Part of “Best of TINC Magazine,” originally posted July 25, 2011.
In 2008, Andrew and Adam of the AFAV Group started their business, SuperFanSuits.com with $91 (enough for the domain name and the server space). SuperFanSuits.com immediately turned a profit, and has been rapidly growing into an incredibly profitable business. TINC Magazine recently conducted an interview with AFAV’s co-founder, Andrew.
RD: Why a full body spandex suit business? How did this idea come about?
Andrew: Full body spandex has been around for a while but the idea of wearing them out to bars, parties and sporting events was given a big recharge by the TV show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” in which a character sporadically shows up wearing a green full body spandex suit to a tailgate party and other places in the city. This inspired Adam to do the same for a Halloween party in 2008; after finally discovering and ordering the suit from over seas, it took about 4 weeks to get it in his hands. Thinking that there had to be an easier and faster way to obtain one of these things, he asked me if I was interested in building a website that sold colored full body spandex suits.
Honestly, I didn’t think we would even go through with the idea because we both had full time jobs at the time. But Adam was my close childhood friend and I didn’t want to let him down. Not to mention, he let me stay at his apartment for free when I first moved to Chicago. Needless to say, I started designing and coding what would soon be SuperFanSuits.com: a website for sports fans and spandex enthusiasts to browse and buy Superfan Suits.
RD: SuperFanSuits.com is a perfect example of how important online and social media marketing is for a startup company –or any company for that matter. Can you talk about how much money you spend on marketing materials, and how much time you spend on social media?
Andrew: We definitely subscribe to the belief that time (and maybe late nights) is our most valued asset. Our social networks are the pulse of this business and the Superfan Community, nearly 15,000 members strong, keeps us on our toes both creatively and socially. Superfan Suits have become popular worldwide and this keeps the social engagement running around the clock. On an average day, Adam and I spend 10-14 hours promoting conversation on Facebook, answering questions on Twitter and producing Superfan Suit related media and content. While there is a financial investment in social media, it’s minute compared to the time invested in engagement. And in regards to print material, we only really need to spend around $25 a month.
RD: Can you talk about how your customer base has changed/evolved since you started, and what you do to keep up with it?
From the start, our aim was to appeal to sports “superfans” that were so devoted to their team that they would show up wearing a full body spandex suit. It was a market we could relate and speak to at the time. As this grew, we started to see these fans on television wearing the suits and that is when things started picking up. If you watch the NHL, you’ve probably seen two of most famous Superfans, the “Vancouver Green Men” during the Vancouver Canucks games. They can be seen doing handstands and taunting the opposing players in the penalty box while supporting Vancouver in their Superfan Suits. Another notable group wearing our suits are The Body Poets, who were recently featured on NBC’s America’s Got Talent.
Because the suits are such an eye-catching yet simple outfit, we’re now starting to see a lot of businesses using the suits to market their own product or brand at live events and in television commercials as well as some artists using them in performances.
RD: How has being based in Chicago affected SuperFanSuits.com?
Andrew: Being surrounded by such a creative market and hard working people has been very important in getting and keeping us rolling. Inspiration is all around both visually and in the form of other companies. Chicago has given us a competitive edge as far as shipping goes as well. You don’t find many towns where the last “FedEx Next Day” pickup is at 9:45pm and just down the street. Also, I’ve always thought being located in a credible city gives customers a feeling of familiarity and trust in our business and us as people.
RD: What are your plans for the future? Any plans to expand?
Andrew: Product expansion is always on the agenda. Along with that, we’re always researching new ways to get people involved in the Superfan Community including the “Worldwide Superfan Suit Day” set for September 10, 2011 and “Superfan Challenge” events where we invite people to perform a crazy/random task (like juggling water balloons in your neighbor’s yard) in their Superfan Suit for the chance to win another. Beyond that, we always look forward to expanded our website properties in the future.
RD: What are the challenges you come across with such rapid growth?
Andrew: The growing pains first affected our inventory storage space (our apartments at the time) and then “version 1” of our website. Much like the idea itself, it was built in an excited but uncertain fashion. At the time, we only carried about 8-12 different Superfan Suit color options so scalability wasn’t really a concern. And we didn’t have a huge opportunity for user feedback. Remarkably, v.1 pushed us through the first year of sales before “version 2” could be put into development.
We wanted the new website to offer more in terms of the products we offered, usability, scalability (for expansion) and its connection with our social networks. Also, because the suits are such a visual spectacle, we wanted to include a lot of product imagery. With all of that in mind, version 2 was created and now hosts over 85 different Superfan Suits and has grown the Superfan Community by incorporating networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google into the website.