It's many people's dreams to start a business and to have it reach a point to where they can quit their day job and do what they're passionate about full time.
We see it all the time: makers that have a hobby and turn it into a business. So many people have the dream to make it their full time careers but have no idea how to get there. Guess what? We were in the same boat and hustled hard to go from having a hobby, to a real business, and now to developing a hardcore growth strategy.
We're fortunate that both of us could start running Moore full time at 23/24 years of age. I want to preface by saying it took an incredible amount of work to get here and I want to share our story so you can see realistically what that process was like for us:
It was the summer right before my junior year in high school (yes our journey started when we were that young). We were bored so we spent that summer teaching ourselves the ins and outs of screen printing in Tanner's parents' garage. We made things at this point because we wanted to; for us and not for anyone else, though it would be cool if people bought it. We were called Alkaline Clothing then. We would talk on the phone all night every night thinking about how we wanted to be the next company like Burton or Vans one day. We were obviously nowhere near where those companies were, and still aren't, but could be one day if we stay on the same track we're on now.
We were so driven at this point. I mean we still are, but the passion at that point was incredible. We knew what we wanted to be one day but we were still a speck of dust in the grand scheme of things at this point. Our peers definitely didn't believe in us at this time, but we had support from our teachers, parents, my sister (who has always hands down been the biggest supporter), and close friends. Somehow we still felt determined; maybe in a sense to prove them wrong? I'm not sure.
So we had the drive to do this thing, which was still very much a hobby since we hadn't made any money yet.
I cold called news outlets and 9NEWS got back saying they would do a feature on us! I was so excited and was jumping up and down. This moment is what propelled us forward: what came from it and the motivation we had from someone believing in us enough to put our story out there.
We hosted our first BBQ where we rented out the local skatepark, called everyone we knew, and threw an event where we had food and live screen printing. Our savings account at that time was a bucket we left in Tanner's parents' garage. Our BBQ was a success and we couldn't wait to pull the trigger to grow a business.
Word spread around school once the 9NEWS feature came out. Our peers started to see what we were doing and many supported it. I know there were still people that probably thought it was a joke but we didn't care, we knew what we were about to build. Many of our peers started buying shirts at school. We would take orders for the designs we had and would let them pick their shirt and ink color. When we got the order we would make it that night, bring it back the next day, and collect the $10 or whatever we charged upon delivery. We then started to do contract printing for the clubs at school and the local businesses around town.
Business kept rolling in by word of mouth. We would make as many shirts as we could outside of school. Not to mention I was also juggling 2 jobs. How did I even function at this level of busy?
We took all the money we made and reinvested it into machinery, equipment, shirts, inks, and everything else we needed to run a business. But at this point we weren't making much money. We didn't have good t-shirt suppliers, so we were paying a lot for materials and not charging much since we weren't as good as the other print shops that people could be going to. However, we kept going and were determined to figure it all out. I always loved business so working through business/operational challenges was always pretty fun for me.
At this point one of our teachers told us about Young Americans, an organization that supports young business owners. We heard they were hosting a holiday market so we decided to try it out. We made $500 that day. We thought, Wow! If we could do this every weekend we'd be rolling in it! We then found out that Young Americans went beyond just hosting markets for kids to sell their things. They actually provided great resources and support for being a small business owner. We applied for their small business competition where you could win $1,000, be recognized in the community, and get paired with a mentor. We were bummed to lose that year but were determined to try again.
We won the Young Americans award! We put the $1,000 towards buying our first actual press and were paired with Curt Richardson of Otterbox as our mentor. We were beyond pumped. But our business was most certainly still a hobby. While we were investing back into our business, we still weren't making money.
It was hard to know where to start with our questions with Curt because even though we were busy with business, we still didn't know what all to ask because the world ahead still seemed so intimidating. We started with asking what his story was. We were fascinated because his beginning started just like ours: out of a garage.
We met with him frequently for over a year and we went from being kind of all over the place to doing things with more intention.
2012 was also the year I started college. I felt really conflicted at this point. Even though I knew college had to be the next part of my journey, I knew it was going to get in the way of growing our business. We didn't do a whole lot with Alkaline my first year of school because I was living on campus and working hard to get good grades. I had to work really hard to get B's because school was never all that easy for me.
