Case Study

Spotlight On A Store: Solid Threads

Welcome to Storetasker’s Spotlight On A Store series where I interview entrepreneurs about their Shopify stores and more, connecting our readers to ideas and advice from the minds of store owners just like them!

1. How did you decide to go into the business of selling t-shirts online? What did you do before you started your Shopify store?

T-shirts happened into my life during my freshman year of college, in the first business class I ever took. The class was a “mock-company,” built upon the premise of creating and selling a product on campus. I offered up a t-shirt idea, but it was denied by the “board” due to its alcohol-related content (a common theme at this point of my life).

I printed up 144 of them on my own and ended up selling out of them in a couple days. Following this successful first run of shirts I contracted with a local screen printer and setup as a middle man on campus brokering t-shirt deals between students and the printer. This was the initial seed leading to my eventual Shopify store, many years later.

Before I started the Shopify Store, I spent 4 years in the cubicle jungles of Pharmaceutical Advertising in midtown Manhattan, teaching myself graphic design and tapping into the knowledge of designers at the firm. Eventually, I started selling my wares on the street 3-4 times a week and exhibiting at craft fairs and festivals throughout the state on the weekends, before finally parlaying this into a full-fledged retail store and wholesale operation for over 8 years, along with running a significantly more cumbersome website on another platform… until the hurricanes entered my life.  

2. I read your story on the Solid Threads website. I can’t believe your brick and mortar retail store was hit by not one but two hurricanes (Irene and Sandy)!! My question is since you have been in both the business of running a store with a physical location and the online store business, which do you like better? Which type of store is easier to run?

An online store is simpler to run in many ways, but I like both channels about the same, for different reasons. With a brick and mortar store, there’s the opportunity to interact and engage directly with your customers. It’s fun to develop the full flavor of a brand in the real world and deliver a more multi-sensory experience through the ambiance and design aesthetic of a physical space. The consumer feedback that happens naturally and spontaneously on a daily basis is invaluable, and in many ways helped hone my craft of designing t-shirts that truly resonate with people. On the flipside, running a retail store is an arduous task, and the requirements in keeping this store open, stocked, and ready to go on a daily basis, as far as time and labor are concerned, is much more demanding than an online store.

A photo of Brian Carr, in front of stacks of t-shirts in the Solid Threads stock room
Brian Carr, the head t-shirt guy, at work in the Solid Threads stock room in Burlington, Vermont, USA

Meanwhile, selling online, the people I can connect with is unlimited. It is also a game changer in terms of overall flexibility, both in terms of when and where I’m required to work, which ultimately has led to a more balanced existence. The added “space” in all respects fuels a more expansive and consistent creative process.    

An image of three popular t-shirt designs on the Solid Threads Shopify store
Solid Threads online store with a few of their most popular designs

3. I like that you offer 10% off your first order, Free shipping over $50, and Free Returns and Exchanges and that these offers are prominently displayed on your site. Have you noticed that you are able to get more sales due to these offers?

Yes, I think these offers are really important to providing a quality shopping experience and definitely contribute to the overall success of my store.

4. Who have you worked with at Storetasker and what changes did they help you make to your store? What was your experience like working with Storetasker.com?

I worked with Satish Voddi, who helped me connect all related styles of a design together across each of their respective product detail pages. He also set this up in a way so that I could easily edit and update these correlations.  This had a great impact on the overall usability of my store, helping customers find all the styles available in a particular design on each and every page.

It is great to be able to hire people who are specialized in e-commerce and Shopify and know that they are fully capable of completing the work professionally, on-time, and at an affordable price. I only have positive things to say about my experience with Storetasker.

5. I noticed that you use a lot of bold red, yellow, and blue colors on your website. My online research has informed me that these types of colors have become a trend in design recently due to the use of colorful apps and electronics that have become such a constant in our lives. How has your design sense, both of your store and the shirts that you sell contributed to your success?

In the t-shirt business, I think design sense, and/or the design aesthetic and feel of your artwork, is one of the core ingredients that makes or breaks any brand. Probably much more so than in many other product/service categories. Particularly nowadays, with the t-shirt arena being much more saturated due to ease of access to suppliers/info, relatively low risks/costs of startup through e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, and the rise of digital textile printing and on-demand fulfillment centers.

I’ve been distilling and crafting my “design sense” for over 20 years now, and this has filtered through to the look, feel, and essence of every component of my brand identity, from my online store, to the packaging of my products, to the manner in which I convey my brand philosophy. I also have my hands on nearly every aspect of the manufacturing, design, marketing, sales, and fulfillment of my products, from having my shirts custom cut & sewn exclusively for Solid Threads in the USA,
to designing or art directing every design in our collection, to printing, packaging, and shipping most of our garments in house, from our home base in Burlington, VT.  All of this converges into an intangible element of authenticity and originality that people recognize almost immediately, even if they can’t explain this very easily in words.

The use of bright, bold colors was not a calculated effort on my part. For whatever reason, I have always been drawn to the retro flavor and vintage styling of the 1960’s/1970’s culture. I think these bright, bold, colors are emblematic of this era, and history repeats itself in many ways, particularly in fashion. I was drawn to this color pallet from the start. I’m also inspired by simple, subtle, hand-illustrated graphics that I believe resonate with people on a more primordial level.

6. What are some of your top selling shirts?

That’s Bananas, Bad Ass, Whiskey Helps, Take It Slow are perennial favorites. From our newest collection, Jesus is my lift ticket, Alternative Facts, and Trump Vader have been really well received.

An image of the Trump Vader T-shirt which shows Donald Trump holding a lightsaber so he looks like Darth Vader
The Trump Vader T-Shirt

7. What advice do you have for people who want to start a Shopify store, but have no experience in e-commerce? I am looking for a tip from a master store owner!

Nowadays, the e-commerce almost takes care of itself. So it’s more about honing in on and cultivating your unique craft/product offering and taking the time necessary to present this in a simple, honest, straightforward way. Put more time into your branding, products, company philosophy/ethos, and customer service, than you do your marketing, and your customers will find you. The beauty of our new digital existence is that there are now far fewer barriers between your artwork (no matter the form this may take) and those that will truly appreciate it, as long as you can avoid getting too caught up in all the virtual bells and whistles.

8. What else would you like our readers to know about you or your business?

I’m not just in this to sling as many t-shirts as I can. It’s my aim to use the humble medium of the graphic t-shirt, one that I stumbled into, agonized over, and persevered through for close to 20 years to uplift, inspire, and connect with the world.