Five Things You Need To Be A Successful Shirt Shop Owner Number Five

Posted by Mongo

This is the last thing you need to be a success.  It is something I excel at.  I continue to do it on a regular basis and it makes me more successful each time.   That all important thing is...

Failure is, by far, the best test by which people can figure out success.  If you can fail, then you are half way to succeeding.  I opened up a basic shop in 2006 in order to try and build my empire.   It was a goofy idea for a novelty search engine.  You ask it a question and Mongo comes back with some monosyllabic response like, "You don't have chips... why should I care?"   Yeah, I know, dumb.  Well, I didn't have the capital to fund the venture and since hosting a site and doing the work would cost money I wanted to brand the idea of Mongo in order to maybe sell some shirts or buttons and make some money to put back into the site.  

Well, I failed.   I lacked the faith in my ability to pull it off, the discipline to actually work on making it come alive, I had no concept of what my audience would be or how to reach them and because of all that, I never had business cards to hand out.  But, it was that failure that pushed me to keep staring at that silly face in the mirror.  That Mongo face.  That snarled up lip and beady little eyes underneath that huge brow.  The things that made Mongo what he was were still there and soon Mongo became an inspiration.  I railed against everything in the vacuum of the Internet and began blogging.  Mongo became my co-pilot.  My voice.
But still, no money came in from my rants.  All I had was that stupid little basic shop sitting there for three years because it was, well, free, tied to a blog that no one would ever read.   Then one day something happened.   Someone found Mongo and bought a shirt.   Two shirts to be exact.  I was like Janine Melnitz slamming a manicured hand down on the buzzer, "WE GOT ONE!"  Then I looked at Mongo and he kind of smiled and said, "Do it.  Go fail again."  So, I dropped my credit card on CafePress and opened up a premium shop.  In two weeks, I made back the money I spent on the premium shop fee and the rest is Google Cached History.

But each week I'd experience a number of failures.   For one, half my designs were considered too close to trademarked designs, even though they were parody in nature, and they ended up being pulled from the stores.   For another, I took a day and just went through my shops and found SO many mistakes in artwork that I couldn't believe people would actually buy the stuff.  I started to realize that I needed to take those failures and learn from them.   I started working on honing my design skills, researching for better methods.   I began to think about how to write tips like this for my blog posts.    I saw more ways to turn those mistakes into good ideas.

Now, I'm not saying I'm an expert at anything but I know what I know and so far, some of it really works.  Then again, some of it doesn't.   There are people who are far more successful than I am in this and I continue to seek them out for advice and add new skills everyday.    So, if a guy like me can turn a sense of humor and Internet connection into a profitable and virtually free overhead business, anyone can.

Five Things You Need To Be A Successful Shirt Shop Owner Number Four

Posted by Mongo

What could be more important for a successful business than having a solid idea and tons of quality merchandise to sell?  How about this?

This is very, very important. Like I said, I walked into a restaurant last year wearing one of my shirts and the server was interested in the design.  He couldn’t believe I did the work myself and wanted to show my site to his brother, who was overseas. Since I didn’t have a business card, I had to scribble down my website address, which looks horrible when written out.  Had I been carrying a business card, I could have just tossed him one instead of scribbling it down on his notepad and been secure in knowing that once I walked out the door, he would still been able to read it and not ask questions.

My mother-in-law used to pound the idea of business cards into my wife’s head. My wife teaches private piano instruction a few nights a week and, unfortunately, her client base is slowly dwindling because the kids are growing up and moving off to college. She’s not in too much of a hurry to get more right now but she really needs cards. Her former piano teacher has a side job repairing clocks. He has business cards. He gets lots of business. Everyone needs business cards for when they are away from the online world because most people won’t remember a website address if you tell it to them. And since there are so many ways to word things in a website address, you could be losing potential clients because they spelled a word differently or didn’t include a dash in the URL.  Of course, if you are really good, you should have name recognition online.  Typing Mongo into Google doesn't get you much, but typing "Mongo Angry!  Mongo Smash!" into Google fins me with the first result.  But not everyone has the Internet immediately accessible to them.  Ok, I don't.  I use my phone for the archaic practice of calling people.  Sorry, that's just me.   Anyway, until that person gets to a computer it would be nice if they had a snazzy reminder of who you are.

Oh, but business cards cost money, right? Well, yeah, they do. That’s probably why it took me year to get off my butt and order them. Since I am the low overhead kind of business model I didn’t want to spend money up front and order cards if I didn’t have any sales. That speaks to a lack of FAITH. Well, in a year’s time I’ve made some money. Then, I had to design them and that took time. That speaks to a lack of DISCIPLINE. Now that I have them, I can hand them out to my AUDIENCE. It all ties together folks. If you build it they will come but only if they know how to find you. Just because you work in an online environment, it doesn’t mean you should neglect the tangible proof of existence in business, the card.

