Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
What’s going on! I am Garret “Buddy” Lamp, and I am a co-founder with Taylor “Earl” Nees of our start-up, Muff Waders. Muff Waders is an epic product that Earl came up with about 3 years ago, and we just began selling in September 2019.
Muff Waders are the first-ever bibs for work AND play. The bibs have many different features that allow you to keep your drinks close while working outdoors or being the life of the party. Made with strong and tough material, these bibs are built to withstand the rugged elements of mother nature.
The main feature is the insulated six-pack cooler located on the chest that holds 12 oz. cans and bottles. Along with that, there are two pockets located on the side of the leg that can hold 1/5 of liquor, a bottle of wine, etc. nice and snug. A Muff Mug (magnetic coozie) located at the top of the Muff Waders that attaches to the metal bottle opener. People love using this feature so they can go hands-free. On the inside of the bibs, you'll find a hidden/concealed pocket to keep your valuable possessions close and safe.
We have customers that wear these to work for jobs such as construction, electrician, farming, etc. Some of our customers wear them for socializing like tailgating, snowmobiling, ice fishing, etc. However, most people will use the Muff Waders for both, which is why we created them.
Many people do not look at us as a legit company because of the product. Yes, Muff Waders is a fun product based around laughs, but it is also centered around that hard-working blue collared man. It may seem like a made-up product or company, but we are real. We have been averaging $3,600 a month in sales since we began selling nine months ago.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
We are both from the amazing small town of Holstein, Iowa. Earl is a full-time electrician at Holstein Electric and I just finished my senior year at Iowa State University.
Earl came up with the idea for Muff Waders back in 2017 when he woke up next to a drawing he made while out at the bar the night before. He began showing some friends as a joke but began to realize the potential in it.
Earl and I have no background in clothing apparel what-so-ever. He was and still is an electrician whereas I was only a sophomore in college. I was originally only supposed to make videos for Muff Waders when Earl first asked me to join the team. So we had no idea how to start a company, how to make clothes, how to legally sell a product… nothing. We just figured out what to do each step of the way.
There is no better way to increase your following and sales then by simply going out and meeting your target market. Go find events that your target market will be at, and go get your name out there face to face!
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The hardest part of this entire journey was getting a prototype made. It was nearly impossible to convince a clothing manufacturer or designer to give us a chance. No one wanted to work with us small-town boys with no clothing apparel knowledge. After six months of calling and emailing over 100 companies, Earl finally was able to have someone make us a prototype. That was back three years ago in 2017.
The trouble did not end there. The one company that gave us a chance seemed to have no idea what overalls were. It took them nine different prototypes to get to a design we agreed on. This cost us a lot of money. Earl flipped a house during this just to pay the designer fees. On top of that, we began paying lawyers to file patents and trademarks for us. We had no capital raised so all the costs came straight from our personal pockets.
The designers were able to give us some connections with manufacturing. The only problem was that we couldn’t afford large batch orders. Our lowest purchase order offered to us was for 3,500 pairs. Of course, we could not afford this. So we ran the most epic Kickstarter of all time… And failed epically.
When the Kickstarter failed, we were stuck in a rut. No manufacturer would make a small batch of Muff Waders for us. Luckily, we were accepted onto the Barstool Sports show, Big Brain. The show is similar to Shark Tank, but instead, we pitch our company to Dave Portnoy with Barstool. We were unable to reach a deal with Dave Portnoy (president of Barstool), but we were able to leverage the exposure to lower the initial purchase order to 1,000 pairs of Muff Waders.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Manufacturing the first order of Muff Waders began in the summer of 2019. Our plan was to start selling Muff Waders before the fall, but the manufacturers put us as a low priority (they were used to 100,000 unit orders whereas we ordered 1,000). Finally, our shipment of Muff Waders came in late August, and we began selling on September 1st.
We didn’t have a great launch strategy. All we had was a small following of about 200 people on Facebook and a homemade Wix website. I set up everything on Wix.com by myself. I chose Wix because it was easy to figure out as it is new-user friendly. You basically can basically just click and drag to design your site.
We began selling on Sept. 1st, 2019. There were little sales to start with, about $1,000 the first month. It may not seem like a lot, but it was a lot for us. We were proud of the opening sales.
I handled the social media, customer communications, and Earl handled the shipping. Man was we in for a rude awakening. Who would have thought shipping and customer service would be so much work? Returns, size exchanges, wrong addresses, etc. became a large burden on us. We could only do this in our free time, and it began to be really tough to keep up with shipping as orders kept coming in.
When Black Friday and Christmas came around our sales really went up. We ran a few Facebook and Instagram ads for less than $100 each. The spike in orders overwhelmed us and sent us past our breaking point for handling shipping ourselves.
