Marcus Hall’s entrepreneurial journey can be described as anything but conventional. A visionary of his work and of his desired brand, Marcus worked for years developing Marc Nelson Denim into a widely known and respected name – not only in the Knoxville, Tennessee, area where he grew up, but also as an emerging nameplate in the fashion industry. But then it all came crashing down in sudden crisis.
Join Kelly and Mary Beth, as they gain insight from Marcus on what went wrong in his journey, how taking responsibility meant taking charge, and why that empowerment is now enabling Marcus and his business to forge a stronger, more well-rooted path.
Announcer: Welcome to Ms. InterPReted. Her podcast of public relations and strategic communications demystified by Kelly Fletcher and Fletcher Marketing PR.
Kelly: Welcome listeners to the Ms. InterPReted podcast. I'm Kelly Fletcher, CEO of Fletcher Marketing PR and I'm here with my colleague, Fletcher senior strategist, Mary Beth West. Hey, Mary Beth.
Mary Beth: Hey, there.
Kelly: You've been traveling so much lately, are you about ready to come back down to Earth from Paris, and London, and everywhere else?
Mary Beth: Oh, yeah. We had a great fall break trip over to Paris and London. It was a lot of fun. We had never been over there with the kids, had a great time, and then I went to a conference out in San Diego, and it was around that time when I was about to come back, I have several friends who actually live out there in the L.A. area, and of course, they've been impacted by these wildfires going on-
Kelly: Yeah, my stepson's in L.A.
Mary Beth: Yeah, a couple of my friends have had to actually be evacuated out of that area, and you know it just kind of reminded me a lot about, I've kind of hit a big milestone.
Kelly: Yeah, your office burned down seven years ago.
Mary Beth: Which I still can't believe all of that that happened with that, but it was-
Kelly: I remember. It was horrible.
Mary Beth: Yeah, and I can't believe it's been seven years, but it did remind me how much you know a crisis can really throw you into, not only chaos, but coming from the other side of that, a lot of kind of a new outlook, and a new way of doing things, and sometimes actually good things come out of crisis situations.
Mary Beth: It can really help you to you know develop a new strategy and a new path forward.
Kelly: Well, and our guest today had a crisis of his own, and we'll introduce him briefly. But Mary Beth, what did you learn first-hand when your office burned down? I mean, what did you learn about dealing with a crisis that maybe you had not anticipated?
Mary Beth: Well, I think number one, you have to be fast on your feet, and you have to be entrepreneurial in your approach to dealing with public perception, I guess. I mean, one thing that when a crisis hits a public relations firm, you can't be the cobbler without any shoes. I mean, you have to have not only-
Kelly: A strategy.
Mary Beth: ... a plan, but yeah, and you have to demonstrate that, and you're under media scrutiny, and I think with any crisis that happens that that is a big part of it, is knowing what you're going to say, who you're going to say it to, and then there's the operational piece of it. How are you going to keep the lights on? How are you going to... And in my case, it was a matter of just moving the whole team and being able to keep going with the business. It is amazing how much a crisis can refocus you.
Kelly: Absolutely, any time I've had any crisis in my business it's fundamentally changed the way I do some aspect-
Mary Beth: Yeah.
Kelly: ... or the way I handle some aspect of operations or the business.
Mary Beth: Right. Right. Well, and I think that's just a perfect segue for us to introduce our guest today.
Kelly: Yes, so today our topic is crafting the entrepreneurial story. And I love this topic because I'm an entrepreneur at heart, and we're thrilled to welcome an authentic, self made, American small business badass, who is forging his own independent path. That was not on my-
Mary Beth: On your script. But, yeah.
Kelly: ... Yeah but it's my own personal definition of this guy because I love him and we're personal friends.
Mary Beth: Yeah, and I'll second that.
Kelly: Yes, and he can be described as anything but conventional, and that is Marc Hall, founder of Marc Nelson Denim. Primarily a men's boutique based in Knoxville, Tennessee, but they also do make custom jeans for women, have some women's pieces. He is no stranger to having faced a crisis of his own in his entrepreneurial journey, which has absolutely had him taking some unplanned and unpleasant twists and turns, from which we can all learn. He is our friend who has emerged on the other side a stronger person, and a more prolific business owner. Marc Nelson Denim is a specialty retailer, like I said, based here in Knoxville, Tennessee, best known for high-end, custom fit blue jeans as well as other apparel. And we're going to talk to Marc today about his business path. I met Marc probably seven or eight years ago, hey Marc, it's so good to have you here.
