Progress Update: Mammal Swag
For the ninth in our progress update stories I met up with Jon Mills, the founder of Mammal Swag a clothing business that features Jon’s cartoon animals that have alter ego characters! Be it the Art Deco Gecko, the Hipster Dog or the Shellsuit Stag the designs are nothing short of eye catching. I first wrote about Mammal Swag in February 2013, this was a point in the business where Jon had been successful at selling his products in The Forum as well as online yet he was spending hours undertaking labour tasks (such as attaching labels to each t-shirt) rather than outsourcing this task to free himself up to drive the business forward. This proved to be a bit of crossroad for Jon, either take a step back to manage aspects of the business rather than single handedly performing each task within the business operation or accept that the strain on Jon’s time was the limiting factor that would prevent the business from further growth.
Excitingly for us in summer 2013 Mammal Swag underwent a rebranding as Jon looked to establish a bit more quality in the brand; upgrading the t-shirts, introducing high-quality labels and most significantly seeing Jon step back from the production process to oversee the entire operation (he also employed his mum as part of the product dispatch team which is always a good idea!). This helped him to sell over 150 items of clothing in the run up to Christmas 2013, including sending products as far a field as Brazil and Saudi Arabia. Yet it was within selling face-to-face on market stalls that gained Jon the most satisfaction. This is where Mammal Swag due to their unforgettable designs really stood out from the crowd. Thriving at the “soft-sale” (where you allow customers to come to you, rather than badgering them to buy your goods) the instantly recognisable clothing company was able to distinguish itself from the extremely competitive t-shirt market.
With the turn of the New Year and the increase in work load for Jon as a final year student had to put Mammal Swag on the back burner. However, with summer fast approaching and the end of exams almost in sight it will be interesting to see where Jon takes Mammal Swag over the summer 2014 and beyond. We will have to see!
In terms of the actually business of designing t-shirts I thought I would talk to Jon to provide some tips to students who are interested in following in his footsteps. Having worked as the Student Entrepreneur in Residence, listening to students pitch their various business ideas, I know that besides apps, online businesses and all things related to going on a night out, clothing business ideas are by far the most popular concept pitched to us here at the Innovation Centre. Yet, few are as successful as Mammal Swag, Young Ones or Tight Threads – why is this?
Well looking at the three clothing businesses, Young Ones and Tight Threads caught onto treads early (onesies and photographic print t-shirts respectively) producing superior products at a lower cost to the consumer, while Mammal Swag capitalised on Jon’s ability to design unique graphics to add to the clothes he was trying to sell. With so many clothing companies out there you really have to create something that customers will want to pay for. However, as Jon notes clothing companies are one of the best businesses to start at university (indeed, even I tried to start a clothing business when I first started at the University of Exeter!); with low start up costs, low overheads and your target market on your doorstep you can see why it appeals to so many entrepreneurial minded students. Utilising the power of the internet, something that perhaps our generation is more accustomed too, can also help to drive an early stage clothing business forward – Jon broke down his sale figures for me as 85% of sales taking place online to 15% offline. He sold through the likes of Asos Marketplace where 15% of his online sales took place and through his own Mammal Swag website (65% of online sales) that he got up and running for £10.
Yet, Jon will be the first to hold his hands up to making some business mistakes while growing his clothing company. Firstly a common problem for clothing businesses is trying to diversify the product range too early; for example, Jon created jumpers and iPhone cases that haven’t sold well as they have moved too far away from the core unique selling point of his business – creating fun, cool t-shirts. Secondly, custom orders can also prove a headache if they are for only tiny orders of 3 or less – in the case of the Mammal Swag jumpers to cover one items in all sizes, designs and colours Jon would have to have stocked 112 jumpers which would mean him putting significant capital into holding stock, never a good idea. Finally production lag times are always a source of major concern for clothing businesses, ensuring that these are as smooth and reliable as possible are crucial to running a successful clothing operation.
Nonetheless, the experience that Jon has had running a clothing business while at university is simply priceless, imagine being able to walk into a job interview and being able to talk about firsthand experience negotiating with suppliers, improving customer satisfaction and creating business solutions – failing that you could always continue to run the business that you founded during university and grow it into a nationwide clothing brand like Rampant Sporting ran by former University of Exeter student Richard Hurtley (and make lots of money along the way!).
Here at MGR Music Tuition this week I spent some time in London, working alongside Gael (the Guitar Lessons London lead teacher) to continue to develop our product presentation to London based music stores with the aim of getting 3 to 5 music storers to advertise on the Guitar Lessons London website. We are still waiting on a reply from the first store that we have approached but fingers crossed we will hear from them shortly! We also hired new teachers for the Guitar Lessons Blackpool and Guitar Lessons Newcastle websites, while releasing news sites in Worcester and Bradford – good progress as ever in terms of the national expansion. I was also asked by some Exeter students earlier in the week about the process of creating websites – there is quite a good article on the Career Enterprise Zone website that deals with that (also check out my blog post last week about setting up a fictional clothing business on a shoe string budget) as well as other FAQs students have (including company formation etc.) that I thought might be useful!