Luke: Welcome to the New Town Big Dreams Podcast an interview-style talk show that's your gateway to the fabulous and fascinating people who relocated to start a new life. Whether you're new to our podcast or your city our fellow neighbors from across Canada, North America and the entire English-speaking world share their stories of reaching new horizons and big dreams. So sit back and relax as we navigate in-depth and intimate conversations with entrepreneurs, thought leaders, executives, creators, and anyone who can share their story about their new town, big dreams. And now here's your host Luke Jay Menkes.
Luke Menkes: It is April 7, 2021, and it is 6 a.m. on the west coast. I am here this morning with Rob Kessler and he is in Tyrone, Georgia which is close to Atlanta. He'll tell us about Tyrone but Rob, Captain Rob Kessler is a 50-ton master captain as well as the inventor and co-founder of Million dollar Collar and goTIELESS. A relatively simple solution to fix what his company dubs, Placketitis the sinking, wrinkling, and folding of the placket of a casually worn dress shirt. goTIELESS is the first shirt designed to be work tieless featuring Million Dollar Collar.
Now before Million Dollar Collar, goTIELESS Rob built a screen printing and embroidery business from a spare bedroom in his house to over 1 million dollars in revenue before selling the company. Although the company was never intended to be a screen printing company, word soon spread about the high quality, great pricing and the never miss a deadline guarantee.
So Rob's sales experience is in a number of high dollar industries including diamonds, real estate, and automotive sales provided a unique blend of backgrounds to transition him into the fashion world. Rob's ability to look at the world through a different set of lenses, than most people led to his success in every sales job and with all of his own businesses. So Rob welcome to the show good morning.
Rob Kessler: Good Morning Luke how are you? Thanks for having me.
Luke: I'm great. Tell us about Tyrone, Georgia I haven't heard of it before. How did you get there from California?
Rob: Honestly I don't know a lot about it yet. My wife has been here in the Atlanta area working, she's a stunt woman, real badass. So she's been here for 6 or 7 weeks and we decided it's time for a change. We've been together for 11 years, we've moved across the country once from Wisconsin to California and the 5-year mark was up for something new I guess. So she started looking at...
Literally never been to Georgia and she found this house and we bought it and I drove cross country with 2 dogs and all of our stuff and I saw the house for the first time few days after closing and I had to come back to LA to do some more charters and keep that business going. We're in the process of selling that also, I've been back and forth and we've owned this house for almost a month now and I've only been here for 10 or 11 days so far so I don't know a ton I can find my way to Home Depot and back and that's about it so far. That's about all I know. It's small we live on a gravel road.
Luke: So it's not too far from Atlanta?
Rob: No, it's 25 minutes we were in Atlanta yesterday so it's 25 minutes to downtown.
Luke: Nice, so did you grow up in California? Where are you from originally?
Rob: No, I'm from Wisconsin. We're both from Wisconsin my wife and me. She's from Green Bay and I'm from Milwaukee. After being together for 5 or 6 years we were traveling to LA quite often. We always came home from a trip to LA, " God we just met the most incredible people, we should just be out here. We'd meet more influential people in a weekend in LA than we would in a year in Milwaukee." I took her to LA for her birthday one year, she said, "you know what let's do it." I said, "Okay when?" She said, "By my next birthday."
So, we sold the screen printing business, sold my house, sold a car and we had a little ski boat and all of our furniture and everything we owned and if it didn't fit in the back of my F150 we didn't take it and we completed started over in LA. We knew nobody, I had Million Dollar Collar started already so I knew I was going to do that. Linda had her own gym in Milwaukee she was rated the number 1 trainer in the city. She closed that down and she didn't really know what she was going to do. She thought she was going to work for Beach Body corporate and that kind of fell through.
