In 2008, looking to get out of the crumbling real estate market, Mark Azzarito bought Blankstyle, a blank t-shirt wholesale site from his childhood friend. At the time, the company was doing $180,000 each year in business. Eight years later, it’s grown into a $4 million company, supporting a team of employees in Newport Beach, California shipping printable apparel all over the world enabling customers to start clothing lines, advertise a business or support a nonprofit. Just this year, Blankstyle rolled out a new e-commerce solution to support decoration services offering sublimation, embroidery, screen printing and direct to garment printing as easy order add-on’s.
BusinessInterviews.com: Do you have any recent success stories that you’d like to share with our readers?
Mark: Blankstyle recently rolled out the following four decoration services as a complete ecommerce solution, sublimation, embroidery, screen printing and direct to garment printing . These are services that we have been offering for years, but because the blankstyle.com shopping cart is set up to lead with blank apparel, figuring out how to make these add on’s e-commerce-easy and user-friendly took a considerable amount of careful planning.
One of the ways that we’ve been able to grow Blankstyle to a $4 million per year business is by always thinking about the scalability and when it comes to e-commerce, that means automation. You can always have an army of people with notepads taking orders, but by automating services so that the majority of customers are informed enough to sell themselves you can focus your hands on sales approach to help with the more intensive work, and reduce your army to an elite team of specialists. In this way you have the potential to really scale.
So figuring out how to make that happen was huge — so huge, in fact that we spent nearly a year in designing and testing different ways to execute the concept to be able to make it user friendly but also educate our customers and give them more creative inspiration. We just launched it a month again and it’s been a huge success for us.
BusinessInterviews.com: What issue does your core product help solve and how so?
Mark: Because we sell blank tshirts, we are enabling people to be successful with their business either by using t-shirts as a advertising method or by making the shirts the core of their business — many of our clients have started their own clothing lines with us. We like to say: “We provide the blanks, you provide the vision,” and honestly we are amazed by what people do with a simple blank tshirt. We provide the shirts at a margin that allows our clients to really grow their own businesses.
BusinessInterviews.com: What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner and how have you met that challenge?
Mark: Even though, we are an e-commerce business, we operate in a traditional revenue model. These days, not every business is worried about that bottom line. So we are competing with businesses like Amazon, which offers free shipping and so the consumer is conditioned to think that shipping is free. If we want to be financially solvent, we have to factor shipping into our cost of doing business. As a way to solve this, we’ve found that it’s important to negotiate better terms for every aspect of doing business — from the water, to your rent, to your vendors — constantly use leverage to find ways to get more for less. It’s important to incentivize your customers without taking huge losses. You don’t have to be the cheapest one out there, but you can’t be the most expensive. We’ve had to find ways to satisfy or customers without giving up our margin. It’s hard work to compete and to be financially solvent in a world where a lot of startups don’t have that pressure. Sometimes it feels a little like you’re competing with everyone who is just a funded idea. But at the end of the day paying attention to the bottom line has been been an important part of our success as a company.
BusinessInterviews.com: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs and business owners? What do you wish someone told you?
Mark: Before I started my own company, I always thought that being an entrepreneur brought you freedom. I can tell you that it doesn’t bring you freedom. What it brings you is choice — but you’re still going to have to work incredibly hard.
In addition, one thing that I’ve learned is that there are business sweet spots. I always assumed that if your company hit the million dollar mark, you were really successful. In reality, one million dollars is a really tough place to be — and when you hit it, there’s a good chance you’ll either be broke or really struggling. There are sweet spots for business growth. A million is really tough, but $2-3 million is a really great place to be. Your million dollar infrastructure will support you, and you have the continual growth. Right now, we’re at $4 million, which means we are feeling some growing pains where we need to expand our infrastructure and plan for the growth ahead.
BusinessInterviews.com: What’s the biggest risk that you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?
Mark: I’m actually not a huge risk taker, when it comes to business. In fact, one of the biggest risks that I ever took was simply buying blankstyle.com. I had no knowledge of how it worked and brought zero technical abilities to the table. But I knew I wanted to be in the e-commerce space and it was a profitable venture with huge growth potential — after all, everyone wears t-shirts — but it’s been a huge learning curve. Now, I’m excited to take what we’ve learned and use that to expand into other product ventures as we become increasingly more efficient with other e-commerce platforms and sites.
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