Jerry Shuler honed his sales skills 15 years ago as a FedEx driver eating bologna sandwiches and selling screen-printed bandannas on his lunch hour.
The gig – which earned Shuler a 30-cent commission for each bandanna sold – was just a way to bring in extra cash.
Now, his Rock Hill-based sales business has blossomed into a way for local charities to raise money.
The 65-year-old, who is retiring after 20 years with FedEx, owns Palmetto Bay Designs – an online-only store giving at least 50 percent of its profits to partner charities.
Two of Shuler’s beneficiaries are Rock Hill’s Children’s Attention Home and the Palmetto School at the home.
He hopes the sale of bags, hats and pillows adorned with South Carolina’s symbolic Palmetto tree and crescent moon will rake in about $5,000 for each group to put toward helping children.
The website sales are crucial during a time when federal funding is being slashed for organizations such as the Palmetto School, said Principal and Executive Director Hugh Wilson.
The charter school, started in 2004, is one of only two of its kind in South Carolina.
The Palmetto School serves special needs students and children who live at the Children’s Attention Home, Safe Passage or Pilgrims’ Inn.
School leaders want to branch out and serve other at-risk children and teens in the community, Wilson said.
With two full-time teachers and three part-time teachers at the Palmetto School, he said, children receive more one-on-one instruction and the attention they need to catch up with others their age.
Recently, Wilson said, the school has seen its federal funding cut in half.
Fewer students last year and federal budget cuts this year have left the Palmetto School with only 40 percent of its operations money coming from state and federal grants, he said.
The school’s leadership needs to raise the other 60 percent to pay its staff and ensure quality education – which is why Shuler’s website is so important, Wilson said.
The Children’s Attention Home has benefited from Shuler’s sales in the past before he built his own website.
Shuler hopes the new site will boost sales and bring in more money for nonprofit groups.
Depending on the item sold, he gives at least 50 percent of the profit to partner charities.
Shuler is looking to bring more nonprofit groups, churches and companies on board, he said.
Nonprofit organizations aren’t required to provide any money or products up-front to join in.
If a company wants to partner with Palmetto Bay Designs for a charitable cause, Shuler said he will donate a check to a nonprofit group in the company’s name for items sold through his site.
Groups supporting children are especially welcome, he said.
“I love kids – that is the future,” Shuler said.
He has visited the Palmetto School and the Children’s Attention Home – a temporary shelter for children in cases of abuse or neglect.
Shuler was inspired, he said, by the work and service at the two local organizations.
Any money from the sales on his website will help because the economy hasn’t “bounced back” for the children’s home, said Janet Knight, community partnership director.
The school and the home serve many of the same children but operate as separate nonprofit groups.
The shelter can house 42 children at one time and the school can serve 36 children.
Without organizations such as the school and the children’s home, the kids would be neglected, Shuler said.
While Palmetto Bay Designs does earn a profit, Shuler considers the charitable part of his business as important as making money for himself, he said.
He runs his site by the philosophy of “the power of one,” he said, meaning every customer can make a difference just by buying “things they would normally buy anyhow.”
His business offers a chance for young entrepreneurs ages 15 to 17 to start their own sales company, hosted on his site for $65 a month.
The entrepreneur program is another way to help children, Shuler said.
“These kids have got ideas, they just don’t know what to do with it.”
Both Knight and Wilson said any donations from Shuler’s sales will go into operating costs for their organizations.
Shuler buys the clothes and accessories on his site from large companies and uses local businesses to screen print and embroider the items.
From selling bandannas during his FedEx days to selling Palmetto State swag to help local charities – Shuler’s expertise lies in the marketing and business, he said, not the creative side of making products.
“I know how to put ideas together,” he said. “And, that’s all I do.”
Anna Douglas • 803-329-4068