Summer 2014 Success to a “T”

Image is everything. Combining customization with speed and a green product delivers a hit franchise for entrepreneur.

Running a T-shirt shop was the last thing on Leeward Bean’s mind in 2007 when the entrepreneur received a call from two former employees (both engineers) who were looking to start their own business.

The idea at the time was to create an Internet store that sold geek and novelty items, and Bean was impressed by the young couple’s concept. He partnered with them to create Uniquely Geek, which specialized in things like 3-D puzzles, bobble-head dolls and scientific models.

“One day they came in and told me they had come up with 100 different slogans for geek T-shirts—for example: First rule of chemistry, don’t lick the spoon—and they wanted to sell them on the site,” Bean says. “We looked into it but silk screeners want a minimum of 150 units per design, so that would have been 15,000 T-shirts at a cost of about $100,000.”

His research scientist partners weren’t ones to take “No” for an answer. They came upon a solution – a new technology called Direct to Garment printing, which would allow for printing of small orders. “It’s like an inkjet printer on steroids,” Bean says. “Instead of ink, it uses fabric dye and instead of paper, you load T-shirts. Now, whatever you come up with, we can print.”

The business quickly took off and attracted the attention of a local Fox affiliate, who did a story on the company. Once it aired, the phone started ringing off the hook and Bean and his partners decided to forget about the geek stuff and concentrated solely on T-shirts, renaming the business Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More.

With Bean as its CMO, they opened their first storefront in Clearwater, FL in a small 8-foot wide by 90-foot long former barbershop and brought in $22,000 in gross revenue the first month.

Custom printing

Today, Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More is a franchise concept specializing in custom decorated apparel, which can put any logo, slogan or photo on an individual T-shirt or other garment.

The business model is based on creating a value-added experience for the customer. Bean explains that in a typical garment decorating process, you go to a silkscreen printer and you need to have your image complete, camera-ready and separated for the four-color process. The lead time for getting your garment back could be anywhere from 10 days to a month.

“We eliminated the entry barrier. There are no set-up fees, no artwork charges—in fact, we have a graphic artist on staff at each location to work with customers and help create their design,” Bean says. “The main thing is we have no minimums. A silk screener wants a minimum of 150 units per design; we can do just one.” Prices begin at $15.99 for one image on a white T-shirt and turnaround is under 24 hours.

Currently, there are 61 franchises throughout the country. Bean has an aggressive growth strategy in the years ahead. “Our forecast is to award 25 franchises in 2014 and our five-year projection is to have 300 stores open by 2018,” he says. “We are looking to become the world leader in garment decorating.”


Franchise model

Interested franchisees complete an online application and are assigned to a franchise development person who explains what Big Frog is.

“We hold a discovery day where [the franchisee] will come in and meet us and talk about the missions, goals and objectives of success, and learn about a day in the life of a Frogger,” Bean says. “If they are still interested, we sign the documents and off we go.”

An initial investment to buy a franchise is $39,500 and another $50,000 of working capital is required to have on hand when one opens a store. The store build-out, furniture, equipment, fixtures, inventory, and signage, plus the cost of attending training will run about another $100,000. Franchisees also pay a monthly royalty of 6 percent of sales (with a minimum of $1,200 per month), which doesn’t kick in until the seventh month of operation.

Still, the model doesn’t require as much investment as other retail concepts. Bean says franchisees work daylight hours, 5 1/2 days a week, need a few easy-to-find employees, have designated territories, utilize green technology, have elaborate training, support and proprietary operating systems and best of all it is a cash-based business with no accounts receivable.

With environmentally friendly practices as part of the business model, Bean is proud to call the company green. “A traditional silk screener uses an oil-based product but all of the inks and dyes we use are water soluble, and there’s no waste—whatever we put on the shirt, stays on the shirt,” he says. “We also use recyclable bags, organically grown or recycled cotton and sustainable bamboo.”

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