Flying under the radar, while providing jobs alongside hope, ATS Printing
has paved a direct path to success.
Chances are you own a piece of clothing, hat, or jacket that has been created or packaged right here in Bay County. Running silently near the west side of I-75 and Wilder Road exit, sits the massive ATS Printing building, hosting employment for anywhere between 70 and 100 people a day.
In 1989, co-owners Kim and John Gillman started the company in Merrill, along with now retired, former business partner Dennis Barthel. After 17 years, they moved the growing business to a 60,000-square-foot building at 4177 Three Mile Road.
What didn’t change when they moved was a commitment to the community and to the employees.
ATS has involved itself with populations that sometimes have a hard time finding jobs. ATS hires high school co-ops and Bay-Arenac ISD students. It works with Do-All Inc.
and other alternate staffing arrangements to find people willing to handle the detailed and nuisance work built into the custom apparel business.
ATS produces custom items for fishing companies, television shows, national concert tours, Olympics, marathons, drop shipments, and more, from all over the world. The business also fulfills stickering, car and boat wraps, and other niche services.
“Labor is an issue for everybody in the world right now,” says Operations Manager Bill Coppens.
“We looked for many different avenues and non-traditional places. From people who are retired and want to just work a couple hours a day, or maybe the stay-at-home mom that needs to be able to put their kids on the bus and pick them up from school, so they can only work in the middle. We've tried to look at those avenues too, because we think that there's valuable people and valuable assets there.”
Coppens grew up down the road from the previous site in Merrill, and got his start there at the age of 16.
“We feel the co-op side of things is a big part of what we do,” he says. “Because we have such a slice of society that works for us, we get to see a lot of different people, different personalities, and learn a little bit about life and dealing with some of these people's situations. But also many of our long-tenured employees, including myself, started as co-op kids.”
While the company seeks to help people by providing jobs for some who might have trouble finding employment elsewhere, it’s not a one-way street. Some of the jobs at ATS are tough to fill. Many people don’t want to do repetitive, task-oriented jobs such as packing, box building, or cleaning.
“We are having a challenging time trying to fill those roles,” Coppens says. “Some of the Do-All people that we have hired do it fantastic and are happy to do it and show up every day smiling.”
Marketing Director Mark Govitz has mapped out success for the entire crew, ensuring smooth production for client’s goods and services.
'We looked for many different avenues and non-traditional places. From people who are retired and want to just work a couple hours a day, or maybe the stay-at-home mom that needs to be able to put their kids on the bus and pick them up from school, so they can only work in the middle. We've tried to look at those avenues too, because we think that there's valuable people and valuable assets there.'
– ATS Printing Operations Manager Bill Coppens
“I handle the big projects that come through, I would say, on a bi-weekly basis,” Govitz says. “We try to segment in a way that everyone is set up for success. It may be something as simple as putting a label on a bag, stuffing a shirt, or stuffing a bag with multiple items.
“It’s all extremely rewarding. I think working with the high school kids, it's a good opportunity to give them some of your life experience and guide them in a direction. And the Do-All folks, although they may not be capable of doing everything, they are capable of doing some things and doing it well. It also provides them with purpose and some satisfaction in their lives. They are all so unique and so individual, it's a pleasure to work with all of them.”
He’s not the only member of the management team to think that.
Kim and John Gillman started ATS Printing in Merrill in 1989. Today, the business is based in Monitor Township. Between 70 and 100 people work inside the building each day.
We are on the floor all the time,” says John Gillman. “Our Do-All staff comes in and changes the mood. They are so happy to come to work.
Adds Coppens: “We're as busy as we've always been, everybody's stretched super thin. (Yet) everybody’s happy. And then there's those people there that make everybody happy. It's really cool, something I wasn't expecting.’”
In recent years, ATS has gotten creative to attract and retain employees.
“We have a lot of remote staff now in offices for various reasons,” adds Coppens. “Some of it is fuel prices and some of it was when COVID hit, we found that (remote work) was beneficial in certain ways. They don't come in all the time and they don't know everybody.”
Monthly special events are a way to bring the team together and provide work-place perks. In recent months, Coppens and the team brought in an ice cream truck and held pancake breakfasts, hot dog cookouts, and fish fries.
ATS Printing turns to Do-All Inc., high schools, and other unique sources to find employees. The business also offers customized schedules to keep people in the workforce.
“It's just something that throws their day off a little and keeps them in a better mood,” shares John Gillman. “It gives them something to look forward to here and it's the smallest of things. It just means a lot.”
With the big Bay City Western vs. Bay City Central football game coming up, ATS has two major players involved on staff.
“We have the quarterback from Bay City Central and former quarterback for Western High working together as co-ops,” says John Gillman.
