After graduating from Ohio University, Ryan Napier, who was born in Canton, and his eventual business partner, Andrew VanderLind, of Columbus, each chose a different career path.
“I didn’t want to work for anyone else,” Napier said. “I had done some work for my dad’s company and I had a business partner and we decided to start a chain of fast casual restaurants in Canton and jump in with two feet.”
The first restaurant was a success and at the age of 22, Napier felt he was on his way to becoming a thriving entrepreneur.
Meanwhile, his good friend, VanderLind, with whom he had developed a close bond while in college when they studied together during a semester spent in Greece, had joined a leadership development program in Columbus.
“Like Ryan, I kept my ears open for other opportunities in business,” VanderLind said. “We always had similar thinking along those lines.”
In March of 2014 in the second bedroom of his small apartment, VanderLind started an apparel business that was originally created with his wife Casey, who is a cancer survivor.
“After my wife was cancer free, we came up with this idea to have a T-shirt company and give back a portion of the proceeds to cancer research,” VanderLind said. “We stared a little company and Ryan fell in love with the concept we brought in his expertise to help.”
Napier, who graduated with a degree in finance and VanderLind who majored in finance and economics, worked together with Casey and learned from their mistakes in that first business.
“I wouldn’t call that first business successful,” VanderLind said. “But it was a great business and it helped us decide to start a different apparel business altogether.”
And that’s where the concept of “Where I’m From” began.
In January of 2014, Napier and VanderLind officially became business partners in this new venture — an apparel company with a focus on T-shirts that celebrate places that have shaped and honored pride and heritage with the highest quality and materials as well as attention to detail.
“We were just talking and these ideas started popping into our heads,” Napier aid. “We decided to set up a fresh new entity and it really took off.”
The duo wanted to focus on the little details the second time around, like making their shirts completely tagless. “It’s a small thing,” VanderLind said. “And you pay a little extra to focus on quality like that, but we focus on everything on the shirt from the package we ship it in to the little thank you note inside. We realized that the small things all add up to be big things.”
Recognizing that quality is paramount, Napier and VanderLind decided to hire professionals to create a website because “it’s not just enough to have a great idea and throw up a hastily put together web site.” “You have to get creative to get your name out there,” Napier said. “We learned that opening up the mall kiosks was a really good way to push our brands as opposed to relying on Internet sales alone.”
Surprisingly enough, having their apparel and locally branded gift items, which also includes gift cards, glass ware, magnets and stickers, available at a physical location has helped to boost sales.
“There’s no question that the Internet is going to continue to grow as a piece of the market,” Napier said. “But it only represents about 10 percent of total sales and the rest is still brick and mortar.”
Knowing that when people can actually touch and feel a quality product, it can make a big different in closing a sale, Napier and VanderLind have opened nine “mini shops” in malls throughout Ohio, including one at The Dayton Mall, which opened earlier this year.
“The kiosks have taken us to the next level,” Napier said. “We found that being out in front of people contributes to our success and that awareness can cause online sales to go up five to six times until they are ready to buy.”
The structure of the kiosks, which custom made from recycled Ohio barn wood, make each one unique to the mall in which it resides. And each kiosk sells products unique to the individual city.
“Our bread and butter is T-shirts,” VanderLind said. “We have a lot of city specific things and in Dayton we have Gem City shirts as well as UD and Wright State but we also have Ohio and even American in the mix. The product mix is different in every shop. We immerse ourselves in the community where the shop is and we take a lot of pride in that particular area.”