How I Started A 8K/Month Gym Apparel Ecommerce
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Elgin Mones, a.k.a. Infinite Elgintensity, an attorney by day, and a YouTube roaster by night. In 2014, several of my fitness comedy videos went viral, which caused my subscriber count to skyrocket. That same year, I branched out from making YouTube videos to selling gym apparel with designs and slogans based on my dark sense of humor and love of video games.
I’m best known for my “Arm Day” design, which multiple social media influencers have tried to profit from without my permission over the years; in 2018, I sent multiple DMCA takedowns and even sued someone over it. I make enough money to quit my job as a lawyer, but I prefer to keep YouTube and related ventures as a side gig. I don’t like depending on speech-suppressing video streaming platforms and social media sites for my income, and being funny on a schedule sounds like torture.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I decided to capitalize on my newfound YouTube popularity by selling workout clothes to my fanbase of lifters and other fitness enthusiasts. I was working full-time as an attorney, so I needed someone to print apparel and fulfill the orders for me. Law school barely prepares lawyers for law practice, let alone the clothing business, so I asked a fellow Youtuber how he got started. He got me in touch with the owner of an established fitness apparel brand for production and fulfillment, and they both taught me how to run the business, from setting up my Shopify store to streamlining order fulfillment.
If your competitors beat you to an idea, think of a complementary one that won’t get you into legal trouble.
Most of my apparel designs complement my YouTube content. For example, my “ZERO” design is based on a 2012 video in which I chanted “ZERO" to mock a crossfitter for cheating his reps during a pull-up record attempt. I’m a well-known opponent of the fat acceptance movement, so I made the “Plus-Size Model” to suggest that chubby dogs like pugs are the only ones deserving of that title. By basing shirt logos on my own content, I make money on that content twice: first from ad revenue, and again from apparel sales.
I also get ideas from video games, which I and many other weightlifters enjoy playing. One of my most popular designs mashes up the three power lifts--the bench press, squat, and deadlift--with the pieces of the TriForce from the Zelda games. Another is the word “GAINS” in the style of the Sega logo, which frames gym records as a kind of in-game high score.
I have no formal artistic training, but I have created many of my best-selling designs personally If a drawing is beyond my very limited skill set, then I hire designers from my fan base to make my ideas come to life. I validate ideas by running them by my friends, who are brutally honest with me. If they think a design sucks, then I scrap it. Yes-men have no place in my organization.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I submit a drawing or written description of my apparel idea to an artist, who submits rough sketches that we fine-tune. Eventually, the artist presents a digital drawing that I tweak ruthlessly; I remember taking weeks to get the folds on the pug in my “Plus-Size Model” design to look right. I then submit the finished design file to my printers in Georgia, who have a 2-3 week turnaround. If a design is risque, then I’ll drop-ship it to avoid the high upfront cost.
I started selling pants and shorts in 2018, which require a different design process. I order samples from my manufacturer so that my friends and I can test them for shrinkage, wear, fading, etc. I eschew synthetic materials because they hold odors too much and don’t breathe as well as natural materials like cotton. Ironically, my competitors make their so-called premium gym wear from such cheap materials. I draw upon my knowledge of tailoring to ensure that the pants and shorts are flattering to the physique yet comfortable enough to move in.
Given how long and involved the design process is, I don’t take kindly to copyright infringers. Every week, I sweep the internet to look for knockoffs of my work. If vendors don’t comply with my takedown demands, then I either threaten to take them to a court or negotiate a licensing fee, the latter of which can be highly lucrative when someone with a larger customer base than mine uses one of my designs on a product that I don’t sell.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I launched on April Fool’s Day of 2014, the perfect day for an internet troll to debut a “clothing line” of one T-shirt at the time. The front of the shirt had an Infinite Elgintensity ogo that I made in Paint and have since replaced with the one I use today, and the back of the shirt read “CrossShit: Forging Elitist Mediocrity,” a knock on a global fitness fad’s slogan. I promoted the shirt on YouTube and my social media accounts, and I gave a few free T-shirts to some friends to promote. One of them, RobertFrank615, eventually became a massive internet meme with more followers than I’ll ever have.
I paid for 50 shirts from my own funds and gave a cut of the profits to the company that packed and shipped my orders. They sold out, but it took about a month. I’m surprised they sold at all, in retrospect, because my old logo was hideous, my website was using a free Shopify theme, and my product image was a rudimentary mockup. It was such a sketchy looking website, so I imagine that only hardcore fans bought anything. I didn’t see a lot of customers until I debuted the “TriForce Powerlifting” design later that year. It sold much better because of the popularity of Zelda imagery. From then on, I realized that designs have to appeal to a wide variety of people, not just fans of mine.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
E-mail is king. I don’t have to worry about a third-party platform reducing reach or censoring what I send. I can segment my recipients, which I can’t do on social media, and make the most of my newsletters. Push notifications have also helped generate business, as about half of my store visitors are on tablets and mobile devices. Believe it or not, my sales don’t scale with my YouTube views even though YouTube is the primary reason anybody knows who I am. I can have a viral video, and sales won’t skyrocket as you’d expect. People mainly go to YouTube for free entertainment, after all. When I see a popular YouTuber with a Teespring shelf full of uninspired designs, I know they don’t make any money because of marketing, not merely exposure turns viewers into buyers.
I bring customers back by sending automated abandoned cart emails after eight hours and one day as well as win back emails after six months and one year. I also give discount codes to customers who are displeased with the product quality or shipping times. Never underestimate the power of a discount and an apology, and this is coming from an internet insult comedian.