We worked on the weekends, still out of Tanner's parents' garage. We would do custom print jobs which helped us save money, but realized that we didn't like doing it. So we sat down one day and went back to our original vision.
We thought about how we always wanted to be a company like Burton and Vans. Doing custom work wasn't going to get us there, ever. We talked and talked about our vision and how we would get there. It felt really intimidating but we broke it down and got to a starting point.
We knew we were getting really good at the production aspect but then had to think about how we could create a brand that people would want to buy from. And then what will our designs be like?
We sat down and thought about what people were buying. We saw that they were really into Colorado gear but we didn't want to slap the flag on things and capitalize on it so we thought about how we could convey Colorado..but different. It was simple but is actually how we still roll today.
We spent this summer creating our first real line for our brand. We had about 7 designs that took Tanner months to develop. We worked together on concepts; he would sketch, I would give feedback because I felt like I had more of a consumer perspective, and then we landed on the final launch designs. We took the money we had from custom jobs and did an initial run for this line. At the time, this seemed like so much money and we had no idea if we would sell them.
Now we were at the point where we had all these designs that we were genuinely proud of but had no strategy really of how to sell them. While we were proud and were creating things that we would wear and that we were proud to try and sell, we still weren't generating much revenue off of them. We were definitely still in the hobby phase here.
I don't know how I came about it, but I found out about a Makers Market in Boulder so I applied on a whim and we got in!
This event brought us home around $1,000. This doesn't seem like a ton of money but we were PUMPED. This weekend showed us that people took to our products; enough to give us their money for them. We got really good feedback and sold out of most of what we made. During this time, we took turns getting to know fellow makers and hearing their stories. From this we were able to find out what other events there were around town. It turned out there were so many to be a part of so we started going to all of them throughout the summer.
When the holidays hit we were amazed. Our stuff was selling really well and we were finally making enough money to not feel like we were strapped for cash all the time. We still were investing it into our business and new products, but we felt like we were growing and that was exciting.
Let's be real, our garage setup was pretty pathetic. But we were able to get the jobs done in it. When we started doing more and more, we could tell we were overstaying our welcome a bit. We were taking over the garage and Tanner's mom kept fearing that we were going to burn the house down.
I didn't know what to expect, but I started looking into commercial spaces to rent. This was really hard because many spaces were massive and we couldn't afford them nor did we need that much space. Then I found a space that was about 1,100 square feet in Denver. I called the guy on a whim and we went to tour it. They mentioned it was $700 a month (oh how we would kill for that low of a price now). This was beyond my comfort zone and a huge step for us especially since we were both still in school. But I also knew that if we had our sights truly set on the future, this is what was next for us. I talked it over with my family. While they weren't going to support this decision financially and made sure I knew that this decision was all on me and Tanner, they assured me that they wouldn't let us completely fail if it came down to it. Turns out we never needed their help paying the rent and were able to accelerate our growth in this space.
We had slow but steady growth during this time. This was when we were both in school and would work on nights and weekends to sell our products, attend events, grow wholesale, and grow our product line. We also changed our name to Moore Collection.
We went from having it take 4 months to develop 4 quality designs to cranking them out much faster. We upgraded our equipment and got set up to print at optimal speed so we started to actually become efficient at making our products.
Although we were expanding, we never lost sight of keeping our quality under control with both our designs and the actual products themselves.
It was the December before I graduated college. I had to decide if I would run the business full time or get a big girl job. We went hard on events because I was determined to see what we were capable of before I got into the real world. I saw our potential here and felt like if I had the time to put into it it would grow fast. I just knew it. But I wanted financial proof before taking any big leaps.
We did events, sometimes more than one per weekend, November through December of 2015 as we were going through finals. I remember stopping to look at what we were doing and thinking that we would look back in 30 years and wonder how the hell we did it all. We were overworking ourselves but had so much excitement and determination to build the business beyond a hobby that much of it didn't even feel like work.
