As this year rolls to a close, take a moment to give yourself some kudos. If you’re still standing after these past few years of economic hell, that’s reason enough to celebrate. I’ve decided we’re going to wind down 2009 on a positive note. Step one was to talk to one of the fortunate few entrepreneurs who’s actually prospered during the last few years. I didn’t have to search far.
Ira Cohen is the founder and president of Fluffy Fleece Blankets, a company that designs, manufactures, and sells printed fleece blankets. Ira also sells Collegiate Snuggies, which have proven to be a big seller this holiday season. (Full disclosure: I’ve known Ira a long time, and he’s a member of my extended family.)
After spending over 20 years working in the garment industry, Ira, who always knew he was destined to be an entrepreneur, started Fluffy Fleece Blankets in his basement in 2007 with an initial investment of $4,000. When his three kids would get home from school, they’d head downstairs to help him fulfill orders.
It’s often (I think, too often) said you need to find your passion when you start a business, but Ira took a more strategic approach. He was looking for “a product that appealed to both men and women of all ages, was price-sensitive, and had multiple uses.” Fleece blankets was his winning idea because, “they photograph well, and present themselves perfectly on the Web. In a down economy, people tend to spend much more time at home. People want to snuggle and be cozy.” Today there are more than 100 different themed blankets available on the site.
That’s all well and good, but it was Ira’s next move that I think was really noteworthy. I have long maintained that the real risk of business ownership does not come at the startup stage, but rather when the business is up and running and doing well. That’s when it’s all too easy to go with the flow and be satisfied with the status quo. But instead, last year Ira noticed a trend and plunged in: “It was the perfect fit of two very popular trends: college sports and homemade goods.” Ira noticed that very few stores carried fabric by the yard anymore. Today, collegefabricstore.com stocks the largest selection of licensed college fabrics in the world.
Selling licensed products can be a boost for any entrepreneur. Getting licensing permission is hard work. If you’re interested in licensing opportunities in the collegiate market, Ira recommends you contact the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC). But, he warns, the negotiations are “extremely difficult. The hardest thing about dealing with the colleges is the color matches. If the Ohio State red isn’t the exact red, the fans will not buy the merchandise.”
Next step? Identifying other “fanatic” markets. Ira is currently in the process of getting licenses with the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, and the National Basketball Association. He’s expanding into obtaining licenses for new movies as well. Licenses like these don’t come cheap either, since Ira says, “You must guarantee a certain amount of royalties up front.”
It takes a lot of factors to build a successful business: hard work, luck, a good sense of timing. And sometimes serendipity steps in and lends a hand. In Ira’s case serendipity came in the form of a friendship with the man who owns the now world-famous Snuggie brand. (Sometimes, it is who you know.) Ira calls collegesnuggies.com “a match made in heaven. We had one meeting and shook hands. Everyone knew we had a winner.”
Winner indeed. On an average day they ship over 3,000 orders of Collegiate Snuggies, and to date “hundreds of thousands of college Snuggies have been sold.”
Not content to rest on his laurels, Ira plans on introducing new college Snuggie designs as well as other new licensed products. Above all, Ira is optimistic and grateful: “I am fortunate that even in a tough environment we are seeing fantastic growth — and a great future.”
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