We happened to be hanging out with the few people that we met which were the leasing guys in the front office of our apartment building and one of those guys said, "Hey what are you going to do Linda?" She said, "I don't really know. I want to be active, I want to be physical." The guy said, " One of our former residents was a stunt man do you want to meet him?" She said, "Yeah, that sounds cool." And we went and worked out with him. He was a great guy and he's a lifelong friend now. He got her in the industry and she's been kicking butt ever since she got in.
Luke: Super cool. So you came up with a concept called Million Dollar Collar. Tell us about that, how did you come up with that concept?
Rob: So that came about on my wedding day. We got married in Jamaica, toes in the sand, casual beach wedding. I never liked wearing a tie, I think it came from my car salesman days where I was forced to wear a tie every day. So after that, I really hated wearing a tie. So I looked at my wedding photos and the front of my shirt had just collapsed completely and the photo on our website, if you go to the about us, is actually 30 mins of putting on a brand new freshly pressed shirt before I even said I do. It was just a sloppy, crumbled, mess. It was tucked underneath my lapel of my jacket, it looked terrible and I said this is ridiculous.
I came home from Jamaica I googled and searched everything I could find and there was nothing out there that fixed what I thought the problem was. Everything was around the collar, everybody tried to do a collar stay to try and prevent the placket from crumbling and so I took the idea of a collar stay, I made it 9 inches long and put it down the front of the shirt where the buttons and the holes are and voila we got a new thing that reinforces the part that's actually crumbling.
Luke: Are you wearing that now?
Rob: Yes. So it's Million Dollar Collar is sewn into any shirt that is our after-market version. After a couple of years of talking to every dress shirt brand, we could and not getting the response that we wanted. We figured if a couple of guys in New York could make a shirt that's a little shorter and build a $200 million dollar company we figured that our technology was actually proprietary. So we started goTIELESS and it's the first shirt designed to be worn without a tie and it's amazing.
Luke: So you actually got a patent on this concept. Was that a challenging process or was that easy?
Rob: It is ridiculously challenging. I may have looked at it a little differently than most. I knew that Million dollar Collar was something I wanted to do for a long time and this was going to be my career, this was going to be a long play. So I went with the most expensive and reputable patent company or patent firm in my city. He started at $530 an hour I think and gave himself a $20-$30 raise I think at some point. So he was $560 or $570 an hour.
I knew if I was going to commit everything to this I wanted a solid company to back it and make sure that it was done right. It took about 3 years and we're in the six figures now for the patent. It's very expensive to start, it's very expensive to maintain and it's challenging because everybody is going to try to find a way to get around the patent. So you have to plan ahead even if you might not do it this way you want to write the patent so that it covers the things that some people might want to skirt around your patent. First time doing it but it was fun, I mean it's not fun, you're constantly writing $1000 checks just to keep up.
Luke: And so did you get the patent and is that typical 2, 3-year process?
Rob: Yeah we got the patent actually, ironically we got the patent on our 10-day cross-country journey from Milwaukee to Los Angeles. We got the call that the patent was approved on that trip. We knew we were doing the right thing. Yeah, I think it's typical. You can pay early on, you can pay to expedite anything with the government. You pay $3500 or $4000 and instead of them responding in 6 months they respond in 6 weeks. The challenges that your attorney is going to write the patent as big as he can and they just keep saying no so you just want to get it just big enough that they'll cover it but not too narrow so that somebody else can come in really easy. That's what takes so long, is to try to get away with as much as you can but also get it approved.
Luke: I see so you start out very broad covering a lot of related concepts and then you have to keep narrowing it down until they say okay. This is something unique.
Rob: Yeah, and every time that they say no it is 6 to 8 weeks and every time you submit its time. Attorney's have to go back and say okay how can we change it so that maybe they'll approve this. And they will tell you why it's too broad or it's too... Why they didn't approve it so you know where you're at but it's just a constant back and forth to get the most you can.
Luke: Right. So you had a company called NEWD? Is that the correct way?
Luke: Is that the correct way to pronounce it?
Rob: Nothing Else Will Do. NEWD Clothing.
