This August, Righteous will reach a big milestone in business success. Our CEO, Alyson Salz, reflects on the journey from humble beginnings in 1989, to where we are now:
Every business has their nice polished origin story about the glorious vision that was the germ of their successful enterprise. It makes for nice PR pieces and shows how the early passion and hard work created a straight line to success.
But, what if the actual story has a lot more twists and turns, mistakes, and continual transformation? Then it would be our origin story. That’s the one I’m telling today. Because when you have 30 years in the rearview mirror it makes it a lot less painful to recount the really bone-headed things you do while trying to be successful. Like taking any business you can get, working through holidays, missing your kid’s award assembly, or downplaying the incredible contributions of your team members.
Our genesis was not a glorious vision or a heartfelt passion of this one thing that we had to do.
Instead, we had two super practical, non-sexy reasons to start our business: First, my husband Rick was an independent rep for Geiger Bros., a nationwide promotional product distributor. The back office there kept making mistakes in his orders. So, he had to keep making apologies to his customers. That wasn’t super fun. Second, we genuinely wanted to be able to buy T-shirts at low prices so we could provide greater value to our customers. No business license, no wholesale shirts.
We were in college, with lots of friends who needed T-shirts for their youth groups, mission trips, and summer camps. So, we started as true middlemen, taking orders, getting the garments and bringing them to local printers.
Those were the days before widespread computer use or the internet. Invoices were all written by hand in little carbon copy books. Stencils were made with great rolls of rubylith
that we hand-cut with Exacto blades. Our film had to be shot and reshot by a local blueprint shop to get reverse or knock-out images. I remember one job that required the precise placement of thousands of dots by hand on our film separations. There is no way anyone would do those things today.
It took us over three years to get our first computer and laser printer. I wish you could see the joy on our faces as we curved text into an arc, as if we had just done some monumental thing. We played with that Corel Draw program for hours on end, and sometimes created really ridiculous font contortions just because we could.
Eventually we moved from our home-made equipment (don’t ever take your dining room table and turn it into a printing press), to factory-made manual presses, to automatic screen print machines, to many embroidery machines, and technology transformations later; growing from our home (OK, garage – where else would a genuine screen-printing operation start?) to larger and larger manufacturing spaces, eventually owning our own building. Our M.O. is to find the new, the better, the next thing; to keep improving and transforming, so we never take anything for granted or stagnate.
If you find yourself hankering for an entrepreneurial foray or just want to think that way, there are a few insights we have picked up along the way.
- Hire the best people you can afford. Cheap ones are always the most expensive in the long-run.
- Adopt new technology sooner rather than later, even if its not perfect yet. You’ll stay way ahead of the curve.
- Always do what you say you are going to do. Nothing kills trust like going back on your word.
- Try things. Make mistakes. Apologize. Retool. Try again. Life is more fun this way.
- You never know what you are capable of unless you risk and try.
- Learning is never done. Stop growing, you start dying. Life is about continual transformation.
It’s been 30 years since we got our first business license – the week we got engaged- and it’s been a crazy adventure ever since. Entrepreneurship will form you, teach you, discipline you, grow you and make you think differently (way differently) from how you did when you started…..and that’s a good thing.
Here’s to many more years of working alongside amazing team members, and serving awesome customers.