Marc: Hey, Kel. How are you doing?
Kelly: How's it going?
Marc: All right.
Kelly: Long time, not talk to.
Kelly: How did we meet? I'm trying to remember. You came to my Christmas party one year.
Marc: You're right. I believe Michael introduced us, Michael Torano.
Kelly: Michael Torano, who was with Knoxville Opera at the time, and you came to my Christmas party and I was like, "Who is that tall, handsome-
Mary Beth: Mr. Man.
Marc: Drink of water.
Kelly: ... dude." Drink of water. "Who is that tall, handsome drink of bourbon?"
Marc: Scotch or bourbon, side of Hennessy.
Kelly: Oh, yeah. It's so great to have you here for this podcast.
Marc: Well, thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Mary Beth: Starting off with a personal story that you have of growing up in Knoxville, and just knowing what your ambitions were as a student, as a young man, I am really interested in kind of going back to kind of the very start of your journey as a young person. And what shaped your experiences when you were growing up? And I found that so many business owners, they kind of know when they're very young, even in high school, or family members help to influence them to take an entrepreneurial path, that seed is planted very, very early. I really would like to kind of go back to these very formative years for you-
Marc: Sure thing.
Mary Beth: ... and uncover that.
Marc: Sure thing. Well, for me, it started in elementary.
Mary Beth: Wow.
Marc: Yeah, the Levi's plant played a huge... they put me in the mindset of A, sewing, B, just making and having a responsibility to your community, so it played a huge role to me, and not only myself, but family members and friends in the east Knoxville community.
Mary Beth: And that was the plant that was here in-
Marc: The Levi's plant, yeah-
Mary Beth: ... yeah, it was here in Knoxville. Yeah.
Marc: ... over on Cherry Street, so it actually allowed those who didn't go to school, high school early, or got out of high school early, or go to college, allowed them to pave the way for their friends, and families, and loved ones to have a better life.
Mary Beth: Right.
Marc: It allowed them to have benefits, to buy a house, or a car, and for me, my oldest brother shocked me when he came home with a new Ford Escort. Do you guys remember those Ford Escorts-
Mary Beth: Yes.
Marc: ..When they first came out? And so he left high school, didn't go to college, worked at the Levi's plant, and was able to buy a brand new car. Again, there were others that worked at the Levi's plant and that was their career move, but that allowed them to send their children to college, and create better lives for them. Though, for me, I knew at an early age that I wanted to have a part, or play a part, in some kind of manufacturing sewing. Though at 12, also having my oldest brother being 6'4" and 300 pounds, and my youngest brother being 5'9" and 300 pounds, when we went outside to play football, I always ended up with the broken bones. So my mom said, "Well, come and stay in here with me and sew."
Marc: So about 11 or 12 I learned to sew, and that's where it started for me. The Levi's plant and my mom teaching me to sew, and in high school I took tailoring, vocational were an option in high school so you could take you know auto mechanics, tailoring, whatever, cooking, brick masonry, the whole deal. After graduating from high school, two years after that the Levi's plant started to shut down. That impacted the community in a huge way again, those that had that job were buying homes, and again cars, now they didn't have anywhere to go, so that the stage for me in starting Marc Nelson Denim.
Kelly: Did your mom work for the Levi's plant?
Marc: My mother did not, she just sewed, but my my oldest brother worked at the Levi's plant and I had several other family members work there, but my mother did not work at the Levi's plant.
Kelly: Did you think early in your life, "I want to have my own business so I can employ people and give them the same opportunities?"
Marc: Again, it started I wanted to basically just start off with a good job and I thought it would be Levi's, but once that plant shut down, that was the immediate mindset that I wanted to create, or start another business that created jobs, that the community was proud of. You know at the Levi's plant, they made a product right here in our own backyard, and we, and our family members had a part in that, and community, of a product that wasn't just sewed here locally, but-
Marc: You could find all over the world. And so there wasn't a day that we would be outside waiting on our parents to pick us up, and all the kids in line, one of us, you had either a jacket, a pair of jeans, or something that was made at the Levi's plant, so it was truly a staple of the community.
