Brand Representation with Authentically American's Dean Wegner

August 11, 2021 | Episode 6

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Brand Representation with Authentically American's Dean Wegner

August 11, 2021 | Episode 6

Today, Eric Grundhoefer is interviewing the founder and CEO of Authentically American, Dean Wegner. Authentically American is an apparel company focused on an important goal, bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States. 

Dean Wegner’s priority list is simple, God, Family, and Country. 

That might seem like a simple list of things to care about, but Dean Wegner really shows how hard it can be by living up that the ideals he’s promoting. With 7 years of service behind him and a thriving family, Dean says that his business success as an entrepreneur and the success of his family are all related. It’s all about intention and thinking that your goals are worth the work. 

Eric talks to Dean about how Authentically American managed to net a 50% rate of growth last year despite a global pandemic that slowed everything down. 

If you’re looking for more ways to juggle competing responsibilities while still being your authentic self and your best self, Dean Wegner’s your guy. And he’s the first to admit that being your best self, an entrepreneur, a family man, and a supporter of your values and beliefs, it’s hard. But we think, listening to this episode, you’ll come to agree that the effort is worth it

Learn a little more about Authentically American as a brand, where and how they produce their product. Dean talks about how he brought manufacturing jobs back to the United States, and how that’s a little different from going online and ordering from someone else. Learn about the process of getting a product made, and what really matters to make a piece of clothing Authentically American. 

Transcription

Eric: All right, everyone. And we are back today on the show, Becoming Legends. We have Dean Wegner with Authentically American. You can find him at AuthenticallyAmerican.us. He is the founder and CEO of Authentically American. Dean, thank you so much for being on with me. I really appreciate you and your time. How are you today?

Dean: Well, Eric, I’m doing fantastic. And I’m honored to be a guest. Thank you for the invitation.

Eric: Absolutely, amazing. I was going over your site here again, everyone that’s listening, AuthenticallyAmerican.us. I was going over your site. I absolutely love it. I’m obsessed with it. I think everything’s on here. Actually, I was like, we should probably talk after this because I absolutely need to get some stuff for my brand. So, now I know where to go, which is amazing.

Dean: I have a good friend here in Nashville that can help be an extension of the great work you’re already doing here.

Eric: Exactly, exactly. So, I went to your story, and I noticed — I was reading that, by the way, it was a gorgeous picture of, I’m assuming that was your family there. Like, amazing picture. And I just was going through that you would went from Army Ranger and you bounced around a little bit. So, I just kind of, for everyone that’s listening and tuning in right now, just kind of give them a little background on where you started and how you got here.

Dean: Well, Eric, that picture, to your point, was my family. Those were not paid models, those were [inaudible 00:01:40]

Eric: I gotta be careful with my verbiage. I apologize.

Dean: No worries. So, we’ll have a little bit of fun today as well. So, when people say, Dean, what’s most important to you? I would like to start and say it starts with God, family and country. And my Christian faith is first and foremost in my life. And then you highlighted the picture of my family. In August, Eric, it’s hard to believe my wife and I will be celebrating 27 years.

Eric: Oh, congratulations. August what?

Dean: It’s been an incredible journey. We have four amazing kids. So, we have two daughters who are 23 and 20. We have a 17 year old son and we have an 11 year old son we adopted from Ethiopia.

Eric: Oh, that’s amazing.

Dean: Family is incredibly important. And then the country part, you know, had the incredible privilege to attend West Point, go to flight school, ranger school, serve our country for seven years. And that is incredibly important to me as well. So, it’s all about God, family and country, what’s important to Dean Wegner.

Eric: That’s amazing. And again, I’m sure everyone listening as well thanks you for your service. We appreciate you. Gorgeous family. You said your anniversary was coming up in August. I was just curious what day in August, August?

Dean: August 27th. So, it’ll be 27 on the 27th.

Eric: Oh, that’s amazing. I love that. It’s good luck then. You got to do something fun. Mine’s August 18th. So, me and my wife are coming up on 12 years, I think. Yeah. So, we’re close. We’re right behind you.

Dean: That’s a great month then, Eric. Congratulations to you.

Eric: Thank you so much.

Dean: There’s not as many stories out there, whether it’s 10, 12, 20, or 27. And that’s one of the things I’ve learned to have an amazing marriage, it’s not easy. That’s one of the things I thought when we first got married. I’m like, this is going to be easy. We’re in love. And what I realized, to be a successful business owner and entrepreneur, to be an amazing husband, to be an incredible dad, you have to be intentional. And that’s a common thread that flows through every aspect of my life.

Eric: Absolutely. No, that’s phenomenal. You know, there’s something about — I have three kids myself, and obviously I know this podcast today, it’s not about me. But I have an 11 year old, a six year old and an eight month old daughter, so two boys and a girl. So, honestly, while we’re on the subject, like I’d like to pivot over to that is how do you juggle being an entrepreneur starting a company — How old is the company, by the way? When did you start?

Dean: So, we started from a blank sheet of paper, Eric, in 2017. So, July 14th is our official anniversary date. So, we’ll have survived for years. And I say survive because last year for most small businesses, and we’re included, I mean, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. And the fact that we survived, number one, was incredibly important and not only did we survive, but we grew 50% last year, not nearly as much as we thought, but we survived. And I will tell you the silver lining, Eric, being a veteran-owned American made premium apparel brand, you know, cheap man China’s out, now more than ever, Americans are actively seeking American made products and they love that we’re American made.