We then joined teams with Ship Daddy in January 2020 to help handle our shipping, and also switched from Wix to Shopify for web services. Going through Ship Daddy for shipping has increased costs for us, but we see it as progress. We just couldn’t handle the load of handling the shipping ourselves as this was only our part-time job
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
As an eCommerce company, we rely heavily on social media to drive traffic to our site. Our social media following is not as strong as we’d like it, but it is growing daily. Facebook works the best for us as our posts often get shared by our followers. Instagram grows in spurts, Twitter is flat, and our YouTube gets consistently about 20 views a day. We have just now started to dabble in Tik Tok and Pinterest.
No more than $200 has been spent on social media ads since we began. Social Media is the only place we have experimented with for advertising because of how cheap and effective it is. Around Black Friday and Christmas we tested some Facebook and Instagram ads. Our sales doubled for the month of Nov. and Dec. just because of the one week ads we ran. Not only this, but the ads also grew our following.
Aside from selling on our Shopify website, we also sell Muff Waders on Facebook, Instagram, and Amazon. We began using Amazon in early 2020. Would I recommend it? It’s tough to say. Not only is it $40 a month just to sell on Amazon, but they also take either 99 cents from each sale or a percentage (8-15%). It is pricey to sell on Amazon. Do not jump straight into Amazon until you have plenty of sales to counter the fees provided with Amazon.
Not only the cost, but it was really tough for us to figure out. It was basically like starting a new website. Don’t be afraid to look into Etsy.com. We are not selling there yet, but we will be looking into it soon.
Social Media ads have worked well for us, selling on other platforms has helped provide more sales, but nothing has worked as well as influencer marketing. You’d be amazed at how many people out there will make a video and give you a shoutout in exchange for the product. Every day we are searching for people to reach out to for a video and shoutout. Their followers will go check you out. It has increased our followers greatly and brought in some sales too.
Networking does not stop with influencers. Why not work with other start-ups? There are multiple companies we partner with to help each other out. Making a start-up successful is hard as hell. We all need help with it. So our network of start-ups all share ideas, ask questions, and help each other out. Nothing but a win-win all around.
Our favorite way to market and spread the good word of Muff is by going on tour. We travel to big events like tailgates, country festivals, fairs, etc to sell Muff Waders, meet people, and have a good time. There is no better way to increase your following and sales then by simply going out and meeting your target market. Go find events that your target market will be at, and go get your name out there face to face!
As for posting on social media. We avoid the “sales” post. We just post content of Earl and I have a good time, people wearing Muff Waders, and fun videos we make. The last thing we want is to have our followers think we are shoving our product down their throat. We are gaining their loyalty over time. When the time is right, we will post about a sale, and that will bring us in sales. We believe a once-in-a-great-while post asking to buy Muff Waders works better than constantly asking our followers to buy Muff Waders.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today we are right on the edge of going positive on our balance sheet. Our sales have now covered nearly all of our fees. April 2020 was our best month with almost $6,000 in sales. We’ll see about 50 site visitors per day, but that can jump into the 1,000s while we run an ad or have an influencer post.
Our online conversion rate is 0.9% but has been rising since March. We hope to get that above 1% by next year. One thing we find surprising is the amount of mobile traffic we have compared to the desktop. Our mobile to desktop ratio is 24:1 yet our desktop visitors have a conversion rate of 2%. This has us interested in improving our SEO to increase our desktop traffic.
As of right now, product development trumps our sales effort. We have two new products in the development stage, and we are making some altercations to our Muff Waders. Once we have the new products and another purchase order of Muff Waders, we will be going hard and heavy into raising our sales.
We are currently running Facebook and Instagram ads through the summer to gain followers. Our plan is to have our new products and the updated Muff Waders ready to launch in the fall. That is when we will launch our own advertising campaign. This will include “buy now” ads, posting about our new product launch, going on a Muff tour, having influencers all post at once, and more. We are excited to see our sales increase during and after the fall of 2020.
Social media advertising is so cheap right now. Not only that, but you can precisely pick customers in your target market. Take advantage while you can.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Take your time.
It just seemed like we were always rushing into things. Get all your ducks in a row before you launch the business. The outside world will pressure you into launching early. They’ll constantly be asking when you are going to open or when will you start selling, and it can get annoying. Just stick to your gameplan and make sure everything is ready to rock n roll on launch day.
Working with others.
We have partnered with start-up companies like Big Beertha, Dicey, and College Peep Show. They have or are going through all the challenges we face. All of us help each other out whenever we can. It has helped us tremendously. Anytime we run into problems they are always there to help us out and vice versa. Nothing beats asking a friend for answers on a test, especially when that test is real life.
Luck is a part of life.
