How do you launch a new business during the toughest of economic times?
That's what many ambitious Americans have wondered over the past few years as they have pursued their dreams. Key to developing any successful venture at any time is the need to carve out a niche and to identify and target a specific, largely untapped market; during difficult times like these, though, getting people to spend on luxury on items can be particularly daunting.
Yet, during a time of cutting back, some entrepreneurs are forging ahead. Evan Hakalir and Andy "Jon" Perl, both victims of the ongoing recession, opened their custom-made dress shirt company, Andy and Evan, in late 2009 in New York City after re-evaluating their careers. Hakalir says that they wanted to "re-invent" themselves after the financial crisis and to sell a physical product directly to consumers. Dress shirts, the founders say, was the natural fit for them since they both prided themselves on being sharp-dressed men.
But it's the partners' commitment to and reliance on innovative techniques and technology that really sets them apart in areas like customer service, product development, and viral marketing.
They took an "academic approach" to sales, evaluating how custom shirts are typically sold and taking note of inefficiencies in how competitors would deal with customers. They hoped to make the sales process smoother and easier. They offer a more "thoughtful" and user-friendly swatch book, which contains a wide selection of fabrics and styles. They also have in an in-house team of personal stylists willing to travel to clients' homes or offices for customer convenience.
As part of their sales process, the pair uses a "test shirt" -- similar to a muslin for dresses -- that promises a perfectly-fitted shirt, and is "created using a computer-generated model of your body," Perl said. It's an added step in between the initial measurements and the final ordering of the shirts that they say, helps alleviate any apprehension that customers may have over how the shirt itself will feel. They can make any alterations or account for specifications before they complete the order.
To raise their brand awareness, the pair used their strong networks of contacts. Referrals quickly turned into leads for marketing opportunities -- they've gone on to make shirts for the members of Alexa Ray Joel's band, high-profile lawyer Benjamin Brafman, and, most notably, Regis Philbin, who highlighted the company on Live with Regis and Kelly. "From our perspective, it was a big opportunity not just because he's a television star but in that role he's become a fashion icon," said Hakalir.
Hakalir and Perl conceived and built the company during the worst recession of their lifetime, and have thus far lived to tell the tale. "The way we see it, things will only get better," said Hakalir about prospects for the future.
The "Andy & Evan for Little Gentlemen" line launches later this month.