Keep constant tabs on your competitors. Subscribe to their newsletters to find out what goods and services they’re releasing as well as what sales they’re holding.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
My apparel store has been profitable 99% of the time, mainly because I hire contractors instead of employees and have no overhead. All of my sales are through my online store, as I have no brick & mortar location. The coronavirus outbreak has validated these decisions. I’d probably be in the red after a few weeks if I had a warehouse to pay rent on and employees to pay wages to during a global quarantine that causes everyone to pinch pennies. Who buys a gym closed with all the gyms closed?
I plan to expand to gamers, whether or not they lift. During the quarantine, my gaming mouse pad sales skyrocketed because they’re under $10, and people had more time than ever to play computer games. I’ll likely offer new mouse pad variants as well as mechanical keys with my logo on them. These items are very light and cheap, so they make great add-ons for customers to qualify or free US shipping.
I also want to start selling clothing for women. My customer base is a sausagefest, and that won’t change until I stop trying to sell unisex tank tops to women who are used to wearing racerbacks. I’m leaving money on the table by catering to only one (of two) genders. Fortunately, I have some ideas for women’s workout clothes that haven’t been copied to death by Gymshark wannabes.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One of my best decisions was offering services in addition to goods in my store. During the YouTube Adpocalypse of 2017, for example, I branched out into online coaching. My YouTube videos told people how not to lift, so it made sense to finally tell people how to lift properly. I allowed store visitors to sign up for online strength coaching on the same website where I offer gym apparel.
One of my worst decisions was waiting too long to upgrade my store design. I was using a free theme from 2014 through 2017, which probably turned customers away instantly. My theme didn’t even cost that much but looks so much more professional than the one I had been using. I also waited too long to blog. Google values time-on-site, and informative blog posts not only keep people on my store longer, but they give my brand an air of legitimacy; I go from “internet troll” to “internet troll who actually has valuable information to share.” Needless to say, this converts to apparel purchases and coaching signups.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My store platform runs on Shopify, which I signed up for at the recommendation of my early mentors. I use Free Shipping Bar to encourage shoppers to place larger orders, GDPR Cookie Bar because I ship to quite a few European folks who just love having an extra thing to close when they visit my site, Improved Contact Form, Infinite Options to help me sell Gift Cards and Bundles, and ShopSync because Shopify and Mailchimp got divorced.
For order fulfillment, I use a Dymo 4XL printer, which has paid for itself many times over in ink costs. On a side note, I can tell which of my competitors barely move units by the kind of labels they use: if they print their labels on 8.5x11 paper, then they don’t move enough units to bother saving on printing time and ink and paper costs by having a label printer. I use waterproof poly mailer bags with my logo on them because the unboxing experience improves brand image.
I use Alibaba to get in touch with international manufacturers and Transferwise to pay them. Mailchimp for my email newsletters, and Buffer to schedule social media posts. To simplify my taxes, which I file using TurboTax, and be able to operate in case a credit card is compromised, I have one credit card for personal use and one for business use, both of which are rewards cards. Finally, I pay designers and other contractors in the US using the Cash app and keep all design files on Dropbox.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I don’t listen to podcasts; they’re too slow and make me feel like I’m in a lecture hall again. Every day, I read Shopify’s blog to learn about e-commerce in general and occasionally read W3Schools to learn about coding.
For the most part, I talk to people who are more successful than I am; you’d be surprised what they’re willing to share if you just ask.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Keep constant tabs on your competitors. Subscribe to their newsletters to find out what goods and services they’re releasing as well as what sales they’re holding. Peruse their stores to incorporate design elements into your own (e.g., pop-ups, color schemes, navigation menu organization). Search for their products to see how well they rank relative to yours or if they’re copying yours. Read their comment sections for good ideas that their followers are giving away for free. If your competitors beat you to an idea, think of a complementary one that won’t get you into legal trouble.
Invest in education. Like I said earlier, I learned the apparel business from two established vendors. I would’ve made so many more rookie mistakes if I never picked their brains. I also spend at least two hours a day reading about web design, SEO, email marketing, etc. This is on top of my full-time job as a lawyer. E-commerce changes every year; if you don’t keep up, then you miss out on profits.
Learn the law, and I don’t mean simply adding that annoying GDPR pop-up to your store. A lot of apparel store owners claim “fair use” for every idea they hijack when they have no idea what it means. A redrawn DragonBallZ character with a catchphrase in Impact font underneath it most likely doesn’t count as fair use. If you sell apparel, you need to meet FTC requirements for clothing labels, draft return policies and terms of service, file for a trademark, learn how to fight chargebacks and file DMCA claims, and more. It pays to be careful. I know firsthand that lawyers are expensive.
Avoid sycophants and freeloaders, who won’t be in short supply when you get a viral video and start making some real money. I’ve been in several “mastermind groups” full of losers who were older yet less successful than I was; obviously, they wanted to take more than they could contribute. I regularly mute people who do nothing but compliment me. Brown-nosers are worse than trolls because at least trolls occasionally give you insights into your business’ weaknesses and flaws. Instead, surround yourself with advisers and mentors. Write down a list of everybody you talk to as well as their purpose. If you find yourself talking to people a lot, but you don’t know what good they serve, then cross their names off the list.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I regularly hire apparel logo designers on a contract basis; send a portfolio of your work via email. I’m also interested in taking on a comedy writer or two to help me write jokes for videos in exchange for a cut of the ad revenue.
I have been telling fitness-related jokes since 2012, and most of my targets have either left the industry or become incredibly dull, so I’d rather focus on other parts of my business. Finally, I’m always looking for writers to contribute to fitness articles for my blog. My blog doesn’t host ads, so article submissions would be unpaid unless your name can drive traffic better than mine can.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Infinite Elgintensity Gym Apparel has provided an update on their business!
About 1 year ago, we followed up with Infinite Elgintensity Gym Apparel 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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