Several months ago, Cleveland-based The Wahconah Group received some good news: It licensed the U.S. Postal Service motto and trademarks—including the words “Rain, Heat & Snow” from the company’s motto—for an innovative clothing line. The road to this milestone wasn’t easy—and it wasn’t quick—but, in the end, it was rewarding for CEO Isaac Crawford. In his own words, Crawford explains how Wahconah secured the USPS as a client—and what he’s learned along the way.
In November 2011, The National Minority Supplier Development Council was having their national conference in Atlanta. Crawford and the Wahconah Group, after being prepped for the event by JumpStart and the Northern Ohio Minority Supplier Development Council—attended and made the most of the experience.
I went to the show and at the show, I worked it. I went to all the seminars, I talked to people and I met a lot of folks. We had a ton of colors, had fliers, we exhibited—which was an anomaly, because we’re a clothing company, and when most people say you’re doing apparel clothing, they look at you like you’re kinda crazy. I learned a long time ago to bring everything on stage with you, because you never know, what piece, what part, is going to apply to somebody. It’s easy for folks to say no—but they can’t tell you no until you ask.
Crawford made contact with U.S. Postal Service representatives at that Atlanta conference. Eventually, the company was directed to the USPS licensing division, which was exploring opportunities around the postal service creed. Undaunted, Crawford took the tactic of emphasizing the innovations within clothing industry–including smart apparel and wearable electronics—to sell Wahconah to them.
You know, the Postal Service is a very large, multi-billion dollar company. They have over 500,000 employees; they have been around since the beginning of the country. They aren’t going to go away overnight. We knew there had to be some opportunities there.
When we started talking with USPS about their brand license, we came in from the angle that we would be a little unique, we were going to offer something special. We approached them from the standpoint of an iconic brand tying into the history and a number of things. Plus, we were hungry, so we were very responsive. We followed up; we got in the proposals. They’d ask a question, we’d come right back to it. We had several meetings, we exchanged a lot of information, and then finally they just said, “We really like what you guys are doing, because it’s not just ‘step in line and follow the crowd,’ it’s a little different.” Ultimately, that’s how we were awarded that selection and licensing contract to introduce their line.
Along the way, Crawford’s received some sage advice that he’s taken to heart as an entrepreneur.
One, you have to believe in what you’re doing, because you’re going to get tested, and you’re going to get challenged. Your resilience is ultimately going to be pushed, and if you don’t believe in what you’re doing—if you haven’t drank the Kool-Aid, if you’re not committed to it—then you’re in a lot of trouble, because that’s what sustains you.
Also, there is no way you can do any of it yourself. You cannot work in a vacuum, whether it’s building a team, building relationships, building partnerships. It all takes patience, persistence and commitment. If you’re not ready for that, then maybe you’re not ready to start your own business.
Lamont Mackley is a Senior Advisor for JumpStart. Lamont spent most of his career in the banking industry, where he led three community banks as president and CEO. His ability to create environments of high achievement led to his selection as leader of two entrepreneurial businesses, providing him with insight into the challenges of managing such enterprises. These experiences fueled Lamont’s daily passion for working with and coaching entrepreneurs and their growing companies. He attended Boston University for his BS and Columbus School of Law, Catholic University, for his JD. He also has led a series of workshops and seminars on economic and business development.