Brett lives outside the box both personally and professionally. As owner/operator of Printed Threads, Brett is willing to question the status quo and be intentional about finding the right balance between business and living a full life.
In an open and authentic conversation, Brett shares some of the joys of taking risk and hardships of choices in his journey.
A Few Questions with Brett
I started my business because . . . well, I hated my job. I’m not sure that is a good reason in retrospect, but it worked out!
The biggest surprise for me as a business owner is . . . how many strange challenges come up every day.
My advice to people considering starting a business is . . . get a business coach. You need people around you who understand what you are going through.
My older self would coach my younger self to . . . wait, am I an older self?
Looking for some resources on how to make the most of business and living? Brett Bowden, along with some of our LIFT Office members have given us a list of books that have impacted their thinking, business and on living life. Click below to get this list and start reading today!
Catherine Miller: Welcome to LIFT Speaks. Today I’m visiting with Brett Bowden who is the owner and founder of Printed Threads. We’re here live at the LIFT Office. You may hear noises in the background, people chattering. It’s a busy place today. So welcome. Glad you’re here with us today.
Brett Bowden: Thank you.
Catherine Miller: The reason I invited Brett to come visit with us today is because I have watched over the years how Brett has done a great job of building a business, starting a business, stubbing his toe, doing cool things with his family, kind of stepping outside the box to engage in more than just business. But I think you do a great job of being intentional about how you live life.
I wanted to invite our listeners to go on that journey with us about what does it look like to own a business and how do you balance that with family and life and feel good and stay in the middle zone of stress. I’m looking forward to going down this journey with you as well. How did you end up starting Printed Threads? And tell us a little bit of background about that.
Brett Bowden: Sure. I grew up playing music. I was always in rock bands and high school. That was kind of what I hoped to be when I grew up. I was going to be in a big rock band and tour the world and all that.
So, when you’re in a band, the way you make money is you sell T-shirts and I would make T-shirts. At first, we would go find somebody to make T-shirts for us. But then I got that itch, I wanted to make T-shirts of my own and I learned how to do it and this is like late ‘90s or early 2000s. I learned how to do it. I started printing shirts for my band and some friends’ bands and everything was going great until the band that I was in was gone all the time.
We would be gone for months and months and months out of the year. I had to sell everything to a friend of mine, and he started making shirts for us. After doing the whole rock band thing for a while, realized that we weren’t going to the Rolling Stones. That is when I decided to figure out what I’m going to do with the rest of my life, which is what prompted me to go to college in Colorado. I got a degree in music and in our recession in 2009, I could not find a job. I was really hoping to be a teacher and unfortunately could not find a job as a teacher.
So, I thought about, “Oh, you know what? I used to print T-shirts in my garage,” and went and approached my wife with this crazy idea and at the time, I was a cable guy and that’s not exactly a fun job and it was a little bit soul-sucking for me at the time and so she probably looked at me and said, “Anything but what you’re doing now will be great.”
We went in on this together. We were going to start a little company in our garage and next thing you know, six months later, we were moving out of our garage into a facility and then it just started growing and growing and growing from there. So, we became T-shirt makers.
Catherine Miller: Did you work together initially, or did she have her own job?
Brett Bowden: She got a degree in nursing and so she was a nurse working here actually at Cook Children’s Hospital and whenever – I kind of took the leap, right? Leaving your job that has a salaried paycheck, that’s a big leap.
Catherine Miller: It is a big leap.
Brett Bowden: She supported us. So she would work as a nurse and I would work making zero dollars an hour and so she supported us and she was kind of the person that I was – she was a little bit of my sanity keeper of, “Hey, is this a good idea?” you know, and those types of things. She would help out with anything that she could in her spare time until it started growing way beyond something in our garage.
Catherine Miller: The garage, yeah, yeah, which is – that’s actually a really nice thing, that she had a job that can support while your business took off because a lot of times there’s a significant runway in getting a business profitable. So that’s really a gift.
Brett Bowden: Yeah.
Catherine Miller: We have several people who come here and start their businesses and they are starting businesses when they have a couple of kids in college even.
Brett Bowden: Right.
Catherine Miller: The runway has to look a little bit different for that.
