In The Biz
Intro: This is In The Biz. We keep the world moving and nobody knows us like us. This show is about sharing our experiences and teaching people about the ins and outs of the service industry. Helping people navigate it to make some extra cash. Along the way, we'll interview the best in the biz. Welcome to In The Biz, now here are your hosts Tany Mujikwa, Christian, Norese, and Anthony.
Tany Mujikwa: Welcome to the In The Biz podcast where we meet some really cool people that have been in our industry and they are absolutely killing it. Today ladies and gentlemen are no different. I am here with my friend Rob. Rob, how are you doing today?
Rob Kessler: Fantastic how are you?
Tany: I'm doing awesome, let me actually get you on camera over here. One second, having some technical difficulties. Rob when you're introducing yourself let me ask how do you introduce yourself? You're meeting someone for the first time, how exactly do you go about doing it?
Rob: I actually really struggle with that. When I'm with my wife's friends or I meet someone for the first time and they say, "what do you do?" I'm an inventor, I'm a businessman, I'm a captain. I just do so much stuff it's hard to say.
Tany: I ask you that because I am terrible at it, whenever I am with different groups of people it's almost awkward... I don't even know how to get started. I was curious to see how you do it.
Rob: I'm totally awkward.
Tany: Rob, clearly you're out of the industry and you're working on some really cool stuff we are going to get into. Let me start with what do you do right now? Let's start with that and then we'll backtrack a little bit.
Rob: Right now I have two to three things going on. I invented a product called Million Dollar Collar so think collar stay, it is nine inches long and goes down the front of your shirt. So when you wear a shirt without a tie and want it to look nice and crisp all day long Million Dollar Collar is a structure for the front of the shirt. I also have a company called goTIELESS and we are just about to release our shirt that I call the ultimate service industry shirt.
It's a stretch and wrinkle-resistant shirt with Million Dollar Collar built-in, white, light blue or black to start. It should be XS to a 3 XL in slim and standard so a really wide range of sizes and they are $70. It's really, really well priced and is something you can wear for work and wear all day long and have your collar look amazing. That and I still have my yacht charter business in Los Angeles that I manage, I have captains and staff and crew that run it out there.
Tany: Wholly molly Rob you make me feel very lazy bro, the fact that you're doing all that. I heard a yacht in the background. Well, tell me about your history though? Did you go to college?
Rob: I went to college, I went to the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, I graduated in 4 years with a marketing degree and I worked full time throughout college.
Tany: What was the game plan originally as far as taking marketing? Did you have an idea that you were going to take this route that you ended up in or is it a go with it type of deal?
Rob: Originally, I was going to be an architect and I also was a very competitive soccer player. UWM had a great soccer team and was the number 2 architecture school in the country. I am not the best at school and I actually went to meet with my dad's architect and he said, "Long hours, high stress, low pay, don't do it." That school was insanely competitive and I would have never made it, grade-wise. I switched over to marketing, I had a bunch of friends in marketing and my dad owned his own business. My aunt and uncle owned businesses, I figured marketing was a good degree to get knowing that I would end up doing something on my own. If not working for my dad, doing my own thing.
Tany: Throughout this time I know you said you were working. Your history in the biz: you've been a buser, barback, and a bartender? Is that correct?
Rob: And security.
Tany: What time period amongst all the things you had going on, what time period was it when you were working? Let's start off with the barback?
Rob: Well my very first job was at Summerfest in Milwaukee which is the world's largest music festival. I was at the front counter, $15 an hour at the little Italian and I went to..
Tany: Who pays $15 an hour?
Rob: And then I went to.. oh sorry not $15 an hour, 15 years old.
Tany: Oh I was like that's great back then.
Rob: It was like $7-$8 an hour. I ended up going to work at the restaurant after working all the festivals all summer long. Then I barbacked just through college and after college and bartended and did stuff like that.
Tany: Which one did you like the most out of the three?
Rob: Bartending is fun, more social. Of all the times when I was a bartender, I was not drinking.
Tany: Do you not drink to this day?
Rob: Oh no, no I drink, I drink. When I was bartending I was on a sober run or something.
Tany: Let me ask how did you fall into the idea for the Million Dollar Collar? I won't lie sometimes when I hang out with my friends we'll brainstorm some ideas that seem like a good idea at the time but actually getting it off the ground what's the mentality there? How do you even know where to start to build something like that?
