Most soon-to-be college graduates don’t find themselves taking final exams one month, and then owning their own business the next. But that’s what Brina Thomas did.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising and marketing at Missouri State University in December 2016. The next month, she and husband Ben were the new owners of Five Pound Apparel LLC, a clothing and home accessories retailer with stores downtown and in the south-side Farmers Park.
“It was a pretty fast process just because the timeline was great for the seller and for us,” says Brina, who was also working at the time as manager at Ellecor Design & Gifts in Farmers Park. “It was really a matter of getting the right number and doing our due diligence and things like that.”
Five Pound Apparel owner Bryan Simpson put the store for sale right before Brina’s graduation. The Thomases bought it for undisclosed terms.
Simpson, along with his brother Matthew, opened the first store on South Avenue in 2010 when he was still a senior at MSU, and the Farmers Park shop followed in 2014.
A giving mood
Five Pound Apparel’s business model has had a philanthropic mission since day one. The retailer donates 5 pounds of food to Ozarks Food Harvest for every company-branded product purchased.
From sales including T-shirts, hats, socks, belts and coffee mugs, the company donated 53,000 pounds of food in 2018. It’s given more than 200,000 pounds since the partnership with The Food Bank started in 2013.
That spirit of philanthropy made the business even more appealing to Brina. While only an occasional shopper at the store in the past, Brina says she’s always enjoyed the comfortable aesthetic at Five Pound.
“I’ve always kind of loved the feel of the store and its style,” she says. “Of course, the cherry on top is the giveback.”
Both natives of the Ozarks – Brina is from Bolivar, and Ben grew up in Seymour – the couple say they’ll continue to build their social enterprise.
“We’re trying to do more and more all the time,” Ben says, pointing to the Five Pound Pup line started in 2017.
The new products include toys, travel bags, bowls, collars and leashes. With purchases providing 5 pounds of food to the Humane Society of Southwest Missouri, the company donated 3,830 pounds of dog food in 2018.
In addition, the stores started selling backpacks in December, with each purchase resulting in one being donated to the Foundation for Springfield Public Schools. Ben, who works as a bank regulator for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, expects Five Pound to present a large donation to the foundation before the next school year.
At Five Pound Apparel, giving is the result of sales. While the couple declined to disclose annual revenues, they say 2018 represented single-digit percentage growth.
“Year over year, since we’ve owned the business, it’s increased,” Ben says of annual revenues.
According to Springfield Business Journal archives, earnings in 2014 were around $500,000, with the second location, opened in 2014, estimated at $750,000 for its first-year revenue.
The Thomases say purchases online have picked up but noted only about 5-10 percent of business comes from e-commerce. They expect that number to rise.
“In 2017, our online sales grew about 13 percent, and this last year was up 18 percent. Our online definitely continues to grow,” Brina says.
A T-shirt they designed last year that features Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes sold 110 in an online preorder in just 36 hours. The shirt says, “Patrick is Mahomeboy.”
“That’s the kind of thing we love to see, whenever we design a shirt and it just kind of takes off,” she says.
Many of the T-shirts are Five Pound Apparel creations that either Brina and Ben collaborate on or they utilize local designers.
One of those designers is Tessa Cooper, a Five Pound employee from 2012-15. She took an idea of the Thomases to create a MO Active line of shirts, including “Bike MO,” “Float MO” and “Run MO.”
“It was a little bit of a collaboration process to get it how we wanted,” says Cooper, who primarily works as a freelance writer and photographer.
She’s also worked on “ugly” Christmas sweatshirts for Five Pound.
For both projects, Cooper says the Thomases purchased the rights to use the images, declining to disclose the financial arrangement.
The MO Active shirts, created in March 2017, are still big sellers for Five Pound, Brina says.
Acknowledging there have been learning curves, such as the e-commerce and wholesale revenue streams, Brina says 2018 was the first year to put her personal touch on the business. The new backpacks, for example, were designed in-house.
“That’s been really exciting to step out,” she says. “It’s one of those things where you go through the process of making the business your own.”
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