Irish Craic meets American Kitsch
It was 2011. My daughter had just started Irish dance here in the Salt Lake valley. We began to attend Irish dance competitions and she'd beg me for a souvenir t-shirt. With my wallet open, we'd go to Irish vendor after vendor looking for a dance t-shirt worth the $30+ price tag. Nothing. These tees had everything working against them. Outdated Irish dance artwork screened on cheap, shapeless t-shirts.
It was a tragedy that such a lively culture wasn't able to sport better apparel.
"I'm not buying these shirts", I said to my daughter. A few weeks later, I informed my husband I was going to start my own t-shirt company. He just stared at me.
Where's the Craic?
Creating Irish-themed tees with a vintage American flavor was a risk I was willing to take because no one was doing it. There are millions of Irish Americans. It seemed logical that folks would want to show their Irish pride in something other than the predictable bright green leprechaun tee.
Yes, there were some naysayers in the beginning. The t-shirt market was saturated with the ironic humor t-shirts made famous by sites like www.snorgtees.com and www.bustedtees.com. I'd have business friends imply that funny tees were dying out. As usual, I saw things different. Yes, the trendy ironic tees were flatlining but that was better for me. Much of the Snorg schtick was vulgar teenage boy humor that induced more eye-rolling than laughter. The world still needed Irish craic tees so craic tees I'd create!
Upfront challenges were looming like elephants. My husband and I have five kids. Money and time were not in abundance. Start up funds had to go directly to inventory. There was nothing left for marketing or a website.
'Irish craic meets American kitsch' became my slogan and mantra. I, along with a select few who shared my sense of humor, would create art concepts that married the Irish spirit with American pop culture. Once we got into a groove with artwork creation, which usually ended in late night cackling sessions, finding the right t-shirt was next. I would only screen on t-shirts that I would wear myself. My style? Vintage, soft, with a bit of wear and tear. Swingy, not clingy. In the back of my mind, I knew style was a key component. Anyone can laugh at a funny t-shirt, but if potential customers were unable to distinguish a style, there was really very little point in delving into the realm of apparel. We got our first five designs screened and said to each other, "Yep, I would totally buy this. I want one."
It was time to turn our product loose and see what happened.
I turned to social media. First up was Facebook. I created a fan page and set up a small daily ad budget. To my shock, my fan base grew faster than I was prepared for. Fans not only responded favorably to our t-shirts but I inadvertently created a forum for all things Irish. We booked a few local Irish venues. I knew folks were getting my brand when I'd hear customers say, "Wow, I love these shirts. Finally, someone is doing something cool."
Facebook exploded. I went from a few hundred fans to thousands in a couple of months. I'd post daily. Fans responded to my humor and to my shirts. The most important thing I learned in the fledgling months was this: people respond to another person, not just an abstract business entity.
Our venues began to get bigger. Fans would seek me out to buy my latest t-shirt. I'd get email requests to vend at huge Irish events. Fans were purchasing shirts at our online Facebook store. It was snowballing.
I added a blog, 'There's T-shirts in the Jar-O', for fans to follow. I felt like I needed to give them a true, humorous take on what goes on behind the scenes at Bangers&Mash Tees. No boring business advice. The real stuff, like how I balance everything with five kids or bizarre things that have happened or how I've poorly handled some challenges. Things like that. I keep it real and I keep it funny. I'm very limited on time but I try to update the blog twice a month.
The Devil's in the Details
Managing the business side of Bangers&Mash Tees has been a challenge. My life moves too quickly to be tied to a desk. My office is my kitchen table or my car. All of my financials, emails and social media accounts are on my smartphone. If there isn't an app for it, it can't be part of my business plan. So I was thrilled when I found the Easy Books app. I've used it since the business began back in 2011. Easy Books has eliminated the need for a paid bookkeeper. I update my books minute-by-minute. It has truly been a life saver. I've generated financial reports sitting on a beach or waiting in the car to pick my kids up from school.
iPhone apps have saved me thousands of dollars. With a few apps, I can do the jobs that I would've hired out three years ago. I snap and edit all of my product and promo photos. I manage miles and trips. I run sales through my iPhone, including credit cards. I use Siri as a personal assistant. So with all of this fabulous technology, I'm still shocked when I talk to other start-ups who seem unable to get out of that old school business M.O. Everyone owns a smartphone but not all business owners are utilizing them to their full capacity. Their mouths literally drop open when I hold up my phone and say, "Here is my office."
Having outgrown our Facebook page months ago, I'm designing our first website. The launch has taken longer than anticipated because we are adding some last minute content applications which will allow fans to interact with our content rather than just read it and leave.
With Facebook analytics, I know that my audience is now worldwide. Next to the U.S., my biggest fan base is in Ireland and Britain. I now have the challenges of getting product to other countries, either through live venues or in retail.
I avoid giving advice because I don't like being around people who are free with advice. In fact, I've gone against the advice of most social media experts in how I post content. I go for quality over quantity. I post about challenges and misfortunes rather than sticking with success stories only. I post content that I would take time to read rather than sticking to the suggestions of social media 'experts', who are, in my opinion, mostly ridiculous. Social media is the lifeblood of my brand. No one knows my customers and fans like me, therefore the content posting shall remain with me.
The greatest compliment that I receive from fans is when they send me a message saying, "I have loved watching how you have created this business. It is so interesting. Press on."
Bangers&Mash Tees has only been around for 18 months. With our heads still spinning, we look forward to the next 18. Slainte!
Owner and Mad Creator of Bangers&Mash Tees
Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.