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Ep. 011: On Launching an Apparel Company — The Mike Arbeiter Interview

Hear serial entrepreneur, Mike Arbeiter, explain how he started two apparel brands, and a technology company.

Listen to his ideas on how to raise capital, work with overseas apparel manufacturers and create consumer demand on a limited marketing budget.

Hear him describe his biggest joys and frustrations as an entrepreneur – as well as how he overcomes occasional periods of self doubt.

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Episode Timeline:

0:42 – Introduction to Mike Arbeiter, President of Fisher and Baker apparel, and Founder of InMotion Apparel and Liquicell Technologies.

2:36 – Beginning of the “Give Me the Basics” Podcast Segment

2:45 – Mike describes Fisher and Baker and what makes it unique. He explains how the company’s founder, Greg Horvitz, set out to build a better line of men’s functional outdoor lifestyle clothing, through classical styling and design.

4:25 – Our guest talks about the number of clothing styles the company started with, and its startup team.

6:14 – Mike talks about starting his previous apparel company, InMotion, and what made it unique. He explains the proprietary technology that became the basis for his second company, Liquicell Technologies.

7:07 – Mike talks about the challenges associated with the bicycle retail channel and how he doesn’t plan to return to that type of business.

7:49 – Mike talks about how his business assumptions changed after he launched his first company, InMotion, and how they decided to pivot the company based on those changes. He proceeds to explain his experience with Fisher and Baker, and how they did extensive research interviewing channel players and consumers to better understand customer needs.

9:40 – Our guest talks about the origins of Fisher and Baker, and how its founder, Greg Horvitz, an industrial designer, was previously in the high-end furniture business, and how he wanted to get into an different business that he could more easily scale. And how he wanted to work with his two passions, outdoor and clothing.

10:36 – Mike talks about the difficulties of starting an apparel company. He talks about how highly competitive the industry is. He explains how the more successful entrepreneurs have a strong vision for what’s trending in the market, and how they study their audience by getting “out there” and getting feedback from key sources.

13:26 – Mike shares his thoughts on the top three things that he learned when talking to retailers and consumers for Fisher and Baker, and how this feedback helped them prepare for a successful launch.

16:18 – Beginning of the “Tell Me How” Podcast Segment

16:35 – Mike talks about his approach to raising capital, such as having a unique value proposition, laying out key milestones that are reasonable and achievable, and being transparent.

18:11 – Mike gets into the details about what his investor pitch deck outline might look like.

20:00 – Our guest gets into the details about how he found a manufacturer for Fisher and Baker, and how he looked at the better apparel brands and learned who manufactured their items.

23:45 – Mike explains two basic ways of working with a manufacturer. The first is a full package method where the factory buys all textiles and trims on the brand’s behalf. This includes an up-charge of 12 to 18 percent. The second way is called CMT, where the manufacturer provides labor and trims, and the apparel company purchases the major raw materials. Mike explains the pros and cons of each of these two methods.

25:00 – Mike talks about other challenges when dealing with overseas manufacturers. For example, understanding the product life cycle within the supply chain, the importance of very clear communication (especially with Asian manufacturers), understanding the culture, and the importance of face-to-face meetings.

31:09 – Mike talks about how to best approach retailers. “Have your story together.” “Sell the experience.”

33:45 – Mike explains working with sales reps and using showrooms to help sell and market their products.

36:00 – Mike talks about his approach to setting the product pricing. He explains how he studies competitors’ pricing, wholesale margin requirements, “minimum advertise pricing,” as well as talking with consumers and retailers.

37:45 – Mike discusses the challenges of creating brand awareness and demand with small marketing budgets. He talks about the importance of social media, using local influencers at a grass-roots level, hand-selecting people to help build a social media following, and direct marketing. He explains building an ambassador group, the role of the website and having an in-store presence.

42:35 – Beginning of the “Let’s Get Personal” Podcast Segment

43:00 – Mike talks about his entrepreneurial motivations and how his early career experience with Rollerblade influenced him. “If you’re not all in, don’t become an entrepreneur.”

44:35 – What has been Mike’s biggest joy as an entrepreneur? He talks about watching his co-workers grow professionally and personally.

45:20 – And his biggest frustration? Failing in the hiring process.

46:24 – Mike explains his experiences with self-doubt as an entrepreneur.

47:48 – Mike talks about how starting a business has changed him as a person, and how it has made him more reflective on how he deals with people and his life.

49:04 – What has Mike learned most about himself as an entrepreneur? “It’s all about people. Great people create great things.”

49:25 – Mike talks about who has been most influential to him.

50:25 – Mike offers closing advice to budding entrepreneurs: “If you want to become an entrepreneur, you need to have a lot of passion.” “You better love it.” “It’s a 24/7 gig.” “Take time to breathe.”

About the author, John

John Benzick is an entrepreneurship coach and the founder of Venture Superfly. He is a Tech Partner at the venture-capital fund of Matchstick Ventures, a Mentor with Techstars Retail accelerator, an Entrepreneur-In-Residence and (former CEO-in-Residence) at the University of Minnesota, and founder and owner in two consumer product businesses. Click the button below to learn more.

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