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CI Sport: Two Decades of Excellence
A Comprehensive Company History

Part I: Prehistory

CI Sport’s beginnings occur in Fargo, North Dakota, during the late 1980’s. CI Sport was conceived as a start-up screenprint company by two entrepreneurs, Randy Thorson and Warren Ackley, who were involved in the hospitality industry. Having a successful chain of restaurants and nightclubs all over the Midwest, Thorson and Ackley needed to order a large amount of apparel to outfit their ever growing legion of employees, and for also retail sale. The company that provided this apparel was called Dakota Screen Arts (DSA) based in Bismarck, North Dakota. One of the partners at DSA took a keen interest to the large amount of business that was being done with his company by Thorson and Ackley. Having known them for many years, he approached them regarding creating their own screenprint company in Fargo, with the overriding theory that the bar and restaurant business could alone sustain the profitability of a small screenprint company. With the general consensus that this would be a risk worth taking, Creative Imprintz, later to become CI Sport, was born.

Part II: The Early Years

Creative Imprintz opened its doors in September of 1990 in a small office space above the Old Broadway Bar and Restaurant, owned by the two entrepreneurs, located at the corner of NP Avenue and Broadway in Fargo. The beginning look of Creative Imprintz was very humble compared to the large size that the company has grown to today. Initially, the only piece of equipment used by the company was a six-color, manually operated screen printing press run by two production people. Creative Imprintz soon hired a talented Fargo art designer, along with a sales person, both of which came to the company with an extensive amount of business contacts throughout the region. Creative Imprintz grew steadily in its infancy, supplying apparel to businesses and organizations all over Eastern North Dakota and Northwest Minnesota. The continued growth of the restaurants and nightclubs fueled the success of Creative Imprintz as well. Many large corporate businesses were also essential partners to CI during this time. Creative Imprintz expanded its offerings to its customers with the purchase of their first 12-color automatic screen press and a six-head embroidery machine in 1992. Throughout 1991 and 1992 Creative Imprintz was able to hire more staff, including new sales representatives with contacts in the high school and college team markets. Soon CI began building a foundation in the athletic, collegiate, and retail markets that would build CI Sport to the successful company that it is today.

Part III: The Beginning of Retail Marketing

In the fall of 1992, Creative Imprintz was proud to partner up with a large retailer based out of Fargo to sell collegiate items at their many outlets throughout the Midwest. The success of this partnership fueled CI’s desire to become much more involved in the collegiate licensed apparel market. As both companies have grown the relationship has evolved over the years into a great relationship that continues to this day. Seeing that the collegiate market was a viable part of the screenprint and embroidery business, Creative Imprintz began pursuing the college bookstore market. In 1993 the very first college to order from Creative Imprintz new retail line was obtained. Soon after, many other large colleges and universities in the area became business partners as well. Creative Imprintz soon found the need to hire more staff and purchase more equipment to keep up with the growing demand of its services. A marketing department was also formed to provide the ever-growing customer base with the most up-to-date product and design available. In late 1995, Creative Imprintz moved into a larger facility just down the block to accommodate this growth. Creative Imprintz soon began to market itself outside of the Tri-State area. Before long sales reps were covering bookstores not just in the Dakotas and Minnesota but also Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin. By the late 90’s, Creative Imprintz had gone from a five person operation to a large corporation, employing well over 50 people.

Part IV: A Time of Change

By the time of its ten year anniversary in 2000, CI Sport was growing steadily in both the retail and corporate markets. At this time a new management team was brought in to take CI to the next level. The decision was soon made to change the company’s name to “CI Apparel” to better reflect the broad spectrum of services that CI offered to its clients. In the early 2000’s, bookstores in Colorado, Idaho, Washington, Michigan, Kansas, and Indiana began coming into the CI Apparel fold. CI Apparel added new equipment and inventory space to keep up with the progress they were making in the retail market. CI Apparel was again rapidly outgrowing its new location, and in 2003 CI Apparel, moved into its current location to allow for more growth. A seminal moment in CI history came in 2003 when the company first purchased booth space at the CAMEX show, which was held in St. Louis that year. CAMEX is the largest gathering of college bookstores and collegiate clothing retailers in the country. Even though CI Apparel had a small presence at this massive convention, buyers from large and small bookstores alike were drawn to CI’s low minimums, top quality garments, and cutting edge designs. In the span of three days presence at CAMEX, CI Apparel went from being a regional company to having customers from coast to coast. In subsequent years, CI’s display booth at CAMEX has grown from being only ten feet wide to being one of the largest displays at the show, with its current booth measuring 1600 square feet.

Part V: A Nationwide Company

With CI’s new found success at CAMEX, the need was apparent to add more sales staff in order to cover the increased territory of the company. In addition, CI invested additional dollars by adding another automatic screen print press, investing in state of the art digitizing software, and increasing embroidery machine capacity to over 200 heads. To reflect the new nationwide reach of CI Apparel, the name of the company was changed to “CI Sport” in 2007. While CI still does a lot of business in the corporate apparel field, the name “CI Sport” better reflects the retail apparel feel of CI’s products. CI Sport also started a new logo development division under the direction of our in-house art director, who works closely with collegiate licensing companies to create new and up-to-date logos for universities all over the country. With CI’s expanded sales staff, new territories including Texas, California, New York, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas grew rapidly to increase CI Sport’s business. With all these new and diverse markets to maintain, CI’s management had to expand the internal marketing department in order to keep up with the company’s growth. Today the CI Sport marketing department is constantly on the cutting edge of fashion and design work. In addition our highly trained marketing staff works tirelessly with our suppliers and production departments to provide the best pricing and top quality looks for our customers. During this growth spurt, CI Sport became largest manufacturer in a private sector renaissance zone in the state of North Dakota. CI Sport also was one of the first companies in the country to have two 80 foot long “Laser Bridge” machines, which took CI’s already formidable garment decoration capabilities to the next level and beyond.

Part VI: A New Decade

In 2010 CI Sport was proud to celebrate its 20th year in business. In the short span of two decades CI has grown to become a major player in the screen print and embroidery business in the United States. As the new decade dawned CI Sport expanded rapidly in two areas. First, CI had always dabbled in the “tourism” apparel business supplying resort wear to regional vacation destinations across Minnesota and the Dakotas. In early 2011 CI Sport attended the Surf Expo in Orlando, FL for the first time armed with a newly formed tourism line fresh with great designs and apparel. Much as CAMEX had launched CI Sport headlong into the college bookstore market 8 years earlier…the Surf Expo created a whole new market for the company to pursue. Resorts, cruise lines, and tourist hot spots across the nation were blown away by CI’s incredible selection. CI Sport is rapidly growing their tourism line and gearing up sales staff to promote this outstanding product. Secondly, CI Sport was also fortunate to expand into the professional franchise apparel market in the last few years. It is very possible that your favorite hockey team has CI Sport product in their arena pro shop no matter where you are in the country. Today CI Sport does business from coast to coast, servicing over 1500 college bookstores and retail outlets. In addition CI works with countless corporate clients, national restaurant chains, and resort wear clients. CI Sport has transformed over the years from a small shop to a company that provides employment for over 150 people. Even with the massive growth over the years the company always holds true to the reputation it has for quality customer service, unique designs, low minimums, top quality garments, and quick turn around times.