Luke: Alright, Northing Else Will Do, NEWD, nice. So how did you grow that company into a screen-printing business? Tell us about that company?
Rob: So in about 2006 I was in real estate, I was working on a condo project. So we were sitting in a trailer in an empty lot waiting for customers to come in and just something I hate. I am not really retail sales guy anymore. I was just trying to find something to fill the time and I had a bunch of friends that were artists and graphic t-shirts were really becoming huge. This is the Ed Hardy days when he was selling $80, $90 T-shirts. I had a little bit of background on that from my first job at a soccer/ volleyball store so we did a lot of jerseys and things like that. So we did a little bit of screen printing, we subbed it out so I knew a little bit about it.
I said, to my artist friends, instead of having to sell a $1000, $2000, $5000 painting let's take that artwork and put it on a t-shirt and sell a bunch of t-shirts at your show and then will promote you and maybe you'll sell that painting. So I hooked up with a couple of different screen printers and tried to do this process and I was just getting jacked around a little bit on the price. It was nickel and diming me constantly and I hate that. I am the kind of guy that if you can't afford to pay someone else to do it, do it yourself and learn how to do it. I ended up meeting a guy that was looking to buy screen-printing business equipment so we split the cost, he taught me how to screen print.
So I started printing my own stuff so I told some friends I have screen printing equipment I was just trying to find a way to pay for the equipment and keep the business going and cut down some of my overhead. I just started printing for people and they told their friends and they told their friends and word just got around. Instead of leaving the label in the shirt that it came with I cut those out and I screen printed my own label inside. So when the shirts came in the first thing I would do is stack them all by size and print all my labels on the inside. I folded every single shirt individually,
If you've ever done an event they do them in the dozens, you get 12 shirts and you big up one and it's this huge pile and it's a mess. I folded them all individually by size and just a lot of little stuff that I think made a better presentation. I never ever, ever missed a deadline in 9 years and I heard a lot of screen printers are famous oh well things didn't work out we didn't get them done sorry. That's just not who I am I couldn't do that.
Luke: Yeah, lots of businesses are like that in all kinds of fields you know?
Luke: So true, was that in Wisconsin?
Rob: Yes. That was in Wisconsin. I sold that business, sold NEWD custom printing and that is what funded us in California. It was really kind of cool to be able to say to my wife, look you have, we have 18 months of burn. You could do whatever you want. You have the opportunity here in your life, you don't have to worry about any of bills, you can explore any career path you want and you have over a year to really master whatever it is you want to do. When she decided to do the stunt thing she was going to the gym and training with people 6 days a week. She caught up real fast and she learned a lot of stuff quickly because we were fortunate enough to have sold that business and had some cash.
Luke: Right. A lot of people are out to get into secondary jobs when they go to California to try to get into the entertainment industry. There's the famous thing about waitresses and working 50, 60 hours a week and then attending auditions when you can but your wife got to practice and train and do that full time. Has she gotten any big parts?
Rob: Yes, so she was a Skrull in Captain Marvel, she was in Tenet, she just did, Miss Marvel so she was shooting that. She doubled Taylor Swift pretty early in a music video, she just got to say something on Shameless that was pretty cool. She runs into Mickey on the street and he yells at her and she turns back I said on your left. She got some speaking stuff so it's been really fun. It's cool to see her, she's got over 50 credits now in just a couple of years so she's a hustler, man she works her butt off and she's got a marketing degree and business degree so it's show business and she really comes at it from a business perspective. I think that is why she's so successful so quickly.
Luke: So is she going to have to fly to California or can you do these parts in Georgia as well?
Rob: There is significantly more production happening in Georgia than in California. The stuff that she gets called for in California is for a day or two or three. She just got off of 6 weeks with Ms. Marvel. A lot of the funny movies that you watch, there's a ton of studios here, they're booked for the next two years so that's why we're here because we're 12 minutes from the studio and Walking Dead is filmed here and all the Marvel stuff is filmed here and it's just a huge, huge market.
