This is a follow up story for The Great Fantastic. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
What’s up Starter Story Fam! My name is Kyle Bergman, and I am the Founder and Chief Swoveralls Officer of The Great Fantastic. The Great Fantastic is a digitally native brand whose purpose is to create the world’s comfiest apparel products using sustainable resources and ethical manufacturing methods. Our hero product, Swoveralls, is the glorious combination of sweatpants and overalls into one incredibly comfy masterpiece. Our customers, aka the Comfy Family, are from all walks of life, and what we’ve found really connects our audience is the collective love for super comfortable clothing that is also a little quirky too.
When we first appeared on Starter Story back in 2019 we were averaging about $17k/month in revenue, and have since grown to just about $60k/month so far in 2021! We turn 4 years old soon and feel like we’re just getting started. Woo!
Caption - That’s me, Kyle, rocking the Swovie Shorts
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
So much has changed, but we’re also still the same old fun, comfy-loving brand we were back in 2019. From a sales standpoint, we’ve doubled our annual sales each year, and are already 155% above last year! We’re still self-funded, and it’s taken a lot of time, patience, and relationship building to get favorable payment terms that allow us to be in better inventory positions. Right around the last time, we were on SS we were featured on Shark Tank! While we didn’t make a deal with any sharks, the exposure was life-changing for the brand and gave us a ton of momentum. We have since re-aired over 10x, and it’s been bittersweet because we receive very little heads up as to when we’ll re-air...and most of the time we’re not in a great inventory position and are thus unable to fully capitalize on the moment. Still no regrets!
We’ve stayed focused on our distribution channels, and still only sell Swoveralls through our own website, as well as through Amazon. At this time, we have no plans to expand into additional channels as we have plenty of opportunities to grow where we are right now.
We’ve launched a handful of new products, some of which have been big winners, and others of which have been great learning experiences for us. With these new product launches, we also created a crowdfunding component to our website that we call The Comfy Lab, which allows us to test product ideas before we go into full-scale production. The comfy lab concept is simple: Where new concepts (crowd-sourced by you, Swovie nation) come to life. You pre-order and save 20%. We make small batch quantities, creating less waste. You, us, and Mother Earth celebrate. In our Swoveralls.
New products that have really crushed it include Swovie Shorts! - Basically our best-selling products, but in a shorts version. We also saw wins with limited-edition styles including Tie-Dye Swoveralls, Light Heather Grey, and collaborations with a breast cancer awareness foundation w/ Pink Swoveralls, as well as with NASA when we made a limited edition run of NASA Swoveralls (those were awesome).
We also launched Kids Swoveralls which haven’t seen the same type of explosive growth, but we definitely plan on keeping them around and nurturing this collection. Lastly, we did a small test run of Dog Swoveralls recently based on feedback we received from existing customers, and they surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) did not do as well as we would’ve liked them to. That’s the beauty of the comfy lab, however, as now we will not spend precious time and money making a ton of products that don’t have a ton of demand at the moment.
Our returning customer rate is at about 30%, which is pretty high for a product some might consider a one-off purchase. I believe it’s not only the new styles and colors we launch but also the improvements we make on our classic best-selling products that keep our customers coming back for more comfy stuff.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
The biggest lessons in the last year were about diversification. 2020 was a bittersweet year for our business. While it was scary, frustrating, and all the other things that come with a global pandemic, Swoveralls also had a great moment as everyone was working out and hanging at home. That said, we did our best to be thoughtful about our messaging and not appear opportunistic or performative about the situation. From a diversification standpoint, part of the reason we were successful in 2020 was that we have two different manufacturing facilities that allowed us to maintain production during different times of the year.
Some days, everything might be going your way - it’s like you can’t miss! On other days, it may feel like your world is ending, but when you understand that the difference in those days most likely has very little to do with specific actions you’re making at the moment, you can start to trust the rollercoaster that is entrepreneurship.
In January, Feb, and March 2020, our China-based factory was shut down to COVID, however, our LA-based production partners were able to keep working. Then, as the pandemic crept across the globe. LA went into lockdown, and China started to slowly open up again. We were very lucky to have great production partners, and the lesson we learned is to mitigate risk by having various partners. Sometimes it’s impossible to have more than one depending on your size or specific need, but when possible, diversify!
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
The next year for The Great Fantastic will be the biggest and comfiest yet. We just recently partnered with a team that is going to take everything about our brand to the next level. Because our biggest challenge thus far has been trying to meet demand, we’re most excited to focus on restocking our best sellers and continuing to spread the comfy message to as many people as possible. Slowly over the next 5 years, we’ll start to introduce new products into our collection that stay true to our incredibly comfy and sustainably sourced ethos.
Side hustle <> full hustle plug: Last March I started a completely separate business with two Co-Founders of mine called Sweat from Home (which has also been featured on Starter Story!). The partners that I have coming in to help with The Great Fantastic will be taking over the majority of the day to day operations for the comfy biz, which will allow me to focus my efforts on growing Sweat from Home into the greatest virtual group fitness experience on the planet. I’ll always be a part of Swoveralls, and still heavily involved in strategy/product decisions, but I’m pumped for both brands to level up in 2021. Going to be huge!
Have you read any good books in the last year?
The past 12-18 months have been more about business books and podcasts, which is surprising to me because I’m usually more of a novel/fiction guy. I love David Baldacci, Jonathan Franzen, and Maria Semple - novels I find to get my creative juices flowing. However, I’ve been lucky enough to have read and listened to some really great books and podcasts recently.
- High Output Management by Andy Grove - Must read for any manager
- Traction by Gino Wickman (also read Traction by Gabriel Weinberg a couple of years ago and it’s very different but very good too!)
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horwitz - a great book for any leader who is feeling lonely haha
- The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo - a must-read for any manager
- Good to Great by Jim Collins - classic case studies about what separated the great companies from the ones that were merely just good.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
I played lacrosse my entire life, and there’s a saying you’d hear now and then that is probably said in other sports too, and it’s Shoot to get hot, shoot to stay hot! I’d offer this mindset to anyone starting out or currently on their own startup journey. To me, this saying is all about making your own luck, persevering, and working hard. More literally, I think this saying can also be interpreted as, “build first, ask questions later”. It’s incredible what a prototype, or sample can do to your own confidence and momentum.
One last interpretation is about failure. Some days, everything might be going your way - it’s like you can’t miss! On other days, it may feel like your world is ending, but when you understand that the difference in those days most likely has very little to do with specific actions you’re making at the moment, you can start to trust the rollercoaster that is entrepreneurship. I’ve learned over the years to trust the process, plan for uncertainty, and ride the wave.
Where can we go to learn more?
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