FOR THE LOVE OF IT

FOR THE LOVE OF IT

From Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur's Soul

For the Love of It

We’re brothers, who, on a hope and a dream, both quit our jobs in Corporate America on the same day.

It was 1998. We were following the path that was expected of us; we had attended private schools, continued on to respectable colleges and landed jobs on Madison Avenue. We were living at home with our parents in Connecticut, as most recent grads did, in order to save as much money as we could to eventually move closer to our jobs in New York City. We had decent jobs and were ascending our respective corporate ladders—on our way all right, but something was missing.

Growing up, we lived a dichotomy. Our parents were travel and lifestyle writers who specialized in the finest world resorts; however, as the children of writers, we learned how to live a modest life. We traveled together as a family and spent our summers on Martha’s Vineyard. After traveling to the most remote, secluded places in the world, we always longed to return to the Vineyard. More than anywhere, the Vineyard became our home. It was our oasis, our place of relaxation.

So, there we were, all grown up and in New York City, dressing as if we had important places to be, riding the train to work so we could push paper along, making our clients happy. At the same time, we were missing the Vineyard and our old boat, one that we had worked so hard to buy the previous summer. We weren’t happy; in fact, we were downright miserable.

That January, while on vacation with our parents in the British West Indies, neither one of us could bear the thought of leaving that tropical haven to go back to our jobs. While commiserating, we talked about starting our own business; we wanted to create a product—a brand—that represented this “good life” we loved so much. Over dinner that night, we came up with the idea to make a product that represented the finer things in life we had grown to love; we could create specialty neckties, made from the finest silk, and make them fun and colorful with patterns reflecting the place we loved most—the Vineyard. It was one of those ideas that many people have, but few ever act on. We were excited and confident that we knew what we wanted to do. We just didn’t know where to start.

That very evening, the resort’s general manager loaned us a New York City phone book. We looked up a few tie manufacturers, made a few connections and before we knew it, it was summer time and we had sample ties! In our minds, there was no doubt that there would be a demand for them. Our plan was to start selling the specialty ties on the Vineyard and see where it took us. We had nothing to lose; if all else failed, we’d just dock our boat and get back on the commuter train to New York City.

Our plan was to fund this venture with credit card cash advances. So before we quit our jobs and launched the business, we signed up for every credit card possible while we still had steady incomes and could qualify for the credit. We also arranged to have our wisdom teeth pulled—on the same day, mind you—while we still had health insurance, and we leased cars while the banks would still approve us. Once we had everything in place, we quit our jobs within five minutes of each other. We rode the commuter train home, clinking our glasses while celebrating in the bar car. That day, Vineyard Vines was born.

We were entering a new market with no experience, and people told us we were crazy. Looking back, they probably were right. It was the late 1990s, the height of “business casual,” and ties were not in fashion. But we saw our lack of experience as an opportunity, an opportunity to bring a product we loved to the market. Our philosophy was simple: make great products that we love and other people will love them, too. Even with our grand vision, we knew we would make some mistakes, but we were going to listen to our customers and do whatever it took to make them happy.

Not knowing much about the fashion industry and the retail market worked to our advantage, as we were able to create a product without the parameters and procedures other companies followed. We made ties with color—icons of the good life—and were going to market them in a grassroots manner. Convincing a few stores to take our ties on consignment, we offered them a no-risk policy, simply saying, “If the ties don’t sell, don’t pay us for them, and we’ll take them back.”

That first summer on the Vineyard, the ties took off like wildfire. We peddled them from our old boat in the harbor, from our rusted-out Jeep in town, anywhere we could find an audience. In reality though, we weren’t selling our ties; we were selling our story and lifestyle. We would often give our product away to whoever would take it, wear it, and who would ultimately become an ambassador of Vineyard Vines. We supported our retailers, doing whatever we could to make their experience with Vineyard Vines a good one. We had never sold anything before in our lives, and we simply did what felt right by delivering a quality product, sticking to our word and doing everything possible to ensure great service.

Before we knew it, that first summer was over. We hit the road, traveling throughout New England, building relationships everywhere we went. We won our accounts one at a time, appreciating those retailers who took a chance on us.

It is truly satisfying to both of us that we have helped our customers take a bit of “the good life” to work with them. Just eight years after opening Vineyard Vines, our products can be found in the finest specialty and department stores in the world. Our line has expanded to include full offerings for men, women and children. In addition, we’ve found that we’ve created a family at Vineyard Vines—a family of employees and customers. We value this aspect of our business more than anything else we do.

People always say that if you love what you do, you’ll be successful. There is no doubt that we love being entrepreneurs. We’re having fun, working hard and meeting great people. And we love the fact that we’ve provided our customers with more than just a product; we’ve shared a lifestyle with them. We’re still just two normal guys living the American Dream, and it’s more fun than we could ever have imagined!

Shep and Ian Murray

EPILOGUE: Shep and Ian Murray—lovingly referred to as “The Tie Guys”—are cofounders and CEOs of Vineyard Vines. Established in 1998, the company, best known for elegant neckties and high-end sportswear for men, women and children, has a hundred employees and annual revenue in the tens of millions of dollars.

Honors bestowed on the Murray brothers include the 2005 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the Inc. 500 list for 2005 (#202). The duo is also active with nonprofit and charity causes, receiving the 2005 Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation HOPE Award and the 2005 Coastal Conservation Association Conservationist of the Year Award. The brothers also have been featured in the media, the most popular segment being NBC’s Today show.

In their free time, the brothers can be found on one of their four fishing boats or racing their thirty-five-foot sailboat during the summer. Shep—the family man—spends as much time as he can with his young family, while Ian—the musician—just released his first solo album.

To learn more about Shep and Ian Murray, please visit www.vineyardvines.com.

Dahlynn McKowen

More stories from our partners