Rob: The idea came on my wedding day if you look over my shoulder here from our wedding. That's a brand new freshly pressed Express 1MX shirt, 30 mins old and I didn't even say I do and it was a sloppy crumbled mess. It always drove me nuts because I hated wearing ties.
I came home from Jamaica and I cut open a shirt and I just shoved a piece of cardboard down this part. I was always like this is the part that makes me crazy, this needs to be symmetrical, this needs to have some structure so I just cut a shirt open and shoved some cardboard down it. I knew cardboard wasn't going to be the main fix but... I have tried every plastic in my house, milk cartons and mini blinds, flexible cutting boards and I kept testing stuff and ruining shirts, testing designs and one thing after another. I never really pushed through other ideas but I showed my wife and she said go for it if you think this is something. We started testing, searching the internet to see if there's anything like it and we ended up hiring an attorney and doing a patent search and that's how we got into that process.
Tany: How does that work? I've always been curious? As far as a patent search, how do you even know what to look up? Or is it for the attorney to figure out?
Rob: I started with just google searching and you can go to the USPTO, US Patent and Trademark Office, you can go on their website and search around a little bit. It's about $1500 to $2000 to have a patent attorney do a deep dive to see if there's anything else like it out there and there was nothing. We just keep pursuing it. I will tell you that once you start that process it's multi-thousand dollar checks monthly for the rest of your life, it's ridiculous. I have over six figures for this patent, it's crazy.
Tany: I'm assuming it's starting to pay off now though?
Rob: You know we're reaching almost a million dollars in revenue, we have 40,000 customers all over the world. It's getting likes, I think this Ultimate Service Industry Search is a big push for us. We've been trying to license the technology, we got back to Express and we were talking to them and they were really close to doing a deal and COVID and all kinds of other stuff hit. I am not one to sit back and wait for something to happen. Let's just make our own shirt and figure it out. We're trying to figure it out by making our own shirt.
Tany: I am terrible with marketing so I am curious about this question. How do you identify your target market, obviously you're saying it's a service shirt. Do you just approach different restaurants? What was your initial game plan for marketing to people in the service industry?
Rob: Honestly the shirt is not even out yet so we haven't gone that far yet. We have had communications with people in the industry. We are in a group called ASI, which is the ad specialties so ultimately our real goal is to target those guys who have relationships with the big restaurants, with the big bars, and the hotels. We have this option if your hotel is ready to ditch the tie and still wants to look great all day. We have a great option for you. That's the marketing that we're going to go after.
Tany: I like to buy Express shirts, they have these little tabs in there, it's not quite the same as that right?
Rob: That's a collar stay. This part of the shirt is called the placket but nobody knows what a placket is...
Tany: I was about to say how far does it go down because I have no idea.
Rob: A placket is an opening on a garment that helps you get in and out of it. Down the front of the shirt, the fly on your jeans is also considered a placket. This part on the sleeves would technically be part of a placket. It's technically what would be a placket stay instead of a collar stay. Since no one knows what a placket is, we just call it Million Dollar Collar.
Tany: I'm definitely not the first show that you've been on. I've heard pretty recently you were on this other show, what was it called?
Tany: How do people go out and check out the interview?
Rob: I'll pack it all up and get it together with something easy for people to watch. They pitch it as Shark Tank meets Project Runway. A contestant is competitive based and also you're pitching a business.
Tany: What do you say to that service employer that's been thinking about trying to sell something online. In the industry, I have come across a bunch of people that have been looking to do it. What advice would you give them, first of all, see if it's a good idea and second to be persistent and just go for it?
Rob: Well you have to be passionate about the idea. There are times when I am absolutely questioning my life decisions. Because I believe so much in the product and I love what I have created so much it helps to push through those times. The days when I look back and say I'm making 30 cents an hour trying to make this dream come true those are the times you have to be passionate about the idea not just in it for the cash. I started playing with it and I would talk to all my buddies. I would ask, what do you think about this, they would start donating their shirts so I was able to get shirts to test. I ruined almost 100 shirts just figuring this out.
I never wanted to sell you my product and ruin your brand new $70 Express shirt. I have a $2 product that ruins a $70 dress shirt that would be bad math, that's bad business. I never wanted to be in that position so I really took my time and made sure it was perfected before it went to market.
Tany: You do have a quote here. It says, "I firmly believe everyone should work in the service industry for at least 6 months." What did you mean by that?
