In this time of crisis, Joe and Michelle Stewart are paying it forward.
And those they intend to help are beginning to follow suit.
The married couple, owners of Caro business Mission 1 Apparel, are selling T-shirts containing a positive message, and encouraging local businesses to team up.
“It’s called the ‘Pay it Forward’ program,” Joe Stewart said. “I got this idea from a friend who runs a shop in South Carolina. And we thought it would be great to do it here.”
Mission 1 implemented its “Pay it Forward” program March 21 with a simple goal – provide extra income for local small businesses that may be struggling during COVID-19 restrictions.
Mission 1 is selling the T-shirts for $20.
The shirts are red, with a graphic of the state of Michigan encircled by the words “Be Kind Spread Love.” Businesses who opt-in to the “Pay it Forward” program will get $10 from each shirt sold in which a customer enters that business’ code into the Mission 1 website when purchasing the T-shirt.
“Our target right now is unifying small businesses,” Joe Stewart said. “I want to talk to as many small-business owners as I can. This is a way to open an additional stream of revenue and help them get through this tough time.”
As of Friday, Stewart said about 35 businesses were signed up for the program. But not all of them are utilizing it for their own business. Timber Oakes Lawn & Snow of Vassar, for example, is donating the $10 it receives from each shirt sale to the Vassar Food Pantry.
“(Timber Oakes owner Corey Haubenstricker) kind of blew my mind,” Joe Stewart said. “We were just thinking of small-business support. We set this up for local customers, family and friends. When Corey asked, ‘Can I give my money to the Vassar Food Pantry?’ I said, ‘Wow, of course.’ I hadn’t even thought of that. It’s a win-win-win.”
Another business – CrossFit Steel Courage, a Chesaning gym – also decided to pay it forward.
“What they’re doing is, with every shirt they sell, they’re going to buy a gift card from a local salon that’s shut down and give those gift cards to local medical care workers,” Joe Stewart said. “These guys are the kings and queens of paying it forward, three small businesses win and you show gratitude to medical professionals who are on the front lines right now.”
On Monday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced an executive order, temporarily requiring a suspension to activities that are not necessary to sustain or protect life. The order instructs residents not working in an essential field to stay home, unless performing needful tasks such as going out for food or medical care.
As a result, many businesses have shut down temporarily. At Mission 1, 1900 W. Caro Road Suite B, all employees have been laid off.
“I’m going in once a week to perform essential duties to keep the business afloat,” Joe Stewart said. “As long as UPS and U.S. Mail are running, shirts will go out once a week. The royalty checks also will go out once a week.”
Michelle Stewart started Mission 1 Apparel in the family’s garage in 2015, Joe Stewart said.
Although Mission 1’s physical address is closed, business as usual will continue on its web site – mission1apparel.com.
Businesses wishing to participate should go to the Mission 1 website and click on the “Pay it Forward” tab. After filling out an enrollment form, the business will be given a code. That business can then pass the code on to customers. Customers who wish to purchase a “Pay it Forward” T-shirt will be asked to enter a code to determine which enrollee receives the $10.
“If a customer doesn’t designate a business, the funds go to Mission 1,” Joe Stewart said. “That will go toward helping us keeping our lights on through the duration of this thing. If we sell a ton of shirts, we’ll pass along some of the money. We’ll keep it local.”
John Schneider is editor of The Advertiser. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.