We had a really good holiday season. The time for makers markets in Denver was reaching its peak as we were growing in really cool directions. It was the perfect storm for success. We had a booth at the Denver Flea December of 2015 while we were in the middle of finals and still weren't done with school. When the weekend was over, we cleared $10,000. We were freaking SHOCKED. I mean we worked for it but how cool was it to hit those numbers while we were still in school? Obviously the money was cool but what excited us the most was the fact that that many people genuinely wanted to buy our products. We were able to really see our potential here which created so much excitement for the future.
What sucked? Once we were done packing up that Sunday night, I had to high tail it 40 miles back to school to work on a dumb group project for finals week.
The end of this holiday season allowed us to FINALLY put some money in our personal pockets. Yeah, we didn't pay ourselves really anything up until this point. It might seem absurd, but when you truly have the drive to grow something, it almost doesn't matter to you.
I was approaching the end of college. While I had accomplished really amazing things within the business, I hadn't had a real internship with a company. My sister learned so much from having internships that even though I was busy as hell with our growing business, it would be beneficial for me to get a perspective on how other companies run theirs. And what better time than college to get an internship?
I waited until the 11th hour but I pulled the trigger and went to a career fair. It was the last place I wanted to be. I was with all of my peers trying to compete for internships while simultaneously questioning why I wasn't just putting that effort into our business.
I was getting my degree in HR, so I was seeking an HR internship. I ended up finding an opportunity to get an HR internship at Comedy Works. I got the internship a few weeks later and ended up giving up 30 hours of my time for free to intern with them, while finishing school and running a growing business. Luckily it was during spring, which was our slow period during the business.
About 2 months into the internship, I was still struggling with whether I should get a "real" job our dive into our business full time. I felt like I wanted more experience and to build up my bank account but I also didn't want to waste the potential that I knew was there for Moore.
Before I was able to look for other jobs, I was offered a full time position at Comedy Works about a month before graduating. I made some great friends and liked the work I was doing so I accepted the position.
I worked hard at Comedy Works, but was living far away (my commute was about an hour each way every day) and was simultaneously trying to grow Moore so that I could solely focus on our business. Working at Comedy Works was not my passion.
I was then and remain fortunate to know what my passion is. I know so many people that still don't know what they want to do in life so at least I knew what it was I was working my ass off for.
I knew we needed to grow our business to the point where it could support us financially, and for me to quit my job, but didn't have enough hours outside of work to build it up to that point. I tried but was slowly deteriorating. Tanner was still in school at this point so he didn't have a full time job at the time.
We were recently engaged and so we also had a wedding to plan and save for. I became quite conservative with my spending (which was never hard for me anyway), so that I could save the little money I was making at my job to pay for the wedding and save enough for our bills for at least a year if I was going to quit my job.
We were working hard to grow our business and were actually reaching the point where our production was outgrowing our first warehouse. Honestly, we hated that grungy place and were interested in finding a shop that we could feel more creative in that was also better fit for our needs.
Then December of 2016 hit. I had been working my job for about 7 months, growing our business on the side, and planning our wedding. All while thinking about relocating our operations and hoping that the reality of quitting my day job was close.
We had an even better holiday season than the year before. I would work until midnight many nights after my 40 hour a week job to meet our current demand. Then we went to the Holiday Denver flea and, I kid you not, made $17,000 in 2 days. Let me tell you, this is HARD WORK and we were not ready for it. Had we been more prepared and stocked, we would've sold a lot more. I was shocked and pumped and felt like this boost was a sign that I could quit my job soon. I did however want to wait until the spring slump of retail had passed so I didn't quit right away. It's funny though because we made $6,000 less than my entire yearly salary at my day job in 2 days. I knew at this point we truly had something we could grow for real.
The unfortunate part about being too busy during this time is that for the first time we turned a real sizable (for just graduating college at least) profit, I didn't have time to spend our money. So when tax time came around we had a 35,000 profit and had to pay quite a bit in taxes.
When I realized that, I thought screw this! If I'm going to have to give all this money that WE EARNED to the government, then I'm going to quit my job, get a better shop that we've been thinking about, and grow this beast. So that's what I did.
We got to the point where we were starting to build a strategy but were also still trying a lot of things out. We were growing our product line and people were really taking to it. I deeply felt our potential so we started to look for a new workshop before I quit my job since I didn't know realistically how long it would take. I would go to showings before and after work. We quickly found a space but it had to be built out and renovated. We signed the lease in May and it took until late September for the work to be completed.
