For many aspiring entrepreneurs, the freedom to pursue their
ambitions is unrealistic. The idea of risking a reliable stream
of income for a chance at entrepreneurial success is at war with
the logical part of their brains. But sometimes you simply have
no choice. You have to either move forward and succeed or fail.
There’s no retreat.
Live Free or Die
That’s the crux of Sean Lowery’s beginnings as an e-retailer.
Before his two businesses —
— came to exist, Sean had no choice but to give up his stable
career in pursuit of happiness.
“After college, I was working in a sales call office in
Philadelphia for 4 months. It was an uninspiring beginning to my
life as an adult,” he said. “I had the entrepreneurial urge
inside me that was fighting to get out, but I was too scared to
quit and lose my steady income. But I knew if I put my back
against the wall with no other option, I would be forced to
figure out how to make it on my own.”
And that’s exactly what he did. Faced with a reliable but
lackluster job, or an unpredictable but passionate one, Sean
chose the latter.
“I went into work Monday morning and couldn’t focus for the
first 45 minutes,” he said. “I got up to go to the bathroom, and
ended up walking past it, out the door, into my car, and out of
the parking lot. I still had a hot cup of coffee on my desk. But
now I had my freedom.”
Laying the Foundation
The next few months were rocky, but Sean and his girlfriend
Shelby started building the business that would eventually
become United Tees. Through a screen printing connection, they
designed themed apparel on a variety of topics -- from pop
culture to national holidays -- that they sold online through
Shopify and Etsy. Most themes didn’t ring the cash register,
with the exception of one that just-so-happened to let freedom
“After failed attempts with St. Patrick's day shirts and others,
I persisted to the next holiday, the 4th of July,” said Sean.
“This is when things really took off - so the American pride
theme stuck. The idea of an American pride clothing brand was
exciting for me; who isn't proud to live in the greatest country
in the world? Shelby, who was in her first year of teaching
kindergarten, came up with our original girl designs, some of
which are still among our all-time best sellers today.”
Around half a year after Sean left his old job, United Tees was
Although he was selling online as well, Sean also experimented
with the tried, true, and traditional route. Near the 4th of
July weekend, he set up shop on the Jersey boardwalk,
encouraging passerbys to buy some patriotic apparel for the
upcoming holiday. He managed to snag some sales over the warm
summer, but he was mostly met with a cold shoulder.
“If that weekend taught me anything, it was that in order to
grow, I needed to focus my attention on ecommerce,” he said. “I
loved the idea that everyone in the country is only one click
away from purchasing from my website, and I wouldn't even have
to stop them cold in their tracks while they are enjoying the
A (Virtual) Land of Opportunity
The ability to sell online, with customers freely buying
anywhere, anytime, was an opportunity hard to ignore. Keen on
taking advantage of it, Sean began absorbing as much information
on ecommerce as possible, from podcasts to blog posts.
It became clear that a specific, niche audience was crucial to
selling online. Ecommerce is a crowded space, so tapping into a
unique, loyal customer base was a goal that United Tees quickly
found itself accomplishing. Over time, site visitors turned into
customers, but the real growth emerged when loyal customers
started posting images of themselves wearing United Tees apparel
to Twitter, forging a following that provided the initial burst
of growth in the business.
“The growth was fueled at first by our audience on Twitter. We
gained a loyal following of others who loved to show off their
American pride,” said Sean. “Guys and gals across the country
were tweeting pictures in our tees and tank tops. We had
contests, flash sales, and kept interacting with our target
customers on social media day after day.”
United We Sell
After that successful summer, Sean opened an office in
Philadelphia - proof that United Tees was legitimizing. But the
budding business’ growth accelerated over the holiday season
when its first major investment led to a major expansion of the
“The business really hit its stride around the holidays that
year when Shelby had the idea to get a $600 embroidery machine
to start offering monograms on our products - a big investment
at the time,” he said. “We already had about 4,000 email
addresses of girls who had purchased in the past, and they loved
the option to personalize their clothing with their own
initials. Our sales kept growing. United Tees was putting out
new products, and the monogram business was demanding it's own
website, which we named 'United Monograms.'”
But their expansion didn’t stop with another online store; they
opened to an entirely new office on the coast. Sean and Shelby
packed up their belongings and moved from Philadelphia to
Charleston, South Carolina, to enjoy the South’s warm weather
and warm people, which were strong followers of the brand.
In Growth We Trust
Since then — around one year ago — business has continued
booming. Both United Tees and United Monograms are running on
Shopify and Etsy, with the former on Amazon as well. In addition
to their storefronts, they’ve got a variety of ecommerce apps in
their arsenal, including Ordoro which manages their entire
inventory and shipping processes.
“Ordoro has been a huge help in handling all these shipping
logistics. It's the first site our shipping team logs into
everyday and our main hub for anything orders,” said Sean. “It’s
the only one we need, and in the past four months it’s become
even more important for tracking inventory across the business
as we grow.”
But apps are just a fraction of their boosted firepower; their
team and machinery have grown significantly. That single $600
embroidery machine upgraded to three industrial machines and two
state-of-the-art Direct to Garment Digital Printers that print
on demand. They’ve had a total of fifteen employees come through
the business, and currently operate with a team of six that
handles sales, marketing, shipping, customer service, art and
everything in between.
Goal of the Brave
With growth, there’s risk. All of the added overhead from
machinery, office space, and employees may seem scary, but Sean
isn’t worried. Like the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of
Independence, he wrote away that fear back in Philadelphia. He’s
As far as guidance for aspiring entrepreneurs goes, it’s pretty
straightforward to Sean. Buckle down, get real, and get to work.
“Here is my main piece of advice for fresh entrepreneurs -
NOBODY CARES,” said Sean. “The sooner you notice that, the
sooner you will be in touch with reality, and ready to earn your
It's not the job of the marketplace to provide you with value,
it’s your job to provide value to the marketplace. Nobody is
going to come to your website unless they are getting something
out of it that brings value to them. One of my favorite quotes
is, ‘Keep your head in the stars, but your feet on the ground.'
Always be in touch with reality. Ask strangers to review your
website without even telling them it's yours. Beg for honesty
with people, and assure them you can handle the truth.”
Reality is, if you want to have a successful online business,
you have to persist. The tools to help out exist, the customer
base is floating around online, and the motivation is there.
It’s just a matter of rolling up your sleeves, accepting the
risks, and constantly improving with the customer in mind.
Whether your head’s focused on the stars in the sky or the fifty
stars on the flag, good things come to those who pursue their
entrepreneurial happiness and earn their stripes and sales. Just
ask United Tees.
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