I believe that the more you work toward something, the more luck you will get. Two lucky things stand out in my mind that helped Muff Waders grow. The first is we were on the show Barstool Big Brain. Not only were we able to leverage the exposure to lower our first purchase order, but we also met Dicey and Big Beertha.
The second is reaching out to Nicky T. He dropped a funny video called “Muffs and Mullets 2020”. Earl came across it and DM’d him immediately to see if we could work with him. At the time, the video was at about one million views in five days on Facebook.
Nicky T’s social media blew up after this. Now he is on his way to being a full-time influencer. Luckily we reached out to him right on the brink of greatness. He gave us plenty of shoutouts and even made us some videos. Our sales and following grew exponentially and are still going up because of him.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
As I said before, we began on Wix and switched over to Shopify. Earl was handling all the shipping for the first few months we began selling. After talking with Dicey and College Peep Show, we were convinced to switch to Shopify.
Shopify made handling shipping, orders, returns, and any customer service easier. On the other hand though, it is harder to customize your website. Wix is very user friendly and customizable whereas Shopify is all based around coding. If you don’t know code, it’s tough to handle.
Shopify provides apps that let you accomplish unique tasks on your site. We really like the app: Affiliate marketing Goaffpro. This lets you have affiliates become your very own salesman. They give out a discount code, and then receive commission off each sale that uses their certain discount code.
Omnisend Email Marketing is another app we use for Shopify. This allows us to make custom email campaigns and send out the mass email to our subscribers. I enjoy using this because I’m obsessed with seeing how well the email is received. Omnisend provides analytics for each mass email you send. Email marketing can be a very effective way to raise sales. We just started using it, but we see the potential that is within email marketing.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
As for me, it has been people like Joe Rogan, Gary Vanyerchuk, and Jordan Peterson. Those three have podcasts, videos, and books, but one approach to life stands clear with them all. Take responsibility of your life and stop coming up with excuses. Life is what you make. Are you going to go out and make life what you want it to be, or are you going to go through the motions and complain about life? These three are very motivating for pursuing success in whatever it is you do.
Earl is also a big follower of Joe Rogan and Gary Vaynerchuk. We often send each other links when these two go on a rant about hard work or people who complain. Earl also wanted to point out two books that have impacted him: Motivation Manifesto and Thoughts for Young Men. “These books gave me the motivation to take responsibility of my life.”
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Social media advertising is so cheap right now. Not only that, but you can precisely pick customers in your target market. Take advantage while you can.
Post, post, post, and keep posting. Keep your audience engaged with you on social media. Remind them that you are still there, but do not push the product on them. Give your followers content they enjoy. When they are looking to purchase from you, they will.
Start with one social media platform. Do not go for them all at once. It can be overwhelming trying to keep up with all the social media. On top of that, your few followers you’ll have to start with will be spread across different platforms. That will really bring down your engagement per post.
Pick one to start (Facebook), and then expand to other platforms once you have a strong following. I recommend Facebook because it is the alpha dog when it comes to social media. Basically every single target audience is on Facebook, and it is basically a combo of Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter all in one.
Work with others. Put your ego aside and help others help you. You have nothing to worry about as long as a company isn’t your direct competition or selling a similar product. They won’t be stealing any of your customers or sales. You’ll gain so much more knowledge from just working and networking with others.
Stay hungry. Find what motivates you and let that push you to be successful. A lot of people won’t believe in you, and usually it’s the people close to you. It is hard to stay motivated with a start-up because rarely is it an overnight success. Keep grinding. We are. Muff Waders may be a part-time side-gig right now, but it is only a matter of time before we are full-time. I know that most of our closest family and friends do not believe what I just said. Stay motivated and stay hungry.
Things can get overwhelming at times. It can be easy to get in your own head or to over-analyze everything. That can hurt your confidence and/or productivity very quickly. “Don’t overthink it” -Earl
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I tell you what we would love to bring on a content creator. Not your typical tech-savvy, creative, young, go-getter. A country boy or blue collared girl who knows how to make your classic American laugh. Someone who we would want to have a beer with. Someone who knows how to have a good time and wake up at 5 am to put in 12 hours of hard labor.
The only problem is we cannot offer pay right now. Any content creator or want-a-be brand ambassador out there looking to get knee-deep in muff for no pay… go ahead and reach out to us. You do not need to be from Iowa to work for us. Your job would be to create content for us, to keep our followers engaged, and grow our brand. We would provide a lot of freedom to what you can post if you can prove to us that you can grow the brand.
We’d also like someone who knows how to code a website. We struggle big time whenever we need to make changes or adjustments to our Shopfiy site. It’d only be a few things here and there and be a great way to add real work to your portfolio. Again, you do not have to be from Iowa, and it’d probably only be a few hours of work a month.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Knee Deep Limited LLC has provided an update on their business!
Over 1 year ago, we followed up with Knee Deep Limited LLC to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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