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Tiffany Montgomery
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Sullen optimistic despite economic slowdown

By Tiffany Montgomery
January 21, 2008 5:59 AM

Wall Street may be beating up on the big industry companies these days, but a few small brands are still hoping to find an opening in the marketplace to leap to the next level.

I checked in with Jeremy Hanna of Sullen as the company prepares for ASR this week. He talked about Sullen finding a niche in a tough economy, the beauty of the Gold Box area at ASR, and moving into large retailers.

Growing the line

"Sullen plans to continue growth in couple different ways. We plan on expanding our line by 25 percent each season. But at the same time we have scaled down our cut-and-sew a little bit to go back to the basics - T-shirts, hats, fleece, juniors and accessories.

"We have experimented with several wovens and denim the last few seasons, but since we are a newer company and still getting our name out there, we thought it would be best to excel our t-shirt graphics more since that is what we are known for."

Growing in a tough economy

"The reason I am still comfortable about Sullen's ability to grow our market share this year is because it doesn't take astronomical numbers for us to significantly expand our overall sales and market penetration (we're not dealing with sales in the billions just yet).

"Our core growth offering for summer is in the art-driven, T-shirt vertical. You can bet if people buy less apparel this year, they will look for ways to refresh their existing wardrobe cost effectively. That means more T-shirts and accessories, which is good for us.

"We've somehow managed to double our volumes every year we've been in business, and we're looking to keep that streak alive. We're committed to growing in 2008 - both sales and operations."

The international outlook

"The fact that we're finally getting some serious traction in the international markets also gives me hope. We're just starting to get a strong account base in Europe, and word has it that the weak dollar and the strong Euro just might drive some increasing demand over there for U.S. products.

"If we can keep getting the right exposure of the brand over there, my hope is that Sullen can continue to connect and expand a core customer base similar to our U.S. market. We also plan to continue growing new accounts in Southeast Asia, Australia, South America, even South Africa."

Moving into the majors

"We are really happy that we got picked up last year by some of the majors. We tested with Zumiez and PacSun. We added No Fear. We expanded our existing relationship with Tilly's, which I have to give props to for being the first major retail chain to give us a shot. Just as importantly, we added some key core shops like Identity Boardshop, Hot Cats of Las Vegas, Motoworld down in San Diego, and Gromitz for our youth.

"Growth is a double-edged sword for a grassroots brand like us. We love the credibility and steadfast support we get from the core shops. If you get in the big accounts first, the small core shops will never carry you. But if you get in the core shops first and develop a good relationship, then there is a solid chance they will stand by you and understand that the big box accounts are important for growth.

"We always make it a point to never neglect our smaller accounts. At the same time, when you are growing a business, the potential sales increases and new market penetration one account with a major can bring is too tempting to ignore. We have been able to really step up the quality now that we are receiving checks from our big box accounts."

ASR update


"For Jan 08', we are going big on our summer line by introducing our T-shirt ‘Collaboration Series.'
This is a major expansion of our core product line - art driven lifestyle apparel. The collaboration series features 30 original art pieces from our Creative Director (and my partner) Ryan Smith and contributions from four really strong tattoo artists that Ryan has met over the years as a professional tattoo artist."

The beauty of Gold Box

"The Gold Box is one of the biggest opportunities for Sullen and the up and coming brands, and I think ASR did us all a real service by putting an emphasis on creating a place for emerging brands like us to visibly show our line on the trade floor next to the majors without the ‘budget barrier' holding us back.

"I can't wait until the day when we have the "super fat deluxe" booth (and the budget to build it!) but until then, Gold Box gives us the perfect forum to showcase our new lines."

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