Written By: Brandon J. Peters
Fashion business veteran Gerard Murray has seen success both as an independent business owner with the School of Hard Knocks clothing line and with large corporations.
After taking a brief hiatus from the industry, he resurfaced in the college licensing business as the president of Final IV Enterprises LLC, parent company of Tradition Ever Since.
With Tradition, Murray has carved out a niche by creating lifestyle apparel for HBCU’s.
After severing ties with New Era in 2009, Murray and his partners—Carol Callender-Murray and Tim Gray—decided to take the independent route and the gamble has paid off. Tradition booked $800,000 in sales this past year and the company is projected to double that number in 2012. Murray shared his five tips on how to make it as an independent in the fashion business with Black Enterprise.
Maintain Your Vision
“A lot of people start out watching someone else and they try to mimic their success, but what works for one brand may not work for another,” says Murray. “If you have something that is viable to the marketplace there will be people who come to the table with help but they will ultimately want you to see their vision and it will end up compromising what you really want.
I never really thought we took School of Hard Knocks [SOHK] as far as we could take it even though at our apex we did $40 million in sales [in a year]. With Tradition, there is no ceiling to our vision. We plan to expand licensing to home wear, footwear, etc. Know what you want to get out of it and don’t compromise that goal.”
Be Prepared For The Worst
“At one point in time your purchase orders meant everything, but because we’re in a recession and everyone is hurting, a big purchase order does not impress manufacturers as much as it once did,” Murray reveals. “There are accounts that either don’t have good credit, slow credit or no credit at all. When dealing with those type of accounts you cannot count on that money, so all of a sudden what was once a certain amount in billing has significantly decreased because of the accounts credit issues. Sometimes accounts back out of purchase orders as well. There are some small mom-and-pop accounts that pay by credit card or cash on delivery but most accounts operate on a net 60-90 day basis. It’s all part of the business.”
Utilize the Web
“You really want to increase your Web sales,” Murray says flatly. “Obviously when you are dealing directly with a customer, your profit margins are much better than going through a third party. Beyond that, it also helps you get to know your market. I love dealing directly with the proud alumni and the fashion conscious person looking for something different. I get on the phone personally sometimes with Web customers and talk to them to find outhow they found out about the company. However, whether it’s Web or traditional retail, it all comes down to the success of the product.”
Expand at your own pace
“A lot of brands feel like that because they just sell T-shirts that they can’t compete, but that’s not always true. With SOHK, T-shirts were our core business and we filled in the collections with a few other pieces,” says Murray. “Growing outwards rather than upwards is counterproductive and can kill a brand. With Tradition, everyone plays his or her position and that’s why we’ve been able to expand properly. Small businesses need role players not dictators for the vision to widen. At the end of the day staying power is what separates a true brand from a line that is just hot for the moment.
Find a Mentor
“I always tell people that what worked for me will not necessarily work for them because the business has changed so much,” says Murray. “Trade shows are different, retail is different, even manufacturing has changed a little bit different. When I started, there was a competitive nature between my counterparts and I to motivate each other, because we had no one in fashion to look up to or go and talk to.
Now it’s cool for me to do a speaking engagement or to mentor someone. I love being able to do that but a lot of people want answers but don’t want to do any homework. In this business you have to take the bumps and bruises. Success does not come without the work.”