Kind of a Big Deal
Names: Matt and Bryan Walls
Company: Snorg Tees
Location: Alpharetta, Ga.
Ages: 28 and 24
There are two reactions to the typical Snorg Tee: immediate laughter or utter confusion. And that's all right. The T-shirt company based in the Atlanta suburbs has built its business around obscure movie and video-game references and visual puns. If you don't get it, you're not part of its demographic.
Snorg--a nonsense word--began in 2003 when brothers Matt and Bryan Walls decided to start a humor website. The site fizzled, but the brothers were left with dozens of funny T-shirt ideas they'd come up with during brainstorming sessions, so they decided to give apparel a try. In the beginning, Matt, who was working in IT, would come home from work and stay up till 2 a.m. managing their online business.
"I initially thought it was going to blow up really fast, and we made some wrong assumptions about how well various marketing techniques would work," Walls says. "For instance, we figured we could buy a link on CollegeHumor for 200 bucks a day and that would send over 10,000 visitors. Surely 1 percent would buy something. But they definitely don't. We had some reality checks along the way."
The company's first wave of success came in 2004 and 2005, with sayings based on the indie film hit Napoleon Dynamite. Once that craze died down, however, the brothers knew they needed to rethink the business, which was run out of Walls' basement.
"When big boxes started selling similar shirts, we realized we didn't have anything else," he says. "We needed to expand our product offering, so in January 2006 I started working at Snorg full time and redesigned the website to be more user friendly."
The extra attention paid off. Snorg now employs 10 people, contracts with 10 freelancers and has had a string of bestsellers--including the all-time favorite, "I'm Kind of a Big Deal." One of its models, Alice Fraasa, famous for her enormous smile, has become an internet icon. Walls now works mainly in marketing, while Bryan watches over production. Their father, a former Coca-Cola auditor, keeps an eye on the books, and everyone comes together twice a week to toss around new T-shirt ideas.
Now that success is here (sales are between $5 million and $10 million), the Walls brothers are hoping to reap some of the benefits. "We got into such a work mode, and that's hard to change," Walls says. "Now that we're established, we should have a better standard of living. One of my goals this year is to work less."
To that end, he and his brother have taken up wind surfing. "When the wind kicks up," Walls says, "you probably won't find us at the office."
Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.