I drove by the sign three days a week for a whole year without ever knowing what they did. The actual building was pushed back behind a bluff so I only ever saw the sign on my commute. It simply said “Grandstand” in big arched blue and black slab serifed type. Their tagline was: Glassware – Apparel. A subtle statement in retrospect for what this Lawrence, KS business has managed to create over the last two and half decades.
Twenty six years ago Chris Piper was helping the University of Kansas basketball team win their fourth national championship. The 1988 championship team, dubbed “Danny and Miracles” for the all-star efforts of Danny Manning, was not expected to compete for a title but used a team game to beat the top rated Oklahoma Sooners. While Danny went on to be drafted with the first overall pick in the NBA draft, Chris stayed in Lawrence looking to start a business. He opened up a small apparel printing shop named Grandstand.
A year into his new business Free State Brewing Company opened the first legal brewery in Kansas (since prohibition) in a prime spot in downtown Lawrence. Naturally Free State needed some glassware and brewery founder, Chuck Magerl, approached Chris about printing a run of pint glasses. The fact that Chris didn’t have the capability to print on glass didn’t stop him from taking on the project and he soon found himself contracting a decorative plate company to fire the glasses once he cobbled together a method to print on them.
After a while the glassware portion of their business was getting bigger and it didn’t make sense to keep going through a third party. Chris decided to invest in and the more space specialized printing equipment needed to produce glass on large scale and not surprisingly the brewing industry noticed and orders tarted rolling in. The growing craft beer movement surged the business forward to the point where glass production now makes up about 70% of their sales.
By providing a one stop shop for pints glasses, samplers, growlers, and printed apparel Grandstand has managed to create craft beer printing juggernaut. Just two and half years ago they ran out of space and had to grow again. This time to a 150,000-square-foot space warehouse that they outfitted with giant kilns, automated printers, and –staying true to his roots– a full size basketball court. A company that consisted of just eight employees two years ago now boasts a staff of 140.
Grandstand has worked with over 2000 breweries to provide glass and growlers. A walk through their new facility is like walking through a museum of past, present, and future breweries. Stacks and stack of glass gets printed at an astounding rate. The small print shop was no longer a just a local supplier, Grandstand’s work can be seen from coast to coast. The once mysterious sign that always caught my eye is now doing the same for countless people in the beer business and much like craft beer itself, business is good.