I Make $312K/12 months Promoting T-Shirts For Nerds

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Hi there! Who’re you, and what enterprise did you begin?

I’m David Inman, founding father of NerdKungFu.com. We’re a nerdy t-shirt website specializing in formally licensed t-shirts, posters, and items for nerds and lovers of particular genres. Motion pictures, TV Reveals, Video Video games, Comedian Books, and the rest a passionate nerd would possibly like, we stock! My staff and I can speak the speak as we’re all tremendous nerds ourselves, keen about our nerdy loves (I’m a Trek man myself), and wanting to point out them to the world.

After I began the location in 2010 we had 100 t-shirts on a shelf at the back of my workplace. Immediately we now have 165,000 merchandise in sizes starting from toddler 6 months as much as 7 XL (we promote numerous plus-sized shirts) in addition to hoodies, tank tops, lengthy sleeves, and v necks. Now we have a wonderful number of posters and present gadgets as nicely.

Right here’s a pic. I’m the man on the fitting.


What’s your backstory and the way did you give you the thought?

It’s form of a bizarre story. I had been working as a gross sales consultant within the licensed t-shirt world for years promoting these merchandise to most brick and mortar outlets with a few on-line retailers. I used to be working as a sub-rep for a gross sales company and got here to seek out that the company and its head rep had been withholding commissions owed to me. I spent weeks going via outdated buy orders and fee studies and was staggered to be taught that the quantity owed to me was near $150,000.

I used to be pressured to take the company to courtroom and the very first thing they did was fireplace me. Impulsively I had tons of free time and direct contacts with all of the best-licensed t-shirt producers within the nation and nothing else. I used to be having lunch with a good friend and mentioned the thought of taking shirts to comedian conventions and the like and he urged a web site. It was like a lightbulb in my mind and 20 minutes later we had been on GoDaddy and located the URL NerdKungFu.com (impressed by my nerdom and my childhood love of outdated Wu Tang and Shaw Brothers model kung fu theater).

Thankfully, I had appreciable financial savings and a few smaller rep jobs that stored me from ravenous nevertheless it was fairly a leap of religion to leap into this, and to justify it I began working 10-12 hours on the location. After I began I knew completely nothing about website constructing, search engine optimization, PPC, or e-commerce. I had appreciable expertise in conventional retail retailer administration however needed to be taught every part from scratch. Painful (the time period “studying issues the exhausting approach” may be readily utilized to this era) however every part I realized I realized.

As a rule, I search for merchandise that I or somebody like me however who has different pursuits want to put on (in different phrases if I had been an enormous Supernatural relatively than Star Trek fan what would I like). Typically, I’ve a very good feeling for my prospects. Lately the overwhelming majority of our gross sales are ship-based so we don’t should commit numerous {dollars} to stock. I have a tendency to attend to see what shirts promote nicely on a drop transport foundation and if they appear to justify the expense then deliver them into dwell stock.

Some classes like posters we stock all right here and I’ve used my greatest judgment as to what is going to promote however in spite of everything this time I’ve a good suggestion of what the American gestalt consciousness is searching for and am not often actually fallacious. I’ve additionally realized that there’s a physique for each t-shirt and they’re going to all promote finally.

Take us via the method of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

We don’t do numerous our merchandise however relatively merchandise from licensed distributors. Simply to get the rights to pay most licensors a royalty requires a number of thousand {dollars} upfront and if you wish to sit at a desk with Disney you had higher have $100K simply to get the dialogue going.

As an entrepreneur, it’s a must to have a big-picture aim!

That stated our first number of merchandise was merchandise I knew from my time promoting them as a gross sales consultant had been good sellers. I’ve since then realized the advantage of “lengthy tail” advertising and marketing and nowadays we do very nicely with what most greater shops would take into account outlier licenses since we don’t should compete with the larger shops. There’s nothing fallacious with promoting good Star Wars shirts and we do very nicely with them however we additionally do freakishly nicely with licenses just like the Unhealthy Information Bears or Buckaroo Banzai.

Most of our dropship shirts are printed utilizing a direct to garment (DTG) course of. This can be a large inkjet printer that works on t-shirts, albeit with true plastisol ink that appears to the layperson equivalent to a conventional display print. The know-how has improved dramatically over the past three years and nowadays solely a real t-shirt professional (comparable to myself) would be capable of inform the distinction between DTG and display.