Kelly: Yeah, that's really cool.
Mary Beth: Absolutely. When you started Marc Nelson Denim, I would love to kind of go a few steps ahead here and understand what that process was like. Did you think about your business through the lens of it being a brand, per se, or were you really just focused on the task at hand of just doing the work that you know all these skills that you had developed over years, they're very tactile, very functional skills. And I think a lot business owners, when they go into that process of hanging out their own shingle and doing something where they're employing their talent, and their skills. And they're also employing other people as well, very often they're focused on that work, that day-to-day work, and they aren't thinking necessarily as of yet about themselves as a brand, or their company as a brand. So I would love to chart your path on that.
Marc: For me, it was the opposite. So I was very vain, and I wanted a brand.
Kelly: Who cares what you make? You just want a brand.
Marc: I was like right, I was just, "I want this." No, I knew I wanted to go into the apparel business, so what I did was I went out to Los Angeles, worked with a cut and sew facility out there, and it was, it was actually about, I knew I wanted to make... at the time stretch denim was not a thing, and so I'd gotten you know introduced to that and I was like, "Wow." And the name of company to start was Barely Denim, that was the first name. So we were going to do men and women's and then as I started sourcing the product, and making the samples, and going through that process, the gentleman that I was talking to, I asked for advice out in Los Angeles, and their advice was, "Stop. Don't do this to yourself. This is the crazy... Don't waste your time, your money." They was like, "The apparel business is the hardest thing in the world to do, and so save your money, and don't kill yourself, and go home and buy a car and take a vacation." I was like-
Mary Beth: Wow. So you weren't exactly... yeah, you weren't exactly getting the pat on the back of, "Go for it."
Marc: Yes, yes. Not at all. And at the time, I looked at him, I'm like, "That was mean." Or, "Why would you do that to someone?" But now I totally understand. Jesus, I wish I would have listened to him.
Kelly: I can relate some days.
Mary Beth: Yeah.
Marc: Yes and so. But Barely Denim was the start, and then when I realized quickly, I mean, I didn't have the resources to do men and women's both at the same time. It just would take too much because you have to make a pattern for every fit, you know size, and the whole deal. With no true experience on launching a brand, I came to my senses and started off with just the men's line. And after we created the website, and did the photo shoot, and we were having a celebratory drink, my graphic designer and the young lady that was helping me at the time said, "Why would you call a men's line Barely Denim? That sounds awful feminine." I was like, "Damn it. It's been six months, you could have told me that six months ago." So of course, I couldn't... it was in my head. I didn't sleep for the next two or three days going, "Damn, I can't..." Excuse me. "I can't name this Barely Denim." And so that delayed the launch for six more months.
Kelly: Oh, wow. Wow. Yeah, so I guess that shed light for you on the power of having a focus group-
Marc: You got it.
Kelly: ... or floating ideas with other people.
Marc: You said it. Yep. You got it.
Marc: And so if I could go back and do it again, the one thing that I would advise anyone, like you said, is a focus group. I just, I had my mind made up. I didn't really get true advice, and sit down, and you know, we had a blue sky meeting, but it was more on the terms of fits and the whole deal. But yeah, you've got to go through A to Z from, like you said, your branding is so important, and you guys know that as marketing, because if you don't have great branding you could have diamonds and you've got absolutely nothing, you're just sitting somewhere with a bunch of diamonds and nobody -
Kelly: So what year was that?
Marc: That was in 2010.
Kelly: Okay. Okay.
Marc: Yep yep. That was about the end of 2010, so I worked on the brand really about two years before we actually launched.
Mary Beth: Wow.
Kelly: And your name is Marc Hall, so where did the Marc Nelson come into play here?
Marc: Great question. After naming the damn line Barely Denim, and then... and not going with that, I went to the drawing board, and the basis was is that the true influence, not just from fashion, but just as a person, was my great-grandfather, and that was CL Nelson, and so-
Mary Beth: I love having a family connection, and I love-
Marc: I agree. I agree.
Mary Beth: ... integrating that. That's fabulous.
Marc: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. And he was probably one of the sharpest dressed men that I know. He was a janitor at TVA Credit Union, and he told me and influenced me, "No matter who you are, the janitor or the mayor, you always want to leave the house looking like a million bucks." So I had to put his name in. It's interesting, and I'll follow up with this, but my mother calls me Marc, and so my full name is George Marcus Hall, don't you ever call me George now. George Marcus Hall.