Lastly, the fifth thing you need to be a successful shirt shop owner. I’ve had it in spades.

Five Things You Need To Be A Successful Shirt Shop Owner Number Three

Posted by Mongo

We're counting the Five Things You Need To Be Successful.  Here comes Number Three

Feeding off of discipline, you need to build an audience. Some may call it "Having Fans." When you have fans you need to nurture them and take care of them. Fans follow you because they like what you have to say. They want to hear from you. If you aren’t committed to them, why should they be committed to you? So, smarty pants, why is an audience important?

Think of something you truly love, say a food or a type of clothing. And somewhere, out in the world, a place exists that sells the food or clothing you really love. How do you find them? 20 years ago you’d probably go to a phone book or the Yellow Pages. Today, you would go the Internet. You would Google something about the stuff you like in the area. You’d search for it on Facebook and “Like” it. You’d follow twitter feeds that had to do with the subject. In a world where we fast forward through commercials and have given up on printed media to help us find things, the Internet has filled the void. But if you are out there and you don’t shout out at the top of your lungs where you are, you will get no business.

Now, as a model, the print on demand style of online stores such as CafePress and Zazzle have built in marketing tools in the form of tagging images and a search engine. You tag your designs with keywords that might speak to buyers about the type of product you are selling and the search engine collects the buyers keywords and returns matches to them. So, you don’t exactly have to do a lot of the work. But as you shout at the top of your lungs about your cool or funny designs, a million other people do as well and if you are on page three of five pages of results. Their shouts get heard more times than yours do.

When I opened my first store I did so to sell merchandise based on the likeness of my avatar, Mongo. He’s an angry guy who likes to smash things. Knowing that my little guy couldn’t carry the full weight of launching my empire, I decided to make him a mascot for my pop culture ramblings. I launched a blog to just go off on Hollywood and the world around me and figured if I could find an audience then maybe that would drive them to buying Mongo stuff. It didn’t really help that my blog was only receiving around 20 hits a day. But then I decided to turn it around and put Mongo out in front and use the blog to talk about the shop, like I’m doing now. I launched this blog that just handled the business side and left the original one as a place to just be who I am. I don’t know how many people actually read this blog because the counter I had disappeared or broke. I really need to fix that one of these days…. There’s that discipline thing again. But the blog takes time because I kind of customized it to have a different look and feel than the standard OOTB blogs that come with a blogger account. So, if I’m lucky I get maybe three or four posts a month devoted to my shops while my other blog gets twice that amount of attention because it’s just “Watch an episode of LOST, bullshit about it, see a funny news story, bullshit about it, lather, rinse repeat.” If I could spend that amount of time and effort building up posts that speak to my shops, maybe I’d get more sales. Maybe, I’d get more of an audience.   Maybe I'd get up off my dead ass and do the work.

So, I doubled up my efforts and opened a twitter feed. Then I started a facebook fan page. I use it to post designs that have links back to my stores. The blog posts get imported into my news feed on facebook and facebook wall directly feeds into my twitter page.  This creates a full circle of social media networking win. Once again, I don’t know how many fans have actually bought my stuff based on my fan page. I think at least two and those were friends I had from before Mongo took shape. But they suggested their friends and soon people I didn’t know were joining my fan page. I think, at last count, there is 139 fans. And that fluctuates from time to time.

Does it hurt to see that number drop? Of course it does. But considering the issues with social networking sites and privacy and online profiles, it could be more business than personal. That’s something else I have to learn. This is business. Just because I lose a fan doesn’t mean I lose faith. I don’t rely on my fan base to buy my stuff.  I can hope, I can pray, I look up at them with Puss in Boots eyes and beg, but I am not going to force them.  I just want them to enjoy my psychotic ramblings and maybe push the old like button from time to time. Perhaps they will tell some of their friends to check me out and then I will conquer the world. Um, yeah, delusional much?

But beyond the walls of the Internet is the real world and you can be your own best advertising. How? How about walking billboards?  I wear my shirts everywhere. I buy my own stuff and wear it when I’m out and about, making sure I get seen. I am going to the Outer Banks for vacation and will be taking along a few beach themed shirts to hopefully turn a few heads. Last year, I did the same thing and had a couple people ask me about them. When I told them all about my stores they wanted see more. I had to write down… okay scribble… my website address. You know why? I didn’t have number four on the list.

Five Things You Need To Be A Successful Shirt Shop Owner Number Two

Posted by Mongo

Here's the second thing you need to be a successful shirt shop owner.