All our shirts are licensed and royalties paid by the printers and as official retailers for these printers, we get what’s referred to as an prolonged license, granting us the fitting to promote the merchandise at retail. One of many frequent questions we get is that if we are able to have a shirt made in a special colour or with Darth Vader high-fiving Mr. Spock or one thing. As all the photographs should be authorized by the licensor for even the substrate (t-shirt) colour that is almost unimaginable and there’s no approach Disney and CBS would approve a blended license like that even when we needed to pay the large upfront charges. It’s a weird course of however if you happen to don’t adhere to the principles you’ll begin getting Stop and Desist letters fairly shortly (relying on how actively the licensors implement their mental property. Nobody ever messes with Disney).

One of many weirdest processes early on was determining the packaging. T-shirts are fairly straightforward. Virtually all shirt resellers use white mylar self-sealing baggage. Our printers deal with most of them and that’s what we use for our shirts as nicely (though within the curiosity of slicing down on waste plastic we stock a number of sizes and ensure we’re utilizing the smallest bundle doable). Nevertheless, issues like posters and occasional mugs had a brutal studying curve till we discovered how greatest to ship them. The poster, particularly, was an actual ache as we discovered tube mailers virtually all the time get crushed. Ultimately, we discovered (or relatively copied one other poster vendor) a triangular mailer that has 20 occasions the rigidity. It’s odd the odd stuff you be taught as you develop a retailer like this.

Describe the method of launching the enterprise.

Earlier than the method can start it’s a must to have all of your geese in a row. Be sure you have both a prepared pot of capital or (as I did) a day job that retains you fed and clothed. Thankfully, I had an incredible day job that paid nicely and didn’t require numerous my bandwidth.

At that time, I made a listing of the issues I wanted to do and put them into two teams. Group A was all of the gadgets I knew I used to be able to both doing or studying. This was sourcing, product choice, content material writing, warehousing, and transport. Group B was all of the gadgets that had been past my ability set. Web site design, graphic arts, search engine optimization and advertising and marketing, and product add. For these, I needed to discover individuals. Lately it’s straightforward and every time we want some coding we go to UpWork or Fiverr and discover a good one comparatively low-cost however again then it was crowdsourcing all the way in which. I discovered a website builder who labored for one among my prospects and was searching for some freelance work, a graphic artist who was the daughter of my outdated buddies, and an search engine optimization man who was the husband of one other good friend.

Satirically if I had been to compile that record right this moment, this stuff can be utterly transposed. I do know sufficient about website design to not less than higher handle somebody, have turn out to be fairly adept at Photoshop, and take into account myself an professional at search engine optimization and on-line advertising and marketing. Writing, warehouse and transport, and even numerous sourcing and product choice will not be a very good use of my time and I’ve individuals to do this for us. As a rule, nonetheless, I ensure I’m succesful or not less than educated about any a part of my enterprise.

I paid for many of the growth out of my financial savings however in reality, the price of items far outstripped the location growth and with no storefront or warehouse (I began with two cabinets at the back of my workplace at house) the bills weren’t outrageous. There’s a factor referred to as product density that makes some merchandise a lot simpler to handle than others ({dollars} per sq. foot) and t-shirts do OK.

I knew on the time that nerdy t-shirts would promote and as a nerd, I discovered websites that lacked that authenticity irritating. I deliberate to “preserve it actual” within the nerd world and cater to the followers on the market.

Crucial factor I realized from this course of is to remain out of the center. As an entrepreneur, it’s a must to have a giant image aim (construct a kick-ass web site that sells nerdy t-shirts to nerds worldwide), and every single day you could have issues that want doing but when in 2009 I had recognized or thought-about how a lot work can be required I by no means would have began. As an alternative, I centered on the quick activity at hand. It’s like making an attempt to eat a 10-pound rock. There is no such thing as a approach you may swallow it entire and can in all probability kill your self making an attempt however if you happen to take a hammer and break it down into sand combine it right into a milkshake every single day finally you’ll grind via it (haw!).

The opposite cool factor about breaking a boulder into smaller bits is items and particles will fly off or land on the bottom and be misplaced, thus decreasing the quantity it’s a must to eat. Possibly that website developer you employed can be an incredible graphic artist and prepared to throw in some fundamental be just right for you with the location, or the content material author you discovered on Fiverr can be an search engine optimization professional. In the event you work on the small stuff whereas retaining the massive image in thoughts you will see every kind of fortuitous synchronicities.

However by no means, ever have a look at the center image or you’ll get slowed down and should eat an enormous boulder.

Since launch, what has labored to draw and retain prospects?

For essentially the most half, we discover buyer retention is greatest served by working to construct an precise relationship with every buyer. Everybody says that however not often does loads to make it occur however we do as a lot as I’ve ever seen anybody else do. As a rule, we deal with our prospects the way in which we might need to be handled and that’s as human beings, not a quantity. Every order will get a customized thanks be aware (positive it’s a reduce and paste letter however we all the time point out one thing in regards to the order and tackle them by title) that additionally invitations the shopper to observe us on social media in addition to be part of our associates program. Now we have a toll-free quantity that’s answered by a human throughout enterprise hours, and any concern delivered to us is addressed quickly and with buyer satisfaction in thoughts.

