One day, a couple’s 12-year-old son watched as his step-dad and his biker buddies, a group of middle-aged men, sped off on their motorcycles. The young man looked at his mother and said, “Instead of the Sons of Anarchy, they’re the Sons of Arthritis!” Little did he know his step-dad would run with this name and launch a highly successful small business that literally spans the globe.
Entrepreneurs Stan Dorak and his wife, Mary Thory, formally registered Sons of Arthritis, LLC in February 2014. But they had been doing business in some capacity since 2011 prior to adopting the LLC. The two run it entirely out of their home in The Woodlands, Texas, a suburb of Houston.
Sons of Arthritis sells a unique array of apparel that is sure to get a good laugh out of anyone. Thory and Dorak maintain an online store through which they sell t-shirts, long-sleeve shirts, hoodies, and a variety of accessories sporting the company’s logo and other comical phrases.
“Most of our customers are Baby Boomers in their 50s and 60s,” Dorak explains. “They really enjoy the self-deprecating humor attached to our products. Even though they are suffering with arthritis or have a hip replacement, they revel in the opportunity to poke fun at themselves and enjoy some camaraderie with others in their age group.”
Dorak and Thory are quite grateful for the advent of social media. Dorak came up with a t-shirt concept. They sold it to someone who posted a picture of it on Facebook, and it spread like wildfire on the Internet to some of the largest online biker communities. The two had soon sold hundreds of shirts in no time – without even having them screen-printed yet. The company now has distributors in the U.S. and Germany.
“People are starting their own Sons of Arthritis chapters all over the world,” he says. (Sons of Arthritis is not affiliated with any of these chapters, but they purchase all of their apparel through the company.)
The startup company has several “chapters” representing different lines of apparel – the Ibuprofen chapter, the Titanium chapter, the Hot Flash chapter, the Daughters of Arthritis line, and more.
Thory has two Master’s degrees and previously worked as a licensed counselor at a local hospital. But, because of how quickly the company was taking off, she had to leave her day job so she could focus all of her attention on Sons of Arthritis. Meanwhile, Dorak works as a regional sales manager at a major chemical company and focuses on the marketing side of the business.
Dorak believes it’s the connections among his customers that have really made the small business a big hit.
“People of a certain age can truly relate to this. I can relate myself. Plus, when people see our shirts, they always ask the person wearing one, ‘Where did you get that?’”
He explains what the truly rewarding aspects of owning the business are.
“Seeing people’s faces and making them smile and laugh is just great,” he says. “All of the feedback, comments, and testimonials we get really make Mary and I feel good inside.”
Small Business Competition
In Dorak’s eyes, he and his wife have faced some unique and unexpected challenges in terms of small business competition.
“Our biggest problem is keeping an eye on the knockoffs,” he explains. “You get people trying to sell our stuff themselves and maybe put their own little twist on it, but they are still violating a trademark.”
He adds that biker apparel companies don’t really compete with his since he offers such different types of products. However, he views the startup company as being part of this industry rather than trying to compete with others in it.
Marketing Strategies for Entrepreneurs
As referenced earlier, the web has been the biggest tool Dorak and Thory have used to get the word out about Sons of Arthritis. They quickly point to Facebook as being the most effective online platform. But, of course, they also maintain a website – www.sonsofarthritis.com – a Twitter page, and pages on biker community sites. In addition, they run spot ads on relevant websites.
While the couple did not face a ton of challenges in starting the business, Dorak admits there were a few.
“We had to convert a garage into a warehouse,” he says. “Neither of us had any experience in the apparel business, so there was a big learning curve. We had to learn Facebook and some other online sites. It can be tough to keep up with these social media sites because of how often their features and capabilities change.”
Tips for Entrepreneurs
He offers a few pieces of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to start their own ventures.
“Don’t be afraid to do it,” he says. “You have to take a chance and see what happens. With the Internet today, you can sell almost anything online. It’s amazing what some people have done that they never could have done years ago. The world is literally at your fingertips on a computer.”
As clients of 1-800Accountant, Dorak and Thory have been overly satisfied with the small business accounting assistance they’ve received.
“1-800Accountant has taken a big burden off our shoulders,” Dorak says. “The customer service has been over the top. In today’s times, it’s rare to find that from any company. The accountants are always on time for our appointments, and they can answer any questions we have. We’ve been very happy with the service.”
Photo credit: The photograph of the t-shirt included in this blog post was provided by Sons of Arthritis, LLC and is used with permission.