Kelly: You're in trouble now.
Marc: I know, right? And so I'm a third generation-
Kelly: You asked for it.
Marc: ... of George's, so that's where we came up with Marc Nelson, and interesting enough, when I came back from Los Angeles, there was a building, the building that we're in now that I started renting from, some friends of mine that used to print my t-shirts introduced me to the owners of the building. I rented my first space was downstairs in the basement of that building, $500 a month for 2,500 square foot of space, so that was-
Kelly: No, right. That's not happening anymore in downtown Knoxville.
Marc: Yeah, not anymore, right?
Mary Beth: No, it was just superior negotiating skills on Marc's behalf.
Marc: But it's just three blocks away from my great-grandparent's house, so it's really cool that-
Kelly: That's serendipity.
Marc: Yeah, it is. It's really cool.
Mary Beth: I love that.
Marc: That's a strong, strong, strong, history right there in the downtown area that I'm connected to, so I love that.
Kelly: Did you ever think... Did you ever have a moment where you thought, "Okay, I've made it. This business is going to be an incredible success."?
Marc: Well, yes. I did. And that was, I guess, four years ago now. And to be... I can remember June... it was June 8th. I had just got back from Cabo celebrating, and I was on my way to a major company here to help design their company uniform and got pulled over by the Knoxville Police Department and I was driving in my brand new Porsche, and I'm like, "Wow, I'm in 50 stores." And, "Hallelujah. I can't believe this dream has come true." Then the undercover IRS cops show up and out-of-body experience. So yeah, so it was short lived. It really was.
Mary Beth: Yeah, so let's kind of shift our course here and talk about... I mean, you had this viable, growing business, you were, I mean, you just now said, how many stores were you in? And what-
Marc: 50 stores, not including our own brick and mortar. We had a thriving e-commerce, and actually, we were a little over 50 stores, but 50 major stores. We were living the dream. I mean, we had finally got to a point where the company was making money. I was actually writing myself a check, and so here we go. Yeah.
Mary Beth: Yeah, but then you kind of got into this side hustle, of sorts, and that got you into some serious trouble as you just mentioned. I mean, and you had just received, I think in that time period, the Chamber of Commerce Minority Business of the Year award-
Marc: You got it.
Mary Beth: And then everything started crashing down around you, so you've got to tell us what that part of the story is.
Marc: You got it. So so what I didn't talk about, or we failed to talk about, was how I started and funded the business. I actually ran an illegal gambling operation here in Knoxville, Tennessee, and so the IRS didn't like that.
Mary Beth: As the IRS is wont to do.
Marc: They didn't like that, and so it's a reality. So we were talking about how tragedy sometimes can you know change things. At the time, I got arrested for running an illegal gambling operation, they took basically everything I had. I actually had to go to prison for 14 months, I was sentenced to a 33 month prison sentence, but ended up serving 14 months. Was able to get out by going to a program called RDAP, it's a cognitive reprogramming drug rehabilitation, so they cover a lot in that program, but that allowed me to come home earlier than 33 months. I didn't think, honestly at the time, when I was released from prison that I would even continue running the business. I was shell shocked. I was.
Kelly: Well, Marc, you know we talk on this podcast quite often about the entrepreneurial journey, and my entrepreneurial journey, and I know when I started my business I was a divorced single mom, I had no capital, and I couldn't get... nobody would give me any money. I mean, what was your experience trying to start and run a business as a minority business owner? Is that the reason you turned to this dark side to fund your business?
Marc: You know what? I'm not going to point the fingers, or blame anyone from it, but it was definitely, yeah, for my apparel business, I mean, a guy who had really no experience in running an apparel company, the easy out was, yes, it was easier for me to go to the dark side, or run an illegal gambling operation. But for me, looking back, it was the people I surrounded myself with at the time. You know, I tried the traditional ways, and for me, also I didn't want to take the... I took the shortcut. You know I could have potentially built up enough credit and enough capital to start an apparel business, but I mean, I would still likely be working on that.
Kelly: Yeah, it would take you a long time.
