Entripy Custom Clothing ( www.entripy.com) founder Jas Brar shares the success story of this unique company
In today’s world, social media might be the easiest medium to send across messages of support to a cause or promote a brand. However, another popular way for people to express their association with a group or a business is through custom clothing. T-shirts or caps printed with a same logo worn by a set of people lets anyone know that they belong to a same group. But two decades ago, the process of purchasing custom apparel was a frustrating one. People had to wait a long time to get their custom t-shirt orders, pay high costs and deal with poor customer service. In 1999, one Canadian sought to revolutionize the custom apparel industry in Canada by making it stylish and affordable and provide excellent customer service.
Meet Oakville, Ontario’s Jas Brar, founder of Entripy, who in his university days identified a gap in the market for quality custom apparel and excellent customer service when a group of classmates went searching for custom t-shirts for campus events and organizations. He started Entripy from a basement and now it operates out of a 35,000 square foot facility in Oakville with over 100 employees.
Brar’s company is an official partner of teams like Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors. It prints thousands of t-shirts for home playoff games and in-arena giveaways during the regular season. Entripy is also an officially licensed supplier of the Canada 150 logo. Brar’s company hit the headlines of the media in 2010 as a recession success story. When the average Canadian businesses were down by 25%, Entripy grew by 20%. With many accolades under his name, Brar was recently named Entrepreneur of the Year, by Oakville Chamber of Commerce. In an interview with Desi Today, Brar shares the inspiring story behind Entripy. (Excerpts).
Congratulations on receiving the Entrepreneur of the Year award. How do you feel?
It feels great to be recognized by the local community. I grew up in Oakville, I live in Oakville, Entripy was born in Oakville, so it was a great honour to have the Oakville community recognize the work that has gone into making Entripy the success story that it is today.
Tell Us something about yourself, your family and your education background?
My parents immigrated to Canada in the early 70s from India and like many immigrants, they came here with nothing. I’m a first generation born Canadian and I saw how hard my parents had to work. They worked multiple jobs and eventually got a business of their own. They purchased a 241 pizza franchise in 1989. I was 9 years old and I started working alongside my parents so I saw everything that went into making their business a success. I saw firsthand the hard work that went into running a business. I saw that work ethic at a young age and that helped build my work ethic.
I’m married nowand we have three young kids. My kids are second generation Canadian, but with a strong South Asian heritage.
How did the idea to start custom apparel come up?
I studied at the University of Toronto. I started out studying business. In my first year, 1999, I was approached by a former classmate who was looking for 500 custom t-shirts for a ski team event. I was known around school as being a guy who was able to get things done so I said sure, I’ll get this done. I started researching how the custom apparel industry worked. I acted as a middleman. I ordered some blank t-shirts from a wholesaler, picked them up, drove them to a printer to get them screen printed, boxed them and sent them out. I made $1 per shirt, so that was $500 in my pocket. That was Entripy’s first transaction. I did a few more orders and became known on campus as the t-shirt guy.
I realized very quickly though that the custom apparel industry wasn’t very efficient. I was having a hard time meeting deadlines because I was buying from one place and printing in another and I was tired of having to rely on other people to get the job done. I wanted to provide my clients with the best experience, on time delivery and good customer service. IIn my second year, I went to a trade show and bought a small printing press that I set up in my parents basement. I moved out of residence and began printing custom t-shirts in the basement. That was the start of Entripy. I ran Entripy from my parents basement until I graduated university then rented out the basement of a store in a strip mall in Oakville in 2003. There I hired my first employee. Now Entripy is out of the basement, we operate out of a 35,000 square foot facility in Oakville, which is soon to become 40,000 square feet and we have over 100 employees. We do all screen printing, embroidery and even shipping in house.
When you started Entripy, there must be few players, but with technology there must be many new players coming into the market. How has technology changed the way you operate?
In the custom apparel industry there’s no barrier to entry. The industry is hyper competitive. But the difference is that while a lot of companies either have the sales piece or they have the technology piece, but Entripyis able to stand out because we have the competitive edge of being entirely vertically integrated. Everything we do from the time a client places an order online or calls us to the screen printing or embroidery of the garment to the packing and shipping, it’s all done in house. We even have our own in house photography studio where we photograph the products that appear on our website. We have 10 developers in house who are constantly working on making upgrades to our website to ensure that our clients are getting the best possible experience with us online. I’m asked all the time who our competitors are and my answer might sound a little cocky, but the truth is no one else is doing what we do. No one else controls every single aspect of the custom apparel process like we do.