Once I had a rough idea on timeline, my boss ended up getting fired. At that point I figured it was my time to go. It was June of 2017 when I sat down the CEO to give him my notice because our business was growing so fast. How exhilarating it was to feel like I could actually do this thing!
While our space was getting built out that summer, we hustled hard to keep growing in the ways that we felt we knew how. We were seeing growth when I finally had the time to be all in. Tanner was still in school at this point and was working hard when he had the time but I was doing most of the day to day things and planning the wedding.
We opened our Steele Street shop. At that point we were sharing our space with a fellow maker and did a joint retail section. We had our grand opening and 2 weeks later we got married in California. Oh! We were also training our new puppy, Scout, during it all.
We got hitched and immediately had to come back to get into our holiday production and Tanner had to dive into finals. On top of it, we decided to host our own makers market with 50 of our fellow business owners. Once again, looking back now, I wonder how we did it all.
Tanner came to me and said he just couldn't proceed with school anymore. I was a bit bummed but also elated because I was running a growing business by myself 70% of the time. I never resented him and really needed his help. We were growing beyond what I could do mostly by myself. Even though we weren't paying ourselves much, we were able to cover our bills comfortably.
We then hit our beginning of the year retail slump which was a hard time for us. We were both newly full time, in a new, more expensive space, and didn't have a strategy planned out ahead of time for this. We felt like we were dragging through winter and spring and were just trying to get by before we got busy again. I felt really defeated for the first time in our business. I started to question over and over if we made the right decision of both going full time and moving into a bigger space. I questioned if we were on the right track to growth, or if we naïvely jumped into this position based on a few wins as opposed to the result of a successful long term period of growth.
Luckily we used this as motivation to needing to start having solid strategies if we are going to grow. Prior to this time, we tried things and hoped it would work. If it didn't, whatever. We went from having a hobby to creating a legit business to needing solid strategies mapped out for growth if we were going to hit the goals we set out for ourselves.
The rest of the year shaped out well for us. It wasn't easy but we figured out a lot of things and took time to educate ourselves every day.
We knew we wanted to grow wholesale so we did our first trade show, Outdoor Retailer. It didn't seem great at first and we felt defeated after the first show because we spent a ton of money and didn't see a great return. In the months following, it paid for itself. We also learned the ropes after our first show and started to be quite successful with them as we went on. We started adding accounts that we were really excited about and felt like it was helping us grow in directions that we knew we wanted to grow in.
We were then told that our shop mate felt like they needed to leave the space for personal reasons. We knew we had to take it as it was but weren't interested in finding another person to share our space with because we were growing.
Taking the leap together was so exciting and was most definitely a huge accomplishment that we're proud of. We're lucky (luck doesn't just happen without hard work but you know what I mean) in the sense that we get to do what we both love every day.
Our biggest goal when we started was to be where we're at now. So we've been in an interesting transition this past year. We started as a hobby with big dreams, grew it to the point that we could support ourselves in our dream shop, and now we sit here and decide what's next for us.
It can be hard at times. When we wake up in the morning we don't know if we'll make $100 or $5,000 for the day. We used to measure our goals by different benchmarks like running the business full time or the shop we could be in but now it's mostly revenue based.
We are at the point where if we don't sit down and continuously map out strategies, we could put ourselves in a really tough position because of the obligations that we have now. Every day is more of a hustle than the last. We recently brought on a business advisor because we can acknowledge that we need outside perspective to help guide us through this growth and we recently made our first full time hire. It's freaking awesome but scary because now we are responsible for them getting their bills paid.
Every day presents new challenges. The way we run our business is different than it was before but still incredibly exciting every day. We aren't small anymore but we aren't big either. Our business is currently in the phase that requires a hell of a lot of personal hustle from the two of us, but not big enough where we can step aside and let things run on their own in ways.
We feel closer than ever to being the next Vans or Burton like we would talk about 9 years ago before we were anything. It will be a while because we are strong believers in slow and steady growth. This way, we can navigate challenges effectively every day as opposed to seeing a huge spike in growth that we aren't yet ready to handle.
It's hard to say where the next few years will take us but we're sure excited to see what's next!