For Volunteer Traditions, the last several years have been booming with business. The concept is simple – apparel and products that show state pride in a classic way. What started as a grad student side project in 2006 has turned into a full-fledged growing business in 2012. When Reese Witherspoon is caught sporting your product in Us Weekly, you know you have something right.
Nashville Guru got in touch with Mason Jones, the brain behind the biz, to learn a little more about Volunteer Traditions and entrepreneurship in Nashville.
Taking the Entrepreneurial Plunge
What did you do pre-entrepreneurship?
I was in grad school at UT Knoxville, where the concept for Volunteer Traditions was born.
How did you know at the beginning that your company concept was strong enough to pursue? How long did it take for you to feel confident you had a sustainable business?
I knew the company was a good idea because people LOVED the products. They didn’t just wear them from time to time – they wore them every day. As far as sustainability, I think that’s always a question of how big you want to become. I think we just kept making products for our niche and it just kept sustaining itself. We weren’t trying to save the world…but hopefully someone can be proud of where they are from while sporting the brand.
What was the ratio between naysayers and supporters of your business idea in the beginning? When you doubted yourself/business, where did you turn for inspiration?
We have a very niche product so people either get it instantly or have no understanding of the brand. It’s hard to give an exact number. The people who initially liked the brand, LOVED it. It was never doubting that the idea was a great one, just whether or not we could make it work on a large scale. There’s been a ton of breaks along the way that we have been blessed with. As far as inspiration, the biggest problem was over-thinking the entire thing myself. It was really just stepping away and relaxing over whether or not we could do it.
What was the hardest part about starting your own business? What would you tell someone who wants to quit their corporate job to start their own business?
The hardest part: I think every day is a challenge. Most people think it’s fun to do your own thing, but figuring out what to do every day is not as easy as it sounds once you don’t have a boss telling you what to do. Second hardest part: getting things done – answering the phone when people just want to chat, making sure the orders get sent out, taking out the trash. At the end of the day, I have to make sure those things are done or else it’s not going to happen.
For people who are considering quitting their job, I think the best advice is to try it part time. Most people believe starting a business is a multimillion dollar, glamorous, movie-like experience. In reality, I believe the best way to start a business is to start part-time, then make the jump once it’s already producing some type of income that you can at least try to live off of. I tell people that all the time, and no one ever follows it.
Pick one: College or Experience?
As someone who started a business in college, I’m going to go with college, as it was an incubator for me to start my business. I believe entrepreneurial-minded individuals are going to find ways to be creative and believe it’s always good to have too much education.
What’s one piece of advice you would give an entrepreneur to maintain a work/life balance?
Friends and family care about you for who you are outside of work – not how awesome you are at work.
Headquartering in Nashville
How long has Volunteer Traditions been in Nashville?
I brought the idea and company to Midtown when I moved here in 2007. It has become a full-time job for the past 2 years.
How do your business practices support other local people or businesses?
I love working from JJ’s Market in Midtown to meet with clients. If I’m not in the office, I’m at JJ’s. We also hire a number of individuals who are local – web designers, photographers, graphic designers, models…ha. It has also been great working with local colleges (Vandy, Belmont, Lipscomb, etc) to work with interns and campus reps.
Why is Nashville a great city to do business?
Nashville is a great city in general. There’s no place in the world I’d rather live. I think what makes Nashville great for small business is the amount of artistic individuals around town. There are a ton of designers, photographers, musicians, etc. to get inspiration and help from. In many ways, they are like entrepreneurs in that they are doing their own things, so they understand the risks/rewards and putting themselves out there.
What’s your favorite area in Nashville and why?
Now and Later
What is your most popular product right now?
The Old South Grey Caps in a variety of colors – people love the classic look.
What’s one book, blog or magazine you are reading right now?
What can we expect from Volunteer Traditions in 2012?
I’m excited to clean up a number of things – better branding, some women’s gear, and bow ties for states across the south. We’ve been lucky enough to work with Bink’s Outfitters, located in the Hill Center in Green Hills, and we’re looking forward to bringing a number of products that will be focused more around our hometown of Nashville.
Get More Information About Volunteer Traditions
Volunteer Traditions currently carries state apparel and products for 10 different states, including Tennessee, South Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Virginia, Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Mississippi.
Save 15% by entering promo code “guru” during checkout! Valid through February 10, 2012!
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