When the Chiefs took the field for warmups before their AFC playoff game at Indianapolis last season, they sported red T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Work to Win.”
The shirts were compliments of backup quarterback Chase Daniel’s burgeoning company, 10Star Apparel, as a means to galvanize the team and their fans, who were given the opportunity to purchase the same apparel as worn by the players.
Proceeds from sales of the shirts would be donated to charity each week, all the way to the Super Bowl.
“The shirts would have been a little stinky had we gone all the way,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said with a laugh, “but we would have worn them.”
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The Chiefs fell short of the Super Bowl, but the T-shirts, like Daniel’s business, were a success. Sales of the shirts raised $2,500 for three different charities, and Daniel’s teammates still wear them in the weight room and around the Arrowhead practice facility.
“For me, it’s fun, it’s a challenge,” Daniel said of his dual career as QB and CEO. “I’m a business owner, and that’s a lot of time and effort. I was a business major in college, so to actually take what I learned in college and to put it toward 10Star has been exceptional.”
Daniel, who played in college at Missouri, began his Arlington, Texas-based company in 2011 in his hometown of Dallas as a subsidiary to B&E Industries, owned by an acquaintance, Brian Elliott.
B&E, now known as Allgoods, LLC, provides sweatshirts, T-shirts and other spirit wear to more than 10,000 high schools. Daniel was offered an opportunity to invest in the corporate side and print T-shirts for major companies. The business took off beyond his expectations.
10Star, operating in Allgoods’ 250,000-square foot plant, has 300 employees, including 30 graphic artists, and prints 1.5 million T-shirts a year.
“We thought there was a niche in the market we could capture,” Daniel said. “I’ve always been into clothes and fashion. We’re not in the fashion business, but we’re young men who know what looks good on a collared T-shirt or your team’s shirts.”
Daniel came up with the name 10Star, based on his longtime uniform number, and he brought in a high school friend and teammate, Aaron Luna, who was a business finance major when he played football and baseball at Rice before spending four years in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
Within four years, 10Star has compiled an impressive client list that includes On the Border restaurants, 7-Eleven, the Texas Rangers and University of Missouri, and has a goal of $1.5 million in sales this year, which would represent about 600 percent growth.
“We’re not a mom-and-pop shop down the street that can make you 12 shirts for a drop-dead price,” Daniel said. “We’re going to get you discounts on 1,000 T-shirts, 2,000 T-shirts, 3,000 T-shirts. We deal in bulk. That’s our business model.”
For example, Daniel said On the Border has 169 restaurants, and 10Star produces all the waiters’ T-shirts and plans to add the chefs’ coats, hats and aprons.
“You look at 7-Eleven, that’s a huge deal for us,” he said. “They’re in the process of revamping their employee on-line stores. There are 50,000 locations around the world, and they’re going to have access to our website. We’re in discussions with Sport Clips. They have 1,200 locations … I want to shoot for the stars.”
Before embarking on their venture, neither Daniel nor Luna had any experience or background in the apparel industry.
“I had no idea what I was getting into,” Daniel said. “The more I researched it, the more I understood what (Elliott) was saying. … We saw something that not a lot of people were getting their hands on, the corporate apparel market.”
In their first few weeks on the job, Daniel and Luna rolled up their sleeves and got down and dirty on the production floor, working at least two days in every department.
They followed T-shirts from the moment the design was printed on the screen, to how the screen went on the shirt, how it goes to the dryer and is picked, packed and shipped.
“The actual production of the T-shirt looks and sounds easy,” Luna said, “but to get the perfect print on the perfect spot every time … when you’re doing an order of 1,500 units, making sure every one comes out exactly the same and the quality is consistent is more tedious than originally thought. …
“You think, ‘Oh, that’s a cool design,’ but nothing really registers in your head how that was even made. It’s such a multistep process to get that print on your shirt with the printing of it being the final piece.”
During the football season, Luna oversees the day-to-day operation while Daniel tends to his duties with the Chiefs.
“I’m pretty picky with what happens within the company,” said Daniel, in his second season with the Chiefs. “I’m copied on every single email. So I can look down (at his phone), and at the end of the day have 25, 30 emails sent to me, and I know what’s going on with the company at all times.
“I’ve learned to manage my time during the season. Obviously football comes first. That’s why I’ve hired good people to help me.”
The only downtime for most NFL players is on “Victory Mondays,” if coaches reward the team with a day off from practice following a win, and on Tuesdays, which is a mandatory day off.
But win or lose, quarterbacks have no such luxuries. They’re in the facility on Mondays to go over game film from Sundays and work from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays, studying film of the upcoming opponent,
“After I get all my football work done, I get on the phone with Aaron and go over the weekly agenda,” Daniel said. “What the sales goals are, any major decisions that need to be made. Maybe it’s financial decisions: How much we want to spend on marketing. Do we want to take this client on? Some clients have a smaller need than others. Do we have time to do it? What are the next target accounts? Who do we want to go after next …?
“We have some really big corporations we’re working with on long-term contracts, and we’re growing. From last year’s fiscal year to this year, we had 2,000 percent growth, so we’re trying to handle the growth as we go.”
Though Daniel was a three-year starter at Missouri, leading the Tigers to a national No. 1 ranking at one point and to two Big 12 North titles, he went undrafted in 2009. He was signed and released by Washington and picked up by New Orleans, where he spent four years as Drew Brees’ backup before joining the Chiefs.
If anyone realized the importance of finding a career beyond football, it was Daniel.
“You can’t play forever, that was the notion for starting the company,” said Daniel, who is in the second year of a three-year contract worth up to $10 million. “I’ve been blessed to play almost double the average amount of time in the league. I’m going into my sixth year. I wanted to have something set in place for when I walk away from this game. Hopefully, it’s not for another 10 years. …
“So many guys in this league don’t really know when their time to get off the bus comes, but it’s going to come. It’s inevitable. whether you get cut, whether you retire, whether you get hurt, it’s going to happen. I wanted to be proactive and get out there and try to set myself up for life after sports.”