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Interviewer: So just so I understand, this is designed to be in one shirt, right? You don't move it around from shirt to shirt but you get one for each shirt that you have?
Rob Kessler: Right. So we sell packs of 5, 10, 20 or 50, directly to consumers. Those are the options. Otherwise, we actually work with about 600 dry cleaners in the U. S. So we have this amazing map that you can hop on and see if there is somebody nearby that already does the installation, they stock them. So you can walk right in, test it out, and try it in one shirt first. It's one per shirt. Like I said I tried everything to make it removable, to be able to move around but actually somebody patented a removable plackets in 1888. So you can't re-patent something that was already done so for me to get a patent I had to do something different. Mine is permanently installed and actually when it comes down to the installation itself, there isn't an easy way to attach it to the shirt that would be less expensive then what we came up with for the sheer fact of how shirts are designed.
If you put in a button whole that you could slide it in and out of it would be so much more labor-intensive to do per shirt. We got to do that to all your shirts where you could open this up, slid this in. So these cost a couple of bucks and once they're in like I said they last for the whole shirt. So you buy them from us for a couple of bucks, you go to the dry cleaner and it costs $10 to get installed.
For $10-$15 depending on where you go, that one shirt will always look amazing. I've done them in H & M shirts that I get for $12 and make them look like a million bucks. Actually, I taught myself how to sew during this process and I've got a couple of celebrities out here that I hooked up with and I personally do their shirts. So I'm doing $300, $400, $55, $600 shirts that I put this in. So, people are like to just get a quality shirt. It's not about quality, the shirt was never designed to be worn without a tie. So there's no structure in this part of the shirt. So I'm just the one that came up with the structure for it.
Interviewer: Very interesting. I have to ask before I move on. Did you actually use cardboard at your wedding or is that just a momentary...
Rob: That was after. The wedding photos were an inspiration but as soon as we got home from Jamaica I cut open a shirt and sewed a piece of cardboard in and it was really thin stuff and it worked out perfectly. It just got the concept across to my wife so she let me spend all the rest of our money investing in this and getting us launched.
Interviewer: Awesome. I want to get into that launch but before that, you mentioned patents which is a topic I haven't covered so much on the podcast. I'm sure people would like to learn about how one becomes an inventor? What's it like to patent a product?
Rob: It's expensive, very, very, very expensive. Once you engage a patent attorney just plan on writing $1- $3,000 checks on a regular basis. The first step is to do a patent search, so you can google all you want but there's a lot of stuff that can be hidden. So the attorney's have a way to do a patent search. That is anywhere from $1500- $2500 or $3000 and that's just a good way to say I'm into this and I should move forward or someone already knows exactly what I'm trying to do and I need to just pump the brakes.
We're well over six figures into our patent now and that is a worldwide coverage so that gets a little bit more expensive. Basically, the process is you say here's my idea and you write it as big as possible and as general as possible and the patent office just keeps saying no until it's defined enough that you're protected but not so broad that you're blocking anybody else from ever entering the market. It's this weird game of your attorney trying to get as much through and them wanting as little as possible to get passed. Every time it goes back and forth it's a couple a thousand bucks and it's six weeks to six months before you get a response.
Interviewer: I had no idea that it was that expensive. I actually have a patent but I didn't go through that process because I worked for the government at one point and they did it on my behalf. I have one but I don't actually know what it's like to go and get one. I appreciate now how much money they spent on my behalf. I was a summer intern in high school. Anyway, that's quite fascinating. Do you feel like the patent does the job of protecting against any sort of copyright infringement? I am not sure what you would call it. Is it the idea that you would be able to enforce anything if something came up? Or is it just to deter people? Have you had any issues basically with people stealing your product?
Rob: No issues quite yet but what I did learn in the process it actually is another revenue stream for your business. So people that do infringe or potentially infringe it is a way to generate revenue for the company. If it's a strong enough patent and your product is good enough it certainly can be a benefit. We've got somebody..... a major, major, major player that is borderline but to me what that shows is what we've done and what we're trying to do is on the radar of the biggest guys on the planet. What we're doing is on the right track and our finish, our process is much better than what there's looks like so I'll take where we're at.
Interviewer: Very interesting so just to be clear when you say it's a potential revenue generator I think you mean if someone infringes you can sue them and make money right?
Rob: Well I spent over six figures on protecting my idea so if someone just walks in and just tries to steal it and use it they can't do that.
Interviewer: Totally fair, didn't really know that. So let's talk about marketing you mentioned launching the product. I'm sure beyond yourself and your network you have to get it out there. What are some of the things that you did?
