The Venture Team
Tight & Fresh Ties is a necktie retail company founded by American entrepreneurs Austin Fallon, Chris Frisicaro, and Sam Oakey. Formed in October 2014 as the result of an entrepreneurship class project at James Madison University, Tight and Fresh Ties initially explored and pursued such product ideas as cornhole sets for fishing enthusiasts, privacy enclosures to surround beds in dormitories, and hideaway containers made from dictionaries, picture frames, and other common household items. Among the constraints that caused these ideas to be discarded were carpentry skills and scalability (for the cornhole sets), dormitory rules prohibiting students from hanging items from the ceiling (for the privacy enclosures), and lack of sales potential or sufficient margins (for the hideaway containers. Eventually the group decided to narrow its focus and target market, and began brainstorming products that could be created for students in the College of Business. After the team compiled a list of common apparel and accessory items, one of the members called a family friend who owns a tie company to inquire about the nature of the business. Within days Tight & Fresh was in contact with the friend’s manufacturer in Southeast Asia, and had finalized costs and the tie design. Presales were being requested despite having only a rudimentary, computer-generated animation of the tie.
Early in the product development process Tight & Fresh Ties asked the question “How can we market our product as a holiday gift option for students?” The goal was to find a way parents could discover the ties and purchase them for their children as a holiday present. Through internal discussion regarding the question, Tight & Fresh Ties developed an email list on which students could provide their parents’ email addresses, and the entrepreneurs from Tight & Fresh would send a personalized and professionally composed email to the parents with quick and easy online payment information. Another question that sparked innovation was that of which untapped forms of social media could expand sales potential for the ties. By tackling this issue Tight & Fresh Ties eventually accessed various Facebook groups – private and public – within the JMU community, as well as Square Register and a brief trial with Indiegogo.
Big Idea Hypothesis
The big idea of Tight & Fresh ties was to give students the option to provide their parents’ email address so that Tight & Fresh ties could contact the parents with a customized email containing information about the tie and directions for purchasing online. This expanded the customer base to reach students who are low on cash at the end of the semester, but who would like to acquire a tie. This mailing list not only expanded the pool of potential customers, but also generated presales before the ties were manufactured and shipped.
The most successful aspect of Tight & Fresh Ties’ innovation process is the marketing campaign, which features flexible payment options that cater to college students with limited funds. In addition to accepting cash, credit, and personal checks, Tight & Fresh Ties offers students the option of having an email sent to their parents in which the tie description and payment information is included. The overlapping of the sales period with the holiday season makes this option especially appealing for students and parents alike. Students avoid spending their money, and parents are able to buy a desired gift for their children from the comfort of their house.
The first buyers of Tight & Fresh’s ties were upperclassmen in the College of Business. More frequent class presentations, excess money from checking accounts and job signing bonuses, and preparation for the white collar business world were all factors driving these early adopters to pre-order ties. Another group of early adopters were students involved with fraternities, due to the numerous formal events in which such organizations participate.
The most significant resources for Tight & Fresh Ties are the supplier and the intermediary. The supplier and designer of the ties is Banita Wong, a sales representative with Ling Nam Neckwear Manufacturing Ltd. in Hong Kong. Serving as an intermediary is Richard Tetrick, owner of Ties For You in Bristol, Virginia. Mr. Tetrick graciously agreed to contact his supplier, Ms. Wong, and arrange for the design and order of the ties. Other resources include DHL Delivery and space in the lobby of Showker Hall.
The Business Model
Tight & Fresh Ties is a direct sales retailer of neckties catering to students within the College of Business at James Madison University. The custom designed ties provide business students an opportunity to purchase a unique and stylish keepsake of their alma mater that they can wear both in college and in their professional careers. Tight & Fresh Ties offers value to the customer not only in the utility of the neckties, but also through flexible and student-friendly options for purchase and payment. Marketing and sales efforts are targeted at students, parents, faculty, alumni, and other members of the College of Business network.
Lessons Learned and Advice
By showing people the virtual prototype before ordering, we were able to gauge interest and sales potential before making a financial committment to a bulk order. Talking to people and getting feedback helped us to realize the poor prospects our early product ideas faced, and then gain the confidence in our ties that led us to ultimately pursue ordering and selling them. Fortunately, we failed quickly and inexpensive on these early ventures.
One piece of advise for future entrepreneurs is to take advantage of seasonal demand in the retail business. The coinciding of our project with the holiday shopping season was a big advantage, especially when we began giving students the option to have the personalized email advertisement for the tie sent to their parents' email addresses. The more options for payment and purchase that are available, the harder it is for shoppers to find a reason to say no.
Minimum Viable Product Evolution
The Virtual Prototype The Finished Product