Weekly newsletters are our rote nowadays. We used to do them month-to-month or each two weeks however appear to be getting the most effective response from this. It’s additionally good and low-cost.

Nevertheless, we now have discovered the easiest way to retain prospects is to seek out prospects that need to be retained. We used to spend a wholesome sum of cash each month on PPC (Pay Per Click on) with Google AdWords however discovered these prospects had been the definition of churn. They discover the shirt they need at the most effective worth, are available, purchase that one shirt, then bounce. Subsequent time they want a shirt they simply Google it once more so you may pay the PPC price to promote one other single shirt. This technique works nice in case you are promoting costly gadgets with a excessive margin (or not less than a excessive greenback margin) however by way of buyer retention, it’s the worst.

Now we have discovered that prospects who discover us via natural search, one among our posted blogs, or one among our associates are the most effective for retention. Clients who are available that approach are likely to spend extra time on-site and order extra shirts, then return two months later for an excellent greater order. Our AOV (Common Order Worth) has been climbing yearly since we dropped PPC.

After all, this all relies on your product and buyer sort. A trendier product would in all probability do nicely on Social Media whereas a much bigger ticket merchandise like a automotive or pc would do nicely with PPC. You must attempt every part and see what works.

We did do Amazon for some time however opted out after we realized what a ache working with Amazon and their prospects may be. Amazon has very stringent guidelines for 3P sellers and over time our enterprise has shifted to extra drop ship than held stock so we had been consistently getting popped for late shipments that had been fully out of our management. In the meantime, whereas there are numerous nice prospects on Amazon the calls for that the unhealthy ones have gone past the pale. It appears ironic to me that individuals on a website recognized for the bottom costs appear to suppose their packages ought to be airlifted to them by way of a golden helicopter however there it’s.

After all, whereas that is occurring there are about 100 international Amazon sellers who will instantly begin copying no matter your greatest product is and promoting it cheaper so have enjoyable getting on Model Registry and making an attempt to close them down. Ultimately, Amazon will make their variations of your best-selling merchandise, label them Amazon’s Alternative, and never even maintain the door for you as you permit with your online business in shreds.

If you wish to hitch your wagon to the Amazon horse that’s your name to make however it’s a must to be very cautious or that horse will sooner or later flip round, beat you up, and steal your lunch cash.

One last item to think about when making the decision to leap on board with Amazon is in case you are a brand new firm and wish to seek out distributors to provide you they’re NOT in any respect keen to enroll yet one more Amazon supplier. After I begin speaking to a potential new vendor they act like I’m making an attempt to schedule an appointment to return over and punch them within the face however once I inform them we’re a stand-alone website and never on Amazon that punches turns right into a rainbow of puppies and kittens. It’s tougher to get opened up nowadays than you suppose and the stink of Amazon will harm.

How are you doing right this moment and what does the long run appear to be?

We are literally on a downbeat proper now as a result of some points associated to Google and our search engine optimization. Nevertheless, we’re within the strategy of a technical repair and have launched an intensive search engine optimization and content material writing marketing campaign. Gross sales are nonetheless stable sufficient to maintain us shifting ahead and we forecast a really stable to the nice Vacation season. We’re down about 8% in orders however virtually useless even with our greenback quantity YTD and anticipate development by the tip of the 12 months.

Profitability is first rate. As we promote licensed shirts we don’t have the large margins most t-shirt producers take pleasure in however we’re within the 12-15% web on the finish of the month.

Apart from some conventions comparable to San Diego Comedian Con (see us there in 2022!) our gross sales are completely via our stand-alone web site. We did a complete website rebuild originally of 2020 and are one other originally of 2022 with an emphasis on our cellular template.

Lately we preserve a really small warehouse in Oakland CA with three workers (myself and two customer support/warehouse shippers). This solely accounts for about 7% of our quantity. The remaining is completed via our dropshipping companions so the vast majority of our workers are order processing and customer support of us with a couple of content material writers thrown in. Now we have workers in Ohio, Maryland, Germany, and the Philippines. We additionally outsource a number of search engine optimization and different advertising and marketing duties to SAAS and repair companions.

We’re including new merchandise each week however are at present engaged on creating some sibling websites to cowl among the extra area of interest areas we don’t do nicely with at present. We’re additionally investing in our printing capabilities and are the potential of signing our licenses and promoting licensed shirts wholesale.

By beginning the enterprise, have you ever realized something notably useful or advantageous?

