How Two Teachers Started A T-Shirt Business Doing $1.2M/Year

$93,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
2
Employees
product
Tumbleweed TexStyles
from Frisco
started November 2011
$93,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
2
Employees
988K
alexa rank
41.3K
followers
3.77K
followers
platform
shipping
accounting

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

What’s up Y’all! My name is Brian Wysong and I am the Co-Founder and Co-Owner of a Texas-inspired apparel brand called Tumbleweed TexStyles.

We are a lifestyle apparel brand that serves over 150+ retailers throughout Texas and the southern United States. We also sell our products online and at music, beer, wine and bbq festivals throughout Texas. In addition, a part of our business includes custom design work for bands, musicians, breweries, wineries, brands and other businesses that fit our style and niche. Our company sells an estimated 90,000+ products a year and have shipped products to all 50 states and to over 12+ countries. Our core competency is our uniquely hand-drawn designs sold on cotton/polyester softstyle unisex t-shirts. We also sell hats, stickers, koozies, glassware and home decor.

Our flagship design is our Texas Towns design that my Co-Owner and Creative Director designed. Just like most of our designs, this is a hand-drawn or lettered work that we put on a t-shirt. People love seeing this shirt at stores or at events because they like to look for their hometown. What makes it so fun, is that not all of the Texas towns are included. Only ones we as a team had some sort of experience or connection with. This has been our bread and butter for our brand since day one.

Our business makes an annual 1.2 million in sales. My role in the business is Co-Owner and I oversee all business, operations, branding and marketing of our company.

The most interesting part of our business is that we were started by two high school teachers. I was a marketing and business teacher while my business partner was and still is an art teacher. We decided to combine our talents and experience to create our brand. Still till this day, we hold the education field as a core component to our motivation behind why we do what we do. A portion of each sale is donated to our local Frisco Education Foundation. Our donation helps scholarship two graduating seniors each year pursuing a college degree in business and one pursuing art or fashion. The donation also helps support teachers in the classroom and students in need.

how-two-teachers-started-a-t-shirt-business-doing-1-2m-year Co-Owners, Jeb Matulich and Brian Wysong presenting 3 graduating seniors with scholarships.

We also hire teachers to help us out with art, events and sales. We love to support students and teachers in any way we can.

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Growing up, in Fort Worth, Texas, I have always had a passion for business, sales and fashion.

I loved getting the latest pair of shoes and making sure my outfit was top notch going to school. I also loved the idea of selling my ideas and trying to negotiate deals with my parents or friends. My childhood buddies would agree that I was a sweet talker, hard worker, highly competitive and a very disciplined person in life, athletics and work.

No one is really prepared to own a business. I had a marketing degree with work experience in the field of business and marketing. I was even a teacher of the subject matter. Those things helped me get started, but the day-to-day experiences and the process of trial and error has really been the true tale of our success.

All these traits and interests led me to pursue a degree in Business Administration with a focus on Marketing at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. While in college, I was blessed to have multiple experiences, jobs and opportunities to live out my passion for business, marketing and hustle. These provided great experience and work opportunities to meet great people and learn the craft of business.

After graduating with my marketing degree, I moved to Dallas to work with a branding and marketing agency. This experience provided me a wonderful opportunity to learn about branding, digital marketing, social media marketing and strategy. Although, I had a bigger passion to help people.

So, I decided to change careers and serve as a marketing teacher at Liberty High School in Frisco ISD. This is what lead me to meet now business partner, Jeb Matulich. I saw him drawing a design of Texas during a teacher inservice meeting. I pitched to him the idea of doing a side hustle with his artwork. We evaluated various options, but finally agreed to launch his designs on t-shirts.

My wife owned a professional photography business, so we utilized her skills, Jeb’s art and then my sales and marketing experience to launch Tumbleweed TexStyles. We started by opening an ETSY store, invested $700 total, $350 each in our first run of shirts. In a short few weeks, sold enough shirts where we took back our initial investment. We then agreed to continue to just reinvest the remaining profit back into the company.

how-two-teachers-started-a-t-shirt-business-doing-1-2m-year Screenshot of our website from September 2012 © Tumbleweed TexStyles, LLC

To fast forward, this little $700 investment quickly grew to 1.2 million in sales in 2017. We agreed that we only wanted to design, create and sell products and a brand that fit our lifestyle and personality. We wanted to remain family friendly and school friendly, because our biggest passion beyond our product was and is to give back to our community and to educate our students that will be future leaders in our society.

