Rick and Natalie Rietveld were heroes to us. We would visit their booth at trade shows where they marketed their clothing company.
Rick’s art was colorful and wild, like Drew’s but in a different style. We envied their family owned business, one that printed Rick’s art on high-end men’s shirts, tees and board shorts.
I would call Natalie every now and again and ask art business advice. She was a tough lady, and I admired that. She taught me what to expect out of clients and how to get it.
In 2001 Drew left Lost, a company that he painted clothing designs for. There was a large demand for Drew’s art, and now that it would no longer be available through Lost, we thought we’d follow the Rietveld’s influence and start our own label.
Son of the Sea, Inc. was born. It allowed us to fill the requests for Drew’s art on a variety of products: t-shirts, art prints and stickers. We planned to add more items to the line, but this was a good start.
In the first two years, the financial growth of the business was magical. We were selling to over 250 of the surf shops in the U.S. We hired sales reps and in-house employees. We rented a large warehouse. We took out advertising. We sent Drew to tour surf shops around the U.S. to meet his fans at retail stores, grass-roots style.
By year three, it was wearing down on us. Running a wholesale operation was taxing on us, because we weren’t cut out for this type of business.
We found that instead of doing the things we loved, we were doing things we hated; like dealing with employees that didn’t want to work; fighting with vendors that screwed up our orders. We lost money on surf shops that didn’t pay their bills.
And the worst result of it all – Drew wasn’t painting anymore. His time was spent on quality control, employee control, and inventory control.
The second worst thing – we couldn’t take vacations. You can’t leave for two weeks when you are growing a wholesale business.
We became grumpier and grumpier. Looking back, I remember that time period as being the unhappiest years of my life. I felt overwhelmed by all the weight on my shoulders of keeping the business growing and keep the employees happy. I wasted hours dialing for dollars to get surf shops to pay their bills.
The business was bad on our marriage – Drew and I never fought much before, but during these years, we had vicious arguments. We were stressed out and exhausted.
One day Drew came into the office looking somber. “You won’t believe what I just found out.” He said sadly. “Rick and Natalie are getting divorced.”
He sat by my desk and grabbed my hand. “If we don’t change what we’re doing, it could happen to us.”
Four years into the Son of the Sea, Inc., we shut down our wholesale division. We had already started licensing Drew’s art with success, so we decided to go in that direction entirely.
We fired our employees, said goodbye to our sales reps, moved out of the big warehouse and cut down our expenses.
We found peace and happiness in a small studio about a mile from our home. The space had an office for me and a showroom and a back room where Drew could paint. And paint. And paint!
Since then, we’ve focused entirely upon licensing and sales of original artwork, which frees us up to be able to travel and work wherever we are. Or not work at all.
And we went back to taking 8 weeks of vacation a year.
Do we regret our biggest mistake ever? No, we don’t. We learned valuable lessons during that time that we would never have learned otherwise. We understand what it takes to run a wholesale business, and we know that we will never go down that road again. We don’t care to have employees or to be chained to our business.
We prefer freedom. And Drew, well, all he wants to do is paint.
Maria “Spunk” Brophy (Follow me on Twitter)
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