Packing for their trip to the 2006 World Cup soccer championship, brothers Parker and Hunter Ingle included the most important clothing item in their wardrobe.
The Tupelo residents’ Reed’s t-shirts would play a special role in their trip to Germany: “We wore them to the U.S.A. versus Ghana game in Nuremburg and had someone take our picture there,” said Parker Ingle.
Back from their trip, the young men submitted their photograph to Reed’s clothing store, which published it a few weeks later in its regular “Where Have Our Reed’s T-shirts Been?” advertising campaign.
It was actually the second time the Ingle brothers were featured in the popular and long-running ad program run in several Northeast Mississippi newspapers. Parker said they were pictured in another advertisement a few years ago when they were kids.
“Every picture we have received, we have run,” said Jack Reed Jr., president of the century-old enterprise. The t-shirts have only been around since approximately 1989, when they were introduced as a bonus for the local models in one of the company’s regular fashion shows.
“They loved it and they were special because they were the only ones with the shirts,” said Martha Gunner, manager of the store in The Mall at Barnes Crossing in Tupelo.
“The next year,” Reed recalled, “we decided to make 50 extra.” They sold out in short order.
Since then, it has turned into a multi-faceted marketing and sales effort that virtually any retailer — clothing or otherwise — would be proud to call his own. Reed figures the stores have sold more than 500,000 shirts since that first extra batch of 50.
The concept could be called sheer genius — sell the shirts to customers and then let them provide the art for advertising. “Our customers are our creators.”
But Reed explained that the phenomenon just sort of evolved. He does admit, however, that he recognized early on that the t-shirt campaign might, indeed, have legs.
Reed showed off three long tables full of t-shirts occupying 400 square feet of the sales floor at the Barnes Crossing location. He figured the tables probably hold 2,000 shirts. The mall shop sells the most Reed’s t-shirts, though the custom-designed shirts are also good sellers at the other three stores in downtown Tupelo (the original store), Columbus and Starkville.
Working with designer Ed Rice, owner of Graphic Designs in West Point, Reed tries to come up with two new designs per month. They range from eye-popping, modernistic colorful designs — utilizing as many as 14 different colors — to the tried-and-true black Labrador dogs.
“We’ve probably done eight different dogs,” Reed said. “Dogs are very popular.”
“People come in and ask, ‘When are you getting a new dog?’” Gunner reported.
Reed said it’s also important that the designs are printed on shirts of popular colors. A couple years ago, he said lime-green shirts practically flew off the shelves, purchased by women wanting to be part of that fashion trend.
Key to selling shirts in the quantities he does, Reed acknowledged that, while color and design are important, price makes the sales. Pricing them as low as possible practically guarantees high volumes.
“It’s very important that they’re affordable,” said Gunner.
Sizes small to 6X are priced $14.98-$22.98; youth sizes run $12.98.
On the horizon?
Beginning about four years ago, Reed branched out into designing and providing the shirts for organization fundraisers — schools, churches, etc. — in Tupelo and the region surrounding it. “There is no reason we couldn’t take this statewide,” he remarked.
People have worn them and been photographed in vacation spots all over the world and in virtually all U.S. destinations. Reed said customers regularly tell him they’ve seen his shirts in some pretty far-flung places. One recently reported seeing Reed’s t-shirts in Turkey, worn by a newlywed couple from Oxford on their honeymoon.
“We’ve (published) a lot of servicemen,” said Gunner.
“Some of our proudest ones are pictures servicemen send back from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Reed added.
His all-time favorite, however, was not a vacation photo — and there are many of them that are shot locally. The picture was submitted by the parents of a young student facing a blackboard, his nose touching a chalk dot on the board.
“The caption,” Reed related, “read, ‘Where Have Our Reed’s T-shirts Been?
“’In timeout at Harrisburg Pre-School.”