So, we decided to scale our business to follow the wishes of our wholesale partners. We now carry lifestyle goods including decor, glassware, stickers and more.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Back in 2011, our very first design was created by my business partner and co-owner, Jeb Matulich.

We were actually sitting in his classroom when I saw the sketch of the design in his sketchbook. We went back and forth on how that design would make for a great t-shirt. So when we finally decided to launch our small side hustle of a hobby, we decided to send the design to print.

We really did not know what we were doing, so we found a small t-shirt printer based in Denton, Texas made up of some college students working out of their garage. So we drove out to Denton and met the guys in their home. They showed us various garment types, colors and options and educated us on the process.

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From that meeting, we quickly knew what next steps we wanted to take. Jeb took the sketch in his sketchbook and gave it to my wife, Hillary to digitize and save in the correct file needed to send to print. From there, we worked with our printer to create a screen to be used on our t-shirt. This then launched the process of printing our small run of size small through 2XL shirts. We drove out to Denton to pick them up. We were so stoked about it. We actually stopped halfway between Denton and our town of Frisco to crack open the box of shirts to see what they looked like. We certainly had a sense of pride, excitement and a new passion for the process.

The key to our growth has been our story. We created a brand based on our education roots, our teaching background and our family friendly product and marketing.

The startup cost was pretty minimal. At this point, we were just printing a design on a t-shirt. We were not private labeling the shirt. We truly boot strapped our first few years of creating t-shirts. Since the laws are pretty blurry and gray with protecting graphic design to be printed on t-shirts, we decided to not spend the money to protect our designs.

We wanted to create, launch and then quickly create and launch again. Our focus was and is to be a few steps ahead of the competition so when the copycat companies are launching our design, we are already moving onto the next product launch.

Since then, we now have a more formal process to launching our products and designs.

We now utilize our research and development team to be on the lookout for the latest and greatest trends that will sell well on our t-shirts. Our design team then goes into a brainstorming and sketching phase in creating rough concepts in a sketchbook. We then take the best options and digitize to put into a library of ideas. We are then able to create digital mockups so we can see various color options.

We take these best ideas and pitch them to the team or even with our wholesalers. We are able to test the waters on what will and will not be successful. We then push forward the winners by creating unique skus and codes to represent each product by size, color and design. We then push our digital assets to our production team that will create screens and do test runs on the colors and size of print.

Fast forward to the end product, we will have a t-shirt with a private label, sewn hem tag, and a branded hang tag with our companies’ story. All entered into an inventory management system by sku with a picture to represent the mock up, a detailed description of the product and the necessary information to push out through our marketing and sales channels to our wholesalers and b2c online website.

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Describe the process of launching the business.

We really bootstrapped our business.

We launched our business by utilizing social media and word of mouth. We created a Facebook group to promote our newly created brand. We then gathered every email address we had from our friends and family to put into one email list. We then created an ETSY page to be able to sell our products.

During the process of setting up our ETSY website, we realized we needed to set up a bank account so the money from those orders would be hitting a neutral account and not just our own personal bank. As we went through the process of setting up a business bank account through our local credit union, we learned that we had to make our business an official business with the stated for tax and legal purposes. We decided to create a general partnership to launch our brand as an official business in the state of Texas. Jeb and I threw in our initial investment of $350 each to be able to purchase our first run of $700 value of t-shirts. We did not use a credit card nor any type of loan. We literally took out our own personal cash to start the business.

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We launched the business by sending out a personally written email to our family and friends. Then we sent out personal Facebook messages to our friends inviting them to join our brand’s group. We directed people to our ETSY site so friends, family and co-workers could place their orders. As we received orders, we would quickly email our customers thanking them and encouraging them to tell their friends.

We then started reaching out to our friends that were influencers to help promote our business. We sent out a few free t-shirts for our friends that were influencers to post on social and link back to us. This guerilla marketing tactic really was catalyst to our growth. We connected with local musicians, athletes and bloggers to help get the word out.

In a short few weeks, we made our initial $700 investment back. So, we decided to withdraw that money and take back our $350 each. From that moment forward, we just kept reinvesting money back into the business. We did not take a salary nor personal income until we felt like the profits could run our operations and inventory management successfully without having to reinvest our own money into the company.

