The holidays are big business for Crazy Dog TShirts founder and CEO Bill Kingston ’05. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t having fun running the T-shirt company he founded in his dorm room during his junior year at Ithaca College. Although Crazy Dog now has nearly 50 employees and operates out of a 36,000 square-foot facility in Rochester, New York, Kingston says he feels like he’s never had a real job.
Crazy Dog sells funny T-shirts with categories ranging from nerdy to sports to bacon. They also make custom shirts. Kingston says his most popular shirts are “flip shirts” — T-shirts that feature a special graphic only visible when the wearer pulls it over his their head.
“You can’t really find anything like that in a box store,” said Kingston. “We try to come up with stuff that’s a little different from what you might find in Target or Walmart.”
For the holiday season, he says ugly Christmas sweater shirts are the big sellers. Many of them are sold on Cyber Monday, a key business day for Crazy Dog, when sales can be up to 200% higher than a typical day. Kingston says good Cyber Monday sales can set the tone for the rest of the season, and the keys to success are getting advertising in place and ensuring that they have an adequate inventory.
“This year we were stocking up for Christmas in early summer, just so we could make sure there were no shirts that we were going to miss out on or have to worry about printing last second,” he said.
Kingston started Crazy Dog TShirts as part of an internet marketing course he took at Ithaca College. Students were supposed to create a website to sell a service or product, and the business administration major saw a gap in the market for humorous T-shirts. He thought up a few designs, hired a local shop to print them on shirts and put them online. He chose CrazyDogTShirts.com for his website simply because the domain was available and “crazy dog tshirts” was an often-searched term online.
Throughout the rest of his time in college, he mailed out a handful of orders a week from his dorm room. After graduating, Kingston was offered a job as an assistant manager in a clothing store, but decided to take a chance on Crazy Dog.
“I really didn’t think it’d ever turn into what it did, but I never had to get a real job,” he said.
Kingston attributes much of his business success to Ithaca College, where he learned how to effectively leverage search engine optimization and basic accounting as a student in the School of Business. But the most important things he learned were about people and how to select the best person for the job.
“We’re a small business, and I want everyone to fit in really well with what we’re doing and be able to interact with the other employees,” said Kingston. “A lot of that comes from just learning about people when you’re in college.”
“Ithaca College really prepared me for life in general and being able to run this business,” he added.
But Kingston isn’t only a business success: he also got an “A” in that internet marketing course.