November 1, 2013
Like many other young men, Jason Ross hates shopping. He’s interested in fashionable clothing, but finding a place to buy the latest clothes without going through the pain of shopping is a problem.
That was the spark for Ross’ rapidly growing business — JackThreads, a members-only online shopping site that offers daily sales, with as much as 80 percent off men’s fashions.
The road to online success in men’s fashion began with something completely different, however.
After graduating from Ohio State in 2003 with a degree in finance, Ross started a sports-marketing company, “but I didn’t have the passion for it. I thought, ‘OK, I still want to start a company, but I need to find something I’m passionate about — and marry it to a high-growth opportunity.’”
While casting about for ideas, he realized there was an open niche for an online men’s fashion site. In January 2006, he began writing a business plan at his house in Westerville.
“In the next 2 1/2 years, I figured out how to do it. I had no retail background, no fashion background, no tech background. I called an Upper Arlington shop owner, Connie Leal Ballenger, of Leal Boutique, for the retail part; and, through OSU, learned about website commerce.
“Then we launched JackThreads on July 31, 2008.”
Ross is one of many young entrepreneurs whom Ballenger has talked to over the years about starting a retail business, “but he did seem to have a unique idea,” she said.
“That stood out. Men’s fashion in general is untapped, and that generation of men is much more fashion-savvy, so his timing was good, too. And the (Web sales) media was emerging, so put those things together and you have the makings of a successful business.”
Even so, JackThreads’ first year in business was touch and go. “I had a houseful of clothing,” Ross said. “I used credit cards to fund the business. Our first year, I was calling as many online communities as I could — GQ.com, things like that — and getting guys to sign up.” (Registration is free.)
Then the site “went viral,” and JackThreads had 35,000 members without any marketing budget.
“We outgrew the house and got a warehouse in Grandview,” Ross said.
By the second year, JackThreads was advertising in Thrillist.com, the digital media company that offers fashion and lifestyle advice and merchandise to a young, urban, male demographic.
The move to advertise on Thrillist.com pushed membership in JackThreads to 150,000.
That surge led to a meeting with the Thrillist CEO and, in May 2010, Thrillist became the major shareholder in JackThreads.
Sales this year have been exceptional, Ross said, at $80 million double the sales of last year. Membership also “is exploding,” he said, and is now between 4 million and 5 million.
Those members aren’t just in the United States. On April 1, JackThreads began shipping to the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia; and in late October, the company expanded to Mexico, Russia, Germany, France, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Italy, New Zealand and Switzerland.
Even before the launch into foreign markets, JackThreads was doing tens of thousands of dollars worth of business overseas — even though customers had to use freight-forwarding services and other means to obtain merchandise.
“We feel there’s a huge growth opportunity there,” Ross said. “It’s been really interesting to witness the demand we’re seeing from the underserved guys overseas.”
The opportunity isn’t without its challenges.
“We realized that when we started targeting guys in Australia,” he said. “When we go into fall, for instance, they go into summer. So it’s a different merchandising strategy.”
Ross shuttles between Columbus and New York, where Thrillist.com has its offices. But JackThreads still has an office in central Ohio and, as the business grows, Ross hopes to expand the company’s distribution center in Columbus. “We will start discussing it seriously by the end of next year,” he said.
The prospect of creating many jobs in Ohio would be another achievement for JackThreads, and for Ross.
“It’s been a pretty good run, huh?” he said, grinning. “We’re coming up on eight years in January. I’ll take that.”