Marc: You know what I mean? It would have taken a long time. So the opportunity came about from an old friend that said, "Hey, what do you think about this?" And you know here we go. And had the opportunity, Kelly, I made the money to start the business and had several opportunities to okay, say, "Hey, this is... now I can quit." But greed is you know a whole nother story that we could talk about.
Mary Beth: Well, and that operation that you had, I mean, it was turning some serious cash.
Marc: Right, so it was super hard to turn that kind of money down.
Mary Beth: Yeah.
Marc: It'd be hard for anyone. I'd say that to say, "Hey, I'm going to walk away from making you know a couple million dollars a year." Or whatever, so yeah, it is. It was tough.
Kelly: Well, backing up to, I mentioned we met, you came to a Christmas party at our office and we knew each other from afar, but when we really got to be friends was when you got out of prison. So I remember the day it all blew up and I think everybody was shocked because you're a celebrity in our-
Mary Beth: Yes.
Kelly: You're a celebrity in our town. And then you got out of prison and I ran into you on Market Square, and we were just chatting and you said, "Hey, I'd love to get some advice on social media and using influencer marketing for my business. I'm trying to get it started back up." So we set up lunch, we go to lunch at the Oliver Royale, and you were just so honest and transparent-
Marc: And you had to pay because I didn't have any money.
Mary Beth: Well, you've paid us back now by being here, so this is good.
Kelly: I don't remember if I paid or not, but-
Mary Beth: No one's keeping score.
Kelly: No one's keeping score. But I just loved the fact that you said, "Here's what happened."
Mary Beth: Yeah, the honesty.
Kelly: I was like, "Man, what happened?" And you just were so honest and authentic that I think that that has really been what has kept people so rooting for you, and cheering for you to make a comeback, and you have.
Marc: And it's funny that you say that. Again, the day that I got pulled over and I thought, "Wow, I've finally made it." One of the things that and I look back and reflect on now is I truly was, as they were putting me in handcuffs, was having an out-of-body experience like, "Who the hell is this going... they're putting handcuffs on him. Whoa." And the days that followed that, wow, you think about, "What am I going to tell everyone?" But at the time, it's interesting living a lie how much stress and pressure that can bring upon yourself.
Mary Beth: It's like a double life kind of thing, yeah.
Marc: It's a double... and I totally was James Bonding it, you know what I mean? I was like this guy who was running this gambling operation, then I was this guy that was running this apparel business. And it was truly, you would think that I would be happy, but I was... the last few months right before I got in trouble I was constantly complaining about, "Man, something's not right. Something's not right." But you talk yourself into you know you're not going to pay attention to the obvious. And so current and present life when we ran into each other, Kel, it was, yeah, it was a weight lifted off my shoulder. And so after you finally went through the process of going to court, and then finally going to prison, those first couple of weeks of prison it was like, "Wow, man. I don't have to lie anymore." You know what I mean?
Mary Beth: Wow.
Marc: So this is the next chapter in my life where I can be just transparent, and whatever happens, happens. And if people accept me, fine, if they don't, then too bad. I mean, so you do, you get rid of... you lose that shell. And so that's the fire, burning up, and then the things that grow thereafter is are the beautiful things. It's obviously a horrible scene, and you never want to see tragedy happening to anyone, speaking of those fires, but the recovery can be a beautiful process and a beautiful thing.
Mary Beth: Right. And it is a process. I mean, one of the most incredible things about your story is how your business survived while you were taken out of the picture for more than a year. I mean, that part is really remarkable. I know that you had an incredible member of your team who was helping you with that, back at the shop as it were, you also had, obviously, the bad media coverage, word of mouth making the rounds. You knew that you had to somehow deal with that, ultimately, in order to get back to reviving a legitimate business-
Marc: Right on.
Mary Beth: ... with Marcus Nelson Denim. So in terms of that recovery process, and in terms of what you kind of just spoke about regarding what you were going through at the time, but then trying to come out the positive side of that, what were the challenges when you were back in town, and when you were back trying to resume the business as the front face of that?
Marc: I'll cover a few things that you mentioned. So one of the things that you were just talking about when your business burnt down and the things, I think it's so important as an entrepreneur, but just as a person also, whether you're running a business, or doing business, or in the public's eye, it really matters how you treat people, because you never know when you're going to need someone.
Mary Beth: Absolutely. It could happen to you.
