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How We Started Wholesaling Our Product And Grew To 7 Figures

Cameron Olthuis
Founder, Sawyer
from Park City, Utah, USA
started August 2017
alexa rank
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Start A Children's Clothing Business

Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

Hey there, Cameron here, founder of Sawyer, an outdoor brand that makes really cool kid’s clothes with a mission to inspire them to get outside and be adventurous. It’s been just over two years since I wrote our introduction post here and we’re just about to celebrate our 3rd anniversary as a company. The following is our update...

We don’t disclose specifics about our financials, but I can say that we are a 7-figure (annually), profitable business that continues to grow rapidly. I’m really proud of our explosive growth rate and what we’ve accomplished in the past three years. However, I'm more proud of other things that we’ve accomplished. I’m proud of the quality and style of the products we make and the amazing feedback (avg rating 4.97) we get from our customers. I’m proud of our brand mission and that it resonates with so many other people. I’m proud of all the good that, together with our customers, we’ve been able to do. For example, we recently came out with a limited edition t-shirt and donated all proceeds to No Kid Hungry, an incredible organization feeding hungry kids. That resulted in providing meals for tens of thousands of meals to kids in need during the pandemic. Most of all, I’m proud that I love my work, feel good about what we do, and that I’ve been able to maintain an amazing lifestyle that allows me to focus on family and fun first.

Product: Go Outside Tee, Photo credit

Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?

As previously mentioned, the business has been growing pretty fast. The most important thing we’ve done and continue to do is focus on making great products and providing a great experience for our customers. We obsess about those two things and they’re the foundation of what everything else is built on.

I’d much rather be looking back on a life full of great experiences and family time than I would be checking my bank balance to see how many zeros there are.

Our repeat business is really strong. We have several customers who have ordered 20+ times now. Word of mouth is strong. We get emails daily from happy customers who can’t wait to tell us how everyone’s been asking about their kid’s new t-shirts or that they’re so happy they’re going to tell all their friends about us. Those are really awesome to get and it lets us know we’re on the right track. We had one customer tell us they decided on Sawyer for a baby name in part because they love everything we stand for. That was humbling.

Now that we have a two-year-old son that fits into our goods, it’s really elevated our product game. We’re literally making the products for ourselves and if they’re not perfect or we don’t love them, we keep going until we’re totally happy. It just so happens that when you make stuff you love, there’s a whole bunch of other people out there that will love it too. You just got to find a way to let them discover it.

Just about this time a year ago, we started wholesaling our products to a few shops and that’s become a meaningful part of the business now. We had been getting requests for wholesale since day one, but we wanted to prove to ourselves that we could build a good business going direct-to-consumer and focus on that first. We are really picky about the shops that carry our products. It’s important to us that our products and brand story are represented well. We had originally set out with a goal to be in 500 doors by the end of this year, but we’re now looking like that will probably end up being around 100 doors. Part of that’s because of COVID-19 and part of that is from the takeaways I got from reading Chip Wilson’s (Lululemon founder) book, Little Black Stretchy Pants, which I’ll touch on below.

What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

I’m going to talk about a couple of different lessons I learned in the last year.

The first has been learning to get a handle on the mental health challenges of being an entrepreneur, more specifically the moods attached directly to revenues of the business. I don’t know if others suffer from this, but for me, if it’s a great sales day, I’m on top of the world. It’s a bad sales day, I’m grumpy & miserable to be around. It’s a work in progress for sure, but here are some of the things that I’ve found to work for me.

  • Turning off the addicting Shopify notifications (cha-ching!) and not checking reports as often.
  • Zooming out on a bad day. Ok, today is bad, but it’s actually been a really good month so far and even better year.
  • Remembering what’s really important and my why. It’s not only about money and if all these other things are going well in your life, why are you upset?
  • I also love to just completely disconnect by going outside and being active, playing with the kids, or even just sitting outside and meditating.

The second lesson was last year when we were seriously looking at opening a couple of retail stores. It sounded like a fun challenge to take on and would be a great way to introduce new people to our products. Plus, it was all the rage in the DTC space, and honestly, I’d been bitten by that nasty FOMO bug. We had a couple of locations picked out and all these visions of a unique experiential store. It was going to be rad. I was excited.

Around that time, one of my good friends came over to show off his new Porsche GT3 RS. Amazing car, btw. As we were carving through some canyons at mind-blowing speeds, I started to share my vision with him. He’s owned, at different times, hundreds of retail stores, so at the very least he would give me some great advice or feedback. He immediately told me it was a horrible idea and proceeded to talk me out of it. Why? He knows me too well and said I’d be miserable working myself to death with how much time it would require and how many days I’d be on the road away from my family. He knows me and knows it’s not what I really want.

Here we are a year later in the midst of one of the worst retail recessions in history. Although my reasons for not doing it were different, chasing that shiny object probably would’ve ended up bankrupting me. I’m grateful for that friendship.

What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

When I envision Sawyer 5-years from now, this is what I see. We’ve steadily grown to become a high 7-figure business with 10-15 full-time employees. Maybe we have a single retail store on Main St here in Park City, Ut that doubles as an office and warehouse in the back. Everyone works 30-ish hour work weeks (w/ ft salaries) on schedules that work around our kids so that family & leisure time is prioritized. I’m no longer needed for the day-to-day operations but oversee the brand & product strategy. We have a full line of products to outfit rad little adventurous kids that people love. We use the brand as a platform to do a lot of good for causes we believe in. That‘s it, man. That’s the dream. I really don’t have any intention to grow bigger than that. That’s the lifestyle I want.

For me personally, I like to spend about half the year traveling with my family. We’d like to buy a ranch where I can spend my free time working & playing on the land with my family. That’s what drives me right now.

For the next year, our main focus is product development & expanding our product line. We had actually developed a few products for our summer line this year and right as we were about to go into production, the pandemic hit and supply chains get disrupted. By the time those factories were up and running again, it was too late in the buying season.

With the exception of a few products, we’ve been primarily using blanks (t-shirts, hoodies, etc) for most of our products. We’re itching to elevate that with our own cut & sew stuff that we dream up and create from scratch.

Have you read any good books in the last year?

Little Black Stretchy Pants - It’s the story of Lululemon written by its founder, Chip Wilson. It’s an easy read and a great book filled with specific examples of things that worked well, how they built the brand, as well as the things that went wrong and almost took down the company.

One example is why Lululemon doesn’t wholesale their products and when they did at one time out of necessity, they almost went out of business. They sold a bunch of product to a big retailer on credit terms, who later filed for bankruptcy and couldn’t pay their bill. This left them in a huge cash crunch.

It’s for that reason and other lessons learned from reading this book that we decided to pump the brakes on our wholesale strategy and take it slow. And we don’t offer credit terms to our retail partners.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?

Find your why and what’s going to really drive you when shit gets hard. Maybe your why is money, but I’d challenge you to go deeper than that. What is that money that will get you? Is it freedom? Is it a huge mansion and a yacht? If it’s the former, maybe you don’t need to sacrifice at the altar of working yourself to death to build something huge. Maybe you can just build a really cool small business or freelance PT and spend the rest of your time surfing around the planet. That would likely change what you’re going to do and how you do it.

I’m a big believer in living your one life to the fullest and that’s what I’m trying to do. Many years (hopefully) from now when I’m on my deathbed, I’d much rather be looking back on a life full of great experiences and family time than I would be checking my bank balance to see how many zeros there are.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

Cameron Olthuis, Founder of Sawyer
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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