Rob: so, when we launched Million Dollar Collar originally it was definitely talking to friends. I did a lot of feedback in that 2 1/2 to 3 years of developing the material, developing the design. So, originally we were going to make our own shirt and that actually changed. We did a Kickstarter, we didn't get funded. People unequivocally said why are you trying to compete with all the brands and why can't upgrade the shirts I already own. We had designed the shirt, we had a manufacturer, we had everything ready to go so we stopped and pivoted and we changed the design to what it is today. So that it fits into any shirt, it's a universal design and I think guys are a little bit finicky when it comes to shirts. I'm 6'2", 210 lbs, I have long arms, I have big arms and so finding a shirt that fits isn't that easy so once I do I just know I can go with this brand and get a shirt online, I don't have to go into the store if they have a new color.
We thought if there are a lot of guys like that why try to sell them something new. What we call our aftermarket Million Dollar Collar can be easily installed on any shirt. We've been talking to every major brand since we got the patent and those guys are like the titanic they're really slow to turn, they're really slow to change, there are multiple layers to get through. So, after years and years of trying to get through to these guys, we said let's make our own shirt.
Again now that we sold a quarter of a million units of Million Dollar Collar we know that people want this and overcoming that challenge of sewing it into a shirt. It's such a different foreign idea for most people especially in the U. S. Outside of the U. S. tailoring and alterations is a huge thing. Here it's not that big of a thing for American men. We decided to do our own shirt and again we reached out to family and friends and previous customers and those first 200 shirts were gone in less than 3 days so it was pretty amazing.
Interviewer: That's interesting. Again to touch on a point here that you mentioned, going after brands after you got the patent. I assume that's because you didn't want to introduce them to the product until you had protection right?
Rob: Right, as soon as we got the patent actually during this process my wife and I sold everything we had and moved from Milwaukee to Los Angeles, and on our 10-day cross-country move the patent attorney called and said, "Hey your patent was approved." So we were like okay we're making the right move here, it was kind of cool to get that.
We started talking to them about licensing the technology to those guys and getting that to them. But they're really far behind the times and actually one of the major brands came out with a stretch collar. So you have nobody wearing ties, less than 10% of shirts are worn regularly with a tie and these guys decide it's time to come out with a stretch collar. Who cares if you're not wearing a tie. That's how slow I think they are in this process.
Interviewer: Interesting. So, I guess if I understand correctly the original idea was a full-on collared shirt with everything built-in. Then you pivoted to the product but now you're kind of back again with the original with goTIELESS which was the original idea in a sense right?
Rob: We decided that we sold a quarter of a million units of Million Dollar Collar to people in 113, 114 countries around the world. We were getting mass appeal, people really wanted it so we said we know we're still missing a section of the market, and if these big brands aren't going to jump on try to add this to there shirts let's just make a shirt and prove that we can build a brand around the technology. We launched goTIELESS, the shirts after that first run were kind of like a beta test. Tell me what you like? What you don't like? We'll make a better round. We got those shirts right after Christmas and launched in about February was when we started doing Facebook Ads and so we sold through 75% of our inventory during COVID, during all of those, during the slow time. We definitely know we're on to something. The struggle now is just getting shirts back in stock. We're out of 12 sizes right now because everybody is making masks, everybody is making PPE and all that stuff. Trying to fit into production rounds has been a challenge.
Interviewer: So let's talk a little bit more about that. Obviously, COVID was a thing that was going on. It sounds like you've got your pulse on manufacturing so a lot of them have shifted gears to making masks which means your more regular products so to speak they aren't a priority. What have you guys been able to do about that if anything?
Rob: The first negotiation was to get fabric which I finally was able to get some fabric so we're going to remake our original shirt in the updated version. So, it was a white shirt with a light gray trim. I got the fabric and then we tweaked the design of the shirt a little bit. It was getting prototypes made and pre-production samples. I've put on thousands of miles just here in Los Angeles going back and forth to the different vendors that we have making sure we have buttons and labels and sourcing all this.
You think about a dress shirt, you just throw it on and you don't realize the 57 things that go into the shirt from the button to the label to the care label to the interfacing that's in-between the layers to give it a little bit of structure and all these things. So it's been months and months of trying to get it all secured.
Interviewer: Awesome, not awesome necessarily it sounds very difficult actually. At least the progress is being made, it sounds like I found a manufacturer I think you had mentioned in Turkey when we last spoke, tell us about that experience, that partner?
