#47. Dave Horesh and Brett Mikoll of Oxford Pennant
Oxford Pennant is a local business that designs and manufactures vintage style pennants. They are currently running a holiday pop-up market, The Victory Gardens out of their shop at 43 West Tupper in Buffalo. The pop-up runs through January 1, Mondays – Saturdays 12-8pm. Make sure you add them to your shopping list for the holidays.
Let’s meet Dave and Brett
“I’m Dave Horesh and this is Brett Mikoll. We started Oxford Pennant in 2013. Brett was working with me at, what was then, City Dining Cards. Now it’s called Loupe. We went out to Boston with one another and we were visiting a lot of retail stores. City Dining Cards was a physical product and we spent a lot of time in shops, getting to know the owners and exploring interesting spaces and retail concepts. We came across some vintage pennants at an event. I held one up to Brett and said, “where would you have these made?” He said, “I don’t know”. So we dug in and, after finding that it was nearly impossible to buy a quality, American-made pennant, we decided to make our own.”
“We started with a Boston pennant, a Pittsburgh pennant and a Buffalo pennant. We posted them on Instagram. Nothing too complicated – just a staged photo and a stupid caption. Something like, “hey, we’re Oxford Pennant and we made three pennants, what do you think?” Simple.”
“Those pennants did fine, but somewhere along the way we realized that we could manufacture custom pennants for clients. So we added that to our offerings, puttering along for a little while, doing orders of like, 15-25 pieces, feeling pretty impressed with ourselves. Then, the company busted open when we got an order from Micah Whitson, owner of The Old Try. Micah ordered 400 pennants, which was twenty times larger than any other order we had produced previously. We pulled it off, and when Micah posted the pennants on The Old Try’s Instagram page, the company just blossomed. His followers started contacting us, they wanted pennants. We’d make them. Then, the followers’ followers started contacting us, and their followers, and it just turned into this organic thing. That is the whole story. The end. Three years in, we market the same way and our business grows the exact same way.”
So most of your exposure really just came from Instagram?
“Yeah and stuff like Yeah! Buffalo”
“I suppose there’s more to it than that. Each pennant includes a tag stating that ‘It’s an Oxford’. Now, when somebody buys large quantities of pennants from us, every pennant they sell to their customers can be traced back to us. Lots of folks reach out because they saw our product in a store or at an event and were savvy enough to flip it over.”
What’s your business philosophy
“We didn’t really think about it at the start, but as we kept growing the business, we decided to keep our personal identities separate from it. Like Daft Punk. In Daft Punk’s documentary they say, if they’re using their faces, they couldn’t make the music that they are making because they’re 40-something dudes and nobody would think they’re cool. But their masks make them ageless. Their music is the focal point.”
“When the product is the star, the people around it shouldn’t matter. We are just two dudes. and we’re conduits to a product that people like. We keep it personal and we develop great relationships with our clients, but the company is a celebration of the culture that surrounds pennants and flags – not a self-congratulatory celebration of ourselves.”
Brett adds, “my design background started with shitty band t-shirts for my bands and my friends’ bands. I didn’t even know how to use the design program. I’d just find a nice font, put a nautical star on it and -boom- it was done. Then I found my way into doing retail design with the Advantage company after selling speakers and stereos for Stereo Advantage. Throughout my career, I’ve always found my way back to t-shirts, photos, just creative stuff that my friends needed or wanted. Whatever I make, I try to deflect attention from the product itself by creating an image, or a story that supports it. Simple design, when it’s done right, should tell a great story.”
Dave continues, “Brett’s ability to tell a story through design has make Oxford Pennant a much more likable company. Most of our clients are out of town and they never get to meet us. So, we see our shipments as vitally important to how the company is represented and how our story is told. When I was a kid, I’d order a band t-shirt and it would show up with all of that stuff – pins and stickers – and I’d be more excited about all of the extra gear than the t-shirt itself. We cover our shipments with custom tape and stickers and pins, so the package is a little party in itself when it arrives.”
“We believe in this product and we want to surround it with the best company we’re capable of building. If the product is good, everything else will fall into place.”
How has Oxford Pennant changed your lives?
Dave: “I’ve been with Block Club for nearly 6 years and I think that Oxford Pennant is an expression of the entrepreneurship that Patrick and Brandon (Block Club’s co-founders) encourage in all of us. Block Club has given me the opportunity to surround myself with innovative people for most of my professional career, so my life isn’t as different as it would have been if we had started Oxford Pennant after stints in, say, government. Our city, at this time, presents us with so much opportunity. I feel humbled and honored to have started this business, which would not have been a possibility in any other city (I promise), and to participate in the good vibes emanating from this town.