Marc: So yeah, you got it. And so I think that was the biggest thing, because Kim, who was my employee while I was gone stayed along and she absolutely wasn't making any money at all. She just stayed on because she believed in me and the company.
Mary Beth: Wow. I mean, wow.
Marc: And so, yeah, she she was not getting paid at all, so I'm grateful for that. And again, you've got to have a support system, and so how you treat people when you're up, man that's so important because you never know when it's going to happen to you. And then you know fast forwarding to now, yeah, when I got home, again, I was shellshocked. I didn't know how Knoxville was going to accept me. And I think we as humans are so hard on ourselves. People move on. You know we tend to kind of focus on the negative, and it's how you handle things. You want to be transparent, you want to take ownership. But when you do make mistakes, and it doesn't have to be as big as going to prison and running an illegal gambling operation, but you said you're going to do something and you don't do it-
Kelly: Go big or go home.
Mary Beth: Yeah.
Marc: You got it.
Kelly: You did.
Mary Beth: Yeah, it takes all different forms. I mean, yeah. And all different... yeah.
Marc: I just, I went to prison because I'm writing a book, and I needed something really -
Kelly: You needed some food while you were writing the book.
Marc: Yes, I needed to have a great story, not just something little. So it's going to sell plenty of books. But yeah, coming home I was pleasantly surprised at Knoxville just opening their arms, and receiving me, and coming back and supporting me. So, that's been amazing. And like Kelly, she's... thank you for being sweet to me, and buying me that hamburger at Oliver Royale. And saying, "Dang it, it was five dollar burger day over at Café 4 but-
Kelly: Café 4, but I took you to have the $14 burger.
Marc: I didn't want to wait.
Mary Beth: Well, but that is part of the legendary part of Knoxville is this idea of live and let live, acceptance-
Marc: Right on.
Mary Beth: ... of you know being a community that embraces other people and is a place that is a welcoming place.
Marc: You got it. Sure.
Mary Beth: And so, I think that really kind of hits on the Knoxville brand, and really the east Tennessee brand, when you look at the larger region.
Mary Beth: So I'm really glad to hear that. I'm really glad to hear that you had that experience.
Kelly: So tell us how things are progressing now, and what you're most passionate about in your business.
Marc: Oh, wow. So coming back home, we didn't have that illegal gambling money to fund production, and inventory, and that whole deal, and so I had to think of a way that we would reinvent ourselves. So we did a lot of wholesale business. Not having that capital, again, and not having a... having a record now, so banks will definitely not loan to you now, what we had to do was sell the inventory that we had to stay in business. And then we had to figure out how do we make a product, or create a product, that we don't have to pay for the production and the raw goods, and then send it off on terms to department stores, or boutiques, and wait for that money? We just didn't have that option any more. So we scaled down and now we're direct to consumer. That's one of the things we do. We're focusing on the individual client and not wholesaling and pushing out that way, but we also started the custom suiting business. So suiting, which allows us to outsource the production of that, and so we get paid a deposit at least on a blazer, or a suit, which pays for that product. And another thing we've started doing is fit parties. So the fit party-
Mary Beth: Yeah. Yeah, tell us about that. That's very exciting.
Marc: And so the fit parties allows us to get a group of clients and so to come, and it's hosted by wonderful people like you.
Kelly: Yeah, we're hosting one for you.
Marc: There you go. And that person would then invite friends, and then we'd get their measurements, we'd create a file for them, so that allows us to call on them in future dates with their measurements and send them a blazer, a shirt, or jeans, or whatever they're looking for. In doing that, the fit parties have been so successful, but what we've found is women have such a huge influence on men's apparel. Like generally a guy that's in a relationship or married will not buy unless he gets his wife's approval. And then I thought about it, most gentleman, we get dressed to impress women, and so we've got to kind of get the women's advice and opinion on it. What do you ladies think about it?
Kelly: Well, it's interesting that you ask, since what we do in our agency, really our core competency, what we really shine at is helping companies reach women. So in your case, talking to you about how you can reach men through the influence of women. So-
Mary Beth: And that's so very often-
Mary Beth: ... a big part of the equation is that a lot of brands, if they think they have a consumer product, and they do have a consumer product that is for men, they forget that role, that pathway, in terms of the influencer role.
