When a 30-year-old Canadian guy got tired of his Public Relations job, he created ShirtPunch. What is ShirtPunch you ask? It’s an apparel company that prints unique designs related to pop culture on T-shirts and other top wear.
When did they launch? In October 2011. This brand’s unique selling proposition (USP) was to collaborate with artists and designers across the world.
And the designs lent by the creatives would be available on their websites for a mere 24 hours, after the time frame, they would disappear from the webstore.
As cool as that flash sale sounds, it eventually led to a logistics nightmare and an overwhelming number of returns.
That’s when potential customers started wondering, what is their return policy? In case there is damage or size mismatch, would they even get a replacement?
Hence, this query happens to be among the most frequently asked questions to date.
Who Founded ShirtPunch?
It was founded by Russ Montague in Ontario, Canada with the help of his former partner, parents, and a few good neighbors who decided to volunteer.
He began the journey from his basement by putting in his $8,000 coupled with $2,000 that he borrowed from his parents.
Montague settled with the target of selling 250 shirts per week at first. He was just hoping to cover his mortgage. To his surprise, he ended up selling more than 250 units on the first day, and by the end of the week, he had sold over 1,000 t-shirts.
ShirtPunch’s USP was that he would put up a design on the website which would be available for only 24 hours. After that time frame, you cannot find the same print ever again.
He was able to create a sense of urgency by doing this and it pushed the interested customers to make an instant purchase.
Also, setting a price point at $10 a piece worked in his favor. He set this price keeping college kids in his mind. As a student, you have purchasing power but you’re almost always broke. And if a college kid can afford it so can everyone.
Within 7 months of the launch, ShirtPunch(SP) was selling 15,000 shirts every month and they had hit the $ 1 million dollar mark in revenue.
And if you ask Montague, he would say it all started with ‘Hollywood’s Iron Man’ a.k.a Robert Downey Jr (RDJ).
While working at Universal Studios, he was responsible for handling RDJ’s Press Junket. And a mishap on the way to the event made Montague lend his pants to RDJ and the rest was history.
This got him the tag of a ‘standup guy’ who could save the day, no matter what. After this incident, everyone from entry-level to top executives knew who he was in Universal Studios, Canada.
He was entrusted with more events and assignments wherein he had to deal with famous and upcoming celebrities as well as industry hotshots.
By this point in his career, he made extremely useful connections that opened a lot of doors for him.
These connections came in handy while collaborating with celebrities like Stan Lee, Ricky Gervais, Rupert Grint, Warwick Davis, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, and Laurence Fishburne to name a few.
Montague‘s tag of stand-up guy once pushed him to take up a songwriting gig for Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato’s movie Camp Rock (2006). After this, he started working on more & more songwriting projects.
And it was after this project he found his entrepreneurial zeal. In his own words, “As a song & music writer, you are really independent and you are trying to find new avenues & headhunt next big celebrities.”
He had always planned to work for a big corporation and climb the corporate ladder, but this role helped him in building capacity for a personal project and made him comfortable taking risks.
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Rise and Fall of ShirtPunch
In the beginning, Montague made a move that multiplied the number of customers at a rapid pace. He collaborated with artists and designers across the globe.
Montague paid the artists 10 percent of the revenue, which translates to 1 dollar a piece of clothing sold. On top of that designers get to keep their intellectual property.
And this was a great move because the artists were happy and they were consistently bringing in more designs to the website.
What these artists did not realize was that they were not lending their designs which were beneficial to the company.
Artists were taking the niche audience they had built on social media & otherwise and served it to SP on a silver platter.
It did not harm the creatives by any means, but SP was steadily building a solid customer base without having to spend much on customer acquisition costs.
Anyone who has ventured into the apparel business specialising in pop culture would know copyright infringement is a risk looming over business leaders’ heads all the time.
And that’s why SP chose to stick with fanart and the parody side of things. All these strategies were proving to be beneficial in the growth of the company and it enjoyed steady success.
But shipment and reverse logistics were a big problem for them, especially overseas. Now, Montague and his partners decided to expand and invest in their next venture NerdBlock (July 2013).
This brand was a subscription box service, which was again nerd & geek themed and it contained clothing apparel, toys, and other collectables.
