By Mikkel Hyldebrandt

For more than ten years, Tom Landrus’ Big Frog franchise in Buckhead has created custom t-shirts and merchandise. Still, the recent pandemic has forced the business – like it has so many other small businesses – to refocus their energy and effort elsewhere. For Tom Landrus, that has resulted in a collection of custom ‘I Heart’ t-shirts and totes that celebrate and support local LGBTQ small businesses. Peach spoke to Tom about his initiative and hopes for the future. 

In these times of an ongoing pandemic, how has it impacted your business?

Our business has been significantly impacted by the pandemic. A large percentage of our business is around events of some sort. The event business began to dry up in early March, which made March, by far, the worst month for us since we opened in 2010. Also, the uncertainty for the next months is causing more events to be postponed or canceled, therefore we had to change the way we market for business to replace at least a part of the lost larger event business.

What have you done to adapt to this new world?

Our employees, including myself, have been working remotely since the “Stay at Home” order went into effect. I had to reduce working hours and staffing as orders have been few and far between. Remote working brings its own challenges, but we have adapted fairly well to this.

I have been the only one going into the store to complete the production of online orders, as I did not want to put the employees at risk. We are all spending a large amount of our time marketing and on social media in trying to bring in new customers and business during this time. We have a great online store tool that we are using more during the pandemic. It allows customers to purchase goods that we ship out to them, in most cases. 

Tell us about your initiative to support local businesses – how does it involve past and present LGBTQ businesses?

We brainstormed ideas on how we could help other small struggling businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The first focus was on LGBTQ businesses, but we have since expanded outside of the community. We came up with the idea of the I ❤ line. On April 10, we launched the fundraising program to help support local businesses. For every shirt sold, Big Frog Custom T-shirts Atlanta/Buckhead donates $10 to that given business. Big Frog of Buckhead is already helping a dozen businesses, as it has already raised more than $1,800 in a short period of time. We see this as only the beginning! Consumers who are wanting to purchase their own I ❤ shirt or custom tote bag to support their favorite local business can order at iheartfundraiser.itemorder.com/sale. This is a co-branded line with Big Frog Custom T-Shirts of Buckhead/ Atlanta for loyal customers in the community to show their support of these small businesses and their employees during this pandemic, and beyond. The goal of this fundraiser is the ability to sell hundreds of items, which will ultimately amount to thousands of dollars to support these local restaurants, bars, and other small companies in the area. We foresee this co-branded line expanding greatly to include many more local brands than those we currently are aiding.

Anything you’d like to add?

We don’t anticipate things getting back to normal for a very long time. There will continue to be a large number of displaced or furloughed employees that will continue to need help from sales of the I Heart items. Also, we see the I Heart brand continuing beyond the pandemic and can be used by the businesses to show support for the business as things begin to open up. Maybe a promotion for “Wear your I Heart shirt” in and get a free first drink or appetizer. Our goal is to add additional businesses each week to grow the fundraising support to help us all move through COVID-19 the best way we can.

How can we get our hands on the t-shirts and merchandise?

Go to iheartfundraiser.itemorder.com/sale to order your custom t-shirt or tote. If Peach’s readers have other favorite restaurants or small businesses, please email Buckhead@bigfrog.com, and we’ll be happy to reach out to them.