Mark Fritz is founder and co-CEO of Lakeshirts – an approximately $200 million dollar apparel and accessory manufacturing business in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, where he has run the business with partner Mike Hutchinson since 1984.
Beyond Mark’s leadership at Lakeshirts, he is also very active in philanthropic endeavors in his hometown and lives the Lakeshirts’ value of Community. For example, he and Mike played a leadership role in the re-opening of Detroit Mountain Recreational Area. Mark can be found biking, hunting, skiing, out on the boat, and generally epitomizing the company phrase that “life’s better in a t-shirt.”
“I’m fortunate to live in the same town I’ve grown up in – Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. I love the lifestyle the area affords, and have been fortunate to call ‘home’ a place where so many choose to spend their vacation time. Being able to live here my whole life – raising my family, building a business – is really kind of a dream come true.”
Lakshirts, co-founded by Mark Fritz, is a custom apparel decorating company that started in 1984. They have since grown to an $80 million+ company in a 275,000 square foot facility. Today, Lakeshirts operates facilities in multiple states, employs more than 900, and serves more than 10,000 customers across North America. Through Lakeshirts’ entrepreneurial orientation, the company continues to innovate and evolve. Some recent examples of this are the launch of stickers in 2016, and acquisitions of brands like TGT, Lakegirl, Yesterdays, and Zephyr headwear in the past years.
Tell us about Lakeshirts and your mission.
“We serve the Resort and College retail markets throughout the U.S. and do so via decorated garments and accessories, which we design and construct. We’re all about great art – it’s something that sets us apart – and doing all we can to “Wow” our customers. We know when we’re firing on all cylinders and really taking care of our customers, we are really hard to beat. We do all this not only here in DL but through multiple locations across the country.”
What are your entrepreneurial highs and lows?
“The lowest points would have been early on. Juggling the stress of growing fast and running things as times on shoe string. Doubling down every year, expanding buildings, adding employees, and buying more equipment. Couple that with wearing many hats in the organization, and thinking that we weren’t doing some jobs as well as we wanted. There were a couple of times over the 40 year period we had to really tighten the belt to remain profitable. In the end it helped us come together as a team and made us stronger. “
“The high points. There are so many! Recently, in 2019 we partnered with Carlson Private Capital, and received a significant investment from them. As a result we were able to share some of the proceeds of that event with our employees. We distributed over 14 Million Dollars to our team. It was a great party and celebration! And even better was we picked the right partner to move forward with instead of a traditional Private Equity firm. CPC believes in doing the right things, investing in the long game, and treating our teammates, customers, and community the same way we have for decades. Our annual profit-sharing celebration is great every year, too. We just completed our 2022 profit share this week, in fact.”
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout your entrepreneurial journey?
“We have learned many lessons along this crazy journey! We have been very fortunate that so many have been so generous to us along the way. In looking back over our nearly 40-year run, one thing that comes to mind is our belief that if you do the have big goals, do the right thing, continually find ways to “wow” your customers, exceed their expectations things will work out. It might not be a straight path up, but over time, things have a way of working out. We knew we’d make mistakes, but also knew we’d learn and get better. We were and still are energized by the opportunity that we see every day, and we know if we work hard, and do things better than the day we did before – something we’ve been pretty good at – we’d thrive and grow. That’s exactly what has happened.”
Lakeshirts is officially a part of the Fargo-Moorhead founder family. How can our community support you in your next stage of growth?
“I’m actively involved in Project 412, which was created with the dream of making Detroit Lakes and the surrounding 412 lakes area an even better community. We know that communities that thrive are those that invest in themselves and are always imagining, innovating, and taking risks to become better. If you’ve not been to DL, or if it has been a while, please come visit us and see what we have going on. We’re hoping you like what you see, and perhaps influence you enough that you’d consider moving to our area and participating in building it.”