26 Shirts is a project that sells limited-edition sports-themed t-shirts every two weeks. A significant portion of proceeds from each campaign go toward a family in need. Del Reid, the owner, essentially starts anew every 14 days — or 26 times a year. There are no projections. There is no flagship product that pays the bills each month. There is just a creative business model and a passionate desire to help.
What inspires Del to start from square one every other week? The feeling of playing a part in a person's journey toward health and happiness. For Del, it's almost like adrenaline. It gives him energy and purpose to renew his commitment to his work.
This Shopify store is certainly unique, but it's fascinating story has some key business takeaways worth considering.
The Tweet That Started It All
Del is kind of a celebrity--at least if you're a Buffalo Bills fan. Believe it or not, he coined the term “Bills Mafia.” This simple saying first turned all eyes on Del Reid's Twitter account back in 2011, and is still commonly used today to describe diehard Bills fans.
Del was a web developer back then. Fewer things could make him happier than Bills football and comfy clothes. He had a following growing by the day and requests for retweets coming on the regular. One request in particular really caught his attention: a father trying to raise money for his sick daughter's hospital stay asked him to spread the word about his fundraiser. Del felt compelled to do something more with his newfound “celebrity status.”
Partnering with Dan Gigante of You and Who, a Buffalo-based t-shirt manufacturer with a similar desire to help those in need, Del started taking orders for Bills Mafia t-shirts. Orders were taken for two weeks and then production began. All profits from the t-shirts went directly into a check for that father in need.
Two years and more than 52 successful charitable campaigns later, Del was laid off from his web development job. “I decided with the support of my wife to try 26 Shirts full time for one year before going back to work,” he told us. “I worked harder than anything I've ever done in my life, but in the end, it turned out all 26 Shirts needed was a full-time person.”
That year, 26 Shirts had one of its most epic campaigns: the Buffalosaurus Rex shirt that celebrated the Bill's new head coach, Rex Ryan. “I delivered a $17,000 check to a girl with Leukemia because of that campaign. There is nothing like that feeling. We've kept in touch through social media, and since then, she's in remission!” Needless to say, this was a life-changing moment for Del and his team.
Great Successes Don't Come without Major Challenges
Not many people can say they've helped a struggling family in such a direct way. There's no doubt it makes an impact on one's soul. That's what keeps Del in this game. “I'm not in it to build an empire,” he says. “I'm certainly not getting rich. I'm not even saving for retirement. I just want to help people, and this is the only way I know how.”
It is evident in the way Del manages his business that he works for those in need. “I'm frugal in all ways -- except in the quality of t-shirts we make. I'm a snob about my t-shirts. If it's not soft and durable, I personally won't wear it. So I make sure the quality of our shirts is up to my own standards.”
Del's heart is always focused on the family or charity benefiting from his campaigns, He spends less attention on the growth of his business. This is what he mentioned as being the biggest challenge in his line of work when asked.
“There's a lot of pressure not to put out any duds because we want to give our beneficiary as much as we possibly can,” Del explains. Not all designs can be as iconic as Buffalosaurus Rex or Orchard Park (a design that combined the name of a Buffalo suburb with the Jurassic Park logo), but if a design doesn't sell, 26 Shirts takes the hit.
One way Del has safeguarded his business from designs that flop is by establishing a threshold for orders; if a campaign surpasses 72 orders, which in most cases it does, the cost per shirt goes down. The donation amount doubles, too, from $4 a shirt to $8 a shirt.
By making sure he's covering production costs in this way, Del has had success enough to expand into new markets. Pittsburgh and Chicago are his new focus.
How He Manages Two-Week Turnarounds
If you're a retailer yourself, you've got to be wondering what goes on behind the scenes at a two-week turnaround business like this. The first thing Del will tell you about his order taking and fulfillment schedule is: “You do not want to call me on a Monday after a campaign closes.” That's the day shirts are in production and being processed for shipment.
Since each run of products are limited edition, inventory management is not as overwhelming as it may be for similar retail organizations. Besides some shelves full of “Hall of Fame” designs, all product has been pre-ordered by the buyer and gets shipped out after production.
Del originally started his online store with Magento but switched over to Shopify when the business started accelerating. His main reason for switching was the automated nature of Shopify's updates. “I'm a developer by trade, and even I don't want to worry about software patches or server updates. I used to handle those manually. Now, the headaches are gone. Shopify handles them for me.” After all, Del has more important things to do, like running a business.
Del's Tips for Retailers
Even though 26 Shirts has such a unique business model, there are plenty of lessons Del has learned along the way that apply to all hopeful business owners. Del stresses the following when addressing them:
- “Make sure your significant other is on board for the journey.” This is a point Del feels extremely passionate about, remembering how much support his wife gave him at the outset and still gives him today. “Running a business requires certain hours and commitments from you, and that affects your loved ones. Talk it all out with them before diving in.”
- Del encourages those of us hesitating to jump into entrepreneurship that it's okay to take baby steps. “Don't try to take on the world your first day.” Taking the leap into starting a business requires commitment, but your first commitments can be small. Then grow from there.
What Keeps You Going?
We all have different missions when we embark on a business endeavor. For Del, that mission is helping his neighbors. He's happy with the few perks that come with the territory, such as the football talk and a laid back office dress code (a t-shirt, cargo pants and Crocs, which is his dream come true). Beyond that, the joy of giving to families who really are in need is what motives him to move forward every other week.
Will 26 Shirts open offices in their new markets? “Maybe, if we find the right person,” he says. Will there ever be a 26 Shirts brick-and-mortar? “Maybe, if it helps move the cause forward.” For now, he's simply focused on getting to the next campaign; to helping another family, and then another if fate allows.
Photo Credit: Ryan Kell, Seek Axiom
We at Warehouse Anywhere are happy to bring you this inspiring story as we roll out our new integration with the Shopify platform. If you host a store through Shopify, or are thinking about it, you can now offer your customers same-day delivery and keep track of your inventory across our network of mini-warehouses in real-time. Learn more about our ecommerce order fulfillment options today.