting Ironside’s retail side.
“When I built this building we were able to put stuff out front, so we had a showroom floor,” he said. “People wanted the football stuff, they wanted the basketball stuff, they wanted generic Hawkeye stuff.
“We need more room for salespeople here, and we also needed the room for more retail.”
In fall 2018, Ironside opened Iowa Style Apparel, a retail store at 3620 Edgewood Rd. SW.
“That’s where we have all of our Iowa Hawkeye stuff, the UNI stuff, the Iowa State stuff, and some local high schools like Prairie and Jefferson,” he said. “It’s two businesses under one umbrella.”
Iowa Style is staffed by full-time manager Stacy Olson and two part-timers. Ironside Apparel has seven full-time and two part-time employees.
“Stacy does an amazing job,” Ironside said. “We’ll meet on a lot of the things we’re working on, what we’ll be bringing into the store.”
Ironside Apparel and Promotions
Owner: Mark Ironside
Address: 240 Prospect Pl. SW, Cedar Rapids
Phone: (319) 866-0000
While supply issues linger, demand has recovered from 2020’s COVID-19 public-health restrictions.
“So much of the custom side of the business is based off of events and sports teams, and there was no events and no sports,” Ironside said.
“We really had no business. Nobody needed to go buy any Iowa Hawkeye merchandise because they had nowhere to go and wear it.
“We literally had zero business pretty much for a year. It was really scary,” he recalled.
“Once a lot of the (precautions) got lifted and things started opening up, the floodgates really opened. People were just striving to get back outside and have events again.”
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