Nate DeMars fell unsuspecting into this fashion world he inhabits.
He never considered himself an expert, or anything beyond a “regular dude,” and he already had the next phase of his career mapped out – real estate development concentrated on restoring buildings. After a stint in the corporate world, he was enrolled in Ohio State’s MBA program when an entrepreneurship class tasked him with building a business plan, and he noticed a hole in the marketplace – stylish, affordable suits for college guys and young professional men.
He received encouragement from his professor, and after fleshing out the plan, he opened his Pursuit menswear store in 2011 in the South Campus Gateway for less than $25,000. It was only intended to be a temporary popup location, but after six weeks it was apparent that DeMars stumbled onto something with long-term potential. The store has become a permanent fixture, and a Pursuit fashion truck roams campuses around the region to build on the original popup concept. While he may have filled the original market gap in Columbus, DeMars is now scouting for other locations around the country, convinced Pursuit can be scaled nationwide.
Lightbulb Moment: “The idea for Pursuit was inspired by being on campus and seeing all these young guys who clearly needed some help dressing for the career fairs and on-campus job interviews. And they all appeared to be wearing Dad’s suit and didn’t seem to be very comfortable in it.”
Most great ideas never become reality. “There are a lot of brilliant ideas out there. Just about anybody you meet probably has had some idea for some business at some point, but I think the best advice I got early on – Don’t waste a ton of time planning. Get the basics down. Feel comfortable that you’ve got something there, and then go out and do it.”
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, or the suit. “I knew we wanted to sell certain types of suits and hit a certain price, but I originally thought, ‘Well, we’re gonna go out and find somebody who can manufacture these suits for us.’ And I spent about a month making contacts at factories all over the world and didn’t realize how complicated it truly is to design your own products from scratch.”
“I ended up just heading to Vegas to a tradeshow and finding a lot of the products I was looking for ready to go, ready to be purchased from suppliers who are professionals at making them.”
Take measured risks. “Adding business debt on top of student loan debt, it makes the pressure just a little bit greater … I wanted to take on small enough risks that could be recovered from. You know, I could suck it up and get a real job and pay my debt and it wouldn’t put me under.”
Don’t confuse a business plan with a business. “You hear people say all the time, ‘If we can capture just 5 percent of that market or if we can capture 20 percent of the business that’s currently going to this competitor that we think we’re better than’ – it’s a really easy way to try to quantify things and kinda build projections, but I don’t think people realize how hard it is to actually do that.”
“We’ve come at our audience, both college and young professionals, from so many different directions with so many different things in such a geographically concentrated area, and I meet people every day who have never heard of us before. So I think it’s easy to say, ‘We’re gonna do this, we’re gonna be unique, and we’re gonna capture 5 percent of the market,’ but it’s a lot easier said than done, and a lot of it really takes time, especially in a business like ours where it’s not a product you buy every day.”
Utilize the benefits of technology. “I’m not sure that Pursuit in the way that it has worked would be able to exist 10 years ago, 15 years ago. We basically got to the point we’re at without really spending any money on marketing…we’ve had a really strong following on social media, which has helped us build a brand without needing a budget to really invest in significant advertising… so we can be nimble and we can do things that look real professional that not all that long ago were reserved just for the companies who hired agencies to do their work and had big budgets.”
There are stages of growth. “First, you prove that customers are interested in it and it can work, and now what I’m trying to prove is that it can work without me in a way that can be scaled beyond just one city.”
Aim for the stars. But seek the closest ones first. “I look up to Les Wexner, but what I can learn from the last 20 years of his career maybe isn’t as valuable as what I can learn from studying the growth of somebody like Ryan Vesler at Homage. So it’s finding people that you can call on for advice who maybe have recently done something similar to what you’re trying to do, or have blazed their own trail, and you can use them as an example.”
For more information about Nate DeMars and Pursuit, visit www.pursuityourself.com.