Over the past six months, I spent the better part of most weekends in a tent. Not the type of tent where you haul out into the woods and find a nice flat spot next to a lake. If you follow us on Instagram you know the tent I’m talking about. It’s a rather non-descript, white, 10ft x 10ft square, which folds nicely into a blue canvas bag. Hours and hours were spent in that tent telling the E.A.C. story and contemplating other life related things – stuff you only think about when you’re in a tent.
If you had asked me a year ago how you go about building a new business, participating in craft markets on various city sidewalks and parking lots would have placed low on the list. Turns out, these markets have been a driving force for us to connect with people and introduce the E.A.C. brand. Without that tent, I don’t know if our company would have made it through year one, let alone thrived.
So what was the summer like, and what do I remember most? Here’s a smattering of things that come to mind as I sit here in the middle of the night.
I never cared so much about the five-day forecast until my weekend selling effort depended on it. Literally, the weather outlook starting on Monday set the tone of my mood for the week. Real or not, it seemed the weather Monday thru Friday was consistently amazing, and the weekend always brought something crazy. Extreme wind, ridiculous heat, a crazy fog/rain cloud (never seen anything like that cloud), more wind, even got snowflakes one day at SOWA. A ‘normal’ sunny day on the weekend was almost unheard of. At least that’s my recollection.
We met so many! We talked to people from all over the country, including a bunch from amazing places like Austin, Nashville and Southern California. On the international front, we sold shirts to people visiting from Canada, Peru, China, Australia and England. We met the women’s soccer team from Alabama, the parents of an Italian pop star, the niece of one of our musical heroes, and more than one ‘traveler’ who told us they’d love to take our product and sell it cross-country! Follow-up emails never got returned. Don’t they have email on the road?
In general, it was interesting to watch consumer behavior – especially when it involves something you created. Some people will come in and buy without a second thought. BOOM…I want that! Others will try-on ten shirts and ultimately buy nothing. What happened? Some will talk to you for thirty minutes and then shake your hand and walk away. Others will seem pained to hear you explain the business – but then buy three shirts. It’s all very random.
We sure did get some interesting customer requests over the summer. You name it and we’ve probably been asked if we sell it. Belts, shorts, denim jackets, linen pants, custom ties, Free Tom Brady shirts, throw-back Bruins gear. We entertained questions regarding whether our shirts were made out of recycled material - nope, just regular cotton! There was one lady who was convinced the brims of our hats were not ‘regular’ size. Like seriously, she asked five times if our hat brims were abnormally small. Mini-brims!
Best customers? We seemed to get a lot of customers who enjoyed day drinking visiting our tent. Maybe that’s the vibe we give off and we attract our own kind. We had one guy, more than a few deep, demand that I use my BEST sales skills to sell him a shirt. That went on for twenty minutes. He ended up buying two, but then forgot his own shirt and shopping bag in our tent. Knowing only his first name and the name of a bar he worked at (a few states away), we mailed out his forgotten gear on Monday. How’s that for customer service.
We had a lot of women from Texas who seemingly were into our stuff. They typically would buy a minimum of three shirts. Hopefully it wasn’t just the liquid lunch behind the AMEX. Regardless thanks for buying! We LOVE Texas, go longhorns!!
Aside from building a track record of sales and meeting some really phenomenal supporters, there are a few other things to highlight. We became friends with a group of awesome vendors – artists and small businesses that have so much pride in what they are selling. Coming from the corporate world, it was refreshing to see and hear. There was an unexpected level of authenticity that surprised me.
We always had music playing in the tent, so the summer basically had a soundtrack of our favorite songs. I honestly think music was a vital component in our selling effort. It not only filled the quiet times, but helped reinforce the energy of the brand directly to the consumer. Unfortunately, we did spend a small fortune on batteries to keep the tunes going all summer.
As a tiny company we were lucky to have three great interns working with us – well most of the time. They brought a younger attitude and always made the day a bit more entertaining. Sometimes they would show up a ‘tired’ from the night before and didn’t necessarily have their best sales game on. Believe me, I’ve been there myself, so no worries. They hardly got paid, but still came with so much positive energy – that was cool.
There were always a lot of laughs in our tent. From customer interactions, to general observations, to various wagers, to random shit that just happened – ice cream explosions, a dog pissing on our table, customers who liked to barter (no joke we had a guy offer us $2 per shirt. He was 100% serious), making personalized crop tops with razor blades, etc. There was one girl who came back fifteen minutes after buying a hat because she wanted a ‘selfie’ with me. That cracked me up. Bottom Line: If you’re not having fun doing something like this you’re wasting your time – you gotta make it enjoyable!
I can’t say it was always rainbows and butterflies. There were plenty of times where I’d be like WTF this is brutal. Whether it was packing the jeep at 10pm on a Friday night, or setting up shop in a thirty knot gale force wind, you can’t underestimate how physically taxing (aka annoying) it can be to set-up/manage/break-down a t-shirt tent.
There were days when I literally folded and refolded what seemed like 1000 shirts. We had customers break our hanging racks – more than once. One just laughed and walked away. We saw other vendor tents actually blow over. Thank god that wasn’t us. During unexpected thunderstorms, we would huddle in the middle of the tent (with all our tables and racks pulled in tight next to us) as rain poured down. It was like being on a tiny island of misery in the middle of a hurricane.
The last outdoor market of the year actually brought snowflakes to close the day. It is a bit tough to sell t-shirts in a snowstorm. Just saying.
Coincidentally (or maybe not), that same day it snowed, I pulled the fully loaded jeep out of the market, thankful that I wouldn’t be setting-up a tent again for six months. I’m driving along, still half frozen, when a car pulls up at a light and motions for me to roll down the window. Here we go. ‘What’s up?’ I say somewhat curtly. The lady responds ‘your trunk is open and a bunch of stuff fell out back there’. I pull over, look back, and see three sandbags, a couple of boxes and about fifty clothes hangers scattered in middle of the road going back about ten blocks. Awesome.
All in all it was a great summer. We got the E.A.C. name out to a ton of people and the feedback we received was really something. We probably sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 1500 items. Not bad for a couple of guys and a handful of interns just getting started. Here’s to next year and hitting the sidewalk for another season.
Full disclosure – we’re actually thinking about getting two tents going for 2016. Expansion! Ole!
Life is Short. Play it Loud.