RAM Group Inc.
Innovation: Custom active apparel
301 West Vogel Ave., Milwaukee
Most golf shirts are single-color cotton polos. Some are single-color polyester polos. But Rick Marino wasn’t comfortable with the status quo, which is why he founded Milwaukee custom active apparel manufacturer RAM Group Inc. to make out-of-the-box designs for activewear.
RAM Group started as a graphic house in 1996 and moved into manufacturing custom apparel in 2005. Marino got the idea from coaching his children’s baseball teams. Today, it makes complete garments for private labels, under license, for original equipment manufacturers, as prototypes and under its own labels at its 16,000-square-foot Milwaukee headquarters at 301 W. Vogel Ave.
The concept has taken off. RAM had revenue of $3.5 million in 2014 and is growing 30 to 50 percent per year, Marino said. It will soon outgrow its space, which it has occupied for just two years. The company, which has 58 employees, has added 25 of those just this year, and plans to double employment over the next couple of years.
The company operates under several labels, including Ontal.com, SluggerCustomUniforms.com, Shirts and Logos, P2P Volleyball and LanggPro.com. The brands are targeted to different sports and uses for its products, which include jerseys, polos, pants, skirts, dresses and jackets, among other creations.
Among its target customers are golfers, bowlers, volleyball players, softball and baseball players, and even video gamers. It has printed everything from boxing ring floors to bikinis, Marino said.
“There’s probably nothing we can’t do if it’s got fabric. It’s if we should do it,” he said.
RAM’s apparel designs are loud, bright and unique. The player numbers on the back of one of the first jerseys the company designed had bloodshot eyes and were smoking a cigar.
“What we were known for at first was what we dubbed ‘crazy numbers,’” Marino said. “Because nobody had ever seen anything like that before, not only he, but 19 other guys (on the team) ordered the shirt. We’re known now for the whole shirt being crazy.”
RAM’s graphics are designed in-house, printed on paper and then transferred onto performance polyester fabric through a process called digital dye sublimation. Employees then use a CAD laser cutting machine to cut out the parts of the garment and sew the pieces together.
Most of the fabrics RAM uses are 100 percent polyester with a moisture wicking feature.
“We pick fabrics on what we think is best for a certain market,” said Rick’s son, Pete Marino, who is vice president of production. Ann Marino, the family matriarch, owns the company.
Most clothing manufacturers send their designs overseas to be manufactured, but Marino is insistent on manufacturing in Milwaukee, even if the costs are higher.
“We pay our sewers more in an hour than they do in a day in foreign countries,” he said.
The company uses a process it calls “purchase activated apparel manufacturing” to keep turnover time low.
“We just really pride ourselves on our quality and our turnover time,” Pete said.
From order to delivery, turnover time is about three weeks for a fully custom product. If it’s a rush order, the company could even complete a project overnight. Most of its competitors have a six to eight week lead time because they send the products overseas for manufacturing.
RAM sets itself apart through its product quality and a proprietary printing process no one else in the country is using, Rick said. It also has a high level of customization, and can even embroider the customer’s name into the collar of a shirt. In men’s shirts alone, there are 3,600 possible options for color, size, sleeves, cut, etc.
“You can fill your whole closet with things that nobody else has,” Rick said. “Nobody else has it because the combinations are endless.”
The company is in the process of further automating its production process, which will allow RAM to manufacture up to 50,000 customer shirts each month. It’s currently making 60,000 shirts per year.
“With purchase activated manufacturing, we’re never out of your size or style or color,” he said.