Spotlight on Hoopswagg
Brennan's first experiment with online retail involved ordering a batch of tablet styluses from a manufacturer which he resold in small bundles on eBay. These items were inexpensive to source and easy to flip and it was a great way to build experience. As he became aware of the dynamics of competition in consumer electronics categories, he realized he needed to source something more unique that would set him apart from other retailers.
Did I mention that these entrepreneurial instincts belong to a teenager? With the help of his parents, Brennan started pursuing his ambitions in online retail before he had even started high school. In fact, he drew inspiration for the Hoopswagg brand from playing basketball in his spare time.
Brian (Brennan's dad) joined us for the interview. He explains where the idea to do custom clothing came from, "All of the kids wear really colorful eye-catching socks on the basketball court, and Brennan started thinking about making his own designs. We did some research into printing techniques and invested in a sublimation printer. The total start-up cost for equipment and everything was probably $3500. Brennan taught himself how to use Adobe Illustrator and before long he was ready to start printing his own designs."
Before the interview, I browsed through the wildly colorful selection of socks and clothes on Hoopswagg.com. Brennan's energetic and youthful graphics are presented in a clean and professional looking site design. One sock pattern in particular demonstrates smart SEO strategy by celebrating the carpet design from the Portland International Airport, a subject that went viral last year when local residents resisted plans to replace the aging carpet.
I inquire how the printer works and I learn that the process is much like screen printing, only the ink is suspended on paper, then heated to 400 degrees. It changes to a gas state before adhering to the surface of the polyester fabric. Apparently using just right fabric is the key to a good bond with the ink. Once Brennan perfected the production process, he began listing the socks online. After a couple of months, Brennan wondered how he might benchmark his progress against similar retailers. After investigating solutions for competitive analysis, he discovered Terapeak.
Competitive research happens to be a core feature of Terapeak and before long Brennan was able to identify top performing retailers in the athletic clothing categories on eBay. Not only did he determine how much sales volume was possible for his niche, he could see exactly what price would result in greater sales activity.
Using Terapeak, we could see that our top competitor did about $15K per month and their pricing was a little lower than ours, so we adjusted prices. It worked! Demand over the Christmas season exploded. At first we raised prices just to cool things off but we remained so busy that we eventually had to shut down the entire website in mid-December. Production just couldn't keep up.
I ask Brian and Brennan how they source the socks. Brian replies, "We have a supplier for high quality polyester athletic socks. They’re dependable and we get a good price for ordering in volume. The only weakness we can see in the process is that we’re too dependent on the availability of this specific type of sock, so we're looking at branching into other garments."
Brian mentions other parts of Terapeak that helped grow sales for Hoopswagg, "Not surprising, we found the keyword research very useful–not necessarily for Google SEO but for eBay SEO which is about 40% of our sales activity." Much of Brennan's marketing efforts are focused on word of mouth promotion on social media. Hoopswagg has 50K followers on Instagram and an audience of 14K on Facebook. Brian volunteers, "Some products get more attention than others on social media and from what Brennan can tell, people really like to photograph their footwear on Instagram. I don't know how many sales we get from that traffic, but it's helping to build recognition for the Hoopswagg brand."
Business is steady. Sales are coming in through eBay and Amazon plus the cart on the website. Hoopswagg uses Ship Station to manage incoming orders. A few part-time employees have been hired to help with the printing process.
I ask what's next for this daring young entrepreneur and I learn that Brennan will be appearing on a local radio show next month to discuss his experience with Hoopswag and to announce a coupon offer on portlandperks.com. Tune into Alternative Portland (KNRK 94.7 FM) in the first week of April to catch Brennan’s interview.
Brian offers some perspective on the future of the brand: "For now there's still plenty of interest in this sock niche, but we recognize that all fashion trends eventually run their course. We are considering printing on a broader range of athletic accessories in case we run into supply issues further down the road. Brennan needs to focus on school, so we're trying to scale the operation so it can run without major time commitments from him. My wife and I help with the operation as much as we can. Brennan wants to keep growing it and we'll see where it goes from here."
Find Hoopswagg on eBay and at http://hoopswagg.com/