How do you handle the pricing side since custom made clothing comes with a cost?
My belief on this is that there’s always going to be somebody cheaper, so you can’t base your business on price. It’s about the service, the value and the experience you can deliver. I heard a quote years ago that stuck with me and now it’s one of Entripy’s core values. It’s not the big that eat the small but the fast that eat the slow. Being able to get things done quickly, being the first to market is how you can stand out in any business; it’s not about being cheapest.
What are some of the changes that you have seen over the years in the custom apparel market in terms of demand and also the kind of companies/organization approaching for custom apparel?
Today, more people are aware of the benefits of branding their business. Whether you’re a large corporation or a small mom and pop restaurant, brand image is becoming such a bigger part of our society. Everyone, from sports teams to franchises, to small landscape companies, need a brand identity in order to stand out from the competition. Your brand sets people’s perception of the company. It instills trust, tells people that you’re reliable and in some cases, your brand image might make you appear to be larger than you actually are. Custom apparel provides these businesses with that branding that they need to be successful in today’s marketplace.
Entripy was also named amongst 100 Fastest Growing Companies of Canada, what were some of the major factors that contributed towards it.
The factors that contributed towards Entripy’s growth was a combination of technology and marketing combined with a commitment to service our clients the best we can.
I’ve always made it a priority to invest heavily in technology. I believe in building first before there’s demand because the demand will come. Case in point; we moved from a 6,000 square foot facility into a 16,000 square foot facility before we had the demand to necessitate that move and some people maybe thought that was crazy but we did it and the demand picked up and we keep growing. We never stop growing and building.
What are some of the memorable custom clothing requests you have got?
We get a lot of requests from great individuals and organizations, from international music icons to sports teams to kids who want custom t-shirts for their school science fair. But the ones that really stick out in my mind aren’t necessarily about the designs or the orders themselves, but about the service that Entripy was able to provide to the client.
We had one instance a few years ago where someone called us up on a Friday and said they had a trade show that weekend in Montreal. Their products for the trade show hadn’t showed up on time and they were in a panic. Because we do everything in house, we were able to fulfill the client’s order and we even had someone personally drive it out to Montreal for the trade show. When you’re able to bail someone out like that and do the impossible, it makes you feel really proud of the work that you do; that you’re really able to make a difference.
Entripy is “officially licensed supplier of the Canada 150 logo.” What does that mean and how it is working to make it a memorable celebration?
My parents were immigrants but I was born here and my kids were born here and there’s no other country that I would want to call home than Canada.
With Canada’s 150th anniversary around the corner, Entripy wanted to do mark the occasion in a special way. We got a license from Heritage Canada to be able to print the Canada 150 logo on custom apparel so that our clients could show their Canadian pride by adding the Canada 150 logo to their custom apparel orders. We’ve had a lot of clients who have done that. We also gave every client who placed an order between January and July 1st a commemorative Canada 150 t-shirt to help our clients kick start their Canada 150 celebration with an item that we’re most famous for – a custom t-shirt.
If you can share some tips with young entrepreneurs or who want to start their own business on starting up and finance management?
The number one problem Entrepreneurs have is always financing. No one trusts entrepreneurs, but that’s why they’re entrepreneurs because often times they don’t have the same vision as everyone else. The key is to stick to the game plan. Get used to accepting rejection but don’t let it deter you. Don’t get bogged down by the negativity. You just have to think about the bigger picture and have a strong mind about where you want to get to. You have to understand that the flight path will have a lot of turbulence along the way. No entrepreneur gets to success without any turbulence. But when you hit turbulence, you can’t just land the plane, you have to fly through it and get to where you want to go.
When I wanted to purchase the initial equipment for Entripy, the chartered banks weren’t interested. They didn’t see the vision. Luckily, there was the support of a more entrepreneurial, non-traditional bank, the BDC, that was able to get our vision off the ground because they understood the entrepreneurial spirit and supported the vision I had for the company.