How many of us have girlfriends who spend over 40 hours stitching up canvases and over $300 having them made into belt, well now you know of one story, This marked the beginning of two roommates Peter Smathers and Austin Branson starting up a business that will focus on how they could make needlepoint belts at lower prices and of the highest quality.
I caught up with Peter and Austin to get some details on how it all began.
Enjoy the interview and let me know your thoughts.
Hi Guys, Welcome to YHP
Can you give us some detail about your company and what roles you both perform?
We both do a little of everything. Austin heads up and oversees all the design work and ordering for our company. Peter focuses on operation, sales, and product development.
How did you come up with the idea?
We both dated girls in college who made us needlepoint belts as gifts. We thought they were great products, but extremely expensive and time consuming gifts to make for someone. The girls (one of whom is Austin’s wife now) each spent over 40 hours stitching the canvases and over $300 having them made into belt. We were convinced if we could set up production to produce these belts at a lower price and the highest quality then we’d have a unique product to build a brand around.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
Peter grew up in Maine, graduated from Deerfield Academy in 2000 and Bowdoin College in 2004.
Austin grew up in Washington, DC, graduated from Saint Albans Academy in 200 and Bowdoin College in 2004.
How did you finance your business?
Summer earnings and cheap rent (thanks Mr. and Mrs. Branson). After graduating from school we moved in with Austin’s parents to keep overhead low. We put all of our savings into getting the company off the ground. We used things such as airline miles and credit card points to get to Vietnam to set up our production. Our initial investment was pretty small and it has been the best investment we’ve ever made. We were and continue to be very frugal with how we spend our money—stretching a budget can produce great creativity.
What is an average workday like for you guys?
Every day is different and that is what is exciting about our company. It really keeps you on your toes. Right now, we are in the middle of our wholesale show season, so we are travelling a lot and meeting with existing accounts and hopefully open new ones.
How has your market changed in the past few years? How has your business changed to keep pace?
We’ve been continuing to grow during this difficult economy, but our market continues to be bigger than we ever expected. We’ve had to hire more people and expand our production and product offerings to keep pace.
How have sales grown in the last few years?
Sales have continued to grow over the past few years. The growth hasn’t stopped, but definitely slowed down during the crisis in 2009.
How do you market your products or services?
We sell to some of the best speciality shops and golf clubs in the USA, as well as off of our website.
What has been your most effective marketing tactic or technique?
We offer the best quality products on the market and have the customer service to match. Sticking to this simple fundamental principle has helped us grow a loyal customer base. Also, we are all about grassroots growth—it has built a great buzz and foundation for our brand.
What’s your definition of success, and do you believe you’ve achieved it yet?
Success is something that is very difficult for me to define—I think I will always be chasing it no matter what happens in our business. We’ve had some success with our business early on, but success can leave you much faster than you can obtain it—so we never get too comfortable.
Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
Patagonia, Peter Millar
Would you say college is the perfect place/time to start a business?
If the idea is right, now is the perfect time to start a business. College can be a great time because odds are you don’t have a mortgage, spouse, children, or other responsibilities that might make starting a business difficult. Plus, you have so many resources at your finger tips.
What pointers would you give to fellow Entrepreneurial College students on juggling school and business?
Take advantage of the resources available your school—both the research facilities and faculty. The President of our college was supportive of our idea and arranged meetings for us with some industry leaders.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learnt from them?
We have definitely had our fair share of failures, but all of the problems we’ve had in our business have helped us improve or have led us to something better. Pay attention to your failures because you can often learn more from them than you can from your victories.
What is the most exciting and interesting thing you like about your business?
Watching the company grow and seeing first hand what we can accomplish with the great team that we now have in place.
Any plans for the future?
We will be creating some new features for our website, and adding new products.
What advice would you give to aspiring and young entrepreneurs?
If you plan to start your business with a partner, choose them carefully. Even if they are your best friend, make sure you structure the dissolution of your business before you get going. We have been incredibly lucky in our business partnership, but we have also seen our fair share of partnerships sour quickly.
Thanks so much for your time guys.