Kelly: Well, absolutely. And it's not just apparel. It's if you think of even non-traditional products like, say, overhead garage door openers, or pest control, women are still weighing in to those decisions. Or you're probably not going to buy a boat, Marc, if she doesn't want you to buy a boat, or she's not going to have some say-so in it.
Mary Beth: Right.
Kelly: So that's kind of how we've built our business, and recently we went over to your office and did an impromptu focus group on these fit parties, and the first thing we told was don't call them a fit party, and you're still calling them a fit party.
Mary Beth: The power of the focus group.
Marc: There you go.
Mary Beth: Yeah, and this was part of the reason I wanted you to talk about that concept, because I think it's really, the fit party concept is, at least at a conceptual level, it is something that's clearly working for you.
Mary Beth: So yeah, Kelly, tell us more about that kind of strategy.
Kelly: Well so yeah, we brainstormed around that and we decided, "Okay, let's do it, but let's brand it around something." So we're calling it Bourbon and Blazers.
Marc: Right on.
Kelly: We're going to a bourbon tasting and have hors d'oeuvres, and we're going to invite couples, or single men, or even single women because one of the things that popped up in the focus group was that it's not just about women and their partner, their spouse, or whatever, it's also women who are moms, or grandmothers, who, "I've got a kid who's going to be graduating from college soon and he's going to need an interview suit." Or somebody needs a suit for graduation.
Marc: Or gifts in general.
Kelly: Or gifts in general.
Marc: Yep. Yep. You've got Christmas coming up, you've got the holidays, and birthday, sure.
Kelly: What do you give? Yeah, especially when kids get to an age of 18, or 20, and you start running out of toys, or video games, there's only so many of those. So we kind of talked through some of that, and then you and I, Mary Beth, are going to host a Bourbon and Blazers event coming up at Marc Nelson Denim, and we're going to see how that goes. We're going to invite some of our couple friends, and I want to ask you this, Marc, do you want to get back to the point where you're in retail, or do you see this custom tailoring as being your future?
Marc: That's an interesting question. I was up until 3:30 this morning thinking about the future of the business. And as a small business owner, of course, I would love the whole world to wear my clothing, and so but there is a process to that. For Knoxville, and where I'm at, the low hanging fruit are these fit parties, and I believe that something is missing in this day and age, and I hope we get it back, is with this fast fashion, people aren't used to concierge service. You know service is so important, and I've found that people love service. So being able to call a gentleman and say, "Hey, your birthday's coming up. Hey, let's get you a blazer for your birthday, something special." Or, "Hey, spring/summer's coming up, the weather's changing, I've got you know a few items pulled to the side for you that I think you could use in your wardrobe." For sure, the future for me looks, you know, it's that custom tailoring, or that styling part of the business. But the big deal now, Kel, is obviously it's going to be hard moving forward to the future without e-commerce.
Marc: And so that's so important, but that's a whole nother business I'm finding.
Marc: It's really hard to focus on brick and mortar, and do e-commerce really well, so I'm going to pitch you with this idea after today and we're going to have to have part two of this conversation-
Kelly: Okay. Okay, we will.
Marc: I need your help on this thing.
Kelly: I love brainstorming these kinds of business problems. I think you're on to something though with the whole custom, and tailoring, and getting back to a high level of service. I've done some price comparing and really your custom is not much more than what you go out and you pay in a department store.
Marc: You got it.
Kelly: But you're getting to choose fabrics, linings, buttons, it's going to fit you right -
Mary Beth: And the quality. It's the quality piece.
Mary Beth: I mean, and my husband has, the retailer will remain nameless, but he has been a customer there, I mean, since he was really a kid because his parents sort of-
Marc: It was a generate-
Mary Beth: ... guided, yeah, guided him to that particular retailer, but he has complained over the past, I'd say, five to seven years in particular, that the buttons are falling off, there's strings hanging off of it. There’s just quality that this particular retailer was known for for years and years has clearly fallen off, and that is a lot of what you see in retail right now.
Marc: Got it.
Mary Beth: It's not just the service, or lack thereof-
Marc: Yeah. No, you're absolutely right.
Mary Beth: it's a quality deficit. So you're filling that gap with, not only that concierge and the high touch kind of service, but really the quality ethic.
Kelly: And made in the U.S.A, right?
Marc: You got it. Yep. Yep.