Much like ShirtPunch, NerdBlock (NB) also rose to fame quickly and became Canada’s biggest player in the ‘subscription box service’ space.
NB carried SP’s T-shirts, in the boxes along with other goodies & toys. Hence, ShirtPunch was equally enjoying its sister concern’s success.
After a few years in 2017, the NB started facing a lot of competition as there was nothing proprietary about what they were doing.
But the biggest shock came when Funko (an American pop culture lifestyle brand) called Montague & announced that they were getting in the subscription box space as well.
Funko is the world’s largest proprietor of licenses (pop culture) and happened to be the supplier of toys & collectables for NB’s boxes. And that one phone call turned everything upside down.
They were left without a supplier for their subscription boxes. On top of that, they had a big rival who had the capability of destroying its competition in a heartbeat. This caused a massive problem for NB as well as SP.
Things started getting difficult within the organization and the partners decided to put the companies in receivership. Even outside help could not salvage the brands.
And ShirtPunch & NerdBlock both declared bankruptcy in 2017. And it was sold to different buyers.
Is ShirtPunch Still in Business?
Yes, ShirtPunch is still in business. However, after the change in ownership Jason & Adam Sterling entered the picture. They are 3rd generation, family business owners.
They own a custom printing and promotional products business. The Sterling brothers were responsible for digitizing their traditional organization and they had an eye for rapidly expanding the business to stay relevant in the game.
In that attempt, they launched a screen printing business in 2013, which subsequently led to T-shirt Elephant. A custom apparel brand that became one of Canada’s leading sources for custom apparel needs in under 8 years.
When the partners at ShirtPunch finally decided to pass on the baton, it was a no-brainer for the Sterling brothers as this was another addition to their portfolio of businesses as it perfectly fit their area of expertise.
Shirt Punch Ratings & Traffic Analysis
If one looks at ShirtPunch’s page at the business reviewing websites like Trustpilot(2/5), Reseller Ratings(1.07/5), and Sitejabber (2.5/5).
It becomes apparent that before 2016 SP had maintained a decent score. Even though people were always displeased with the shipment time, they never had an issue with product quality.
ShirtPunch’s quality, which was once at par with what Walmart Canada made, ended up producing poor-quality t-shirts with strong stench and color fading problems.
It is evident that even after the Sterling brothers took charge, SP is still going through a lot of trouble. It is no easy task to revive a dying brand.
But it looks like their expertise in marketing has gotten them a lot of organic traffic to their websites. In the second quarter of 2022, they witnessed a steady growth in the months of April, May, and June with 149.8K, 157.0K, and 174.5K respectively.
In those 3 months, their global ranking also improved from 257,589 to 206,819. Which is a massive difference as they are up in the ranks by 37,436. (click here to know more)
In conclusion, Sterlings’ multi-generational business expertise coupled with their experience in founding & running ShirtPunch’s new sister concern (T-shirt Elephant) makes them an ideal candidate to keep the ship afloat.
But their problems seem to be more on the production side than on the marketing front. Delays in shipments and poor quality in manufacturing are the core areas that need to be addressed as the customers have pointed out time and again in their reviews.
From an outsider’s perspective, it is hard to make sense of the fact that the Sterling brothers own a printing press, and a custom apparel brand, and yet they are suffering from manufacturing and quality issues.
On paper, they have everything to bring ShirtPunch back to its glory and take it to new heights. But with stiff competition from pre-existing and upcoming geek brands, it would be hard to take any bets anytime soon.
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What kind of shirts do they print on?
They print on hundred percent ringspun cotton. With one of the largest shirt manufacturing companies as their partners, they offer unisex tees, men’s fitted tees, women’s fitted tees, and youth-style tees.
How does ShirtPunch print their tees?
They use two distinct methods. The first is Silk Screening and the second is DTG (direct to garment) printing which helps the brand in achieving perfect color reproduction & separation.
Why do ShirtPunch garments smell?
The apparel gives a strong odor if the product at hand was printed using the DTG method. This way of printing uses machines to directly print on the garment.
The pre-treatment and post-printing care leave that strong odor, but it usually goes away after a wash claims their website.
Where is ShirtPunch located?
It was launched in Oshawa, Canada. However, the headquarters is now situated in Whitby, Canada. A nearby town in the Durham region in Ontario.