Entrepreneurial Success in the Custom T-Shirt Business
The story of The story of First Amendment Tees is a classic American entrepreneur’s Success Story. It’s the story of a man starting in a 400 sq ft basement, finding his niche, and growing to 7600 sq ft store and 11 employees in just 3 years.
The lessons Mark Biletnikoff learned along the way apply to life and business equally.
Mark, being a long standing customer of both ColDesi and Colman and Company, was kind enough to share his story of Success with us in the hopes that it would both inspire and educate the next person with an idea and the drive to make it happen. It’s the story of a man starting in a 400 sq ft basement, finding his niche, and growing to 7600 sq ft store and 11 employees in just 3 years.
Tell me about how your business got started:
In 2010, I was a Technical Advisor for General Electric and had spent most of my career in manufacturing. But I had always wanted to work for myself, so when I found out I was going to be laid off again I decided it was time to stop working for someone else and take control of my own destiny. After looking around for other businesses, I literally just woke up one morning and said “I’m going to make T-Shirts!”. Since I really loved the ironic and funny designs that were becoming popular and saw this business as a good fit.
My girlfriend and my family all thought I was crazy. They kept trying to talk me out of it. In fact, my Dad even tried to hire me back into the family landscaping business.
My basement was my first office and production area. Then I added a good graphic designer, because the design is what people see and buy – artwork is key – and now we’re in a 7600 sq. ft space and I have 11 employees. The business was breaking even within about 4 months.
A friend had actually started their own T-Shirt business, but wasn’t actually making the shirts, just designs. My background in manufacturing and experience with what low quality results I saw on the market ruled that option out. So, I started researching ways to create custom T-Shirts myself.
It was very important to me to control every part of the process. I wanted to offer better quality every step of the way. Something that wears better, washes better, looks better. I knew I wanted to do it all!
T-shirt makers: I did some brief research on this and I found that one can get t-shirts printed cheaply at many vendors if it is one-side and one-color. Two sides or more colors and the price goes up very fast, making it hard to imagine being able to sell any at a profit. If you want to do your own printing, I imagine you have to buy or lease a machine, which may be thousands of dollars. Are you looking for a service or a machine? Many of the machine vendors have video tutorials on their sites, but I haven't really looked into this. Heat transfer seems to work on t-shirts and mugs, but different machines ($$$)