Patience, hustle, relationships and strategy was key to the launch of our business.

Now that we have some experience under our belt, we have looked at expanding into other niche markets or creating other lifestyle brands. One brand is a Christian-inspired lifestyle brand called Refine Outfitters. We partnered with a few friends that could reach a younger demographic to launch this specific business. We have not put a lot of time and effort into it yet, but do have plans to take it to the level of Tumbleweed TexStyles, but in the Christian or Inspirational space. We do not hustle our business just for money. We enjoy the game of entrepreneurship, but only when representing a lifestyle, passion or cause that we believe in and actually live out ourselves.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

The key to our growth has been our story. We created a brand based on our education roots, our teaching background and our family friendly product and marketing.

Also, we genuinely live out the life we portray in our products, photography and marketing. So our lifestyles are truly walking billboards to our brand within our community. Credibility is and has been key.

The second part to our success is building genuine relationships and putting people first. We do what we do because of people and our customers. We also find more joy in giving back to our community than selling t-shirts. So we try to constantly tell and show our story through all of our branding, marketing and sales.

Effective and clear communication is key. We have a customer service manager that is quick to respond to our customers when they need something. If there is ever a product or service issue, we always put the customer first in trying to fix the problem or find a solution. Kill them with kindness is key.

We constantly are learning more about our customers. Extracting data from orders, email marketing, social media and events has been key to truly understand our customer. We then use that data to retarget advertising campaigns and our email marketing communication. We want to provide our customers with a product, lifestyle and purpose to buy so they want to keep coming back. We also put more value in a returning customer than a new lead. So we try to reconnect with customers often by sending personal emails, follow up communications and even thank you cards.

It is all about building community and providing an experience. Giving customers something they want to come back for more. Provide the customers with talking points so they want to share with their friends and family. Also to establish a habit. We want our product to be an annual Christmas gift or the t-shirt an entire family wants to wear on their summer trip. By dropping new products and designs often, it keeps our customers coming back for more.

All of these things can then all come back to the main objective, that each customer knows they are helping scholarship a graduating senior, helping a teacher in need or some other social cause with each purchase of a Tumbleweed TexStyles product.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Our business is growing each and every day. We continue to beat the previous months and years sales. We are also expanding our business model to fit the demand and business opportunities. As we look to grow our business, we are putting our focus on creating and then upgrading our systems and then training our team. Our greatest assets are our people and the systems that help maintain flow and organization.

As we develop the right structure to handle growth and expansion, we have been strategically expanding our product offerings. We are growing the selection of designs to build more of a lifestyle brand verse a t-shirt business.

Over the last few years, we have been building our product line to include decor, glassware, stickers, koozies and hats. At this point, we are increasing our digital advertising through Facebook to retarget our current social followers, email marketing subscribers and customers. We are also targeting look-alike audiences to reach new hot leads. We are able to utilize user generated content to create quality images to hit specific people to maximize our opportunity for click-through rates. Facebook pixels and data generated by our online orders have been one of our greatest assets thus far in our marketing campaigns.

We have grown our wholesale partners from just a handful to over 150+ across Texas. Our credibility has grown due to our success and attention to detail. We never intended to grow our wholesale business, but it just happened. I guess we got very lucky. To start, we had a couple of friends that showed interest in carrying our shirts in their local boutique stores. My goal was to provide quality service, so I would hand deliver orders whenever they needed new product.

At this time, we had no organization besides receiving emails or calls for orders and then entering details into spreadsheets. I would create a digital invoice through a word document. We would only take checks for payments. We then realized how we could scale our business and print quantities if we build up our wholesale business. So, I started randomly emailing stores that I felt would be a good fit or I would cold visit the store by going in and dropping off a few shirts to showcase. I did this in our town of Frisco, but then on trips throughout Texas in predominantly tourist locations. We quickly grew our wholesale business from 1, 2, 10, 20 and then to over 100.

This was a great opportunity, but we also learned that it was and is very tough to manage a wholesale model. It is impossible to make all people happy. We were and still till this day have to constantly chase down money owed to us. Also, there is far more risk in wholesale, since we have to carry a larger inventory quantity which is a financial risk.

