We recently sat down with Kevin Stecko from 80sTees on why his t-shirts are totally awesome, how he deals with fierce competition in nostalgia t-shirts, and how he grows his business.
Tell us about your business! What do you sell and what inspired you to start your business?
We sell retro Officially Licensed pop culture t-shirts. It’s awesome because every t-shirt theme we carry is someone’s great memory or favorite movie or video game.
In 1999, I wore a He-Man t-shirt to an amusement park in Pittsburgh and 6 different people came up to me and asked where I got it. It was then that I realized that there were other weird people like me that would wear a t-shirt from their favorite toy/cartoon/tv show/movie.
My first sale was a different He-Man t-shirt I listed on Ebay and it sold for $32!
How do you go about marketing your business?
These days, it’s primarily search and social networks, both organic and paid.
What types of offers work best for you?
Generally, we don’t have fancy offers.The most important thing for us to get a sale is putting the right design in front of the right person. Everyone has different interests, so our goal is always to make the most relevant offer to our potential buyers.
When we do offers, we do a mix, including percentage and straight dollar offers as well as buy X get Y type offers.
What else besides Privy is in your tech stack? Why did you choose those?
We use Shopify and a back end order management system called Ordermotion.
We also have some home grown apps that we have built and continue to build upon.The goal is to have the entire back end of our business running exclusively on our home-grown application because the more we take away from off-the-shelf software, the less man hours we need to run the business.
We use ReCart in conjunction with Privy and I really like that combo.
What are some of your biggest business or marketing challenges?
The competition in the t-shirt game is immense, and since we respect intellectual property rights, that puts us at a disadvantage versus the print on-demand sites and even Amazon, who has a huge Chinese counterfeit issue right now. So even though our operations, marketing department, and merchandise selection is superior, it can be a challenge to stand out.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs or small businesses?
My advice would be to stay lean. If you are at a place where you need to add more employees and lease additional space to handle your growth, strongly consider raising your prices to slow the growth before you expand your costs.
It is very difficult to unwind leases and shrink your employment base, and it’s also very difficult to cross the chasm from a $1M company to a $3M company. Once you get higher than $3M, you’ve got big business-style problems, but you don’t have scale or enough revenue to properly scale your systems.
You’ll need managers for employees as you grow. The cost to run a $5M company might be three times the cost to run a company half the size, which will decrease your profit margin. You’ll start to work harder and get less output.
The TLDR version: Strongly consider being a smaller but higher margin business than a larger but lower margin business.