Luke: I didn't know that I just assumed everything was in California and a little bit in New York but I have heard Tyler Perry I guess has a huge studio out there.
Rob: It's on an old military base in Georgia. He bought this military base and has 300 acres or something and he built all these studios and it's pretty cool. He has a nice tour on You Tube that we watched. Only like 5 to 10 percent is shot in California because of taxes are too high.
Luke: Makes sense. So you started several businesses, you've sold some of them and besides what you said about being timely, folding the shirts yourself, make sure the quality is there what advice do you have for anyone starting a business today?
Rob: I always go above and beyond. It seems like a little extra work but it's paid off in spades for us. As you said in the intro I'm a 50-ton master captain. One of the things my wife and I started in Los Angeles is our Yacht Charter business.
Everybody else had the same style of boat which is not my style of boat. It's called the Sedan Bridge or Flybridge. We went with an Express Cruiser so it's a nice low, it's sexy, it's fast and everybody can congregate in one area. Instead of doing rent a boat for 2 hours, 3 hours, or 4 hours or for whatever you want we designated specific trips. 2 hours you do this, 3 hours you do this, 4 hours you do this, 5 hours you do that.
Then when they get on board there's a charcuterie board, there's snacks, it's just nice little extra touches so I always say just go above and beyond and find out the things that no one else is doing. Usually that stuff, those charcuterie boards cost us $6 bucks or $7 bucks but everybody gets on and says oh wow the presentation. We have people who have charted for years and have said we provide way better service then anybody else. It doesn't cost anything, treat people great and make them feel like they want to come back.
Luke: Yeah, that makes sense. What about partners, what's your advice on taking on partners for a new business?
Rob: Find somebody that doesn't do what you do. Linda and I are great business partners because I'm really creative and I can find the niche. She's very, very, very organized so she gets all the documents together. She keeps us on track, she keeps the schedule going. She's really great at that so she's got what I don't have.
My partners in Million Dollar Collar is a friend of mine Steve, and my father. My dad is not in the day to day stuff but Steve is very sales oriented, he's very graphically oriented, he's very technical. In those businesses I've been more of the back end dealing with logistics and making sure the product I've designed is being produced the right way, we have inventory, things are shipped out properly. So I handle that side and he handles the front side. We're opposites and we complete each other.
Luke: Right. And how about your dad what's he doing with the business?
Rob: So, he's more of a consultant, he doesn't do a lot of day to day stuff. He comes on our weekly calls and he just brings a great outside perspective. The guy moved from Detroit to Milwaukee, new nobody, got into the jewelry industry, some crazy random way and built the third largest independent jeweler in the country. He's been there, he's done that, he's seen it all and he's a wealth of knowledge. The fact that I have it as a family member is insanely valuable.
Luke: It's always great to have an extra set of eyes on something with someone you trust right? They can see things sometimes that we can't see.
Rob: He's sitting there at 30,000 feet so he's not in the day to day stuff so he can... Sometimes it's hard to get out of minutiae and actually see what's happening and have an unbiased view of things. He can stand back and say I know most of the business but I've got this perspective because I'm not in the day to day.
Luke: Yeah. Besides your father do you have any mentors?
Rob: Oh yeah, one of my really good friends, Russ, I met him in 2 to 3 months of moving to Los Angeles. It turns out the guy happened to start a little company called Expedia.com. He was one of the founding members and he's just been amazing. Recently we had a guest on our boat named Terrence and Terrence loved the service that we provided to the point where he's booked us probably a dozen times to come out with his friends and family and he's just been incredible. We've become really good friends and he's introduced me to a lot of great people and I call him quite often for things.
I like being the dumbest guy in the room, I like surrounding myself with people who know a lot more then me and have been where I want to be or where I want to go. The other thing I enjoyed when I got to LA I found a men's networking group. It was all men, there was a lot of very successful business people and I met some incredible people and learned a lot in a very short amount of time. That was a big deal for me to be around that.
