Issue: September/October 2010
Entrepreneur's Toolkit: Get Him to the Greeks
Nick Dadas’ college business, printing T-shirts for fraternities, has blossomed into a sales network on more than 100 campuses, thanks to perseverance and some smart partnerships.
Top 40 music blasts from speakers, and 20-somethings work screen-printing presses in a gritty print shop churning out frat-friendly T-shirts. Nick Dadas, owner of University Tees, is the old man on campus, a 28-year-old who’s come to the realization that he’s a bit out of touch.
What to Ask
What resources do you already have available?
Nick Dadas took advantage of extra space at his dad’s office and reaped the added benefit of a built-in mentor. His dad eventually became part of University Tees’ board of advisers.
How expensive would it be to gain more control over your operations?
After years of farming print jobs out to online companies, Dadas and Haddad finally brought their print operations in-house. It was a large up-front investment, but now they can police the shirts and adhere to strict quality-control standards.
Is everyone happy?
“You can easily get a sour apple in here and really spread the cancer to your company,” Dadas says. He focuses on hiring the right people, even if he’s not sure where he’ll put them.
A group of University Tees campus managers, the college-age sales staff, is at company headquarters in Lakewood for training this week. “When they were all here yesterday, it was like a culture shock,” Dadas says. The trainees represent a fraction of the 165-strong army of student salespeople that Dadas has amassed over the past few years. Anchored on 110 campuses nationwide, they’re the crucial links for this graduate-turned-entrepreneur.
He started his company when he was their age, after ordering tees for a Miami University event left him cold.
“It was the process of going there, dealing with this local company, not getting the best service in the world,” he says. “We were ordering 1,000 shirts. I thought that would be a pretty significant order.” It didn’t apparently feel that way to the shop owner. Everyone on campus was going to that same shop for their hayride, bar crawl and softball T-shirts. And at a school where few students had cars, just getting to the print shop was a pain.
Dadas was a gregarious guy on a campus with a huge Greek life. So he pitched his idea to some of the houses: Let me handle your next T-shirt order, in a cheaper, more convenient way. And check out these cool designs my buddy made! Dadas and his student designers could take simple artwork drawn up on a bar napkin and turn it into collegiate gold because they knew their market — they were living it. By their senior year, Dadas and co-founder Joe Haddad had letterhead, beer money and friends making T-shirt deals on three campuses.
“I know this sounds really simple, but it was just a timing thing,” Dadas says. “This business would’ve never started post-
University Tees matured after Dadas graduated. He reached a crisis point one day while working in the upstairs bedroom of the house he bought after college. Haddad had moved on to a regular job. Dadas was alone. Totally alone.
“That was a tough time because it was just me, by myself,” he says. “I didn’t have any accountability.” He asked himself if University Tees was really what he wanted. And then he called his dad, an entrepreneur himself, and asked if there were any spare cubicles in his office.
It was the first step in the “legitimization” of a college company. Dadas uses the word so much he sounds like a Mafia guy, but his efforts have paid off. Haddad came back on board one year after graduation. He did University Tees’ taxes, saw the company was making a profit and felt the pull of entrepreneurship again. Together, they continued to tweak and refine their business plan.
“We got more routine about meeting,” explains Dadas. “We got someone who was really good at marketing skills.” They found campus managers — the students who sell for University Tees — through a job posting on their website and simple word of mouth: A manager at one school would refer them to a friend at another university who might be a good fit.
The campus managers are in constant contact with one of three dedicated business development leaders. “They’re the resource, the coach and the liaison,” he says. With extensive, in-house training, student salespeople can make three times the rate of a typical college job. It’s an enticing offer.
The students are the linchpin in the organization, picking up where Dadas left off. He and his crew train their managers how to sell, so when the students head back to school, they’re networking with their friends and peers. “That’s really where we’ve found our niche on college campuses,” he says. His business is as old-school as it gets: The company depends on individual relationships with each customer.
In the next five years, Dadas aims to grow University Tees and reach 350 campuses across the country. Now that’s student organization.
This record has been viewed 1914