How Two Guys Built a Successful Business from a Dorm Room
By Tiffany Miller
On a typical week at Miami University's, Ohio campus, most students spend at least a few hours working on campus or at a local business. It's all about earning a few extra bucks for beer money and spring break.
Joe Haddad and Nick Dadas might have done this too, if it weren't for a terrible experience with a local T-shirt shop. They were trying to create custom shirts for their business fraternity and everything went wrong.
So the pair decided to give the business a little competition launching University Tees from their dorm room in 2003.
There was plenty of opportunity. Miami students create custom T-shirts for everything from Green Beer Day to Parents' Weekend.
The Burger Incentive
The first project was designing the perfect tee to commemorate an annual block party. Haddad and Dadas set up shop on a friend's porch, expecting to sell the 300 shirts without a problem.
But the design was admittedly bad and students just weren't interested. The business might have failed that day – if it weren't for a friend's bright idea.
Haddad and Dadas nearly bought out Burger King – ordering 300 burgers from a drive-thru window. They gave the burgers away for free. All the students had to do was buy a $10 tee. The shirts sold out in just a few hours.
It's that kind of creative thinking that's kept the business going seven years later.
Haddad and Dadas continued to build University Tees while finishing school, hiring friends as campus managers to sell to other students.
The money and experience was better than just about any other job on campus or in the small college town. Campus managers polished their sales skills and self-confidence, but also earned a better than minimum-wage paycheck with commission sales.
"It was a little peculiar (being the boss) since we were still in college," Dadas says. But he concentrated on his management skills and quickly became comfortable.
Board of Advisers
But the now 27-year-olds knew they wouldn't be successful without the right advice and resources. So they enlisted older friends and family with legal, finance, sales and marketing experience. The board of advisers met quarterly to give feedback and make decisions.
The feedback proved helpful. By the time Haddad and Dadas graduated, University Tees was on seven campuses.
Haddad decided to move on after graduation, not wanting to abandon his dream of earning a master's degree in accounting. He finished grad school a year later and went on to a full-time job at Ernst & Young.
Dadas continued to build University Tees on his own, but was happy to bring Haddad back to the company in 2006.
"I was very nervous, but I had confidence in the idea," Haddad says. "I didn't have much to lose. I was living with my grandma. No mortgage. No girlfriend."
Haddad seems to have brought back the momentum. The partners now employ 15 full-time employees with dozens of campus managers on 75 college campuses
The goal is to grow to 300 campuses, focusing exclusively on schools with a strong student life.
Each school year the company hires new campus managers, training them at University Tees headquarters in Westlake, Ohio.
It's at these trainings that the students gain confidence and get excited about the job. Haddad and Dadas say the students are their most important employees.
For more information on University Tees, go to Universitytees.com.