Mon April 9, 2012
Company Town

Crazy Dog T-shirts: Turning inside jokes into Internet gold

Walking into the warehouse of Crazy Dog T-shirts is like walking into a weird library of pop culture references.

Chunk from The Goonies is on one shelf; Baby Carlos from The Hangover sits on another. There’s thousands of shirts stacked across the length of the company’s Village Gate headquarters.

Owner Bill Kingston explains: His company’s bread-and-butter is funny t-shirts inspired by internet memes and blockbuster comedies.

“Hangover, Anchorman - there’s probably eight shirts in here right from Anchorman,” Kingston says. “Concepts like ‘I’m kind of a big deal,’ ‘Milk was a bad choice.’

“Stuff that people find hilarious can be put on a shirt so easily.”

Laughing to the bank

Crazy Dog T-shirts sells about 400 shirts a day - a number that can double or triple around holidays, according to Kingston.

Kingston and his team of 10 co-workers design and print the t-shirts in-house, selling them online to people all over the world. Licensed designs (movie titles, actors’ faces) complement Crazy Dog originals.

It’s a far cry from the company’s humble roots.

CrazyDogTshirts.com started as a class project in college. Kingston turned it into a full-fledged business only after a disheartening job interview shortly after graduation.

“I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to invest all my time into t-shirts and just try to make it take off,’ ” Kingston, 29, recalls. “I spent day and night - as many hours as I could invest - just trying to make the site better.”

It’s been about seven years, and business has steadily grown - with Kingston learning the ins and outs of selling t-shirts online.

“Bacon is huge,” says Kingston. “That’s one that we’ve probably got four or five shirts just focused on bacon. It’s out of control.”

I had to ask: “You really, like, make a living based on the whims of the Internet?”

“Exactly,” Kingston says, laughing.

Stiff competition

But it’s not all fun and games.

Rochester alone is home to a handful of competitors - not to mention countless others just a click away.

The shelf life a “hit shirt” is short - a month, typically less, says Kingston - and getting ahead of the next viral smash is really the name of the game.

“You’ve gotta be ready and say, ‘OK, I’ve gotta be able to make this shirt within thirty minutes and get it posted out there.’ ” Kingston says. “People will jump on it. It’s just - in the moment.”

Crazy Dog’s current top seller: a t-shirt inspired by a YouTube video of a honey badger.

Kingston says there’s still plenty of room for his e-commerce company to grow. The company recently added Halloween costumes. (Last year’s top seller: a cupcake costume for women. “It wasn’t even ‘naughty,’ ”Kingston says.)

Kingston says the company’s next project is a special vertical catering exclusively to zombie-related t-shirts.

It’s a hot sector, zombies. But Kingston says it’s all part of an overarching goal:

“Hit those niches that haven’t really be targeted properly,” Kingston says, “and we feel we could really outdo the competition.”

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