Do what you love – I’ve heard for many years that we should all be doing or working in a field that we love. That isn’t easy, especially when we love a hobby. If you know anything about me, you know my first love is racing. But, I’ve yet to receive factory driving offers from Mazda or Porsche. I can’t understand why.
Find a niche – Being immersed in the motorsports industry, I found a niche that wasn’t being catered to, at least in the fashion that I deem appropriate. I constantly saw drivers wearing polyester shirts (which when hot enough will melt into your skin requiring surgery to remove) and cotton t-shirts (which can catch fire and continue to burn) under their fire retardant race suits. There are certified fire retardant undergarments, aka base layers, available but few wear them mainly due to the heat stress they cause. It gets well north of 100 degrees inside a race car in the summer. Imagine that with layers of thick clothing for fire protection. Heat stress equals less concentration, performance and can even be dangerous.
The mission – I had to find a solution. I’ve never attempted anything in the apparel industry before, so it was a bit daunting. There had to be some fabric that could wick sweat, be cooler than current products under the driver’s suit and have some fashion aspect. Even the best products that were on the market mirrored long johns. Overall, it had to pass motorsports certification and be safe.
Be relentless – I couldn’t tell you how many phone calls I initially made and really didn’t get very far. Being a nobody in the industry, companies wouldn’t give me the time of day. Still, I formed an LLC, TraqGear Racing Innovations (took several days just to come up with a name that I liked that was unique enough to have a .com), got a web domain, TraqGear.com, and moved forward with a logo design and many other “to dos’ when starting a new company. Of course, I had to do all of this part time. I eventually came up with a plan of launch. Initially I would offer three varieties of shirts:
- an FR cotton certified long sleeve, the Podium model
- an FR certified long sleeve shirt that would mirror the performance of the polyester shirts everyone was wearing, the Race Pro model
- and using the same performance material that wicks sweat and is anti-microbial, a short sleeve version titled the Race T model.
Be your own test dummy – After several months of sourcing and developing the right fabric, I began testing in the field (on the track). If it didn’t perform, I tossed it. In fact, I found a few wonderful fabrics for the Race Pro model that worked well in the field, but failed miserably when tested for certification. These are some of the same fabrics that are sold as “military grade”. Shame on them for putting those shirts on the backs of our service men and women when they won’t even pass as a base layer in the motorsports industry. The point is that I simply cannot produce something for my fellow racing fanatics that I would not wear myself.
Give up on your idea – What? Two years into the process and I finally had a material that I would be proud to label as TraqGear, but I couldn’t strike an agreement to get it manufactured. They wanted me to initially offer one fabric to test market and then the others later after the first shirt showed signs of success. I was crushed. Many, many hours had went into process to get this far. Several friends that are drivers were always asking me about the project and when I would have the shirts available. I had to come to a crossroads and it was painful. Forget it. I felt so strongly about the idea of the three different model shirts that I decided to table the entire project. I knew in my gut that in order for this new, young company to have a slither of a chance at success, there had to be more than one option available to purchase. I had even boxed up all of the prototypes and threads for another day. It appeared that the TraqGear idea would die on my lips.
A breakthrough – A few months had passed and I went back to the drawing board of attending the next material trade show to look for the right fabrics. That’s when I got the call. They were willing to work with me on all three models! Now, I’m a man of faith and I thank God for it all. But, no matter your beliefs, sticking to your guns can pay off! I could have produced just one model of base layer shirts and it may have been successful. However, if it was a failure I would have NEVER known if the idea truly had legs. One narrow product line is not enough to test market a concept in this industry. It is too segmented. Drivers are fickle, extremely competitive and want the best choices they can find to be the best they can be. I’m one of those guys. Mind you though, in other industries, testing one product in that regard may have been fine. It just didn’t make sense for this one.
The message – Don’t give up on your dreams! But don’t; PLEASE don’t compromise on your product or service. I’ve heard said it in the past, “The BEST marketing is actually a terrific product”. I could not have said it better myself.