Sarah FitzPatrick Clancy has grown her runners’ shop by reinvesting every dollar she makes back into her business.
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Make all the t-shirts, run up none of the debt.
That’s the business plan that has grown Long Island marathoner Sarah FitzPatrick Clancy’s creative side project into a successful online running shop that’s projected to make $900,000 to $1 million this year.
“I don’t spend a lot of money,” Clancy, 34, revealed to Moneyish about Sarah Marie Design Studio, her online outfit selling t-shirts, hoodies and coffee mugs with witty phrases tailored to road racers such as “Run all the miles, drink all the wine.”
“I didn’t get investors. I didn’t borrow money from my personal account,” said Clancy, who left her Manhattan marketing and graphic design gig in 2015 after getting married and migrating to the suburbs to start a family. “I won the initial investment in a football pool!”
Talk about a touchdown. She started sketching prints and designing tees for herself and her friends while raising her first son, now 2. She hawked her designs through online shopping platforms like Wix.com, which handle making and mailing the merch to customers with a $194 per year subscription that Clancy just paid $97 for with a coupon. By Jan 2016, she had switched to Shopify.com, which offers packages running from $29 to $299 a month to power online stores like SarahMarieDesignStudio.com.
And she covered her start-up costs tapping the $5,000 she won in that football pool.
“I was doing it for fun, and to fulfill a creative void,” said Clancy of her side-gig. Her husband supports the family, for now, while she raises their two young kids. “The first couple of shirts that I sold paid for the next couple, and I only grew as big as I could financially sustain. I’m not going out and spending tens of thousands on inventory that maybe I can’t move. You print as you go.”
But her sole-ful gear (customer favorites include the “Feed me and tell me I’m pretty fast” tee and the “I like my coffee black like my toenails” mug) also filled a void with the growing running community. About 17 million people finished road races ranging from 5Ks to marathons in 2016, according to Running USA, and the road running industry is valued at about $1.4 billion. So they began snapping up her stuff.
And then sales picked up the pace thanks to an unexpected celebrity endorsement in April 2016, when U.S. marathon star Kara Goucher posted an Instagram snap of herself wearing one of Clancy’s shirts.
“I got a lot of positive feedback,” Clancy said, guessing she initially spent about $8,000 on apparel to sell last year (not including made-to-order items or subsequent orders), which she brought to race expos and to stock up for the holiday season. “I started used an on-demand printer, and now my whole basement is just a full-on shop! But I built this on only what I already had.”
Clancy expects to quadruple her sales this year up to $1 million (she declined to give an exact amount), and recently hit her 10,000th order.
She’s mum about her total investment so far, still protective of keeping her personal details private as she builds her business. But she’s not shy about how she invests her time. She personally mails out each order with a 10% discount coupon to encourage shoppers to come back. “Although it’s much more work for me, it’s more profitable, and I like having the quality control that I didn’t have with a drop shipper,” she said.
Her t-shirts run $30 to $36, and her mugs $18 to $20, to cover the cost of design problems, website fees, shipping material, and her own blood, sweat and tears. “Depending on the item, my margins are two to three times what I pay [to print],” she said, admitting she’s still learning how much to order and how much to charge. “As I grow, instead of ordering the minimum 25 shirts of one print, I’m now ordering 200 shirts … so I can hit better price points with my manufacturers.”
The one-woman company doesn’t pay for advertising, relying on her Instagram (which has 30,000 followers) to post new products and boost her SMDS site traffic. She also brought on 30 unpaid “brand ambassadors” that she gives new merch and shopping discounts to in exchange for them sharing her gear on their social media pages to help promote the brand.
She is also starting a companion Runner Girl Gang website sharing runner-themed DIY projects, and just launched a new line of trail runner tees with slogans like, “The mountains are calling – I wish they’d just text.”
“There’s a certain type of humor that runners respond to. We have a lot of inside jokes,” Clancy said. “And I’ve managed to build a brand around them.”
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