Written By: Ronald Sklar
According to the Grunt Style website, “you don’t have to be a veteran to wear Grunt Style, but you have to love freedom, bacon, and whiskey.”
Apparently, a lot of people do. The founder of the fighting-spirit clothing line, Daniel Alarik, says that the demand has grown so intensely that the company now employs over 250 people, and over half of them are vets. In fact, the line is doing so well that the company’s Chicago location is looking to expand.
Daniel, a former drill sergeant, owes a good part of Grunt Style’s success to his team. He says, “I figured out a long time ago that instead of just donating a portion of our proceeds every month — which we do anyway — we can make a larger impact if we help vets who are transitioning out of the military, to give them a place where they can be comfortable and where they can be successful.”
With both veterans and patriots creating and producing “the most patriotic apparel on the planet, straight to your front door,” Daniel and Grunt Style get props for practicing what they preach.
“I like hiring vets personally because it’s part of our mission,” he says. “We also work for a lot of veteran-centric charities — that’s important.”
All Grunt Style products use 100% American-grown cotton. Some shirts are assembled outside the U.S. to keep costs down, but they are ultimately put together in the Americas. All products are printed, packaged and shipped from the Chicagoland headquarters by a very loyal and ambitious staff.
“A lot of the vets that we’ve hired are now in senior positions,” Daniel says. “Here, they get in on the ground floor, they work their butt off, and they prove themselves, getting promoted and promoted and promoted. They are willing to learn; they grow into those positions, and they start dominating. We give them a shot. We give every veteran an interview, whether they are qualified or not.”
Another factor in Grunt Style’s success is its determination to run like a military operation.
“It’s a lot simpler than most people think,” Daniel says. “The way we do business is disciplined and professional. That’s very important. It’s very well thought out and structured. We map everything out. We’re very disciplined in how we conduct our business, whether it’s budgets or product releases or operational structure. We’re one of the largest screen printing operations in the entire Midwest. Last week, we produced over 60,000 T-shirts alone. We run everything just like we would in the military.”
The Army taught Daniel many life lessons, with the exception of only one.
“The one thing the military doesn’t teach you is how to sell,” he says, “and that’s not the military’s fault at all. Why would they teach you how to sell? You can have a great product, but there are a lot of great products out there. Nobody may ever see your product because you’re not ‘selling’ it. If you’re in your own business, you have to learn how to sell. And the best way to do that is to actually go do it yourself.”
Daniel started the business — and learning how to sell — when returning to Chicago from his service in Fort Benning, Georgia. Along with the help of his wife, they learned as they went. It was a rocky start, but eventually the road started to smooth out. A good part of that transition is a result of a quality product that people want to buy.
“I thought the best way to show off your pride is to put it on your back,” he says. “So I made up some T-shirts and put it in my car and traveled around the country for two or three years. I slept on the product, selling for a few years, trying to figure out what business is. I even remember Googling “what is business?” The first few years were really, really rough. It cost me a lot of money and a lot of mistakes. I was just trying to learn what to do.”
Now that Grunt Style is a success, Daniel can share advice with other entrepreneurs, veteran or otherwise:
“The first thing,” he says, “you don’t need to raise money. Don’t take a loan. The first thing you want to do is see if people want to open up their wallets and give you money for whatever product or service you are developing. When you do that, make it good enough, and then sell it, as far as you can. Just keep selling it. You can make it perfect later, and make improvements later, but just get it out. You need to know — right up front — if you have a viable company or product. You have to prove to yourself that you can sell a product in such a way that you have enough money left over at the end of the day to keep growing your business. If you can prove that by actually doing it, you’ll be on the right track.”
All the while, Daniel never forgot or neglected his practical, usable Army training, and the life lessons he learned while serving.
“There is a creed that we live by as business professionals,” Daniel says. “It’s kind of quasi-militaristic, but it makes sense: it’s called discipline by cadence. When you’re coming up with a business plan or something to do, it’s easy to get sidetracked. But if you can sit down and write up a discipline and say to yourself, ‘I’m going to do this every day or twice a week,’ whatever it is — posting on Facebook or creating new products or talking to people to sell — you create a discipline or a cadence for yourself, and then you do it. As soon as you fall off track, you’ll notice that your business will stop accelerating.”
For now, Daniel shares what’s important to him with both his employees and his vast army of customers.
“I always had a romantic feeling toward the military,” he says, “serving something greater than yourself, with a team, with a lot of pride and patriotism.”
Click here to find out more about Grunt Style.
Written By: Ronald Sklar