Brett Bowden: Yeah. You know, it definitely changed our lifestyle. We went from a very comfortable lifestyle to the only time we ever ate out was at Chick-fil-A on Tuesdays because kids eat free and we would do all those campouts whenever a Chick-fil-A would start. So, you do this campout and the first 100 people at Chick-fil-A get Chick-fil-A for a year.
So literally for two years, the only place we ever ate out was at Chick-fil-A unless my parents were paying for it or something, right?
Catherine Miller: But you look back on those memories and they’re in many ways priceless.
Brett Bowden: Absolutely. I think when you go back and tell those stories in front of your friends who see you as this successful business owner, and I’m like, well, wait a minute. Remember all those years that you guys were doing whatever you wanted, and we never could hang out, you know?
Catherine Miller: We were at Chick-fil-A waiting for the doors to open, right?
Brett Bowden: Exactly.
Catherine Miller: You’ve grown, and your business actually grew pretty fast, right?
Brett Bowden: Yeah. 2015, we were actually awarded with Inc. Magazine’s fastest-growing companies award.
Catherine Miller: Oh, wow.
Brett Bowden: We were ranked 826th in the Inc. 5000. So that was tremendous. I mean we went from nothing to 2.5 million in about four years. So that was a crazy time.
Catherine Miller: Yeah. I bet it was crazy. So how did you do that? Because we know the T-shirt business is competitive. What did you do to grow your business that fast?
Brett Bowden: I think a smile goes a long way, right? And that’s one thing that I’ve always really tried to do is to make people happy at the end of the day. They’re getting a T-shirt. But if we can get them to open the T-shirt box and hold the T-shirt up and they smile because they’re excited, that goes a long way. So, we’ve always been really intentional about the quality of the work that we’re doing, trying to make sure that even if we’re doing something really well, that we can do it tomorrow better.
I always want things to be a little bit better. In fact, one of our core values is the passion for progress. So, we don’t want to get stagnated there. But at the same time, integrity has always been really important to us. If they get the product and they’re not smiling, like how do we fix that situation? And that builds a lot of trust.
Catherine Miller: Right. So, you are really intentional about your customer service, the integrity of your company. And what was the big way of you spreading the word? Because you could have the best product out there. But if no one knows about it, you’re a hidden gem. So how did you become known?
Brett Bowden: What’s inside of me. I think if you’ve paid any attention to Simon Sinek in the last few years, you know that start with why and having that moment of realizing why you do what you do and for me, I just love helping people and the reality is that at the end of the day, I can go out and help a whole lot of people. It just so happens that T-shirts are the vessel that connects me to those people, right?
You got to get out there, and meet the people. You got to go find the people, and let them know that you exist, right? So that could be anywhere. That could be on the golf course if you know how to swing a golf club, which I don’t. I can not coordinate in that way. God did not give me that gift. I can go make people laugh on the golf course though. I can do that.
When you just get out there and go hang out with your friends and maybe you meet a few people. You never know who those people are going to be, right? The person that you could be out with might be the marketing director of some big company.
I remember a few months ago I was out and there’s my favorite restaurant in Dallas-Fort Worth and I’ve emailed them countless time saying, “I would love to work with you.” I never get a response and I just so happened to be out with a friend of mine and this girl was hanging out with us. It turns out she was the marketing director of that company. You know, so you just never know who you’re going to meet.
Catherine Miller: Right.
Brett Bowden: And I think the flipside of that is don’t be mean to people you don’t know.
Catherine Miller: Yeah, because you never know who you’re going to meet.
Brett Bowden: Yeah.
Catherine Miller: Yeah. OK. So, you’ve grown this business. It’s fast, four and a half years later and it has exploded. But then there was a point that I know that you decided to take a little break and go travel with your family. Can you tell us about that?
Brett Bowden: Yeah. So, growing a business is difficult and certainly growing at the rate that we did was very difficult. I remember the year that we grew from a one-million-dollar business to over two-million dollars and just pulling my hair out and all the problems that come along with that. Growing your staffing, growing just your – the money in the bank has to come from somewhere. Because what happens when you need to buy twice as many T-shirts today as you did yesterday?
I think I was very stressed out. I didn’t see my family enough. When I would go home from work on the weekends, I would clean a big house and mow the yard. I didn’t want to do that. I just wanted to relax and have fun.