Chances are you own an item made at ATS Printing in Bay County.
To celebrate, ATS invited the media and the two high school principals in for a cornhole tournament and lunch.
“That'll be kind of an interesting and fun day. And it's a lunch for people and just busts up their life here. You know, it's not the same grind,” he says.
“The two boys work together in the folding department and have become quite close, even though they are big rivals as far as football goes,” adds Kim Gillman. “It’s just fun to be part of this.”
Vendors notice the difference.
“I had one of the customer service reps call me and tell me what a difference those people make in everybody's mood. He's like, ‘It was just amazing,’ “ says Coppens.
Those efforts to make ATS a good place to work have paid off. In recent years, the business has grown and diversified.
Coppens coordinates work on products for fishing companies, television shows, national concert tours, Olympics, marathons, drop shipments, and more, from all over the world. The business also fulfills stickering, car and boat wraps, and other niche services.
ATS opened in 1989 and grew so much that it moved to a larger building 17 years later. Owner Kim Gillman plans for the business to grow even more.
“We do a lot of stuff in the outdoor world, predominantly in fishing, but we're branching out to do some more hunting and that kind of stuff, just because we're all outdoor people,” says Coppens.
ATS expanded its inventory and embroidery department. It also now functions as a fulfillment house, handling orders from ordering to creating to shipping. The goal is more revenue for ATS and better service for customers.
“We can bring some of that in house, save (the customer) money, offer a better service to them, and potentially have more room to gain orders,” Coppens says. “We have to be really competitive, maybe we do printing for less, because we know we're going to get the money on the fulfillment side. Or we can do the fulfillment side for less because we know we're going get the decorating part of it. It gives us some flexibility.”
Kim Gillman is the majority stakeholder, allowing the business to take advantage of opportunities for women-owned businesses. “We work with a lot of woman-owned agencies too, so that works out well and we've continued to grow,” John Gillman adds.
Some of that growth already is in the works.
ATS offers employee perks, such as visits from food trucks, to keep its workforce engaged.
“We’ve got some projects coming up for some Fortune 500 companies that will entail a lot of variance in garments which we will need all hands on deck for,” shares Govitz.
ATS also is fulfilling shirt orders for social media influencers. Govitz expects that project to take about five years and involve between 10,000 and 15,000 direct ship0ments.
“We do a hat program for a major fishing brand, which is a customer relationship management program,” says Govitz. “Due to supply chain issues and other things going on in the world right now, they are sending hats to people that register their product with them, as a way to say ‘Thank you for your patience’ as well as ‘Thank you for doing business with us.’ We have something in the realm of 70,000 hats that will be individual shipments.”
At the end of the day, quality work is the key to the success of ATS.
“You know, we're very, very good to a fault,” says John Gillman. “We take on way too much. But I don't think we ever really over promise and under deliver. We don’t sell ourselves short that way. A lot of people that have worked with ATS for years just expect that kind of service, because that's all they know.
“If it's got to be done on a Saturday or Sunday or at night or whatever, we will do it. Somebody will do it. There's a core group here of all of us that have been here a long time and family. Everybody is on the same page, which I think has made us successful to the level that we're at.”
Karen Gillman adds that the management team appreciates the can-do attitude of the employees.
“We appreciate what everyone is doing. We want to go the extra mile as much as we can because we value everybody that works here and helps out the business. At the end of the day, we want everyone to be happy.”
Nieces, nephews, brothers all have helped out ATS over the years.
“My guess is Bill's kids will maybe work here as well,” says John Gillman. “Bill has an incredible work ethic. And a lot of our key people do and that's what drives it. We're very, very fortunate and blessed.”
“It’s awesome,” adds Kim Gillman. “We have tons of family that work here, the Do-All people have been a huge help, the co-op’s, the ISD. It’s expanded since we were in the Tri-Cities. More schools to pull from. We have had kids from Central, Western, John Glenn, Freeland, Garber. It gives us more avenues to pursue, but at the end of the day, it’s a team.
“I think when people come in to see the place, they are always surprised at the amount of activity that goes on here. We take tons of pride in the building. A lot of people comment on how clean the work environment is. That’s extremely important to us and we want to keep that top-notch.”
Kim Gillman notes she has a bigger vision of what’s possible in the coming years.
“Possibly in the future we are thinking about expanding the size of the building,” she shares. “We are here all the time, but that’s a good thing. When we first got the building, I would think to myself, there is no way we can occupy all this space. Now we are busting at the seams already.
“What I like about it more than anything, you are never doing the same thing. It’s constantly changing, you are moving and doing different things. It’s always fresh. It’s been successful for a lot of years and hopefully it will continue for many, many years to come.”