Tom Patterson, the founder of Tommy John, was a medical device sales representative. He had been doing it for almost five years. It paid the bills. He got up every morning, put on his suit, and did his best to get his job done. Tom, however, was frustrated, and one day his frustrations reached a breaking point. It happened in San Diego. Tom was about to give a presentation at UCSD hospital. He stepped out of the car and undershirt bunched up…
Does that sound minor?
An un-tucked undershirt may be minor to you, but to Tom, it was the start of his career in the garment industry. You see, after the millionth time re-tucking his shirt in the San Diego hospital bathroom, Tom’s frustrations drove him to the local tailor with 100 bucks to have some prototypes of the perfect undershirt drawn up. After the feedback from those prototypes was successful Tom cashed in his savings, hired a manufacturer and started the now wildly successful, Tommy John. A spirit of frustration may have started Tommy John, but it’s technology, functionality and loyalty that keeps Tommy John afloat today.
Tommy John uses technology to ensure comfort in their undergarments, and to address the all too common nuisances associated with underwear. Tom Patterson told us about some of those pieces of technology in his new line of socks. “…[O]ur liner socks are unique in several ways: the tiered InvisiGrip technology in the heel keeps the sock from slipping off; the meshed top keeps feet cool; the heel and toe are reinforced for longer wear…” Tommy John has also got underwear that doesn’t pill, and shirts that never come un-tucked. Howard Stern called it “…the most brilliant underwear on the planet . . .”
Tommy John is successful because it’s functional. I would argue that most of the time, men desire functionality and comfort from their fashion. They want to wear an undershirt because it works, not because it looks good. They want to purchase socks that work not because they are a special brand. If an article of clothing doesn’t work, it’s a problem, and Tom Patterson tries to create solutions with Tommy John. “We listen to our customers and try to find ways to solve problems that they may have with fit, function and design.”
Lastly, Tommy John is successful because it fosters loyalty in its customers. Creating this loyalty is delicate timing in the men’s underwear business, and it has to do with an old stereotype of who is actually buying this underwear. “After all, men buy underwear for themselves for only 17 years of their lives -- the rest of the time it falls to their mothers and later to their spouses or significant others. It's imperative that a men's brand makes the right impression and delivers on what it promises.” If Tommy John is able to make this right impression and deliver on it’s promises, it is able to create a loyal customer.
Tom Patterson, the founder of Tommy John is an example of how no idea is too small to create a business. Tom was frustrated with his undershirt. You may be frustrated with some minor aspect of your clothes, your car, or your home. Instead of living with that frustration, there may just be a solution as well as a business idea there. If you do manage to get that business started, think about how, like Tommy John, you can utilize technology, functionality, and loyalty to keep the business afloat.