I’ll admit it: the last belt I bought was nearly six years ago and even though it’s been tricked out with a brand new hole thanks to the Five Guys I can see from my living room window (the smells alone…), I had never really contemplated going out and picking up a new one. Typical of the oafish man that I am I had planned to just live the rest of my life adding extra holes, and likely just extend the belt myself when the space ran out. That was the plan -- until now.
Chicago Belt Co. is looking to get you to trade in your old, cracked, sweat stained belt for a fresh cloth one with their selection of Midwest-themed attire. There’s a Chicago flag belt, dozens of Great Lake belts in different colors, and even a Chicago Style Hot Dog-themed one, which would go great alongside my favorite restaurant.
I sat down with Chicago Belt Co. founder Rob Cardenas, who stopped laughing at my sad, worn out waist rope just long enough to answer these questions.
What is the backstory behind Chicago Belt Co?
Ever since I was young I wanted to own a business. After graduating college I did the corporate thing for about a year and decided it wasn’t for me. I wanted to do my own thing.
I used to buy these ribbon-type belts from out east and they always had very East Coast themes. I thought it’d be cool to a Midwest version of that and thought this might be an easy way to get my feet into entrepreneurship without being out of a lot of money. I found some good resources around Chicago and I was able to get off the ground pretty quickly.
Why make a business of belts?
When I’d wear those East Coast belts around and people would say, “Hey, where’d you get that?” It was usually from a small retailer out east and I’d order them online. I thought it’d be great to do something similar here with the Chicago flag, Great Lakes and also some fabric ones.
What makes a great belt?
A great belt is one that’s going to last a while and not stretch out. I looked at all the belts I had and tried to take the best parts from each individual one. I started out with a D-ring to get used to it and slowly got into leather, which took a while to do. I really wanted to make sure I could do it right.
How many belts do you personally own? Which is your favorite?
I pretty much have all of the styles we make. My favorite will always be the Chicago flag one; that’s what started it and it was our original design. From day one that was the one I knew in my head that I wanted to make, and it’s definitely one of the most popular ones.
I’ve had a single belt for the past six years, why should I buy a Chicago Belt Co belt?
They add something different to your wardrobe. It’s more of a fashion thing than a functional thing -- you need a belt but you can usually make do with a black or brown one -- but it kind of gives you a little different flavor.
During the spring and summertime you can mix and match. It gives a little bit of personality and a little bit of a story to tell about you. It’s always a conversation starter if you’ve got the Great Lakes or Chicago Style Hot Dog belt on. You’d be surprised how many conversations have started from me just having those on.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
Our biggest challenge has been just getting the word out. I just try to take advantage of every opportunity I have to talk to someone about it, explain it, and send out information -- whatever I can do to spread the word.
With that comes the return. The more it’s being talked about online, the more traffic and conversions we get. It’s just getting the site out there to everyone.
What advice would you give to any beginner entrepreneurs out there?
The biggest piece of advice I could give is to save enough working capital for after launch. You do so much setting up before you launch, but no matter how much planning you do there’s always going to be a change, whether it’s a new opportunity or just an alteration in the design.
If you don’t have that working capital to make that quick pivot you may be stuck going in the wrong direction. Definitely keep enough capital aside to make those moves after launch.
What’s next for Chicago Belt Co?
Growth, hopefully. In 2011, when we started, we were mainly focused locally and in 2012 we started expanding. This year we’re growing month over month and we want to just continue that streak. We’re off to a strong start to the year so far, which is great. We’re sending packages all over the place and we want to just continue that.
Obviously we’re sticking to our roots with the Chicago theme and Great Lake themes, but we’re trying to get into more generic, quality belts.
Posted By Team www.MeetAdvisors.com
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