Lesson 1: Just start
Don’t wait for the perfect situation
I had this grand vision in my head of custom-made bow ties. Quickly I learned that I had to scale my expectations back a little, since there were so many barriers to creating handmade product. So I shifted my focus to branding while I looked for a supplier.
The brand needed to be classy and also stand out in a crowd. Intending to create a men’s fashion brand that was part James Bond and part Jay-Z, I named the company Renegade Red and developed messages like Debonair with Flair and The Color of Bold.
I imagined Justin Timberlake one day adorning a piece of our neckwear and repping the brand. I found a supplier in China to get product from and sell in the states. This helped me continue the early startup stage without getting held back.
Lesson 2: Be passionate about your product
Would you be a customer?
After receiving the product from China, I wasn’t in love with the product. The quality was satisfactory, just not something I would wear. I couldn’t get passionate about selling cheap ties and making a few bucks on each one. So I put the product that I had purchased into a box, and the project became a back-burnered dream.
Lesson 3: Plans change
Importing to manufacturing
Fast forward a year and a half. On a whim one day, I checked GoDaddy for some domains, and there it was—the vanity URL, available for $2.99! I couldn’t believe it. All the passion and excitement returned. Without hesitating, I purchased the domain, and there I was again starting up my business.
I realized the only way to get this thing going was to sell handmade products. So I went for it. At first, creating the bow ties myself was really hard and took a long time. Some of the first ones looked terrible. I studied a lot, got advice from others and soon the quality and the product started coming together.
Lesson 4: The tool makes the difference
Turning the bow ties
Bow ties are small. Once the piece has been sewn, it’s a challenge to turn the fabric. Production became a concern. It just took too long to sew the bow ties inside out, then turn them to hide the stitching. There had to be a better solution, so I looked online. I found what appeared to be an amazing solution, ordered it and waited for it to arrive. The product helped me turn the ties more quickly but it left small holes in the fabric. Back to the old method. It was slower but didn’t damage the fabric.
One day while visiting a local fabric store, I decided to ask someone about the issue. The individual had a quick and inexpensive solution—a $10 tool that made turning the fabric simple. Using the tool sped up production and boosted my confidence.
Lesson 5: You can do more than you think
Logo design, product development, etc.
More determined than ever, I started designing a logo, creating a website and setting up social media pages. I had very little past experience creating logos, but I really wanted to make something cool that I could say I did all on my own. I went through dozens of iterations before finally landing on the one.
I was almost ready to launch.
The Provo Farmer’s Market seemed like a good opportunity to get our name out there and sell to the community. I made business cards, got a banner printed and set up a booth. After the first day, my wife and I were surprised by how well we did. We made almost $200, which for us was a success.
Lesson 6: Details matter
Press, press, press
The second time we attended the Provo Farmer’s Market we thought we were ready. We borrowed some mannequins this time and dressed them up with product. One of the market representatives visited our booth, bought some domino cufflinks and asked if the shirts on our mannequins were pressed. They were not pressed. She told us to always press clothing that’s going to be on display because it’s that kind of detail that sets a booth above another.
The following week, we ironed the mannequins’ shirts. The same lady came by and complimented us on the booth and again asked if the shirts were pressed. Happily we replied that we had just ironed them that morning. Again, she said that clothing on display should be pressed. This time we really felt embarrassed since she had taught us this lesson twice now. We vowed that we would always press our shirts from then on.
Lesson 7: It’s a marathon
Walk before you run
Sales increased week after week; we received several repeat customers and referrals. The bow ties were such a success, I decided to quickly expand into neckties, watches, scarves and more. We quickly learned that neckties are actually much more complicated to make than bow ties. I found myself focusing too much on the next idea and not enough on the business at hand. Moving on to new products and categories is great, but only when the time is right.
Starting a business is about just that, starting. Once you get going, realize that some things will have to change, and you’ll need to adapt as you go along. Are you in love with what you’re creating and selling? This will make the difference in your motivation to work on it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way and when you get that help, listen and act. Finally, remember that major brands take a long time to build. These things don’t just happen overnight no matter how great your product is. Keep at it and don’t let roadblocks and challenges get you down.