Pam Houston grew up in the country and enjoyed outdoor activities. But she never thought of selling camouflage collegiate clothes and decals — until her son had the idea.
She started CollegiateCamo Inc. in 2005 at the suggestion of the son, Marty Morris, a graduate of Kansas State University.
“He came home one weekend and said, ‘I think it would be cool to have camo inside the power cat logo,’ ” Houston recalled. Before too long, designs for Willie the Wildcat were drawn up in camouflage material, and Houston was printing off decals designed to go on trucks and automobiles – and everything in-between.
Today, the company sells the camouflage decals, apparel and novelty items through its website, sporting and trade shows, and independent sales representatives. The southern Overland Park company offers its own trademarked, custom camouflage pattern as well as other trademarked materials including RealTree camouflage Advantage Max 4 and MossyOak. Items begin around $14.99.
“It’s the same material used on vehicle wraps, and it’s real durable,” Houston said of the decals. “People get creative with them by putting it on doghouses, mailboxes – they put them everywhere, even tractors.”
Houston is the majority owner; Morris and her husband, Lawrence Houston, are partners. Houston has used her background in sales management and public relations to operate CollegiateCamo.
In the beginning, K-State was the only school in CollegiateCamo’s product line.
Q: What’s the licensing process like?
“We had a cottage agreement and the school had to see everything,” Houston said. “We had to submit exactly what we were selling and tell them how much we were charging.”
Next up was the University of Missouri. Each time a school was added it meant dealing with licensing issues. She sent emails to some of the smaller colleges seeking permission to use their official logos.
“The bigger schools are more difficult,” she said. “Many work with Collegiate Licensing Co., and it holds the licensing rights.… We eventually submitted an application; it was like a thesis.… It’s a long process. We slowly started getting emails that we were approved.”
Today, CollegiateCamo holds license for about 40 colleges and universities. CollegiateCamo pays a licensing fee for each school that must be renewed annually, “and they can pull your license at any time,” Houston added.
“We spend about $10,000 every year (on licensing) before we sell a decal,” she said. “It adds a little more stress to your business.”
Part of the agreement includes providing monthly royalty reports on products sold.
Initially, Houston outsourced the decal printing to a sign shop.
“After a while we bought the equipment ourselves and did it in house,” she said. “We were pretty brazen to do this.”
One of the early business decisions Houston made was not to hire her own employees.
“We want to keep it as simple as possible,” Houston said. “I’ve managed employees before, and it’s a big headache.”
Using independent sales reps can be tricky, too, she said.
“Not being able to afford our own sales team is challenging,” she said. “We’re depending on the reps to sell for us along with their other lines.”
Houston relies heavily on the Internet for sales through the CollegiateCamo website and other sites that carry its products. She also markets through Facebook and Twitter.
“We’ve advertised in traditional media and it doesn’t do a whole lot for us,” she said. “Men ages 16 to 40 are really the ones who care for those decals and their schools … and it can be a tough market. We’ve done sports shows and we’ve done very well at those.”
Q: Is there a season for your products?
“As much as we’d like to think we’re a year-round business, we do most of our business with back-to-school and fall hunting season and then the holidays — that’s our biggest season,” Houston said.
Houston has a warehouse space to keep an ample supply of inventory on hand.
“We buy up in advance in anticipation of sales,” she said. “The schools that do the best in football are our biggest sellers.… We also do very well in Florida. We have had a really good sales rep there … and they have a good outdoorsmen following.”