One of the most thrilling aspects of being an entrepreneur is your only true limitation is your own imagination. Well, and money, too, but if you can dream it and have the passion, you can make it happen. As far as business models go, Adam Freck and Andrew Volk have stumbled onto a business model that might sound laughable and not sustainable at all, but here it is: For four years, the co-founders have been making and selling starkly bright spandex body suits. Originally inspired by It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia's Green Man episode, the Chicago company, Superfan Suits, has blown up into something much more ambitious and shows no signs of slowing down. This year the duo aspire to get stocked into those Halloween stores that pop up in October. Don't laugh. They started with only $90 to invest and are major players in the spandex scene. I gave them a call to understand how all this came to be.
You said you started on a furlough about four years ago?
Adam Freck: The idea was there, and I was on a 25 percent pay cut. [Laughs.] So that was the first step before the paycut and I was like, "I need a backup plan." I was in talks with Andrew, and we were just starting to get some ideas going on how to get our first website started, and then I got laid off in November of 2008. A few months later we launched our first website and then we went on from there.
Was this your first attempt as an entrepreneur? Your first startup?
Adam Freck: Yeah, definitely.
I'm not asking you to name names, but what sector were you working in before, that laid you off?
Adam Freck: It was a small consulting firm that was affected by real-estate development.
And you started with $90 after you lost that job? Was that all you had in your in your savings account?
Adam Freck: The $90 was just buying up a few URLs and getting hosting space. Before we physically had a product to sell we had already had people contacting us to order. We were able to not go too far out on a limb as far as putting our own money at stake.
You started in November of 2008, and what happened from there? Obviously you're doing well if you're still doing it four years later.
Adam Freck: Andrew was working full-time, I went back to work at that same company in February after three and a half months. We just slowly grew our business while working full-time. That build-up, and as you know, the crazy time is in the fall, we gear towards fans, so obviously we're getting a lot of college and high school students coming back to school. At that time we were kind of just starting a new thing, a new trend, I guess. And then Halloween hit and after that I realized we were too busy. If we really wanted to continue to grow the business, I realized I'd have to go full-time. So, November of 2009 I quit that job and went full-time with this. [Laughs.] Slinging spandex.
Did you ever think this would be your life?
Adam Freck: [Laughs.] No, no, no. I went to school for urban planning, so this is way off the course I ever imagined for myself.
When you started off slinging spandex, what was your initial goal? How have you had to change your vision and expand since then?
Adam Freck: If you're familiar with the products, this craze grew out of Green Man [from It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia]. That episode was before then. Over the summer I was watching that first episode on DVD where [Charlie Day] comes out, and usually I've never cared about what I'm going to go as for Halloween. But when it came on I was like, "Oh, there it is. There's my Halloween costume." Then I found out that it was kind of miserable to track down where it was, and from there, I decided: this is an opportunity for a business. But, yeah, it grew out of that.
As soon as we thought of selling those, we said, "Well, why stop at these? We should do every color we can get our hands on."
Does this mean that someday you'll also be selling Kitten Mittens?
Adam Freck: No. We don't affiliate ourselves officially or unofficially with anything to do with the show. I think our initial focus on that product -- we had to distance ourselves from any kind of association with the show. That helped push customers to Superfan Suits, which is all these products. That first Halloween, that suit that was that color was the most popular. Now it's just another product in our catalog.
Well, that's really smart to distance yourself from it anyway.
Adam Freck: Our first website, though, was called "Hello Green Man." [Laughs.] So right before the fall of 2009 we got an email from Fox's attorney.
A cease and desist?
Adam Freck: Yeah. They said that any association with the product and phrasing of Green Man was their intellectual property. So, being a somewhat poor bootstrapped company we didn't try to fight that. We said, "No problem. We're out of here." But that kind of pushed customers to Superfan Suits. I think we grew more from that moment than we ever would have expected.
How else do you plan to grow from here? Or do you not need to do that to be sustainable?
Adam Freck: We started with that one product and quickly grew after that to 18 products, and then over time we've gone to over 100 different styles of suits. It's hard to see past the next few months, but an idea pops up that is kind of kooky -- for example we created this tuxedo suit and then the kookiest guy in Major League Baseball ends up wearing a tuxedo suit to the ESPYS. That became a hot product. That's hard to envision, which weird thing might happen.
Well, it's a funny thing, but you guys started off taking cues from another entity. And you can continue to reap accidental advertising from who knows where, if you pay attention.
Adam Freck: If you're in any kind of public forum, there's a good chance you're going to get a lot of attention drawn to you. It just happens that's our product that brings our attention on.
What benchmarks do you hope to hit in the future going into this year?
Adam Freck: Obviously we want to sell more suits, but this year we're really focusing on getting our products into stores where everyone buys every kind of costume they can get. To access those physical locations that are able to provide to customers is something we can't do at this level, and it's not really something we're looking to do. Into costume shops at Halloween, that's what we're focusing on to grow our business.
David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.