Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, my name is Jeff Schattner and I am the founder of Lawrence Hunt Fashion, an innovative clothing tech start-up. We began in 2016 with our flagship sweat-wicking dress shirt. Our shirt is unlike any other dress shirt on the market in the way it takes the best properties of BOTH performance and professional wear and combines it in one shirt. We perfected the balance between the crisp and professional look of a traditional cotton dress shirt and the performance features of athletic-wear.
We applied for a utility patent for our dress shirt in 2016, and it was granted four years later. We’ve steadily grown over the past few years, while our patent was pending, adding new innovative shirts for various work or casual situations. We reached approximately $20,000+/month last year, and continue to grow into 2020.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’m a CPA by training and have worked in Finance my entire career, but my passion has always been in problem-solving and coming up with new business ideas. The idea for Lawrence Hunt came to me while I was a friend’s outdoor wedding during a sweltering 90-degree day. I wanted to enjoy the wedding, but all I could think about was how uncomfortable I was in my dress clothes, sweating my *ss off.
I went back to google to see what was on the market. This was around 2013 and the only options were traditional dress shirts that felt nice, but awful for hot/sweaty situations, sweat-shields (never wanted to try one), undershirts (even hotter), and these performance dress shirts like your lululemon/Nike long sleeve golf shirt. I got a few of the other performance dress shirts, and they were good for sweat, but they weren’t great for all body types, with a more silky look. And for someone in finance that needed to look professional, or for formal situations, they were not ideal. I needed something that combined the best of professional wear with the best of performance wear. And so...Lawrence Hunt Fashion was born.
At this time, I was working in Corporate Accounting for a large automotive manufacturer. I didn’t have a background in fashion or clothing production, so I began to immerse myself in the field and meet as many people in the industry from manufacturers to designers to photographers in Michigan and the Detroit area that I could. I took a trip to the Magic trade show in Las Vegas and began to validate the idea. Working in finance, I felt I was an ideal avatar for the business and had an ideal audience at the office to gather feedback from. I wasn’t able to move as fast as I would like. My wife and I had our first child shortly before my “aha” moment. Needless to say, with a new child and a full-time job, it was a busy time. In mid-2014, two months after having our second child, I launched a Kickstarter as the final validation step.
Put yourself in a position to have a long runaway. If I had quit my day job when we first launched, I wouldn’t have lasted a year. It took four years for our patent to come through.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
As I mentioned, above, I don’t have a background in fashion or sewing, so I first went to Craigslist to find someone that could sew a prototype together. I received a recommendation from the local community college in the area and hired my first contractor for the business. We had a number of meetings over a few month periods, going through the design and how I wanted to make it, unlike any other shirt on the market. The prototype looked awful and was nothing you would ever want to wear, but it was good enough to bring to larger manufacturers to help with our first production run.
Through Entrepreneur Magazine, I found out about makersrow.com - website linking designers and local manufacturers. I met with a few different facilities, and eventually settled on a local facility in Lansing, MI to help with production. It took a while to get this first run of 10 shirts completed. We went through a number of iterations of the shirt design and fabrics. We used this initial run of shirts and facility for the Kickstarter campaign that was successfully funded in August 2014.
Unfortunately, the cost to build these shirts with our initial facility was not sustainable in the long-run. We wanted to price our shirts under $100, and we needed a larger facility to do so. From Kickstarter, we found the white shirt was popular with customers. This was the only shirt that seamlessly blended our performance fabric technology with the cotton fabric. Obviously, no one wanted an underarm area that stood out from the rest of the shirt. However, at this time we couldn’t do any patterned shirts with checks, stripes, etc.
After fulfilling the Kickstarter orders, I spent most of 2015 trying to figure out a cost-effective way to manufacture our shirts and effectively build a matching patterned dress shirt with two different fabrics. Finally, we successfully did our first match of performance fabric and 100% cotton fabric. Once we figured out the process to match both fabrics and build a shirt, we started to prepare to launch the business. It was at this point we applied for our provisional patent for our novel sweat-wicking dress shirts.
Describe the process of launching the business.
After figuring out how to successfully build our shirts, we officially launched Lawrence Hunt Fashion in 2016. It was a fairly quiet launch. I hired a digital marketing firm to help with the launch and come up with a digital marketing strategy. This was the first mistake we made. We hired a local firm in Detroit that had no experience in eCommerce. We had some local press pick up the launch, as well as larger publications such as Maxim and Esquire. Unfortunately, the firm we had hired wasn’t able to capitalize on the press. It quickly became apparent they were in over their heads and we canceled the agreement after two months.
Luckily, I had a friend from college with experience in digital marketing and web development, and I brought him on our team to help run our Google Analytics, Facebook marketing, and digital strategy. I continued working during this time to give us some runway for digital ads until we could successfully optimize them. Shortly after launching, we were able to sign endorsement deals with a few professional athletes to help grow the business and use it in our digital ads and marketing.
