Summer Entrepreneurial Experiences

Author Archive

The Final Week

Wednesday, August 7, 2013 7:03 pm

As I write my last blog post and look back at my summer internship, I am very pleased with how everything turned out. To preface things, in mid-April I learned my summer job with an asset management firm fell through last second, leaving me annoyed, confused and somewhat scared for what I would be doing once school ended. Lucky for me, it was a blessing in disguise, and after being referred to Kevin and Allen by a mutual friend, I made a good enough impression for them to invite me to work with them on their startup company. Since then I have been in charge of essentially running the business during the day, as my two bosses have other full-time jobs in Winston Salem. Tasked to grow the company (since when I arrived we did not even have a fully completed product), we now have over 15 accounts with an assortment of different types of stores. From high end men’s apparel stores that specialize in suits, to old-timey general stores and even salons, we have penetrated various markets and are very excited for the future.

Last weekend we attended the Southern Men’s Clothing Show, where over 400 different vendors come to showcase their products to potential buyers. These buyers, representing all kinds of stores all around the South, walk around all weekend looking at these exhibitors, like us, to see if what they have to offer is something they would like to include in their store. This trade show is based on setting up meetings prior to arriving, though we went into it with only one set up. We were nervous it would be a bust, but luckily our cologne was a bigger hit than we anticipated, and we were able to create a lot of new accounts. People would walk in through the weekend and exclaim, “Is this the place with the cologne everyone has been talking about!?” By Monday night as I was packing everything up and heading home back to Winston, I had an air of confidence which had been given to me by the results of the weekend. Right now, I am very optimistic about the future of this startup, and I plan to continue working part time for them as I begin my senior year here at Wake.

I would never have thought this at the beginning of the summer, but the company has become a part of me, and I feel both obligated and excited to continue helping it grow. The things I have learned over the course of the past few months are not taught in classrooms by teachers, but from experiences by the real world. Becoming a successful entrepreneur takes a lot of courage, brains, confidence and motivation, which I cannot say I have today, but I do believe I learned much about all four. I am excited for the future and grateful for the past, and although I do not know where the world will take me this semester, year and eventually career, I am pleased to have had this time with Fulton & Roark.

 

A New Step Forward

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 4:08 pm

Last week was very exciting for me to be a part of the Fulton & Roark team. Not only did we receive some really great news, but we were able to successfully ship out our first bulk order to Mast General Store. These chains of stores are in three states and with eight locations in all, this marks a big step for our company. This order has increased the amount of shops we are in by 300%, and has largely expanded the territory we sell around. I am just as eager to hear how our product does in the stores, and when or if we need to ship them out a resupply.

What is equally as exciting is the upcoming Charlotte Men’s show where clothing stores from around the South all gather to pitch their new products, but more importantly, they come to buy new items and accessories for their stores. This is where we come in, being a small startup company, we are very enthusiastic at the notion that we will hopefully be able to sell ourselves into many of these clothing stores that are coming. Plans are underway this week in preparation for the show, including setting up all the necessary tables, posters and merchandise we will bring with us. Further, since our production process is so slow and we need as much of our product as possible for this weekend to give away as samples, I will be very busy making as many units as possible.

I am looking forward to see how we do this weekend and whether trade shows like these are worthwhile for companies such as ours. If it is, we expect demand to greatly increase which means we are currently looking into fulfillment centers around the Winston-Salem area to help us package and ship out product in a more efficient fashion. Although that will relieve some of the pains of having to ship for ourselves, we will still need to make the cologne by hand before we hand it over to the shipping agency, which is even more time consuming and labor intensive.

Finally, last week I emailed some online magazine editors in hopes that they could do a piece on us and our cologne. Fortunately, I have received two responses, and one of them, the head writer for A Continuous Lean (which is a men’s fashion blog), was very intrigued by what we had to offer. He plans on writing an article on us, and even went as far as to say we could be featured in GQ! At the time when I emailed him I didn’t realize he also works for this famous men’s fashion magazine, but now after hearing this, my bosses and I are beyond ecstatic. We are frantically putting together an e-commerce portion of our website so we can sell our cologne online in order to keep up with demand if we are fortunate enough to be featured in GQ. Wish us luck!

-Dave

 

The Entrepreneurial Experience

Monday, July 22, 2013 8:12 pm

After having been thrown into this company and tasked with essentially running the organization this summer, I have so far learned a lot of different things about entrepreneurship. Going from knowing nothing about Fulton & Roark, to becoming the person in charge of marketing, sales, and operations has taught me plenty, not only about the company, but how a startup must act in order to survive.