Rob: We wanted to keep the early production here in Los Angeles so I could oversee and make on the fly tweaks and adjustments but it is insanely expensive. We are selling a $99 shirt and literally not making any money because it is so expensive to make it here. Shipping is included because Amazon has made people believe that free shipping is what everything should be.
We have been looking to outsource to other countries, and other areas so we can get a much more competitive price on the shirts and found a great place in Turkey. Of course, it all happened right before this all happened with COVID and that slowed down that process. We just literally found out yesterday that the counter samples that they made were approved by our pattern maker so we will be placing an order in the next week for 5 new colors. We are restocking the current colors we have here and adding the white shirts so by the end of July-ish we should have 9 colors in stock when we only have 3 right now.
Interviewer: Great. I'm sure you are looking forward to that. You're running two businesses in a sense, right? They have a similar target market but they are very fundamentally different products. How do you manage that?
Rob: I try to schedule out my day into 30 min blocks and try to stay focused alright. I need to do this and this and this. There's definitely a lot of crossover between the two and somebody who doesn't want to spend $99 on a shirt to see what we're doing. We have a Million Dollar Collar. People who don't want to go through the installation process we have goTIELESS. We also have a wholesale account with the largest distributor of dress shirts in America. We have Tommy Hilfiger shirts, Kenneth Cole, Calvin Klein, Van Heusen. So we have a really great selection of shirts that we've bought, we've installed Million Dollar Collar and we sell at the exact same price.
It's basically no extra charge to have a Million Dollar Collar in those shirts. So we have options from $45 to $99 on MillionDollarollar.com. So we're just trying to find ways to make it accessible to people. The biggest one is dry cleaners, the smallest dry cleaner in the US processes 200 dress shirts a day or at least they did in normal times. There's no store that does that, nobody is pushing that kind of product and that's a small dry cleaner. Big dry cleaners are doing 3, 4, 5,000 shirts a day. So if you care enough about the way you look that you're dry cleaning your clothes you're probably going to like our product. That's why we're in 600 different dry cleaners so far in the US.
Interviewer: I had no idea dry cleaners were processing that number of shirts.
Rob: It's unbelievable some of these machines. We've been to dry cleaner trade shows for the last 5 years which is really super exciting but some of the machines are amazing. Automatically fold sheets and automatically do all kinds of things, it's crazy.
Interviewer: Pretty cool, I guess when I do go to the dry cleaners I see there are just thousands of shirts just the depth of the store and this is a local place. With COVID going on fewer people may be going into the office. Collared shirt is a very versatile shirt like you mentioned but are you seeing an uptick, downtick in terms of demand with everything going on?
Rob: We literally almost sold out of almost all of our stock of goTIELESS and our upgraded shirts are selling really well too. I think what you're finding is that you can see right here, pants don't really matter. You can't look below my waist so... Spend the money on a good shirt or upgrade the shirts you already have and look amazing on camera and when you have to wear pants again then go grab a couple of pairs of pants. Right now like I said we sold out of most of our stuff, got named by Forbes as the best dress shirt for Dad for father's day so that put a huge dent in our inventory as well. It was a really great blessing but we weren't able to get some of the other colors in stock beforehand so we've just been in this pretty amazing spot launching this brand. Offering up something new, something actually different in a dress shirt. Striped fabric everyone can do, a shorter shirt everybody can do but Million Dollar Collar is super unique.
Interviewer: That's super cool like you mentioned the guy who does a million dollar belt is probably struggling right now. It's good to hear things are doing well. What's next for the company?
Rob: We just want to keep expanding the colors for goTIELESS. We want to get into some different size cuts, we basically have a slim and a standard cut. We want to get into Talls and keep expanding that and making sure it's available for everybody. Working on some really great partnerships and I have another super, super cool way to do it, to work with goTIELESS that we're just finalizing the details on but it's going to be an industry game-changer. My whole thing is most people don't wear ties anymore. You want to look good whether it's a casual shirt, an Untuckit shirt, whatever is ... This crumbling just drives me crazy. Some people like it, some people think it's cool, I hate it. You're going to love what Million Dollar Collar does and I am just getting in as many shirts as possible. A billion shirts were sold in the US last year, so we have a long way to go.
Interviewer: Yeah, big market. Awesome Rob if people want to hear more from you where should they go? Find your brands or find out more about you.
Rob: So we have all the social media for Million Dollar Collar and goTIELESS. We're probably most active on Instagram for the two and then the websites are the same address, milliondollarcollar.com or gotieless.com. If anyone wants to reach out to me about the patent process or any of that kind of stuff I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interviewer: Thanks so much Rob for being on the show, sharing your insight.