Retailers require so much more than the average customer. Retailers have no desire to build a brand, they just want to push sales in their store.

So we decided we needed to create systems such as accounting program for invoicing and tracking, a contact management system to help us stay more organized with our customer inquiries/communication and then a system so wholesalers could actually order on their own instead of using email or phone.

We also realized the more I was working with retailers, we were doing less proactive building to expand our brand. So we decided to hire some teacher friends that had a passion for fashion and people. They served as our account managers.

Due to our success with the smaller boutiques throughout Texas, we finally caught to attention and interest from larger retailers. At this point, we decided to expand our wholesale business by hiring an account manager with experience with systems, technology and data mining. We also hired a sales representative that would get our product into the fashion market (Dallas Market Hall) and other trade show markets throughout Texas. This quickly expanded our brand to large retailers and higher volume clients.

For that reason, we have grown our wholesale partners to outside of the Texas market to states such as Minnesota, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana and more. We take state pride designs like we do for Texas, but customized to those specific states. We hope to continue to expand out success beyond the Texas state lines.

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Our success with our own brand has also gained the attention from businesses, musicians, influencers and brands across Texas. For that reason, we have grown our custom design work from small local businesses to large corporations wanting to hire us for our style and understanding of our niche.

Beyond our own product line, custom work and expanding our team, we are also scheduled to open our first brick and mortar store which will serve as our flagship location in Frisco, Texas in the winter of 2019. At this location, we look to scale our product offerings to be able to carry high quality products, limited edition designs and to build out the lifestyle offerings we hope to carry. This flagship store will also serve as an opportunity for our team to build an experience. A place to maintain community as well as build personal relationships between our owners and customers. We hope to make this store a destination location in our city.

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Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

No one is really prepared to own a business. I had a marketing degree with work experience in the field of business and marketing. I was even a teacher of the subject matter. Those things helped me get started, but the day-to-day experiences and the process of trial and error has really been the true tale of our success.

The most important thing I have learned is that successful businesses are driven and focused on people. Whether it be the customers, management or staff, people are the most valuable asset a business can rely on. For that reason, the most important area to invest money, time and strategy is in people.

The second critical component to a businesses’ success is quality systems. Early on, we struggled staying organized. Our decisions were based on emotion and passion. To breakthrough the clutter and to become a highly profitable company, we had to let the data define our decisions. For that reason, building quality systems specifically in the areas of accounting, inventory management, marketing analytics, project management, team communication and customer relations is key.

We currently use systems such as Asana for project management, slack for internal communication, Quickbooks for accounting, Stitch for inventory management and Klaviyo for email marketing. These help us stay organized and guide our priorities.

The other areas that we have learned is the importance of quality partnerships. Unfortunately, it is hard to find good people that can be trusted in the business world. A key component to building quality relationships is to always protect yourself.

We have a lawyer that helps protect us. Having contracts in place regardless of who you are working with is imperative to protecting the business and sustainability of a business. Bringing focus back to partnerships, we have found it is critical to value character and credibility far more than anything. Our partnerships are like family. We work with influencers, businesses, media and people that are willing to go to bat for us and help positively impact our company. Sometimes bartering or trades are far more valuable than the immediate sale.

For example, we have build some partnerships where we trade our design services for a social media influencer to give us a shout out for free through social channels. This ends up being a win win because of the value of our service and the value of their influence. Many times, these types of opportunities only come when we already had a strong relationship with the person or company.

The last piece of advice is to understand that as an entrepreneur, sleep, rest and a social life might be hard to come by. If you can find a way to connect life with business, it will make things far more enjoyable. Great things come with great sacrifice. Also, the little details matter. Always work as if you are trying to build a small business into a large multi-million dollar company.

Build the right systems from day one even if it seems unnecessary at the time. As quoted from Jim Collins, Good is the Enemy of Great. Never settle nor give up. Great people and great companies find ways to make things happen with the resources at hand. Then can take what they have and scale it by working hard, grinding and strategically adapting to the environment and economy around them.

As quoted by Mark Cuban, “Luck is the residue of hard work”. Entrepreneurs must be willing sacrifice, work hard, build relationships and humble themselves. Success is not guaranteed. Although, success is more likely to be achieved by those that work harder, smarter, more efficiently and for those that are willing to seek advice, guidance and help. Never underestimate the value of education, experience, training and a mentor.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?.

