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T-Shirts with Your Logo Can Boost Your Small Business

If you think Matsumoto’s is a shave ice store, you’re half right

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“If their brand and logo are strong, it automatically lends itself to branding products to promote their company,” says Kyle Shimabukuro, a graphic designer with 20 years of experience creating logo wear for companies such as Local Motion, Barefoot League, HiLife Clothing Co., Faith Riding Co. and Matsumoto Shave Ice. “Taking it to the retail level would be the next step if floor space and customer demand is there.”

In January 2007, three friends started C4 Waterman, which specializes in stand-up paddleboards and accessories. Two years in, the business launched a line of T-shirts and hats that did so well, it’s now sold in about 15 stores in Hawaii and 30 on the mainland, plus its own retail space in Kakaako.

While its core business remains the hard goods, C4 Waterman recently started to evolve into a lifestyle company, and its logo merchandise is a big part of that shift.

Photo: David Croxford

“As our company grows, this will be a bigger part of who we are,” says founder and CEO Todd Bradley. “C4 Waterman is more than a stand-up company, it’s a lifestyle brand.”

Expanding into apparel was an ideal fit for this company, as the sport requires gear. Why not provide the board shorts, rashguards and hats to go along with the stand-up boards and paddles?

“Our core is still hard goods,” Bradley says. “(The logo merchandise) isn’t equal to that. It’s just gravy for us right now. But there’s potential in this and developing it will help us grow, as a company, in the direction we want to go.”

 

Look Before You Leap

T-shirts from Duke’s Waikiki restaurant, The Barefoot
League Clothing Co. and C4 Waterman.
Photo: David Croxford

If you’re interested in starting a logo line, here’s what to consider:

  • Make sure your company has a brand that will sell.
  • Look at what’s out there. “You should see what the other shops are selling,” says Stanley Matsumoto, of Matsumoto Shave Ice. “Go to craft fairs, malls – somebody might have a good idea that will work for your shop.”
  • While it may be tempting – and cheaper – to ask your brother-in-law or kid sister to come up with a logo design, consider paying a professional. “Good design builds trust,” says Valentino Valdez of VALDEZign, whose clients include Aloha Ice Cream Tricycle, Hawaii Aloha Travel and Aloha Gourmet Products. “And trust is everything in business.”
  • Talk to your customers. Do your patrons ask for logo wear? What do they want? They may give you ideas on what would sell.
  • During your first launch into logo merchandise, be conservative. Order a few items – T-shirts and hats tend to be easy sells – and see how well they do first before investing in a lot of inventory. You don’t want to be stuck with hundreds of key chains no one wants.

“Diversify slowly and see what catches the market and what doesn’t,” says Todd Bradley, co-founder and CEO of C4 Waterman. “Have a vision of what it is. Don’t just go into it, saying, ‘I’m going to make a T-shirt.’ ”

  • Some companies have found innovative ways to promote and sell their logo goods. C4 Waterman opened a pop-up store in a local surf shop, selling its merchandise on consignment. Duke’s Waikiki sells a limited-edition T-shirt – the only one with a date on it – that’s a huge seller every year. Profits support a charity.
  • Be prepared. If you dive into retail, you’ll need space to store your products and someone to handle the inventory and sales. The venture will likely require an investment, too. “It’s all about having the extra space, workers, time and energy,” says veteran graphic designer Kyle Shimabukuro. “It’s another way to promote your business, but, if done correctly, it can turn into a business in itself.”

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Hawaii Business,February