Weekly Briefing/9 inches/LK1st/mark2nd
Tile and electrical contractors Bob and Chuck Mellon were out riding dirt bikes one day when Chuck took a spill, tearing a small hole in the sleeve of his sweatshirt. The next time he put it on, he found that his thumb popped through the hole, creating a kind of built-in glove. Suddenly inspired, the brothers decided to design a new product, a line of “gloved sweatshirts” called Handcuffs. But as demand for the product increased, so did their troubles. Bob Mellon talked with Lauren Hollingsworth about the difficulties of becoming a garment manufacturer.
If you want me to go tile your pool, I could do it in two hours. But this isn’t the business we know. Everybody seems to know somebody and we didn’t know anybody.
In December of 1995, we opened a kiosk in a mall and we put an ad in the local paper. At that time, we had two styles and three colors. We sold 1,000 our first year, and 4,000 the next year. One woman bought 23 shirts. All the kids she knew wanted them. (We realized that) the kiosk wasn’t big enough for us, so in November of 1996, we opened our current store.
Since then, the manufacturing has been a nightmare. The first year, I spent $44,000 on fleece and our manufacturer only delivered 4,400 shirts. The rest of the material stayed in the warehouse because he couldn’t produce enough. Other times, all the shirts in the store would be blue and green. Meanwhile, the local paper picked Handcuffs as one of the hottest gifts, and we had more orders than we could fill.
(Our old manufacturer) was a small operator. Four thousand shirts was about his limit. This year, if we sell half a million shirts, Chuck and I just can’t do it all.
We have a product that the consumer eats up. But the manufacturers want to be convinced you’ve got enough volume. We needed someone who believed in the product. This year, we partnered up with (private label manufacturer) MGI Limited. Our patent was still in a pending state, but they were really cool. They can warehouse an inventory so they can ship immediately. They’re going to do the billing, shipping and delivery. We’re going to do the promotions.
You have to be persistent and believe in what you’re doing. The big dog on the porch gets the work. We’re David and Goliath, just the little guy going up against the big guy.