How did you get into the hat business? A friend of mine, Sean from R&S Menswear has a nephew, Shane, who had a hat stand in Washington Square Mall. I was a frequent customer. He had hats that Lids didn’t carry or Citi Gear, HangTime or many urban stores that carry hats. I couldn’t find him to get a hat one day and he just said “Hey, you wanna buy it? I don’t have time for it.” I told him to draw up the purchase agreement and I’ll take it to the lawyers cause I’m a hat lover. I’ve been wearing hats since 5th grade when I got diagnosed with alopecia areata. I started wearing all types of hats. I found my passion and I purchased a hat stand and the rest was history.
How did you progress from a hat stand into two stores? I was at Washington Square and I had maybe a total of 100 hats at the time. I wanted to set a kiosk up in each mall. Lafayette Square at first wouldn’t allow me to because they had a contract with Lids and Hat World not to have anyone else sell hats in the mall. I spoke with Sean at R&S and as a favor he spoke to the mall manager. I got an interview and she agreed to let me get a stand across from Foot Action. It was Thanksgiving 2018 Black Friday.
Everyone liked the hats that I had to sell because they’re exclusive hats. You can’t just go anywhere and get these particular hats. Diagonal from me a store was closed. I just went to the mall manager and said, “Hey can I put my hats in this store?” and she agreed. Once she agreed to let me put my hats in this store I just filled the store up with hats. I said I will fill it up with hats and maybe sweatshirts and T-shirts to go with the hats. I never even thought of any other type of apparel or glasses or anything like that. But my representative from the hat company invited me to a clothing convention. I got me a sweatshirt and I printed League Hats on it. I had one sweatshirt. I got my book bag and my laptop and I drove to Chicago. I just kept going every other month so they can just see “League Hats.” Once they seen me all the time I started investing. I would buy a sweatshirt with this company and I would buy a sweatshirt with that company. Different brands are emailing me now and they wanna put their shirts in my store. So it went from there and the blessing just got bigger and bigger and bigger.
My grand opening was February 23rd of the actual store not a kiosk. I had sweatshirts, jackets, t-shirts, jogging suits, whatever I could think of. Whatever brand that would allow me to invest in them and once I invested in them it just went from there. They took a chance on me just like I took a chance on them. This is my second location within not even 24 months God is Good.
What are the challenges you have experienced in opening your store? It’s definitely not as easy as a lot of people think. A lot of people ask me like “Hey, how did you do it you just brought a bunch of clothes and just put them in a location and said here I’m selling clothes?” Actually, no. The problems that exists with this business is some people feel that instead of opening a seat at their table there’s no welcoming in this business. There’s no open arms. This is not that. You’re gonna come across people that have years invested in this business and it may rub them the wrong way. They may not want you to set up your store within a 10 mile radius. They might not want you to be near them and we sell the same product.
Champs and Finish Line are across the street from each other they both sell Jordans at 9 in the morning on a Saturday and no one complains. You have small business minded people that fear or feel some type of way that you will take from them. Which is not the issue when each businessman is just trying to provide for their family. Businesses have emailed vendors, emailed representatives, called representatives. I’ve only been here for ten days and I’ve gotten emails that I couldn’t sell underwear in this mall because someone complained. By the grace of God those type of vendors didn’t feed into the negativity. They are willing to see a small business trying to thrive and trying to win and they are exceedingly glad. I can honestly say that a lot of vendors have recanted their statement and said, “Oh well, we’ll still deal with you.” It’s sad but this is the type of business that you’re dealing with.
I worked hard at everything I do. I went to every clothing convention for two years straight. If it was every other month from Atlanta to Chicago to Las Vegas I got on a plane by myself and I got my iPad and took every note that I needed as a businessman to make my business popular. You do have to do your homework and there are going to be people that you are going to rub the wrong way. They didn’t like Jesus you just have to pray about it and keep it moving. I don’t have the time or the energy to worry about another business wanting me to fail. Now if there’s another business that wants to win with me I’m more than welcoming. We can put our great minds together and sell tickets, shows, magazines or whatever it is that we can do as a business. We can put our brains together and make more black small businesses. I’m all for it!
West - Lafayette Square Mall
North - Castleton Square Mall