Then I started joking around with my wife a little bit. I was like we should just get an RV and go drive around the country or something. It started out as a joke and one day, we just sat there and said, “Maybe we should really do that.” Because what is the opposite of working really hard all the time, mowing the lawn, cleaning a big house, never seeing your family? Well, we could all go get in an RV and drive around the country together and only have 400 square feet to clean and not have a yard to mow, right?
So, we came up with this crazy idea and we sold our house and we bought an RV and we took off and we left for a year and a half. We’re risk-takers. I think that that’s another thing that needs to be said about being an entrepreneur, you have to be a little bit of a risk-taker. You can’t be so conservative – because my brother and my father look at me like I’m this crazy man. How could you do that? Like why would you do that? But they don’t realize we’re going on an adventure. When you start a company, you’re going on an adventure.
Catherine Miller: Right.
Brett Bowden: So, this is just another branch of that adventure.
Catherine Miller: Right. Did you do a lot of prep work at the business to prepare the company for you to take this adventure? I’m sure you worked some. Did you work some on the road?
Brett Bowden: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
Catherine Miller: Right. So, you worked some. But still, it’s different than actually being there. What did you do to prep the company for your departure?
Brett Bowden: Well, in the early days, I had been – probably like two years in the business, I started going to a business coach and they really helped with that kind of value, vision, culture, those types of things because your company has to be going in a direction. It doesn’t matter what direction you’re going. But you need to all be going in that one direction.
So, imagine we’re on a ship together. Like we all need to know what the heading is or we’re not going to end up where we need to. We had built that and we understood who our customer was, what our vision was, what our goals were. We had developed these core values and we had developed a really good culture. But no one cares as much about your business as you do.
Catherine Miller: Yeah.
Brett Bowden: And I’m not saying they don’t care because they cared very much.
Catherine Miller: Right.
Brett Bowden: Right? A lot of employees that work for you believe in you. But they still need you to be their leader. So when you leave and you’re only back maybe once a month for a few days and you’re only on email or you’re just a phone call away, which is what made it all possible, but you’re not seeing everything and you’re seeing things through rose-colored glasses because you’re only hearing that translation of what happened through the person that’s telling you.
So that really caused a lot of things in the business to deteriorate and one of our key people at some point basically said, “Listen, I like working here. But this is not going as well as it could be and I’m out.” He quit and it was at that moment where I realized this is fun and all. But if I don’t have a business to sustain this fun that we’re having, then we’re going to be in a lot of trouble. So, I went back to kind of grab the reins again and kind of change our heading a little bit.
Catherine Miller: I know there were hard times and in the end, you had to come back and roll up your sleeves and turn the ship around again. It may not be that you recommend departing the way that you did. But still, you had a year and a half with just your family in a 400-square-foot RV.
Brett Bowden: Yeah.
Catherine Miller: So how was that? How did that go? Was it worth it? Are you glad you did it, knowing what you came back to?
Brett Bowden: It was absolutely 100 percent worth it. The reality of starting a business when your kids are young is, you’re not home very much and I really realized in that time, like wow, I can have this great relationship with my kids and my wife. Your spouse needs you and when you’re not there and you’re dealing with all your work problems, a lot of times you’re not giving your full self to your spouse.
We had this time to like fix our family a little bit and in doing that, having a lot of fun together. I mean we saw the most beautiful things in our country, right?
You haven’t seen Big Sur unless you’ve taken the drive, right? There’s no airport in Big Sur, California and there are all these places in between airports that you will never go to unless you take the drive and we got to see those things together as a family.
My youngest who’s five years old now, when we started that trip, he was one and a half, right? He still says all the time, “I wish we still lived in an RV.”
Catherine Miller: Oh, really?
Brett Bowden: Because I think they relate back to that time where our family was always together. We would be parked in front of a beach for a month. We spoil our kids.
Catherine Miller: Yeah, right.
Brett Bowden: They’ve seen things that other kids maybe won’t see.
Catherine Miller: Right.
Brett Bowden: Right?
Catherine Miller: So, the biggest takeaway then for – as your family unit, the biggest takeaway for your family unit was what?
Brett Bowden: I think it was this investment of like listen, we’re a support group. Your family is a support group. We need to support our children. We need our children to support us and the same with our spouse and when you can connect with each other in that way, you will support each other in that way because of the harder times too. I’ve done a lot of public speaking over the last several years. I’ve traveled way too much and it gets back into that state of like hey, your family is over here waiting for you to come home.