Rob: I went out to dinner with people and they're rude and demanding or they don't tip at least 20% that drives me insane. It just tells me that they never had to experience what it's like to be on the other side. If everybody was in the service industry for at least 6 months. You'd have a different perspective on life and you would treat other people.... I am probably nicer to our UPS driver and our mailmen and our pest control guy... I'm nicer to those guys than I am to anybody else. I understand what they are going through, they're just out there doing their job. I did it for so long that it resonates with me.
Tany: Do you think there's any skills that you developed that have translated to help you to be so successful and be able to do all the things that you've done? As far as working in the industry, do you think there are any skills that you developed there that have helped?
Rob: Believe it or not I am pretty introverted.
Tany: No way.
Rob: I am really shy but once I get an introduction I'm fine. If I go to a bar by myself or I'm traveling I probably will go into there and leave by myself and not have had much of a conversation with anybody.
Being in the industry and being a bartender forced me to engage in conversation and try to get people interested and have a good time, and making sure people are having a good experience. Whether it was sales or bartending or security or anything it's interacting with people. It helped me get out of my shell a little bit.
Tany: That's one thing that I've never done before is do security. How was that experience? How long did you do it for?
Rob: I didn't do it for very long, 6 months or maybe a year. I worked at this bar called Kelly's Bleachers and we literally had a $2 fee to get it and it was just to keep some of the riff-raff out but I got punched in the face one time. That was about it for me.
Tany: I have two more questions for you here. First one, Do you ever worry about someone going to steal your idea? I know you went through the whole patent process. Do you ever worry about that and if someone did what would be the process of guessing, fighting it or suing for it or be able to...?
Rob: I found out later that the patent as expensive as it is can be a revenue source so if someone does impede on my patent we sue them, they pay us if they continue to want to produce the product then they would pay us a royalty. It's scary because it would be expensive but if someone is knocking me off it means that I am into something that people see the future in and the potential in and I think that reaffirms I am doing the right thing.
Tany: They do say... "Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery." Or something like that. For my last question over here, I want to give you the opportunity to let people know where they can find you and what they should be on the lookout for?
Rob: We have two companies basically, Million Dollar Collar and goTIELESS the first shirt designed to be worn without a tie. You can find our industry shirt and our branded shirts on goTIELESS and then on Million Dollar Collar we have just our stays so you can buy them for your own shirts. We have a whole huge collection of Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, and Ralph Loren, and a ton of branded shirts that you know and love in sizes that you know with Million Dollar Collar already installed. I have a huge marketplace with that.
Tany: Oh I didn't know that part so you have different brands. That's really cool.
Rob: I buy the shirts and I install them and sell the shirt with them already done. I am just trying to figure out every way for a customer to try my product. Once you get it in one you have to get them all done. We also have a mail-in service. We'll send you out a shipping bag and you'll send his 5 shirts. We'll upgrade them, fold them and send them back to you and it's $75 for 5 shirts.
We're on Instagram mostly active on Million Dollar Collar page but as this new shirt comes out we'll fire up goTIELESS again. We came out right before COVID and sold out 85% of our inventory. Really great feedback, they're really great clean shirts with a little bit of contrast. It's fun.
Tany: I lied, I'm going to throw one more question in there. Where do you see yourself in 5 years, Rob?
Rob: You know the goal has always been to license this to a big brand and if we can't do that I'm going to make a shirt that makes so much noise in the marketplace that we're going to get bought out by somebody else. I just keep pushing and pushing and nudging the bear and hopefully, it'll turn around sooner or later and make me a nice big offer.
Tany: That's awesome. My last question to you Rob is what advice would you give to, let's call them little Billy that is in the service industry right now probably bar-backing like you did and he's thinking of pursuing a dream? Like you're doing and actually making some noise in any market, what advice would you give him?
Rob: Like I said before, number one is to be passionate. If it solves a problem for you hopefully it's a problem for somebody else. Talk to people, talk to friends. People get too nervous early on about nondisclosure and having someone else steal my idea. It happens so rarely, your friends are probably not the ones that are going to steal your idea. My wife has come up with some great ideas, and we've talked to friends about them right away. Get that feedback otherwise, you could be spinning your wheels for nothing and miss out on a reason why your product won't work early on. it will save you a lot of time and agony.
Tany: Rob it was a pleasure to have you on here. I actually took a lot of notes and may be implementing some of these things. If I do make it big I will definitely give you your credit.
Rob: I appreciate it. If anyone has any questions please feel free to reach out on email@example.com.