Luke: How many businesses have you started and sold so far?
Rob: The boat business will be the third that we sold. The other thing that my wife and I have done is commercial real estate. We bought a building for ourselves that we ran our businesses. I eventually moved that screen printing business out of my... I went from a spare bedroom to the entire basement of my house and from the basement we bought the 6,000 square foot building. So my wife opened a gym, I had my printing area and we rented out half the building. We sub divided it into all inclusive offices so thing of the guy who is working at home or lady that is maybe taking customers and is tired of working from the kitchen table and wanted a place to go. Our offices were all inclusive, the scary part of moving out of home is well how much is electric going to be, how much is the internet going to be, how much is this and that and all these other bills. So we said you know what here is what the building cost you have this much square foot, you get free internet, you get this you get that, one low bill every single month. We had 8 offices in that building, we ended up buying a second building. We had 32 offices between the two buildings and we sold those buildings and business to somebody. That would be the third business and the boat business we are in escrow right now and that should be closing in the next 30 days.
Luke: Alright good luck with that. With the commercial real estate it's really pretty easy to sell if you have it full of tenants. You guys comprised several of the tenancies in that building. How were you able to sell it did that create a vacancy when you guys sold the building?
Rob: We were operating our businesses out of the one building and we moved out and literally within 30 days of moving to Los Angeles we found a tenant that signed a 3 year lease for our entire 60% of the building and so she moved in that filled the building and we were good to go. We had actually bought the second building after we got to Los Angeles. It was about 50% full, a couple of weird tenants, we got rid of a couple of tenants and rehabbed the whole building, filled it, we had 32 tenants in 2 buildings all offices rented and sold the whole thing in one shot to a doctor.
Rob: And the two buildings were two and a half hours apart. One was in Milwaukee where we were from and one was in Green Bay about a mile from Linda's parents house
So we had this weird connection to these two cities but randomly who would have business in those two and a doctor came and looked at the one building and our realtor said we have another building. He said, "Oh I have to go to Green Bay for work tomorrow." Oh we have a second building in Green Bay do you want to see it? He said, "yes." He was absolutely the perfect buyer he came through scooped up both buildings, got 32 tenants and full occupancy.
Luke: That’s great. It shows you can duplicate success in different locations. If you're doing everything right you can replicate that.
Rob: Yeah, exactly. We had a plan and our all inclusive rent offices seemed to be a good hit. All we did was craigslist posts and ended up finding all the tenants and how crazy is it that 3 years ago this month we sold those two buildings and bought a yacht to do this yacht charter business and honestly led us. We sold the commercial real estate 2 years before COVID, bought a yacht, started this business and we're in business just long enough that this past year 2020 was insane growth in our yacht charter business and that's actually what floated us to be able to stay in LA. If we didn't have that boat I don't know what we'd be doing. Tail between the legs and packed up and like you said people have 2, 3 jobs in California just to stay there. We would have never been able to stay in California if we didn't have that boat.
Luke: So you were able to sell the yacht business, is it still locked down in California? Are people able to have parties on the yacht?
Rob: Oh yeah, we're 90% ahead of last year year to date on the boat this year. So last year was an insanely good year. This year is already almost doubled what last year was.
Luke: Okay. So people can do a boat party?
Rob: Oh yeah. There's rules and there's stuff that we have to abide by but the ocean is the absolute best place you could be. you have the freshest cleanest air, you're in the sun, maybe we had 1500 or 2000 guests out last year and not a single issue of spread or COVID or anything. My wife and I were exposed to all those people we never had any symptoms and I don't know if we maybe got it and were asymptomatic or what but statistically it was impossible with the proximity of people that we were in to not have been exposed.
Luke: Oh that's great. It's really hard to know what's going on just following the news so I love to talk to people that are actually living in those places. If you just watch the news you think California is a complete ghost town, completely locked, not allowed to do anything so it's good to hear that you still had a thriving business there.
