Categorized | Shoestring Startup

Armed Work Wear: Developing Painter Pants with built in Knee pads

My wife and I started Armed Work Wear in 2006 developing painter pants with built in knee pads and specialty hand tool pockets specifically for professional painting contractors. The idea came because of the problems I was having as a painting contractor. The knee pads available were very uncomfortable so I rarely used them. My painter pants were uncomfortable as well and they didn’t hold the many hand tools painters have. So after 15 years of painting I decided to design a pair of functional, stylish, affordable professional painter pants. I figured who better to design a pair of painter pants than someone who actually paints for a living. Before we went to manufacturing and during the design process we used the internet constantly to do market research, find out potential customers and find sourcing companies. It took about a year to design and 6 months to source and manufacture overseas. We financed our first order by taking out a second mortgage on our new house and maxing out our credit cards. Our first shipment of pants (8,000 pairs) arrived in October of 2007. We continued to use the internet as a tool to find new customers. In addition to my wife and I we now have 4 rep companies that sell our painter pants, a website developer who does all of our website updates, and two part time employees.

When we first started our business I personally really had no clue of what I was getting into. My wife had worked for a startup company before so she understood more of the hardships and corporate structure we were going to need to succeed. She also had experience with manufacturing overseas and understood the detail you need to make sure you get what you expect. I just thought, if you make a good product everyone will want to buy it and everything would be relatively easy. Boy was I wrong!

I didn’t have any sales experience so that was one of the skills I had to develop and fast. The first two years were brutal. I was working as a painting contractor to keep the pants business from going under. I was also selling pants, so needless to say I worked like a dog. There seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel. The recession was in full force and everyone seemed reluctant to buy anything. The one thing I had going for me was, I had the ability to make money to keep everything going with my painting business. I also never gave up, just never stopped moving forward even if it was the wrong thing I would continually try anything and everything I could think of to sell pants, and build our customer base.

We spent the first two years figuring out the basic structure of how everything worked from how to sell, what forms we needed, to billing. There are a lot of procedures from the time you sell a pair of pants until you get paid for that pair of pants. During those first 2 years our brand image began to improve. We hired a designer to help with the creativity that you kind of loose when you’re in the fog of business. Now after 3 years we have a very well oiled machine and constantly work to improve and make our procedures faster and more efficient. In 2010 we almost broke even and our current trend is to be profitable at the end of 2011.

We have borrowed money from family, acquired an SBA loan, mortgaged the house, used every bit of credit we have and I have painted when necessary to pay all of the bills. It’s very stressful but, if we can make it thru this economy, it will be well worth the effort. After 3 years of generating revenue you get to see a picture forming of what works and what doesn’t, somewhat of a blueprint to know what to do next. One thing that is becoming very clear is that our web sales are more important than we had first understood. Everyone is shopping more and more online, plus profit margins are so much better. Our having a web site will help us add new products and get the word out about those products. We have been going after the big box stores from the beginning but the one thing we’ve learned is, big box stores don’t take new products unless there is a customer base already established. So the website helps to build that customer base. We have basically been building a customer base for three years using every resource we have available.

Our projections for the next three years are very hard to know. We can only really go off of what’s happened the last three years. It’s very hard to make projections when starting a business and even after a few years of revenue. We have many things happening right now our growth could be the same as it has been 80% per year ,or much, much higher. What we are looking for it 80% growth in wholesale and 150% growth online. This is a very real possibility. The economy is getting better and we are getting noticed by bigger companies. I wish we had access to more capital so we could advertise our website more. That will be the key to our long term success. If all goes well in the next 5 years, I would like to leave the day to day operations and just focus on new product development which is my passion. I can’t imagine that after all that my wife and I have been through I would want to sell our business. We are relatively young and enjoy business. It’s just hard until we get more established. I would advise anyone who is going to start a business to Start small with online, local sales, slowly build more volume, keep your overhead as low as possible, and give the best customer service. Customer service is everything!

Josh Banks
Armed Work Wear

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