Effectively, these two guidelines I already talked about are fairly essential. By no means have a look at the center image and be taught each job. I nonetheless spend a few hours every week within the warehouse selecting and packing orders simply to maintain my finger on the heartbeat.

In all probability the largest factor I’ve realized and the largest mistake I made prior to now is if you go to work go away your ego at house. There’s nothing you may say about my enterprise that pertains to me as an individual and that provides me the readability to see all the problems my enterprise faces for what they’re. In the event you co-mingle your ego with your online business you will see your self fixating on that one destructive evaluate or the seller that retains screwing up your orders and tunnel imaginative and prescient your self into the aspect of a cliff. As essential as my enterprise is to me on the finish of the day I remind myself that they’re simply t-shirts.

The opposite factor to remember when choosing what to do for your online business is do not select one thing you like. It’s OK to like your online business and you may fall in love together with your merchandise however in case you are an professional in chocolate and like it to the purpose the place simply the scent of chocolate provides you pleasure and also you begin a chocolate enterprise the day will come if you simply aren’t within the temper for chocolate however should take care of it anyway and that’s the day your love dies and turns into a job. I’ve all the time loved t-shirts and carrying them however they don’t seem to be my private life. The issues I like I save for me.

What platform/instruments do you employ for your online business?

We use numerous instruments.

  • Our retailer is constructed on Huge Commerce (really two of our new shops are constructed on Shopify and
  • Up to now, we now have used Volusion. FYI all of them suck in several methods).
  • We used to make use of an organization referred to as Gross sales and Orders Adverts for our PPC administration.
  • We use a SAAS referred to as Signifyd that does a fraud verification test on our bank card orders.
  • Authorize.web, PayPal, and Amazon Pay for transactions.
  • We deal with our associates via Refersion.
  • And our critiques via Opinions.io.
  • MailChimp for our electronic mail blasts.
  • Now we have a brand new on-site search device referred to as Velou that could be very cool and thrilling.
  • Dropship.com helps with about 30% of our dropshipping.
  • Zonos is a service we use for abroad orders (they deal with VAT and Tariffs).
  • We do numerous search engine optimization work on MOZ though I’m contemplating leaping over to SEMRush.
  • Most of our outdoors work we get on Fiverr or UpWork.
  • And all of our writers no matter how nicely they declare to know English use Grammarly.

What have been essentially the most influential books, podcasts, or different sources?

I hearken to too many alternative podcasts and YouTube movies to record right here. There are two books that I take into account crucial to my course of. One is tremendous pretentious: Solar Tzu the Artwork of Struggle. I just like the Thomas Cleary translation. I do know however actually, if you happen to learn and take into consideration every passage you can be shocked on the insights you may glean.

The opposite one is bizarre and nobody has ever heard of it: Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Everybody instantly thinks of the actually unhealthy household comedy with Steve Martin however in reality, it’s much less about the truth that Frank Gilbreth Sr. had 12 youngsters and extra about him personally. You see he is named the daddy of contemporary effectivity and the way in which his youngsters break down his course of for making issues sooner and simpler is good. I take into consideration that ebook each time I begin a brand new course of and even use an current course of. Effectively price your time.

Recommendation for different entrepreneurs who need to get began or are simply beginning out?

Cling powerful. Everybody I meet is all the time impressed about operating my very own enterprise and all the time says “Oh, I want I might do one thing like that”. The actual fact is the one factor stopping them is their worry. If being an entrepreneur was straightforward everybody would do it nevertheless it takes a sure character to have the ability to do it. In the event you like having an everyday paycheck and never taking dangers together with your livelihood this isn’t for you.

That stated, ensure you have meals and a roof over your head. Entrepreneurship will not be a factor that occurs in a couple of weeks. Be prepared for the lengthy highway. It could actually simply be months if not years earlier than you hit that magic break-even level and for lots of latest companies, it by no means occurs. After all, in case you are the fitting character for entrepreneurship and your first enterprise fails simply attempt once more.

Lastly, all the time be able to pivot. The shirts I believed I might be promoting once I first began are nothing like what we promote every single day right this moment. Let buyer demand dictate your route, not some thought locked into your head primarily based on an article you learn in Quick Firm or the Wall Road Journal. A brand new firm grows organically and if you happen to prune off a department that may overtake the remainder of your plant you possibly can stunt the expansion.

Are you seeking to rent for sure positions proper now?

We’re contemplating a social media place. The one space we now have all the time failed in is social media and that’s in all probability as a result of my lack of curiosity and disdain for it. This is able to be an outdoor contract gig but when the outcomes are good it might result in extra.

The place can we go to be taught extra?

If in case you have any questions or feedback, drop a remark under!


Dave Inman
Founding father of NerdKungFu.com

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