Q&A: Leeward Bean, Big Frog Custom T-Shirts and More

The who, what and wear of industry experts

The who, what and wear of industry experts

  • Leeward Bean Founder and CEO of Big Frog Custom T-Shirts and More franchise.
  • Oversaw total sales of $14.4 million for the franchise’s 60-plus stores in 2014.
  • Previously founded successful fiber optic spectrometers company and worked 17 years for the Polaroid Corporation.

Success sometimes comes by accident. In 2006, we wanted to sell T-shirts with fun and punny phrases on a website we had for geek novelties, but we found screen printers had minimums, setup fees and artwork charges. We had more than 100 designs, and it would be an inventory nightmare. We did some research and discovered direct-to-garment printing, which solved our setup issues. We purchased one immediately and began selling geek T-shirts. To enhance our revenue, we started sending out direct mail pieces to schools, churches and charities with the slogan: “no minimums, no setup fees, no artwork charge, no kidding.” And the business started to pick up, so we opened a retail store and the revenue really went up. We closed the Internet company and focused all our energy on retail garment decorating, and the business really took off. One of our customers saw what we were doing and asked to buy a franchise. Now we have 63 stores open across the country.

Making T-shirts is fun. We start creating the “Big Frog experience” as soon as a customer walks through the front door and continue through the entire process. The theme of the store is “George of the Jungle meets the Jetsons.” We want our owners to have fun; if they’re having fun, the staff will have fun; if the staff is having fun, the customers will have fun; and if the customers have fun, they’ll tell other people, and the owner has even more fun. It goes full circle. It’s a fun experience when you take down all the barriers to having a T-shirt made. We have designers on staff who work with customers to create their own special designs – just for them.

Digital printing has revolutionized the world of garment decorating. The ability to create a high-quality, custom-decorated T-shirt in minutes is phenomenal. Our business has continued to grow steadily. Repeat and referral business is the key to our success, and the way to get such customers is by creating a value-added experience, which is what Big Frog is all about.

The reward of this job is more than just financial. We did a memorial shirt for the family of a 17-year-old young man who died in a scuba diving accident. He was a very accomplished artist, and his love for the water showed in his artwork. We found one of his fish drawings, scanned it and printed a bunch of shirts for friends, family and relatives. When his grandparents came in and thanked us, with tears in their eyes, for what we had done, I was overwhelmed.

There’s nothing better than a day out fishing. I find being on the water extremely relaxing; fishing is really an afterthought. My father always told me: “When you get on the boat, leave all your problems on the dock; they’ll all be there when you return.” Being on the water puts a lot of things in perspective for me.

If everyone followed the golden rule, the world would be a better place. We are all equal, and we need to have compassion, respect and kindness. From a business standpoint, I have three axioms I live by every day: 1. Sales and marketing is everything. If we’re not selling, we’re not eating. 2. Time is the fundamental element of business; in other words, time is money. And 3. We are limited only by our imaginations and must think outside of the norm.

Big Frog provides a unique experience. From being greeted at the front door to working with a designer to create a personalized shirt, our customers love the whole process. We are an upscale boutique, rather than an industrial setting. We go above and beyond when it comes to our customers.

It’s important to start with why. The last book I read was Simon Sinek’s Start With Why? The author asks you to think about the “why” in all your decisions. Why or why not should we do something? Why do people act the way they do? Why do we do the same old things? When you start with the why, you ask and answer a lot more questions.