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Focusing on a niche that doesn’t quite exist yet

December 8, 2015

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'THERE WAS A HUGE VOID IN THE MARKET’ 
Greg Shugar on focusing on a niche that doesn’t quite exist yet

The co-founder of Thread Experiment already helped create a new market category with The Tie Bar, founded in 2004 to market and produce men’s accessories of the kind a GQ editor might obsess about. After selling the company to a private equity firm in 2013, Shugar moved to South Florida and rode out his noncompete agreement making inroads in the Palm Beach startup community. In May, he and two partners launched his newest venture, which, just like his last, is focusing on a niche that doesn’t quite exist yet. Thread Ex is trying to popularize “bedding for men,” linens and home goods designed and marketed toward stylish bachelors.

Shugar spoke to the Business Journal about how his new venture differs from his old one.

What exactly are you trying to do?

I’m trying to create a category that doesn’t exist, which is men’s bedding. If you walked into a department store or went onto a website and looked for the men’s bedding section, you couldn’t find that. We’ve been in business for about five-and-a-half months, and it’s been great. The concept has resonated quite well, and there’s already been a lot of articles about how this could help in “upgrading your bachelor pad.”

How did the idea come up?

Even though I’m a married, straight man, I was responsible for shopping for bedding and I encountered a problem. Everything I saw had flower patterns, or was pink or lacey, in a way that appeals to women. I realized there was a huge void in the market. The more I read about it and researched, the better it sounded.

It’s about image. Some men spend so much time dressing up, and then they take a girl home and it’s a mess. This is trying to address that. Men started being fashion-conscious in a significant way about seven years ago, then got into grooming, where there’s tremendous growth in things like shaving products and beard oils. I think bedding is the next logical section.

In what ways has your newest venture been similar to what you were doing at your last company?

It’s actually quite similar. We’re developing our own brand, which starts with the original design and original quality to create an original product. It’s very much the same story as The Tie Bar. But in the two years since I sold The Tie Bar and launched my new business, a lot has changed about e-commerce and digital advertising, and I almost had to learn it all over again.

Is a second company like a second child?

When I started The Tie Bar, I literally didn’t understand what branding something meant, and now I can start with the knowledge of building a brand out of the gate. On the logistics side, knowing how to do something like order fulfillment is invaluable. And lastly, probably the biggest one: having the experience of dealing with factories overseas.

There are some things that are just as hard each time, though. You really have to create your own buzz; building a website is not nearly enough. You have to hustle: The fact that I founded The Tie Bar means nothing to anyone in the bedding world. It’s still a startup. I need to be able to prove that the market exists, and then prove to people that they should buy my product.

My familiarity so far has been selling men’s ties, and that can very much be an impulse buy. Bedding is different. Bedding is an investment … of money and time. [That] means it’s important for you to hear about the brand now – when you’re not shopping for bedding – and remember it three months down the line – when you are.

You have been working in Chicago for the past decade.

Why are you doing this new company here? I grew up in Miami Beach, moved to college in the Midwest and met my wife there. After I sold the company, my wife looked at me and said: “It’s cold in Chicago; why don’t we move to Florida where it’s warm and where you have family and where you’re from?” We have a partner in L.A. and one in Chicago, so I don’t know that we’re a South Florida company, but I’m definitely a South Florida guy.

It’s a great entrepreneurial community. I joined [angel investor group] AGP Miami and worked with FAU Tech Runway, and that has helped me acclimate to the community. It’s very inspiring: I meet guys who are so young and yet have such advanced ideas about how to launch companies. I’ve really been inspired by that drive.