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Getting arty with sports design

Monday, 12 November 2012 | By Michelle Hammond

start-up-profile-Sarina-Michael-CycologyWhat happens when an artist and designer, who would rather be a full-time athlete, becomes frustrated with the lack of quality T-shirts available to sports enthusiasts?

 

They decide to produce their own range, name it Cycology Clothing and sell it online.

 

Cycology Clothing is the brainchild of artist-designer Sarina Tomchin and her husband Michael Tomchin, now general manager of the company. It was founded in 2011 and is based in Sydney.

 

Michael and Sarina talk to StartupSmart about how Cycology Clothing celebrates the “cycology” of sport.

 

How did you fund the business and what were your start-up costs?

 

We funded the business via our own equity. Approximate start-up costs were $50k excluding stock.

 

How many staff do you have?

 

We have no staff currently. My business partner and wife Sarina and I work full-time on all areas of the business.

 

We outsource a number of functions to trusted suppliers such as printing and web development.

 

How do you promote the business?

 

We promote our business a number of ways. As a start-up with a limited marketing budget, we are always looking for creative and cost-effective ways to build the awareness for our brand amongst the specific sporting communities that our T-shirts are likely to appeal to, specifically the cycling, running and triathlon communities currently.

 

We have provided sponsorship to a number of cycling and running events by way of developing custom designed T-shirts for them in return for promotion of our brand to their members, event signage and event T-shirt branding.

 

Such arrangements provide the event organisers with a T-shirt that competitors/participants will want to wear after the actual event, rather than consign them to the bottom of the cupboard or add them to the rag pile.

 

We do a lot of promotion online and are involved with a number of sporting forums. We provide product samples for reviews and offer T-shirts as prizes for member competitions.

 

Participants in such forums are usually very committed to their sport. They are sceptical of anything new and untested so it’s a credibility challenge to gain their acceptance.

 

Once accepted though by such communities, they show great loyalty and support. We are even getting our Facebook community involved in shaping new designs.

 

We are working hard to gain this trust through the originality and authenticity of our designs.

 

Last year Cycology developed a couple of T-shirt designs for the Tour de Cure cancer fundraising charity.

 

These tees were sold to supporters and participants in the tour with the profits going to the fundraising efforts.

 

Activities such as these certainly don’t generate returns in the short-term but we feel it’s important to be a good corporate citizen, even if we are currently only a very small “citizen”.

 

How do you stand out in the market?

 

I think originality, authenticity and credibility would best describe the reason Cycology stands out from the market.

 

In terms of originality, Sarina is a professional artist; that is her career. Our designs are all hand drawn or painted.

 

That is a huge point of difference: 99% of the designs you’ll see of T-shirts in our market are computer generated – ours are not.

 

In regards to authenticity and credibility, Sarina competes in all the sports she designs graphics for. Not just as a weekend warrior – she lives and breathes sport and training.

 

She is an elite endurance athlete in running, cycling and adventure sports. When she develops a particular graphic, she draws on her own experiences and emotions, which give her designs real credibility.

 

We find our customers really love our designs and often come back to order multiple T-shirts for friends or themselves.

 

What are your revenue projections for 2012/2013?

 

Revenue projections are very difficult – really a fair amount of guesswork at this stage. In our first year we lacked any clear plan and strategy as to how we’d build the business from scratch.

 

We now have a clear plan and strategy thanks to a recent association we developed with a consulting company that is helping us with our online marketing strategy.

 

If pressed to provide guidance, I’d look to revenues for the 12 months ending October 2013 to be in excess of $250,000; a significant increase over our first year but a long way from where we expect to develop the business to.

 

Sarina, you’d rather be an athlete. How has that passion contributed to the business?

 

Yes I would rather be, but as a teenager my parents told me I’d never make a good living from being a pro athlete and they encouraged me to pursue anything BUT sport.

 

I have always competed and trained daily because I love it. Endurance sports mean   training/socialising with other like-minded people for hours on end.

 

They and the wild places we go to – and the wacky, often sleep-deprived humour – all inspire ideas for graphics.

 

It’s only when you know, participate, love and understand a sport that I believe you can truly represent that pastime in a graphic.

 

If you don’t get what it’s about, it’s not real. I think and hope that comes through in my drawings.

 

What’s the biggest risk you face?

 

I think our biggest risk would be if something happened to Sarina.

 

Without her creativity we would just be another “me-too” brand and there are way too many of them out there to have much of a chance of standing out from the crowd.

 

Is there anything you would have done differently?

 

To quote the cliché “You learn from your mistakes”, yes there are certainly things we would have done differently.

 

Unfortunately we didn’t know what we didn’t know – that’s where the experience bit comes into it.

 

Having not gained the traction we would have liked in the first nine months of operation, we went looking for some good advice and guidance.

 

We found it in the company we’re now working with to develop our online marketing strategy, Direct Target Consulting. Everything is much clearer now.

 

Our website has been significantly re-engineered to assist with our aim of being a predominantly online business.

 

We have a marketing and promotional strategy, and we set benchmarks on a weekly and monthly basis to help us achieve our KPIs.

 

The retail climate is tough, to say the least. Why enter such a tough sector?

 

Every business has its own challenges. Whilst it’s true retail is tough at the moment, better conditions will no doubt emerge down the track.

 

We see ourselves as a long-term player and, as such, we’ll need to be able to endure the changing conditions of the business cycle over the longer term.

 

The Aussie dollar is a real headwind in developing our overseas customer base but it means we have to work harder to constantly test new tactics and promotions, and I know this approach will hold us in good stead in the long run.

 

We see the opportunity as being immense. Whilst there are many players in the market, we really believe we have a unique selling proposition for potential customers.

 

We are original, we are unique and we have an authentic foundation and brand ethic – we think that should set us apart and gain the recognition and buy-in from our target audience.

 

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?

 

Not sure I’m qualified to be advising anyone at this stage as we haven’t yet got sufficient runs on the board.

 

My observations, however, would be that starting a business from scratch is a tough exercise that required tremendous commitment and determination.

 

You also need to have sufficient resources to allow the business time to achieve its potential. I no longer believe in overnight successes. I think that’s a myth that many aspire to but the reality is most of those “overnight successes” have been working away for years to achieve their goals.

 

I believe that to succeed in any business endeavour you have to be brutally honest as to your real point of difference.

 

If you can genuinely tick that box, then providing you have the bloody-minded determination and working capital to continue in the face of the many challenges a business will invariably experience, you may one day be able to call yourself a “successful” entrepreneur.