After reading a couple of great business related blog posts from Gongshow Gear Inc. Co-Founder Ger McNamee I decided I would try to get an interview with him. I contacted him on Twitter and he was glad to do an email interview with me and talk a little bit about his company Gongshow Gear. He is a busy guy, but he found time on a recent flight to answer some questions for me to publish here.
You will learn more about his company in the interview, but basically they are a company that sells products (mainly clothing) made for hockey players. I purchased my first Gongshow shirt about 6 years ago and have purchased a handful of shirts and hats over the years. More recently I’ve purchased one of their amazing winter jackets and two pairs of jeans made for hockey players (both which are from their newer line of products).
If you want to read any of Ger’s blog posts (I recommend you do) you can visit his blog at GerMcNamee.com. Okay lets get into the interview…
#1 – When and how did the company “Gongshow Gear” get started? And can you give readers a little background on how your company makes money?
[Ger McNamee Wrote:] My partners and I were team mates in the Central Junior “A” Hockey League in Ottawa, where we are from, and came to a conclusion that there was a void in the marketplace for high end, fashionable clothing made for hockey players. We started with a box of 24 hats and the rest is history. Gongshow Gear is a brand that is sold across 500 stores in 15 countries, and also available direct in North America at www.GongshowGear.com
#2 – Did you dive right into running the business full time? and if not when did you decide to make the switch to full time? Was switching to full time a tough decision? Any advice for when/if to make the switch?
[Ger McNamee Wrote:] We ran the company part time for the first 4 years as we all left Ottawa to play university hockey in the United States – so we were running it on the side, remotely between us. That was tough, but we realized there was a big following starting to emerge for the brand and that there was an opportunity to take it to another level. So my last year of University, I signed up for online classes and came back and opened an office here in Ottawa with my partners. I managed to graduate and we humped it out until the business started to take off. It was sink or swim – luckily we caught a wave and rode it.
#3 – I know as your company has grown you’ve probably employed at least a few employees. How has your business grown in that sense? Do you find it tough to manage employees? And any advice on that?
[Ger McNamee Wrote:] When we started out it was just the three of us – now we have full time employees in the double digits located in Ottawa at our HQ, China, and two remote workers in Toronto that we skype in every day. It’s definitely a challenge to make sure the team is all working together and pointed in the right direction, but it’s a challenge we love – we wouldn’t be anywhere without our amazing team here that helps us become better every year. We really focus on hiring team members based on a great culture fit – we even interviewed new hires by bringing them out for a hockey game with our staff – you can tell a lot from how someone play the game on the ice with everyone else.
#4 – From reading some Facebook posts it seems like you guys run a pretty relaxed and fun work place. What is a typical day in your work life? How about on your days off?
[Ger McNamee Wrote:] We believe that in this day and age, Generation “Y” wants a great work /life balance – and we try and provide that here at Gongshow HQ. We designed our new office so look and feel like a professional NHL hockey locker room. We have a lounge area with a TV that you can watch NHL highlights on all day, play Xbox, or just hang out and have a drink. We have a fully stocked kitchen with free snacks, snacks, gourmet coffee, and hot lunches served once a week before team huddles. We also built a custom bar in the middle of the office – fully stocked up with beer, liquor, and wine – if you’re feeling stressed out, have a cold one. If you need to move around a bit, you can challenge a team mate to game on our professional ping pong table, or our vintage bubble hockey game. The office is outfitted with a custom sound system that plays tunes all day and can be controlled by any team member. Most people think it’s a frat house when they walk in, but we really do get a lot of work done her. The idea is to make everyone here, ourselves included, excited to get to work every day and jump out of bed to get here. Vacation time is called “Gonger Days” here and everyone gets 7 weeks paid vacation – we believe that people need time to relax and re-charge so they can be their best when they are in here. We know that employees who are engaged and love their job will give 130%, but disengaged employees might give you 60% – so giving that great work/life balance is key to running a great company.
#5 – A majority of my blog readers are online marketers. I know you guys do a lot of social media. How much of your marketing efforts are focused online? Do you spend money on PPC (pay per click) or other types of online advertising?
[Ger McNamee Wrote:] Social media is key to our business – we have nearly 100k fans on Facebook, and 43k on Twitter and over 1M views on our Youtube channel – we use it every day to amplify our brand message and gain new fans. We focus over 95% of our marketing to online – including social media spends, Google PPC, and improving our Mobile app game – called Saucer King, its Free on Android, Apple and Amazon and has been opened over 2M times.
#6 – What is the toughest part about running your own business?
[Ger McNamee Wrote:] Business is a roller coaster – I have learned to enjoy being up high but I have figured out to always be prepared for the swings when you go back down.
#7 – What are your long term goals personally and for the business?
[Ger McNamee Wrote:] Gongshow to me is not just a business – it’s a lifestyle, our team is committed to growing the sport of hockey through our business and spreading it around the world. Our goals for Gongshow are to give back to the sport that gave us so much when we were growing up, and we have this amazing platform to do it – so that’s exicting. Personally, I am working on writing a business book that I hope to complete in 2013 and release the following year that will encourage young people to be entrepreneurs and that will offer real world advice so you can avoid any mistakes I learnt the hard way, and take advantage of life and business “hacks” that I have learnt along this journey.
#8 – What is your biggest piece of advice to other entrepreneurs or those wanting to become entrepreneurs?
[Ger McNamee Wrote:] There has never been a better time to start your own business – when I started we had to process checks in the mail for our online store because we couldn’t get approved for a bank merchant account, and learnt how to program to build our own website. Now you can sign up at sites like Shopify.com and be selling your product or service within a few hours.
Lastly, start your business when you are young – as you get older and take on more financial commitments, maybe get married, have kids, and build a house – taking risks becomes much harder and that business you always dreamed of starting starts to fade away.
Thanks for the interview Ger. I can’t wait to read your business book in the future!