Three Gonzaga University alumni who earned business degrees at the Jesuit school here five years ago, and then spent four years in China, have gotten off to a promising start with an online premium menswear company called Vincero Collective that they co-founded last year.
The startup uses crowdfunding as a tool to enable its members to choose the products it creates, and then sells them for substantially less than what conventional retailers would charge for similar-quality items, claims Aaron Hallerman, its director of operations.
It negotiates directly with quality suppliers in China, eliminating supply-chain middlemen and designer markups, and further keeps prices low by mostly producing only the quantity of a particular product that its members have ordered, thus eliminating waste and extra inventory costs, Hallerman says.
Through the curating process, any proposed product that reaches its crowdfunding goal goes into production, and those that don’t reach their respective goals are scrapped, with members’ money being refunded, he says.
Though Vincero Collective began delivering its first products just last December, it now has 5,000 members, Hallerman says. It’s projecting sales of $400,000 to $500,000 for this year, and hopes to surpass $1 million in sales in 2016, he says.
“We’re obviously heading in the right direction, and that’s where we’d like to get,” he says, adding that the business venture’s performance thus far has “blown out of the water anything I could have expected.”
Vincero Collective’s target market is men 20 to 40 years old. Its first product was a dress watch with Italian marble inlaid into its dial and its band, and that has been followed in successive order during the first half of this year by a leather briefcase, another watch, a leather weekender duffle bag, and then a third style of watch, Hallerman says.
“Starting next month, we’ll have belts, wallets, a new watch, and shirts,” he says.
The products all bear the Vincero brand, which is an Italian word that translates roughly into “I will conquer,” and they currently range in price from around $100 to $350, which equates to “wholesale-or-better” pricing, says Hallerman, who also serves as the company’s chief financial officer.
Of the company’s overall intent with its product styling, he says, “We’re definitely not an in-your-face brand. We try to keep it minimalist and classy.”
Hallerman was a business administration major at Gonzaga with a double concentration in business finance and economics. Vincero Collective’s two other co-founders are Tim Nybo, director of marketing, and Sean Agatep, director of production. The company doesn’t have a CEO.
Nybo and Agatep also majored in business administration at Gonzaga, with Nybo also focusing on business finance and economics, and Agatep pursuing a double concentration in marketing and economics, Hallerman says.
Vincero Collective doesn’t have any office or production space of its own. Hallerman and Agatep now live in Seattle, working full time from their homes and a co-working space, although Agatep travels to and from Asia on business-related trips, while Nybo lives in San Diego. They are the company’s only employees here, although it also employs two people in Hong Kong, Hallerman says.
All three co-founders are from the Seattle area, and they all lived together for three years in a big yellow house on Mission Avenue—along with three others—while attending Gonzaga. All three graduated in 2010.
While living together, Hallerman says, the roommates would have brainstorming sessions every Saturday at which they would toss around business venture ideas, many of which they found out already had been commercialized “or were just awful ideas.”
The Vincero Collective venture evolved out of a longer-than-expected sojourn that all six roommates made to Guangzhou, China’s largest city, a couple of months after graduating with the intent of exploring product-manufacturing opportunities and “just kind of learning the trade,” he says.
While earlier planning the trip to China, he says, “I knew we would be there a year, maybe two,” but didn’t expect the GU alum contingent to remain there as long as it did. “I guess I wasn’t 100 percent sold that we could get something going,” he adds.
After arriving there, members of the group dabbled in manufacturing various products, including things such as iPhone covers and watches for other clients, he says, adding, “We just kind of decided, ‘Why can’t we do this ourselves?’”
Out of those talks, he says, emerged the idea for an online fashion company, sourcing a range of products directly from Chinese manufacturers.
Some of the challenges, though, Hallerman says, were “how to get past the language barrier and how to get past the culture barrier,” while also being able to differentiate the highest-quality manufacturers from those that produced mostly cheap goods.
“That was really from just being there on the ground and networking,” he says. “It’s definitely you-live-and-learn over there. You start to learn what to look for when vetting a factory.”
Vincero Collective’s co-founders launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign last August that raised more than $130,000 to get the venture started. The business had incorporated in June 2014, delivered its first watches in December, and “things have just been flying by since then. It’s been more than exciting,” Hallerman says.
At the Vincero Collective website, visitors can become members for free and then can have input on every product the company proposes to add to its collection through a crowdfunding campaign. Crowdfunding, as now is widely known because of its rising popularity, involves using small amounts of capital from a large number of contributors to finance a new business venture.
As the Investopedia website notes, crowdfunding makes use of the easy accessibility of vast networks of friends, family members, and colleagues through social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to get the word out about new businesses and to attract investors.
The Vincero Collective website basically is broken into two areas. One area is a retail store, where members can purchase from limited inventories of previously curated items and that offers next-day shipping, Hallerman says. The other area is a crowdfunding “lab” where members can order products that won’t ship for 30 to 60 days, assuming they’re funded.
“We try to engage our community every step along the way. We send out surveys and seek feedback,” while striving to introduce one or two new products a month and offering free shipping worldwide, Hallerman says.
“It’s just so much fun every day,” he says. “We really enjoy what we do. We love manufacturing things,” and serving a membership base that appreciates upscale, but value-priced menswear products.
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