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Sandlot Sports Shows How Small Businesses Can Delegate

Sandlot Sports Shows How Small Businesses Can Delegate
Ryan Dost (left) and Adam McCauley, the founders of Sandlot Sports, found that building career paths for their staff increased employee satisfaction and productivity. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Sandlot Sports

When Adam McCauley and Ryan Dost told friends and family they were considering leaving their jobs to start a screen-printing business in 2007, the reaction was largely the same across the board. Nearly everyone, including three banks, cautioned them against making such a rash decision in an unsteady economic climate. Luckily, the duo remained persistent.

The two friends launched their business in 2008 with personal savings and some financial support from family. Just over a decade after opening their first location, McCauley and Dost are still the proud leaders of Sandlot Sports. The Michigan-based screen-printing and embroidery business exceeded $2 million in sales in 2016 and consistently pleases customers, receiving a 4.8 rating out of a possible five in 70 Facebook reviews.

While the decision to start the business paid off, the process of building a business caused growing pains. For Sandlot Sports, one of those growing pains came in the form of a heavy workload for its founders. McCauley and Dost started the business with just the two of them, which led to long weeks, even by the standards of entrepreneurs.  

"We were just doing everything," Dost said. "In the first full year Adam and I were in business, we were making no money, but working like 80-hour weeks all the time. That first full year, there were five weeks we worked over 100 hours."

Long weeks are customary for entrepreneurs, but it's not sustainable to work that many hours on a regular basis. Over the years, Sandlot Sports has added staff members to increase the efficiency of its practices, leading to impressive sales numbers and a strong bond with the local community. We spoke with McCauley and Dost to learn how they went about delegating tasks to improve their business.

Giving up areas of your business to employees can be difficult. You've spent countless hours working on your company, only to hand off duties to people who might not have spent an hour working for your business previously. That's not easy, but in many cases, it is necessary.

"There are times where I would love to just sit and do artwork for 16 hours and then go print for another two hours at night and then go home at 3 in the morning," McCauley said. "We can't do that anymore."

"I miss interacting with the customers," Dost added. The two spend so much time working in their offices or attending business events that they don't have the same amount of time to spend on customer-facing activities.

Don't shy away from giving employees more responsibility. The change isn't always easy, as Sandlot Sports' owners can attest, but your business benefits by empowering employees. A company will find more success with a staff of dedicated workers than it will with just one or two people stretching themselves to work 80-hour weeks.

McCauley and Dost reached out to the Michigan Small Business Development Center in 2015 for help creating a company growth plan. According to information on the Michigan SBDC website, the two found that "employees were happy with the culture of the company but yearned for greater responsibility and empowerment. The employees wanted to be leaders in their respective areas of business."

This realization forced Sandlot Sports to build out career opportunities for employees. Making your business a destination job is an admirable goal for all small businesses. Dost stressed the importance of changing the mindset of employees from "this is your job" to "this can be your career."

Building a successful small business requires the help of talented employees. Keeping those employees around may be vital to your success, so it's important that your business is willing to develop a career path for employees. It's unrealistic to expect employee loyalty if they don't have room to grow within the company.

Paving a career path for employees requires trust from the business owners. You can't overreact to minor mistakes employees make during the delegation process, and you must believe in your employees. Creating an environment that encourages growth means you need to showcase trust and patience with your workers.

"We kind of tell everyone in the interview that we want them to be better than we are," said McCauley. "To keep growing, you need to have a better person ... To be a part of our team, we really want you to go above and beyond."

Hiring and training are crucial aspects of delegating responsibility. McCauley and Dost hire people who can immediately contribute to the team and help the business move to the next level. If you're looking to pass off responsibilities within your small business, make sure to give extra duties to capable employees with a willingness to learn and grow.

Training is a vital portion of this process, as employees should feel comfortable taking on new roles. It's not a great idea to throw an employee into a new role without the proper training or experience. Delegating tasks is an essential part of business growth, but it needs to be done properly and not rushed.

"Something we've gotten better at in the last three years is actually hiring skilled people … getting people that are better at certain aspects – like production management, things like that – than we ever were," said Dost.

Dost's comments are worth remembering for small businesses. Hiring people who possess skills in areas you don't will help your business move forward. Find areas of your business that need improvement, and delegate those tasks to employees with skills in those spots.

The moral of McCauley and Dost's story is to be willing to ask for help when running your business. When Sandlot Sports started, McCauley and Dost were a two-man crew working long hours to please customers.

"Our hands were in everything," McCauley said. "If there was an error, it was on the two of us."

Once they hired staff and placed their trust in that team, responsibility was dispersed across many different people. While this requires you to place a good deal of trust in properly trained employees, it ultimately helps your business move forward. It's easy to get caught in the trap of thinking that you can do everything yourself because you know best, but that's not the best way to improve your business.

Dost summed it up nicely when he told the Michigan SBDC, "There's no handbook to be a business owner; you've got to ask for help."

Bennett Conlin

Bennett is an editorial assistant based in New York City. He graduated from James Madison University in 2018 with a degree in business management. During his time in Harrisonburg he worked extensively with The Breeze, JMU’s student-run newspaper. Bennett also worked at the Shenandoah Valley SBDC, where he helped small businesses with a variety of needs ranging from social media marketing to business plan writing. Contact him through email or Twitter.