SOME FOLKS FALL into their businesses by accident, or perhaps they start printing in their garages and hope for the best. Chris Berger and Brian Welsh, co-founders of Rokkitwear, on the other hand, knew exactly what they wanted when they started their West Chester, Ohio-based company in 2012.
As he was running production at a nearby high-volume garment decorator, Berger began to notice that one of the markets they served had a lot of promise: high school spiritwear. He thought about the number of people who are willing to spend money to support a single student-athlete; he noticed how fragmented the market was for providing spiritwear nationally; he saw consumer buying behavior beginning to trend toward, above all else, convenience.
“We said, ‘Boy, this is a gold mine,’” Berger explains. “‘Let’s go and build a company around it.’ So that’s what we did.”
They knew exactly how they wanted it done, too. They set up a business model based around on-demand fulfillment that would allow schools to simply send over their brand assets and start raising money.
Here’s how it works: The school (or coach, athletic director, booster parent, etc.) shares their brand marks, mascots, and colors with the company. Rokkitwear designs a custom online shop with roughly 350 products available using the school’s brand, and gives the school a link. The school promotes the link and receives 15 percent of the sales. And that’s that: no peddling paper order forms or handling envelopes of cash or dealing with an inventory surplus at the end of the season.Advertisement
From day one, the key was to put the technology in place to back up the business model with a high standard of quality – both online and off. That meant a number of big investments, including an entirely custom-built platform.
“It was an expensive undertaking,” says Berger, but it wasn’t for nothing. Rokkitwear’s entire e-commerce operation was built “from the ground up,” without plug-ins or third-party applications. The customer interface is powered by an impressive design engine that converts high-resolution photography of blank apparel into the image of a thoughtfully branded product on the fly. “If you have a red shirt,” Berger continues, “and the school colors are black, red, and gray, our designs will change so that they’re suited for the color of the garment that they’re going on.”
Berger and Welsh didn’t settle for quick-and-easy when it came to investing in print technology, either. “Everybody told us, ‘You gotta stick with cotton,’” Berger says. “And we said, ‘No. We know polyester is going to be integral to our offerings.’” The company invested in a Kornit Thunder direct-to-garment printer and an Adelco Jet Force dryer (and recently installed a new Kornit Breeze and an Adelco Digi-Cure), but the work didn’t stop there. Anyone who’s worked in DTG knows that printing on polyester is no easy feat; Rokkitwear developed its own “gee-whiz technology” – as Berger puts it – and dedicated some serious time to product testing before he was satisfied with their polyester prints. “We tested all our products ad nauseum to figure out exactly how we needed to run each one of those garments,” Berger adds. “It’s not just a matter of, ‘OK, I got my image. I’m going to throw it on a shirt and dry it.’”
Choosing the right garment is integral when printing on polyester, too, and Berger had his suppliers in mind from the get-go. Rokkitwear is located in West Chester for a reason: It’s just a few miles from one of Sanmar’s largest distribution facilities, meaning product can be delivered and ready to print in as little as two hours. They’re also a one-day shipment away from Augusta and Holloway.
Berger says the variety of their products is one thing that’s contributed to Rokkitwear’s steady growth over the past six years. They offer 350 products in every store, and their online model allows them to keep up with fashion trends as fast as they occur. Suppliers have been more and more in touch with retail trends, he adds, and as soon as a new product is released, Rokkitwear can have it in their stores within an hour.
And how does the shop manage the seemingly chaotic workflow of countless colors, textures, styles, and graphics coming in the door, through production, and back out? It’s all about the good old-fashioned order form. “Everything is very visual,” Berger says. Everything is matched with the physical order form as soon as the blank product is delivered. Having well-trained staff is critical, too, he adds: “We introduce new products all the time, so they have to be very well-versed.”Advertisement
Rokkitwear recently changed its tagline to “Your Brand. Your Store. Your Money.” Of course, there are always challenges in getting customers to buy into a new business model, but, as Berger puts it, “It’s not by accident that Amazon continues to grow and grow.” So when it comes to getting schools to adopt a platform that basically does the work for them, it seems like a sell that will only get easier.
Watch the 2020 Rising Stars Awards
Congratulations to the six winners of the third annual Rising Stars Awards. Watch the recording of the live virtual awards ceremony from January 28, 2020. The recipients – all of whom are age 35 or younger – were chosen based on their professional accomplishments, fresh thinking, contributions toward industry advancement, commitment to excellence, and a strong impact on their organizations.
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