We’ve had to go through those hills and valleys of realizing like what our relationship really means to each other and how we really need each other. I mean people are built to need each other and if you’re gone and that person needs you and you’re gone, then that’s not a good breeding ground for a great relationship.
Catherine Miller: That’s right. Yeah. I think it is tough when families travel a lot. I think that’s hard on the couple. I’m sure there’s some foundation built there. But, even if the foundation is there, you still have to maintain it. You can’t stop. There’s a continual process of investing in that relationship and coming back to that relationship. So, it’s always a dance.
Brett Bowden: Absolutely.
Catherine Miller: That dance never ends.
Brett Bowden: Yeah.
Catherine Miller: Give us some advice. Tell us what this young guy who started it and it just kind of flew and then there’s this guy who comes back a little bit more seasoned and is starting up again. What would you share with someone out there who’s in a startup business or maybe they’re in years five, six, seven-year of a business and you’re saying, “OK, here are some things I’ve learned that you can glean from me”?
Brett Bowden: Absolutely. I think it’s super important to get a business coach. You need someone helping you with directions, someone keeping you accountable for the things you say you were going to do and then if you can be inside of some sort of group. There’s a bunch of them out there. A group of entrepreneurs. You can come and be around these people and realize that you’re all human, right? You all make mistakes. But remember, you don’t need to be around someone that is in the same industry as you.
After I came back from that RV trip, our business was in a bad spot. We had lost a lot of money and it was scary. It was really scary. I didn’t know if we were going to survive and I read a book called “Shoe Dog.” Shoe Dog is written by the founder of – Phil Knight, the founder of Nike.
Catherine Miller: OK.
Brett Bowden: And Nike wasn’t an overnight success story. They failed a lot of times before they were successful. So, reading books like that, especially when you’re going through a hard time, kind of gives you that inspiration to get up, right?
Catherine Miller: Yeah.
Brett Bowden: You know, because at the end of the day, business is very, very hard. You’re going to go through experiences that you never thought you would experience. You’re going to have conversations that you never wanted to have. And you need some help to get through some of those things. So being around other entrepreneurs, having a business coach, reading some good books, and just being around people that just – at the end of the day, you can trust really well.
Catherine Miller: Right.
Brett Bowden: Right.
Catherine Miller: People you can be open with and …
Brett Bowden: Yeah. I definitely had a couple of people that I really trust like telling me not to do certain things and I just ignored them because I was a young punk kid, right? And sometimes I wish I would have listened a little bit.
Catherine Miller: Yeah. So, any advice though for someone who’s starting a business as far as how to balance business and family and do you feel like you’re doing that well?
Brett Bowden: Yeah. I think you just need to be extremely intentional. You need to be really intentional with your time. There are going to be times in the day where your family doesn’t care if you exist or not, right? Like, get up early. Maybe, you know. Maybe your wife and kids sleep in or – mind you. My kids home school so they kind of work on their own schedule. But there are going to be certain times of the day where you can be away, and it is not as noticeable when you’re away. But also like the little things. Like listen, you need to take a lunch break and maybe you take that lunch break with your family or you go pick up your wife once a month or once every other week or something like that for that day.
Schedule things. Like you’re a business owner now. You need to schedule things. You have a Google calendar or whatever it is, your Outlook calendar. Have all your meetings scheduled. Put your family on there too, right? Hey, Tuesday night is date night or like hey, this Sunday, we’re going to go see the new Incredibles movie or whatever it is.
Catherine Miller: It’s not easy to choose to pause and stop. But in the end, it’s better for you and as the owner, it’s better for your family and so, thank you for coming and sharing your insights. We can probably talk for hours on end about other business principles.
Brett Bowden: Sure.
Catherine Miller: There’s always a thousand of those too, right? From this podcast, we’re going to have some show notes and on those show notes, we will share your ideas on just advice for people with start-up businesses. You can go to our website and download them from there and Brett will give names of books that he has found informational as well as any key points for that. Brett, thank you for coming today. Thank you for being a part of our show.
Brett Bowden: All right. Thanks for having me and just remember to smile.
Catherine Miller: Yeah, that’s a good one. Thanks.
About LIFT Office
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