Brett: “I totally agree. I thinking about some of my other freelance jobs, which amount to pushing around pixels on a computer screen and crossing your fingers that your client likes the work. With Oxford, we are physically surrounded by things we’ve made, that we actually like, and that are validated by our customers. At the end of the day, we can point to what we’ve created and be proud that it’s something people enjoy. That’s the rewarding experience.”
Dave adds, “the business has helped me realize that some ideas aren’t hard to get off the ground and I think that everyone should try to launch an idea. I was having breakfast with a friend the other day. She works at a big company but she wants to be a florist. Her dream feels very far away for her – she’s not going to leave her high-paying corporate job to sell flowers. But I can’t help myself from trying to talk her into it and find ways to make it work. I’m like, ‘Just do it! Try it on the weekends! Go to farmer’s markets!”
The reputation of entrepreneurship is that it’s big and difficult and scary. But it’s 2017 and the world is flat. Technology allows us to find our customers anywhere. The opportunity to start a business, have proper accounting, pay taxes, it’s all available online. Everybody who has an idea should try it. We’re running out of excuses not to give things a shot. Put $1000 on a credit card and see if it works.”
What would you tell a younger version of yourself?
Brett: “Go, ready, set. For me, all hours of the day, I’ve got pads of paper around me… there’s an idea, that’s an idea. Where do you begin? You’ve got to narrow it down and choose one to put your effort into. Go, Ready, Set instead of Ready, Set, Go. You can’t wait until something is perfect to launch. You’ve just got to do the best you can with the idea in that moment. Put it out there, and then toy with it as you go. Deliberation kills a lot of ideas before they even begin. Just go.”
Dave: “I’ve been in sales my entire career. I had an entry level sales job out of college and I remember being terrified of business. Terrified! I remember thinking people who wore a suit to work everyday, who made more money than I did, were better than me, or they were scary and intimidating. I thought that they knew things about the world that I didn’t know or couldn’t learn. I think everybody feels that way at some point, especially when you’re starting out. Business is a very unnatural thing to do until you start doing it. Like drinking coffee. It tastes terrible until you get used to it. No offense to Sam or James, your coffee is very good.
“So, what would I tell a younger version of myself? I would tell myself not to be afraid of people. I’ve found that, the more that, most of the time, people want everything to work out. They might go about that in different, unusual ways, but they usually want what’s best for everyone involved. If someone is interacting with you or giving you a chance, it’s usually because there is at least some window of interest – or, at the very least, respect. I believe in building social cache and in being a good neighbor. Karma is real and everything comes back to you. I think it’s a relief to realize that we are all on the same level and we are all trying to do what’s best and what’s right. So, with that in mind, let’s have fun is this sandbox that we are all working in. In most instances, we are all hoping for the same outcome.”
The Victory Gardens
Art studio and seasonal retail store at Oxford Pennant
Check out the Victory Gardens Instagram Account
Brett: “With Oxford, we’ve been lucky enough to work with a ton of awesome businesses through Instagram or the trade show we went to this year. Their products are great, so we wanted to create a space in our office/showroom where we could sell a limited amount of products from brands that we admire. A lot of the products are collaborations or customizations. So this is the only place you can get some of these products. Physically, the space is set up like a shop the whole time anyway. We have the space so we figure that the windows themselves are billboards. People driving by or getting on the 33 peer into our window as they wait at Pearl and Tupper. It’s fun to see their reaction when they come in off the street. We had Wrafter come in to whip this place into shape. It looks like a permanent store.”
Brett: “The idea of the market is to do it seasonally or temporarily. I associate this business model of the store to be similar to football. You wait all week, the hype builds up, when Sunday comes you watch football. When it’s done you talk about it and build up the hype for the next week. Same thing with this. “This Saturday we’re going down to Oxford Pennant because we only have two more weeks to see it.” We want to give people a reason to come down here. When I’ve gone to other cities and visited a store pop up or a temporary shop, that’s what’s fun to do that day – discovering something and participating in it, not just going to the H&M in every city.”
Dave: “Brett designed the whole place and it looks awesome, especially at night. The space looks great. When people walk in it has that vibe. It hits and people get it. They walk in and know there’s something special going on here. At least until January 1.”