The Tie’s the Limit: College Friends Stick Their Necks Out, Start Bow Tie Business
Some finished bow ties are displayed in Hanover, N.H. on November 29, 2013. Three young Hanover boys recently started a hand-made bow tie company. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
Tommy Hum-Hyder, 18, left, Ryan Farr, 19, center, and Oren Wilcox, 19, pose for a portrait in the home of seamstress Janet Daniels in Hanover, N.H. on November 29, 2013. The three local boys recently founded Farr & Hum, a hand-made bow tie company. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
Tommy Hum-Hyder, 18, of Hanover, N.H., models The Perfect Paisley bow tie in Hanover, N.H. on November 29, 2013. Hum-Hyder, along with two friends, founded Farr & Hum, a hand-made bow tie company. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
Hanover — When Ryan Farr, 19, and Tommy Hum-Hyder, 18, went to Spain during their senior year at Hanover High School, they discovered something unexpected: the bow tie.
After returning home, they got their friend Oren Wilcox, 19, interested in the classic neckwear. Soon the accessory became more than a fashion statement. It was t he beginning of a business.
“We realized shortly after returning to Hanover that bow ties were pretty easy to make and that it didn’t seem like too over-saturated of a market for us to get involved in,” said Farr, whose family has a history of entrepreneurship and sewing skill.
The three friends realized that the concentration of professionals at Dartmouth College and the abundance of people in the area who could sew, were assets for a bow tie business.
“That was something we realized we had that could work as an advantage over our New England competition — access to manufacturing,” Farr said.
Farr, Hum-Hyder and Wilcox registered their LLC, Farr & Hum, in New Hampshire in June and spent the summer putting together a website, creating designs and producing an inventory of about 150 cotton bow ties.
In the fall, before setting off to their respective colleges (Farr to Saint Lawrence University, Hum-Hyder to Trinity College and Wilcox to Dartmouth), they split the inventory among themselves and a fourth student they called their “brand ambassador,” who attends McGill University and who has since sold every one of his ties.
“That (sending a brand ambassador to McGill) was one of the better decisions we made this past year,” Farr said.
So far, Farr & Hum has sold about 80 bow ties. Their first sale was to Don Buck, Farr’s Latin teacher at Hanover High, who has since retired.
Farr declined to discuss the business’ expenses or profits, but he did describe the production steps that go into making each bow tie.
The cotton cloth is made in Atlanta from organic cotton grown on a nearby farm. The fabric then goes to a printing company, Spoonflower Inc., in Durham, N.C., and the prints are then sent to Janet Daniels, a seamstress in Hanover who operates a business called Sewing Camp.
“Their patterns were very different and interesting to me,” Daniels said. “They were very thorough with what they wanted and how they wanted to do it. They are 100 percent involved with the process and very excited about their product.”
Farr & Hum covers the cost of shipping to and from each step of production, which Farr said is “substantial when looking at the margin.”
“We have to know exactly what we need so we don’t buy too much and lose money,” Wilcox said.
Farr & Hum also pays for the packaging and shipping of each bow tie bought from the company’s website (www.farrhum.com). Additional costs include labor and running the website.
“We’re still in start-up phase so we’re trying to be as creative about reducing costs as possible,” Farr said.
Though the three friends have overcome certain challenges, such as putting together a website with no prior experience in web design or online marketing, they are still learning how to run a business.
Gregg Fairbrothers, a professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and founding director of the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network, said Farr & Hum’s future challenges depend on the founders’ goals are.
“If they started this business and are working it to learn about business, how to sell, incorporation, taxes, manufacturing or outsourcing, business law, etc., given they are already successfully making sales, they are probably already well along in meeting their goals,” Fairbrothers said.
“On the other hand, if they want to build a business big enough to provide them … a good income, this kind of a business will be difficult to use to meet those goals, especially since the first priority for their time is their educations.”
Attending different colleges, while it has given them a wider consumer base, has presented communication and coordination challenges when it comes to shipping and inventory, Farr said.
Balancing schoolwork with attending to the business has also been an obvious consideration.
“I think my mom would kill me if I spend more time on business than school, so it’s certainly been interesting balancing the two,” said Farr, who as chief executive officer operates as the organizational and financial head of the business. “I keep us focused and attended to the fact that we’re spending more than we can afford to,” Farr said. “I make sure that we’re not going to shoot ourselves in the foot.”
Wilcox is chief financial officer and “design czar” and heads the company’s marketing efforts, in part because he knows how to take quality photographs and “make things look good,” according to Farr.
Wilcox said Hum-Hyder is the “problem solver.” His responsibilities as chief operations officer have included tending the website and shipping.
The three pay close attention to their tie designs, observing trending colors, for example, and plan to change them regularly. Wilcox said Farr & Hum “boasts nontraditional patterns” featuring flowers, geometric designs, paisley, bright yellows, vibrant greens and polka dots among other unconventional patterns and colors.
Farr & Hum’s bow ties cost $40 a piece. “Our bow ties are a good way to spice up your work attire,” Wilcox said.
Though the company is only about five months old, the three founders already have ideas for expansion and improvement, such as redesigning the clip for the ties, increasing the size of the bows and marketing to events and groups, such as weddings and fraternities.
“I think the sky is the limit because you get back what you try for and they are trying very hard,” said Daniels, the Farr & Hum seamstress. “They have a dream and that’s what we want — dreamers.”
The company has even received suggestions to add neckties to the inventory.
“We’ve received a lot of crazy recommendations of how we should expand,” Wilcox said, “but we’re a bow tie company first and foremost.”
Farr & Hum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.