The importance of getting your product recognized early on key to staying afloat. This may sound obvious, however I have realized that not everyone thinks this way. For example, my boss was disappointed earlier in the summer because a certain store was not selling as much of our product as he hoped they would. In my mind, I was very pleased with the store because it is one more place selling our product than before, and even though sales might not be as expected, the very fact that we are being sold by the store is what is important (in my mind at least). From that one store, we may become recognized by a variety of different customers or buyers, and I believe that is more important than the amount of units sold. Of course later on in the game, when we have expanded much further than our current situation, units sold becomes extremely important, however in the meantime with such a small startup like ourselves, I am satisfied and in good spirits whenever I hear of another store picking us up, whether they buy just one, or a thousand, my response will be the same. This all has to do with brand recognition, which for us is only the beginning of hopefully a long and fruitful company lifespan.

I have learned that as an entrepreneur, I enjoy the challenges of starting with nothing and having to make something out of it. It does not get any simpler than that in my opinion, and I like the idea that every decision could potentially be a make or break action. It is cool to know that there is no one else to baby you and help you along the way, and that by being left alone you are expected to succeed or else your world will all come crashing down. Essentially, there is no room for failure, and I like the pressure that that puts on me. I have also come to realize that I feel comfortable cold selling, meaning talking and trying to sell our product to someone or some store I have never met before. It is exciting because there is so much potential if things go well, but if things turn out sour, there is always the next person.

All in all, I enjoy being an entrepreneur, especially the feeling that comes when you realize something you did has just paid off!

 

Growing Pains

Tuesday, July 16, 2013 3:01 pm

As a startup company, the biggest problems that we have faced so far is branding, and becoming recognized. We are still early on in the process to get our product into stores, so the main push is to speak with as many retailers as possible in hopes that some of them will put us in their shop. So far things have just started to pick up, and since last week, we have added 3 stores to our list, with another on the way. This is the most exciting time of the summer because it is clear things are beginning to move faster and there is less idle time.

To help out with brand recognition, we first began giving out our product for free to a lot of retailers so they could see for themselves who we are as a company, with the hopes that they would then buy more of it. This has begun to work, though it is still early on in the process. There is nothing better than to hear a company contact me back describing how much they enjoyed the product samples and would love to put it in their stores. Moments like these give me confidence that I am working for a good company that has a great idea for a product, and I know that this is just the beginning.

Fulton & Roark is clearly in the growing stages of its company, so by the end of the summer there will be a vast improvement to their position that what is was at during mid-June. I can already tell of a big difference and all of us here are very excited for what the future holds!

As I keep reiterating, we are a startup. Therefore we handle and go about things much differently than how a well-established company would. This same principle goes for who we compete against. We consider ourselves a full-fledged grooming company, rather than just one that sells cologne, so we like to think our biggest competitors are those that sell a wide range of men’s grooming products. Such brands include Keihls, Ursa Major, Jack Black and Prospector Co. But since we are not well established, we are now just competing for shelf space and the chance to make ourselves known in this industry. I feel this will improve as we gain brand recognition.

 

The Environment

Tuesday, July 9, 2013 7:49 pm

I feel the culture at Fulton & Roark has the perfect combination of a relaxed, yet motived feel. My two bosses, being the only other people in this organization, share a similar mindset with myself, which is work hard, play hard. They enjoy having fun, and during the workday it is no surprise if I find myself laughing while performing the task at hand. I think this is a great environment for success because it is not too strict, which can lead to stress and an overall worse quality of output. Instead, the balance of seriousness and dedication to the company, combined with a comfortable and enjoyable feel, allows me to work during the day with a positive attitude and have fun with what I am doing.

My Organizational Behavior class I took last semester taught me that job performance and job satisfaction are directly related to one another, and I feel that each side benefits from the other as I work here at Fulton & Roark. I am calm, content, and focused as I carry out whatever task it is I am doing, which leads me to feel more fulfilled and satisfied at the day’s end, leading to an increase in my job satisfaction, which then translates to a better outcome the next day, otherwise known as my job performance. The same is true if reversed, and as I work harder, I feel better about myself and my internship. Overall I am quite happy with the culture of this company and I would hope that any future employer I work for will have a similar view on the matter, however I understand that different industries have different set standards of how they feel an organization should be run.

I have been working here long enough to have built up a strong level of trust with Kevin and Allen, and therefore they have begun to let me carry out many daily decisions without the need of their approval. Nevertheless, I do feel sometimes it is necessary to check with them if I am unsure of where to go next, and by asking them for help, I not only hear their feedback, but I gain knowledge for what to do if a similar situation arises in the future. I feel the decision process at this start-up is related to the relaxed work environment, meaning they are not trying to micromanage everything I do which could lead to fatigue and stress, but rather they trust I am making the correct decisions. This leads me to feel more confident in my decision making, which I feel also helps me make the best choices, allowing the company to always be progressing. I think there is an unspoken, yet understood air of positivity and approval at Fulton & Roark. If I do something well enough to deserve their praise, they will let me know off-handed, but nothing too formal. In other words, I do not seek their approval to know if I have done something correctly because they have created a work environment in such a way that I can tell from my interactions with them whether or not I have been doing the rights things or have gotten off track.