Yes Detective Kimble, I lack discipline. In fact, I am probably borderline ADHD and have a hard time….ooh, squirrel! Sorry. As I was saying, you need a little discipline in your work. Since this is not my primary job it takes lower precedence than going to work every day, taking out the garbage and cleaning up cat barf. And because I run four shops, the discipline it takes to create a design, come up with a plan to implement it and then blast it out to all four sites can take a few hours and that doesn’t even account for the possibility that I may have to go harvest my crops, take out a rival mafia, or beat my friends’ Bejewled Blitz scores. So, yeah, sometimes I get around to posting designs or even posting… blog… posts when I can get to them.

But if you truly want to be successful you need to harness some of that energy every day and dedicate it to work on your business. Stephen King has said he writes 2000 words a day and will not stop until he hits that number. If you can find the discipline to work on three new designs per day or three new blog posts a day or a handful of twitter posts. You can start the wheels churning on the marketing engine.  But be warned, much like a diet or exercise regimen, you need to keep to it or your body will become mush. The same goes for business, once you commit to that kind of discipline you need to keep it going, especially if you have number three on the list.  That's in the next post.

Five Things You Need To Be A Successful Shirt Shop Owner Number One

Posted by Mongo

Actually, this could probably apply to any business you may be thinking of starting. But for my purposes, I tend to stay within the world of my shirt shops. You can apply these Five Things to your own life or think I’m totally missing the mark. Either way, live with it. Loooove yoooou!

I’ve blogged before about being successful. Am I?  I think so. Why?  Because I operate a business that makes money above and beyond any overhead I have.  Am I rich?  No.  In fact I will probably never be rich based on my sales and effort alone. Who’s fault is that? To quote Van Hagar, “Mine All Mine.” The truth of the matter is that I have been totally wasting sales potential since day one of my first store on CafePress. Why?  Because I didn’t think it would work.  That brings us to the first and foremost thing you need to be a success.

This isn’t about religion or pushing a button every 108 minutes. This is about trusting yourself and having faith that you can smash through any ceilings that may have been placed above you. I didn’t have faith in my ability to make a sale because I’m a Doubting Thomas. I look at the world and the Internet as being 90% scam worthy with the remaining 10% being legitimate opportunities to make money from running a business. After all, the last couple of years have shown us that making money is only for schemers on Wall Street who do shady business deals and get huge bonuses for selling their souls. In the long run, is that really a good thing?

So, when I stepped up to the plate and clicked “Yes” on creating my first premium shop on CafePress, I gave it two weeks to produce some results. After that I would have to start paying to have that premium shop.  Had I been faithful, I would have been in it for the long haul and worked extra hard to make sure I could not fail.  But no, I simply closed my eyes and put luck in the driver’s seat.  In those first 14 days I had made enough to pay for an entire year of premium service.  I couldn’t believe it.  And then Yoda said to me, “That is why you fail.”

Yep, had I been a little more faithful I could have been planning the word domination of Mongo from day one.  Now, I’m trying to hold onto Oceania while the rest of the Risk board is filling up with other players’ armies. Like I said, it’s my own fault. I do this more for fun than a full time job. I already have one of those and it is the complete opposite of this kind of work. My work is done in a cube. My business is done in a recliner with the television on, scoping out pop culture lightning to capture in a bottle. Perhaps if the environments were switched I would be more successful.  Regardless, I guess I need more of the second thing on the list.

What's Number Two

Clip Art Cliche

Posted by Mongo

What kind of designer are you? Do you go with the original artistic approach where you simply design your own images and add them to shirts? Do you try and mimic or allude to pop culture themes from television and movies? (For example: The Overlook Hotel or Nakatomi Industries) Or do you try and be absurdist and catchy? Sometimes I try to be all three and find myself in a disorganized mess. Truthfully, I should have reorganized my stores to offer one category of designs and opened additional ones for different styles. In other words, one store dedicated to movie parodies or nods, one for geek wear, and so forth. In terms of stores, Zazzle and Skreened allow you to have multiple shops on one account at no extra charge. CafePress does too if you are using a basic service. If you are paying for a premium shop then you are limited to 500 sections per shop and must pay for another premium store. We’re getting off topic.

So, in one of my imagined niche stores I might want to feature funny or absurd designs based around a single style. That style is rapidly becoming a staple of the “funny t-shirts” market. It’s usage of what could be considered “retro clipart.” You know those Americana type images from the 40s and 50s of the guy holding a cup of coffee or woman wearing the apron. The simplicity of these images are usually coupled with absurd phrasings. The kind of thing that makes no sense when you imagine the visage of something like a 50s Leave It To Beaver Father saying he’s “pretty gangsta.” Somebody thought it would be funny to pair up these contrasting styles and managed to come up with something that was funny at first but then became easily imitated and often duplicated on a variety of topics. Hey, I’ve done it. But I try to be a little bit more absurd or clever. Sometimes I come up with the funny. Sometimes I don’t. But I became obsessed with jumping on the sell out bandwagon.

