Join the Club; How two friends launched a brand through skills learned at Mower CEO

Published 8:55 am Friday, March 29, 2019

How do you join the Ryan Club? Congrats, you’re already in.

The somewhat minimalist brand may seem inconspicuous to adults careening their necks to see what the hubbub is all about, but to Austin High School students, the simple solid colored t-shirt that says “Ryan Club” is well known for its creators, seniors Ryan Flanders and Thomas Berglund.

To turn a simple t-shirt into a well-received brand, the two students scored a partnership with South Central Athlete in downtown Austin, where Ryan Club merchandise can be purchased.

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There was some trial and error in learning about business strategy as well as business planning from the Mower CEO Program; however, Flanders and Berglund planned to expand their business using the loan from the program to launch their website and explore using e-commerce to sell their merchandise. There are plans to possibly explore other types of products like hats and mugs as well.

“Kids used to come right across the street after school to buy stuff,” Berglund said. “We learned so much from using spreadsheets, accounting and pricing products. We learned how to keep expenses low while making high profit. Even today, we saw a kid repping a Ryan Club shirt.”

The Ryan Club searched for ways to use some of the money made to donate toward various school fundraisers, such as the Five Days of Giving. Using proceeds from shirt sales, their hope is to one day invest and donate more to different charities.

“This is just an example of what happens when the community invests in you,” Flanders said. “Hopefully, someday we can give back to the town just like they did for us.”

Originally, the Ryan Club started off as just a joke between Flanders and Berglund. The two were part of the water skiing team in Albert Lea and were split into two teams, one with experience, and the other with not as much experience.

“They asked me what I wanted to name the team, and I said ‘Ryan Club,’” Flanders said. “They kept messing up the name, so we joked about putting it on a t-shirt.”

The two eventually decided to try selling a couple t-shirts, only expecting to sell 10 at most. However, they ended up running out of their small inventory and were met with more orders from customers who wanted to rep a t-shirt. It was hard to believe that a plain t-shirt with a simple logo would garner so much interest and sell out.

“It was kind of crazy,” Berglund admitted. “It was kind of fun too. It’s like…wow, we made it. Sort of.”

Another indicator of early success was the spark that the Ryan Club caused at the Minnesota DECA Conference held earlier this month.

After bringing a box of 600 to 700 stickers bearing the brand name, more than 2,500 students suddenly sported “Ryan Club” stickers, plastering them on walls and advertising them on social media.

Even the president of the state DECA chapter asked Flanders and Berglund to pose for a photo, and videos of students sporting Ryan Club stickers circulated around the internet. Somehow, their project turned into an overnight craze and success.

“We were telling the judges, ‘You guys may not get it, but trust us, it works,’” Flanders recalled. “They didn’t get it. We didn’t make it to nationals, but I think we just won the weekend.”

Their DECA advisor Troy Watkins admitted that it was hard for adults to really wrap their heads around the popularity of the simple brand; however, he did say it was great to see other students fully supporting Berglund and Flanders on their start-up to the point of becoming “mini celebrities.”

“It’s a little surprising,” Watkins said. “But, this is what can happen if you put your mind to it.”

Perhaps the Ryan Club’s  appeal to students and others in the community, the targeted demographic, was rather inclusive. But at the same time, this simple $10 t-shirt can be repped by just about anyone.

“We weren’t thinking about having just teens wearing it,” Berglund said. “We wanted people asking, ‘Hey, how can I join the Ryan Club?’ Then we’d say, ‘Welcome to the Ryan Club.’”