John Jacobs | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

John Jacobs

Background:  

Boston-based clothing line Life is Good is dedicated to spreading optimism through the messages on its attire. It was founded by brothers Bert and John Jacobs, who designed their first T-shirt in 1989.

The Mistake:

It sounds pathetic now, but we trusted a pretty sample and the idle chatter of the salesperson. It was 1999 and we were trying to figure out the best way to source T-shirts. We had a mill in Pennsylvania and we were looking at samples from different places. This local supplier showed us a sample from Pakistan that was amazingly soft, and we said, “Let's make this.”

Without doing our research, we just trusted this guy we barely knew. We definitely didn't know the factory; we barely knew the supplier. And yet we put all our eggs in that basket. Sure enough, when it was time to deliver the goods to our retailers, no shirts showed up. A week or two goes by and we're a bit frantic, but we are assured by the supplier that there's been a little delay, but everything's OK.

Two more weeks go by and we didn't take action— we just trusted this person. Next thing you know, three months have gone by with no T-shirts. And we're a T-shirt company. Our retailers are furious. And it ends up being a full four months that we didn't deliver one T-shirt because we were single-sourced.

Don't assume that your story is meaningless because it's not sexy. People want to get to know you.

The Lesson:

That stuck with us, and we made sure we knew our suppliers. The good thing that came out of that was that we were honest with our retailers. I'd like to believe that's why they stuck with us, and maybe they also believed in what our brand stood for. We retained pretty much all of our customers even though they were mad at us. And we learned a very valuable lesson.

Don't assume that your story is meaningless because it's not sexy. People want to get to know you. And they want to develop trust in you as a business owner. It's a very powerful thing to share a personal story.

Follow Life is Good on Twitter at @Lifeisgood.

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