I knew it was pretty bad when I just started looking at all the clip art I had and tried to make up something funny to go with any picture. But, the more I tried to be creative and original in my designs, the more I found myself copying others or at least approaching their idea from a completely different angle. I even started looking for fonts that were comprised of retro looking clip art from the 50s. Remember, folks, dingbats are not a toy. I was becoming a cliché. Then a stroke of brilliance came over me. Why not parody the cliché?

This shirt is more for designers and shopkeepers who get the joke. You have to be familiar with the shirt market to know what I mean or at least have a sense of humor that loves a good parody. With that I give you…

Funny Clip Art Cliché
Get it at CafePress, Zazzle, or Skreened

To get a sense of where I’ve been overdoing it. Here’s a few of my clichéd ideas over the past few months. I didn’t realize how bad I’d become until I started looking through my portfolio. And yes, I just realized how pretentious that made me sound. Sorry, my folders.
Tweet Your Kids About Drugs
Get it at CafePress, or Zazzle

This was one of the first clip art inspired designs I did. I looked at it as a melding of Web 2.0 and the PSA style of talking to your kids about drugs with retro pop art. Unfortunately, the original design for the dark shirts were simply a negative image because I hadn’t discovered the easy way of removing the primary color from images that I spoke of in a previous post.

I Speak Jive
Get it at CafePress, or Zazzle

Oh, look, I recycled my own image to use in a movie quote design. It’s a quote from Airplane! Since Barbara Billingsley was in Airplane as the Jive Talking Passenger I thought what better way to contrast the idea of a 1950s television icon speaking jive then to actually use an image that resembled June Cleaver’s style?

Lent Is For Quitters
Get it at CafePress, Zazzle, or Skreened

Ahem… See, I told you I was getting desperate. Here we have the same frickin’ image of that 50s housewife. I did this for Easter as a riff on the “Rehab is for quitters” motif.

Get it at CafePress, Zazzle, or Skreened

I saw a shirt from another site that sported, what looked to be, a 1950s era white picket fence house with a 1950s type guy making the comment “Ask me about my meth lab!” I thought it was somewhat funny and decided to parody that idea with the Mathlete idea. So, I coupled a retro styled chemistry set and scientist with the Athletic team style of font.

Biden F Bomb
Get it at CafePress, Zazzle, or Skreened

This one was typical but a short lived story about VP Joe Biden dropping the F Bomb into Obama’s open mic after the Health Care Bill Passed. I thought if you are going to go opposite ends of the spectrum, why not have a wholesome looking 50s style nurse say Health Care is a big f**king deal?” This one actually sold a few before the story died down. And I at least offered it in the NSFW version as well as the censored version just in case you didn’t want to offend people.

Now Available In Medicated
Get it at CafePress, Zazzle, or Skreened

I'd seen a few clip art style shirts with the cocktail glass guy saying, "Also Available In Sober!"  That's pretty funny but let's take it one step further and say that you are now taking medication that allows you to be socially interactive without the general public afraid to be around you and sharp objects.   Hence the 1950s style of advertisement touting that you are now available in medicated form.

The Ovechkin
Get it at CafePress, Zazzle, or Skreened

After the Washington Capitals’ disappointing loss to Montreal in the playoffs, Pittsburghers simultaneously breathed a sigh of relief and started joking about Ovie’s inability to get a Stanley Cup. This joke got passed around in the process, “Guy walks into a bar and asks the bartender for an Ovechkin. The bartender says, ‘What’s an Ovechkin?’ The guy says, ‘It’s a White Russian without a cup.’” So, I took the joke and reworked it with an image of a retro looking bartender and the punch line. Sold three right off the bat.

Tweet This Ochocinco
Get it at CafePress

This was in response to Chad Johnson saying he was going to put up twitter posts while on the field. This guy continues to be a show off yet rarely scores a touchdown when playing Pittsburgh. I refuse to call him Ochocinco because not only is it a pretentious douche nozzle type move, the idiot didn’t even use the correct translation for his jersey number, 85. Ochocinco is 8 5. The correct translation… according to Babel Fish is ochenta y cinco. Congratulations, you’re stupid in two languages.

Since I’m a diehard Steelers fan anyway, I figured why not combine my thoughts with some retro looking bird flipping.

So, there you have a long winded post about the wonders of clip art cliché shirts.