Kelly: So much of what we purchase now is made overseas, and in China, and the quality has suffered. Now, I want to circle back real quick before we wrap up here because I want to know, Marc, I'm so inspired by your story, what do you tell people who have undergone some serious personal failure, what do you tell them about how to turn things around?
Marc: Wow. That's a great question, and this is one of the things that I'd say to myself each and every day, "I am one mistake away from success." So you never know when that one more try, that one more... you know, just that you just never know. And I'm sure you ladies have experienced that where in one moment you thought that the world was going to come to an end, and then the next moment you hit the lottery, or whatever that big deal is, and so-
Kelly: And it keeps you going.
Marc: and it keeps you going. And the reality is, is that we all have problems. There is not a human being alive that doesn't have some adversity. If you've never made a mistake, if you've never fallen down, then please call into the show, or send an email, or something-
Mary Beth: Cricket. Cricket.
Kelly: And we'll send you out a free pair of jeans.
Marc: And there you go. I don't believe there's not a person that hasn't made a mistake, and so don't focus on the negative, always focus on the positive and where do you want to be? Again, it's the process. And for me, and I believe you're the same, Kelly, because we have similar souls is, I love the grind. I love-
Mary Beth: It's the journey. It's the journey.
Marc: You know, I do, I love the grind. I enjoy that. And so again, good or bad days I'm just be happy to be alive. And because some of us are so... we're not here to see that. And how many people do you know that have passed away, died through high school to you know today? So we don't know what tomorrow brings to us. So, again, focus on the positive, the, "Hey, I'm here. And I have the ability to make a change now. As long as I'm living, and I'm breathing, and I'm able to move, I can take a negative and turn it into a positive." And so that's the reality of it.
Mary Beth: Yeah, and that's like kind of a spiritual piece-
Marc: Yeah, amen.
Mary Beth: I think in business very often that part of the equation, or even that part of the story gets swept aside as part of the entrepreneurial journey, this idea of kind of a faith path-
Marc: Yeah, you got it.
Mary Beth: That emerges as part of coming out of very difficult situations. And part of our podcast, because it's called Ms. InterPReted for a reason, because we are all about dispelling myths, we're all about dispelling misconceptions and things like that, and I think that what you've talked about has dispelled so many myths about how someone can go through a mistakes made, through a path that was regrettable, but still being able to turn that around in a way, and overcome quite a bit of adversity-
Marc: Yeah, amen.
Mary Beth: Yeah, as part of that, that it is truly a remarkable story. So tell us, what's the next big thing for Marc Nelson Denim, as you look to 2020, and what the upcoming year holds.
Marc: For us, it’s I would like to... we've got a project with Chef Tim Love, that I just got back from Dallas and working on that, so in the next couple of years we I'd like to open additional brick and mortars that would do the concierge service. I mean, obviously Knoxville is our hub, and we love Knoxville home, but we want to enter into bigger cities, which would more money, obviously more people, and so... and just grow it from there. And then from there we'll get the more inventory, or data with clients, and then build off of that. And we hope to have another three to five stores open in the next three years.
Mary Beth: It's so exciting.
Marc: Right on.
Kelly: Marcus, I love you.
Marc: I love you too, Kelly.
Kelly: Thank you so much for sharing your story, your personal story, and your business one. Mary Beth and I are so excited about hosting our own upcoming Bourbon and Blazers insiders party for you.
Marc: Not fit party, Bourbon and Blazer.
Kelly: Not a fit party.
Marc: Bourbon and Blazers.
Mary Beth: Yeah, we got to be on brand here.
Kelly: Something fundamentally wrong with that name.
Mary Beth: And don't forget to follow the Ms. InterPReted podcast. We will respond to your questions and comments, so please post them using the hashtag Ms. InterPReted, and that's #MsInterPReted, and for visibility's sake, don't forget to capitalize the PR.
Kelly: You can also follow me on Twitter @KDFletcher and @FletcherPR, and follow Mary Beth @MaryBethWest. Special thanks to Chris Hill of Knoxville based HumblePod at humblepod.com, and thanks for joining us, until next time.
Announcer: Thanks for joining us on Ms. InterPReted - Public Relations Demystified. You can keep up with the latest on the podcast at fletchermarketingpr.com and on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you listen to podcasts. We'll see you next time.