Since both Kevin and Allen have other fulltime jobs, I am left to work alone in the incubator, which is school sponsored office space located adjacent to the Wake Forest campus. Although it can be very lonely and boring at times, I enjoy the freedom that comes with this internship. Much of the work can be done via a computer, so I will find myself working in coffee shops and sometimes even at home as well. Being able to meet with them during their lunch breaks is also very helpful because it allows me to check how my progress is going and whether or not I should continue doing whatever project I am currently working on. Overall, I enjoy working alone, but when I move on and start working in teams in the future, I will cherish it that much more because I will have known what it feels like to do things by myself.

 

Halfway Home, A Long Way to Go

Monday, July 1, 2013 6:09 pm

After having finally completed our first production run of our cologne, and having orders ready to ship, we are in the most exciting phase to date! I have sent out numerous emails to potential vendors, ranging from traditional menswear stores and boutiques like Brooks Brothers, to outdoor stores like Orvis and everything in-between. At the end of last week, we were able to ship out some sample orders to some interested buyers, meaning we will now have to wait and see how they feel about our product. It’s exciting times here at Fulton & Roark because now that we have things fully operational, we must sit back and see how they perform. However, at the same time it is the busiest part of the summer so far because I am either producing more cologne, packaging it or going to stores to talk in person about our product.

One of the most enjoyable aspects about my job is the diversity of my daily work. Some days it is very hands on and physically requires me to be creating our product, and other times I am learning and improving my communication and selling skills as I reach out to potential clients. It keeps work fun and enjoyable, and because it is such a small company, I get to be a part of every facet involved in running a start-up. Even though it is not very huge in the grand scheme of things, to date, I am most proud of the progress I have made with one store in particular. Although we have an extensive list of recommended shops to reach out to, I decided to try my luck at a boutique store in Myrtle Beach that was not on the list, and so far they have been most receptive to our product out of anyone I have been in communication with. It makes me feel good knowing that on intuition alone, I was able to research and find a place that I felt would enjoy our cologne, and despite nothing being official yet, I am excited to see how everything goes.

I have been most surprised by the reaction of my friends to our product. After having shown samples to at least twenty of them, I have heard nothing but great reviews. One person went as far as to buy one off of me because he could not wait to use it for himself. I think the slick packaging, combined with the versatility and durability of the product makes it a big hit for college students and other young adults. It lasts long enough as regular cologne, but isn’t as delicate, so those like myself who don’t trust themselves from breaking traditional glass cologne bottles, will find our product to be particularly useful. I have also been surprised as to the segment of the men’s grooming market that it has created. Many people my age still do not wear cologne (and I can’t disagree because I have only recently started to do so myself), however a few of my friends have told me that after seeing our product, they could see themselves getting into cologne. Whether this is due to the well thought out design of its packaging, or the utility that wax cologne has to offer, it has started to draw new customers in.

I am hoping by the end of the summer that I will have created a strong group of vendors that will sell our product through their stores. Even more, I am hopefully that by the end of the summer we will have created a line of shaving creams, or at least be well on our way, because the ultimate next step for Fulton & Roark is to become a full men’s grooming company, not just cologne. I guess we will have to wait and find out!

 

Humble Origins

Monday, June 24, 2013 7:29 pm

Fulton & Roark first began over a year ago out of a random coincidence that happened one day to the two founders, Alan Shaffer and Kevin Keller. At the time, they were both graduate students at Wake Forest University, trying to come up with various ideas that would help propel their entrepreneurial careers. After going around to various stores scouting out men’s underwear and what went into creating them (their first idea was to create a line of durable underwear for men), they happened to stumble upon the idea of creating a concentrated solid cologne after realizing no such product already exists for men.

What started out as another inspired idea, turned into a full-fledged creation within the year. The hardest parts during the early stages of design were how to market the cologne, what type of container it would come in, and most importantly, how to create the smell. After months and months of trial and error, through combining various essential oils (which there are thousands to choose from), Alan and Kevin finally narrowed it down to three scents that they though were the best among nearly hundreds of aromas they had come up with. You may have thought this would be an easy and fun process to combine flavors to come up with good smelling results, but it is far from it, and first you must learn the lingo before you can understand how it is done.