Tools and systems are critical to the success for all businesses and brands.

Over the years, we have utilized many systems that worked well, didn’t work well or that we outgrew. To me, there is no perfect system. Although, there are systems that can be very valuable in seasons of time.

A few systems I’d like to share help us day to day achieve our accounting, sales and project management goals. We utilize the Shopify platform for our b2c online sales. Through the Shopify site, we use multiple 3rd party applications.

Although, the most beneficial for us are Stitch inventory management system and the Shipstation shipping and logistics app. For accounting purposes, we utilize Quickbooks since it can be synced with our bank and website. Quickbooks helps our accountant keep things clean and organized so we can see a real time snapshot of how our financials look.

For social media, we utilize Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Twitter is great for quick communication or news. Maybe even to crack a joke. Instagram has been great for us to build a story through images and video. Facebook is great for building community and family.

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We use Google Analytics to make wise decisions and to help us see what advertising and marketing campaigns are working. This then allows us to bring more focus, time and money to what is working and less to those areas not working as well.

Internally, we utilize slack as a communication tool for our team and then utilize Asana as our project management tool. Both are valuable in keeping things organized and out in the open for the team to see. We also utilize Google Drive for our documents, notes and spreadsheets. Our art team utilizes Dropbox for keeping our creative assets organized and filed accordingly.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Knowledge is power. I am an advocate for not being a copycat and that success cannot always be duplicated. Although, there is great value in learning from people, books, podcasts and all other forms of education.

There are a few books that I think all business owners should read.

One is Good to Great by Jim Collins. This book helped me better understand the importance of systems and management style. A teams greatest assets are their team members. It is about getting the right people on the bus and then putting those people in the right seats. Utilizing people in their strengths and areas of expertise can truly make or break a company.

The second is Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard. This has greatly impacted my view on the development of systems and customer service. The greatest asset for a company is their team. The greatest external asset is a customer willing to passionately advocate about your business.

The third book is Traction by Gino Wickman. Building an effective entrepreneurial operating system is the key to taking a business or organization to the next level. This is the first step in scaling a business.

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In addition, I find value in almost any book by Marcus Buckingham, Seth Godin, Dale Carnegie, Gary Vaynerchuk, John Maxwell, Jay Conrad Levinson, and John Acuff.

I also listen to a lot of podcasts including Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Start Up Camp.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

The best advice is to gain experience. Step out of faith and learn by trial and error. Find a mentor or a person willing to allow you to shadow or gain knowledge, experience and understanding from.

Read. Be a master in your field. Know as much as you can so you are not taken advantage of. Fake it until you make it. Everyone has to start somewhere. Do not play the victim, nor blame game. Stay focused on your object and stay driven to that one goal.

Be open for change so you are capable to adapt when it is necessary to stay afloat or to gain a competitive advantage. Be prepared to fail. Get up and try again. Don’t be a fool though. Learn from your mistakes and strategize a plan to attempt things in a new and improved way. Don’t let success derail you from your pillars and personal standards.

Be true to who you are and what you believe in. When you die, the only thing you will keep with you is the impact you had on people and the legacy you leave behind. No one wants to leave a legacy of deceit, lies and crime. Be a person of integrity and a man/woman of your word.

Be patient. Success does not come overnight. Each thing you do, say, learn or eat is and will be an investment or a detriment to your future. Take everything seriously, because it will affect you later. Have faith. Be hopeful. Have fun. Enjoy the game.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Yes, our company is looking to hire. As we grow, we will seek out people that can fill holes or areas we are in need of filling.

I believe in staying lean until it is necessary to fill a position. Finding people that can do jobs better than I can. Scaling so we are able to put people where they are strong, so I can serve in the areas I am best fit to serve. We will be looking for sales associates to work in our store as well as a general manager to lead the store’s employees.

We will also be looking hire designers, product managers, account managers and event specialists. Of course, these positions will come in time, but we definitely have grown to a point where these roles would add great value to our company now. We do not have any job postings public at this time, but I am sure we will in the very near future.

Ultimately, we are looking for honest people that are hard working and highly passionate about what they do. We need people that get the job done and find a sense of pride in their excellence.

Where can we go to learn more?

Tumbleweed TexStyles

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-  
Brian Wysong,   Founder of Tumbleweed TexStyles

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