We signed the all-star catcher from the Chicago Whitesox, James McCann, and star wide receiver from the NY Giants, Sterling Shepard.
The biggest lesson we learned from launching and the early months in growing was how important it is to be in sync in all that you’re doing. You don’t need a huge launch party or things like that. You just need all facets to be talking to each other and working together. If you have a little press, it should speak to the marketing, and have it all rolling at one time. We had some good press, but the timing didn’t align with our digital marketing growth and endorsements. We got to the point we wanted to get to but got there slower and more costly than it should have.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The endorsements helped gain traffic, but for a while, we were primarily working on Google Adwords and Facebook to grow the business. For our audience of men, we didn’t see a ton of success on IG. We tested doing native ads with various publications, pop-ups, banner ads, influencers on IG, etc. Each method was great for gaining traffic, but when you’re self-funded and bootstrapped, you need to be very strategic about finding cost-effective avenues with a high rate of returns.
Google Adwords was most effective for us from a cost perspective, but we have a very niche market of people searching for “dress shirts for sweat.” And to compete on the keyword “dress shirt” is nearly impossible for a company our size. Facebook allowed us to reach a larger audience but became very expensive over time.
In late 2016, early 2017, digital ad spend was skyrocketing with the growth of direct to consumer brands. If you weren’t heavily funded or working with a top agency, it was difficult to compete. We began to look for more cost-effective ways to grow and began forming brand partnerships with complementary brands. We would look for brands that sold ties, cufflinks, sweat-shields, undershirts, etc., and reach out to the founders. We would advertise through these brands to their customers and pay them a royalty on sales or marketing fees. We were able to reach a targeted audience at a low customer acquisition cost. Through 2018 & 2019 we continued to source as many partnerships as possible. The strategy has been very cost-effective but has a more limited upside than Facebook and other digital marketing strategies.
Some of the best partnerships we formed were with subscription box clubs like Sprezzabox and Gentleman’s Box, and undershirt brand, Thompson Tee. Thompson Tee wrote the following blog on the best dress shirts for sweat:
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are really excited about the future. We have been steadily growing our revenues while nearing profitability over the last few years. This last month has been difficult obviously with the coronavirus pandemic. But now that we’ve secured our Patentwe can grow significantly without fear of anyone else making a similar shirt. While our shirts are great for video chats and conference calls, the demand for dress shirts will be lower in the next few months until people are back at the office. We have expanded into more casual shirts. One new style is our Featherweight shirt. These shirts are so soft you could sleep in them (I have), and perfect for working from home!
Before the pandemic, we started to expand into corporate apparel and recently did a huge order for a leading manufacturer in North America to supply them with our sweat-wicking dress shirts for a three-day trade show. This is an area we plan to continue to focus on and expand when possible. Finally, we recently launched a membership program we’re excited about. This program lets customers gain access to new styles at a great price and gives us more recurring revenues.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The number one piece of advice I have learned starting this business is to not be afraid to try and fail. What worked for one business isn’t necessarily going to work for another. What didn’t work for one business isn’t necessarily NOT going to work for another.
You have to test and try different things. Think outside the box. You are going to make mistakes and fail. There will be hundreds of highs and lows, and the ones that succeed have a long runway to outlast all the lows and see the highs. Some will get lucky and avoid some of the inevitable lows with good timing, etc. Most won’t.
Put yourself in a position to have a long runaway. If I had quit my day job when we first launched, Lawrence Hunt Fashion wouldn’t have lasted a year. It took four years for our patent to come through. I needed a runway to last that entire time.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
There are so many great tools and apps out there now that make running an online business very efficient. We started our website on Squarespace, but then moved over to Shopify as we grew. I love Shopify and highly recommend it. But for those just starting out, Squarespace is a more cost-effective tool and easier to use if you don’t have any web development experience. We’ve recently switched over to Klayvio for our email marketing and that’s been a great tool. When we started we used Mailchimp. I’m a big fan of Mailchimp, but for segmenting and really growing through email marketing, Klayvio is worth the additional cost.
Within Shopify, some of my favorite apps include Return Magic, a cost-effective app for easily managing returns and creating pre-paid return labels for customers. Stamped.io is great for reviews. We were late to add Reviews to our website because all of the apps were so expensive, i.e. $500+ per month. Late last year we found out about Stamped.io, and it’s been great. We lost out on thousands of reviews because we started it so late, but we’re now adding new 5 reviews every day!
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I wish I read more books. I’m more of a podcast and magazine person. My favorite podcasts that I listen to for inspiration are How I Built This, The Pitch, and Start-up. Business Wars is another fun one that’s binge-worthy.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
As I said above, it’s going to be a rollercoaster and one of the hardest things you do in your life. Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone has a different story. Control what you can control. Set goals, and compete with yourself. Look to others for advice and for best or worst practices.
Where can we go to learn more?
All Starter Story readers can grab a Lawrence Hunt shirt for 30% OFF with the code: STARTERSTORY ….Click here to try one out -> LH Shirts
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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