Before joining this company, I did not realize the amount of testing needed to be done in order to create a good smelling and long lasting cologne. Furthermore, I had no idea there was nearly an entire language dedicated to this industry. Like any specialized field – the perfume industry has a vocabulary that gives the men and women who discuss it a common language to build their discussions from, which becomes veryusefulwhen describing a product whose characteristicscannotbe seen. There are three parts to its smell, the top notes, which do not last long after it is applied, the middle notes, which give the fragrance its core character, and base notes which form the foundation of the cologne. Kevin and Allen had to piece together a scent that would last you through the day, meaning all three notes had to be just right, and leave you smelling your very best.

Aside from creating the fragrance, creating an interesting and unique package to put the product into was difficult, because since it was in a hard wax form, the traditional cologne bottle with a spray top would not work. They eventually settled with an aluminum case that fanned open instead of the traditional way of opening up like a shell. This design, along with their unusual solid form of cologne, has given Fulton & Roark the differentiation it needs to successfully find a niche into the industry. If it had not been for a lucky idea and great marketing, I do not think any of this would have been possible.

 

Breaking the Ice

Monday, June 17, 2013 8:40 pm

After the first completed week at work, I have started to get into a rhythm and feel more comfortable working and interacting with my two bosses, Kevin and Allen. Since the startup is still in its early stages, it is just us three, which means I plan to get to know these two guys very well over the course of the summer. They have made my time so far at the company very enjoyable and it has been an easy transition into working for them. They are very welcoming people and I found out quickly we share much in common, so although it has only been a week, I feel much more a part of the company than what I expected before beginning.

In terms of my specific project, it is hard to describe because the type of work I engage in on a daily basis varies depending on the current needs of Kevin and Allen, and what is best for moving Fulton & Roark forward. So far I have helped to create and package the cologne, but I have also taken a trip into Charlotte to scout out potential vendors and speak with them about the product. Luckily for me, they prefer to discuss what my thoughts are on work, and the type of activities I would want to do that would help the company grow. Meaning they feel it is best that I work on a specific project that I find interesting, that way I will take more out of what I put in, and at the same time help the company grow. It has made working much more pleasurable because I am doing things that I genuinely want to, and therefore I feel I am being more productive. As said earlier, since the startup is still in its early stages, there is a variety of things to do that would benefit the organization.

I am also lucky that both Kevin and Allen are similar in character to myself, so I have become more comfortable while at work, and I believe it has led to more efficiency and a better overall learning experience. This upcoming week, part of my job is to start planning for the upcoming trade show in Charlotte called the Charlotte Men’s Show, where vendors from around the South come to show off their products and find new potential clients to buy and sell to. I am both excited and curious to attend because it is unlike anything I have ever been to before, and I hope that by the time it comes, I will be familiar enough with our product to be able to hold a conversation with a prospective buyer. Still only a week into my internship, I still have plenty to learn and research before I start feeling like a true member of the team that can contribute his fair share, but I think I am well on my way!

 

The Smell of Something New

Thursday, June 13, 2013 11:20 pm

As a business school student at Wake, I set out this summer for an internship that would help me grow as an individual and better my business career. I was fortunate enough to land a spot working for two fresh graduates of Wake Forest’s MBA program that have begun a start-up company focused on providing men’s grooming products. Only a year old, it has been just the two of them working together before my arrival, and they have started their business from the ground up. So far they have three lines of cologne that are going on sale next week, so I have spent my first couple days preparing for the launch by filling product orders and actually creating cologne from scratch. It has been really exciting because by the end of next week we should start seeing some cash flows! For them this marks a big day because since its formation, they have invested thousands of dollars into the company without seeing any return, so I will work with them as they begin to see their product take off.

I think the average person, including myself, really has no idea what goes into making a cologne or perfume, so for me it has been really interesting to watch this process take place first hand. Any start-up company should be quite exciting to be a part of because there is so much risk involved and the chances of failure lie just around the corner. I have already started to learn the various steps that it takes to even begin thinking about creating your own business, and for a Calloway student like myself, I regard this information as invaluable. Every company, no matter the size or industry, once began as a fledgling start-up, so for lack of a better word, I expect this summer to be really “cool” because I am getting to be a part of something like this.

I am completely unsure of my expectations for this summer because there is so much uncertainty involved in the business, and depending on how well the launch of the product goes next week, I could become extremely busy or possibly find myself with a lot of down time. Fortunately, we have done enough research to make ourselves fairly confident in the success of our cologne product once it hits the market. I plan on learning the essentials of managing a small business and the various parts that are necessary to keep it running, and more importantly, growing. I am confident in our product because of how it is differentiated from the rest. It is the only men’s cologne that is in a hard wax form, and requires oneself to simply rub a little on your neck for hours of great smell. It may sound like a silly idea, but since I have seen and used the product, I have fallen in love with it and use it over any conventional spray colognes I currently own, especially since I have already had input on the ingredients that comprise the smell. I am excited for the rest of the summer and look forward to see how the company progresses!

 

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