Rob: We had to navigate through some of the issues they did close us down for a month in April last year, they closed us down December or January this year. There was definitely some lock down stuff. The hard part, the frustrating part for us is there was fishing charter boats going out with 40 random people on it and we couldn't have a family of 6 on our boat and nobody would tell me why. I don't care if you tell me no, but you can't tell me no and not tell me why. Give me a good reason and that's the whole frustration with this pandemic. Some rules work and some don't and then when you question there's no real explanation that makes sense.
Luke: Same thing here in Canada. So do you have any other invention ideas in the works?
Rob: Not in the works but I do have other ideas. I have been coming up with stuff since I was I don't know 16 or 17 years old. I used to break things when I was a kid on accident and try to put it back together so I wouldn't get caught. I think that helped my creative brain on figuring on how things work and how things happen. I've got a boating invention, actually 2 that I would like to pursue at some point but until Million Dollar Collar gets to where we all believe it should go then I'm staying focused on that.
Luke: Is Million Dollar Collar and goTIELESS is that the same product?
Rob: Million Dollar Collar is the stay itself, is the technology that goes into the shirt. goTIELESS is shirts that are done. The challenging part with Million Dollar Collar is it has to be sewn in. so you have to go to your tailor or dry cleaner or wherever to get these installed in. Once they're in they last the life of the shirt. So that has been a bit of a challenge here in the U.S. Most people don't do tailoring, they don't get their clothes tailored. It either fits off the rack or they don't buy it.
In the rest of the world we sell all over the world no problem. Nobody in the rest of the world say they can't find a tailor to put these in. That's only the issue that I have here. So, we said let's make it as easy as possible for people to get our product.
So, we actually started buying known brands. We have Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Kenneth Cole, Tommy Hilfiger, Van Heusen shirts on our website and we buy those install Million Dollar Collar and sell that shirt done with it already installed. Then we started making our own shirts, we also have a VIP concierge service where we'll mail you a bag. you mail us 5 shirts and we'll install it and send it back to you. I am always trying to find a way to make it as easy as possible for a customer to experience our product.
Luke: you have tremendous reviews on this product.
Rob: Yeah, and we are in about 650 dry cleaners and tailors so we have a map of hundreds and hundreds of places you can go and already know how to install it and a lot of them will do the first shirt for free. If you happen to be in an area where you have a strong dry cleaner relationship you can just say I want to have Million Dollar Collar and they'll do the first one for free.
Luke: Fabulous. So they stock the product I guess? These 600?
Rob: Yeah, they stock it, they do the installs. Literally, you open a couple of stitches you slide it in, you sew it back together. Adding a button back to a shirt is about the only thing that is easier then putting my product in. It's so easy I taught myself how to sew and I can do it no problem.
Luke: So if I want to buy a shirt and try it out how do I find it?
Rob: So we're on milliondollarcollar.com is our main website.
Luke: Okay, alright. You also have a website gotieless.com?
Rob: We also have goTIELESS but everything is on Million Dollar Collar. It's just easy to go there and we have some extra product, we have great accessories on Million Dollar Collar so there's a little bit of back and forth between the two and we just decided it would be easier to push it all through Million Dollar Collar and pay one set of ads and marketing fees.
Luke: Okay. Makes sense. Rob it's been great talking to you this morning I really enjoyed the stories of starting a new life in multiple different cities and the commercial real estate story is really interesting to me as a realtor and how you pulled that off in two different cities. I want to thank you for your time. Sounds like from just talking to you that you're incredibly busy so thanks for getting up early and talking to me this morning.
Rob: Thanks Luke. I like to keep my plate full. The nice thing about the boat is it gets me away from my computer so I can think and be creative and not be stuck. If I'm just at home I feel this obligation to be constantly working on something. A lot of times it's just busy work that doesn't really get me anywhere so getting away and forcing me away from the computer has been great. it's been a wild ride so for and we'll see what else has to come.
Luke: Awesome I hope to talk to you again soon and thanks again.
Rob: Thanks Luke