Eric: I love that. I absolutely love that. No, honestly, we need to set up a call for after this because I’m actually, the brand Royal Reputation, I’m starting a merch for that. It’s just another stream. So, we’ll be selling that shortly. And I don’t have — my biggest problem is finding a reliable distributor. So, we absolutely need to talk. But that’s a conversation for another time. [crosstalk] But I will say most likely becoming a client. So, yeah, how do you juggle — and I apologize that I’m bouncing around. How do you juggle starting this new business 2017 with your family and you know, being that that’s so important — it’s important for a lot of people. But how do you juggle that and still being the best version of the best dad you can be but also, the best entrepreneur you can be? And then throwing in there the best husband you can be? I mean, it’s a lot, right? So, for people listening, I’d like to hear that side. That side, to me, is very, very interesting.

Dean: Well Eric, I’ll tell you, first and foremost, it is not easy. I mean to do all of those and to give you an idea, you know, sometimes I’ll share this visual. I mean, the business plan for Authentically American four years ago, it was a blank sheet of paper. And I will tell you, over the last four years I’m just exhausted because when you start with nothing, I mean, it’s literally been brick by brick just building the foundation for our business, the systems, the process, the manufacturing customers, everything, it’s been a lot of work. But when you do start with a blank sheet of paper, you can be so intentional about who you are and what you stand for and your values. And that’s what has me even more energized. But you’ll hear a common word I often highlight and that’s being intentional. And literally, the phase we’re at right now and it’s been that same way for the last four years is it literally could be 24/7, working every single day.

But as intentional as I am about planning meetings and planning our business and how we dedicate time, it’s the same way with my family. So, we have always had daddy daughter dates with our daughters. We’ve always had boys time with the boys. So, just like we would schedule a critical business meeting, that time goes on my calendar and nothing disrupts it. So, that’s one of the things in how we become an amazing dad. And I wish I could spend a lot more time, but the time that we’re together, I mean, it’s all in, it’s focused and on my hands and knees playing when they’re younger. And then it’s fun date nights as they get older, but it’s all about being intentional. It’s the same way with my wife. I mean, if you want to be a great husband, you need to dedicate the time. And again, I wish I could spend much more time. But when we do spend that time, we’ve got weekly date nights and then monthly, we do something big and have a little bit more fun. But that goes on the calendar. And just like I don’t miss a business meeting, it’s the same way I don’t miss time for my family.

Eric: I love it. I absolutely love it. That’s something about, you know, being — I’ve been a dad since I was 21. So, something about that, just learning it on the fly, you know, as every kid is different too. So, I feel like I’m constantly always learning on the fly. But I never once, I literally, I mean this, I never once thought to put that time on my calendar as if it’s a meeting. And I don’t know why. So, like, truthfully, thank you for that because I just took something so big away that I think is going to be what I would call a life hack. And I’m sure that people that are listening here in our audience took this away as well, that I can’t be the only one that has never thought of that. So, that’s amazing, and I really, really appreciate you sharing that.

I want to jump into now more stuff on the business. How did you get the idea? Where did it come from? How did we go from army to clothes, and things like that? So, if you could give me a little background on that, that would be fantastic. I’m really curious to see what your mindset is from when you started. And you have an amazing resume on here and then how you jumped over and pivoted a little bit towards clothing.

Dean: Well, Eric, I’ll tell you, having gone to West Point and served seven years in the active duty Army War uniform, I’m not in apparel because I’m a snappy dresser. And really, the quick overview, so after the army, spent most of my career pre being an entrepreneur in consumer packaged goods. So, I worked at Procter & Gamble on iconic brands like Crest and Tide. You know, worked at Mars and iconic brands like M&Ms and Snickers and Pedigree dog food. And that was so formative because both Mars and P&G are just world-class marketing and branding companies. And a lot of the tips and tricks and trades I learned there are part of what we’re employing right now with Authentically American. And one of the reasons, Eric, to give you a little more personal context, one of the reasons I left the army was to stop moving. I mean, I wanted to plant roots, invest in a community, and I moved even more after the army. So, for example, six years at Procter & Gamble, I lived in four different cities. And when we arrived in Nashville in 2010, and I don’t know if you’ve been to Nashville, but I mean, it’s just an amazing city. My wife grew up in Tennessee, she’s a University of Tennessee alum, so it was moved number 10 when we arrived here, and it was like a homecoming for my wife, Kelly, and I knew, Eric, if move number 11 was coming, I was going by myself. Nobody is going with me.

So, that ultimately led me down the path in 2012 to buying my first business. And the business was a great business. It was an 18 year old company that had a great niche producing dress uniforms for the military. So, what was really neat was the army dress trousers that I used to wear, that was one of our contracts. So, it was thousands of uniforms every week for Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. And I’m passionate about job creation, Eric, my thinking was, well, I want to go ahead and win more contracts. Because if we win more contracts, we’re going to create more jobs. But as I really got into it and really understood the whole process, I had this epiphany that we don’t actually create jobs. I mean, this is a bidding process. So, if you and I are bidding Eric, and I’m $1, lower than you, I mean, those jobs transfer from you to me, so it’s a job transfer.

And Eric, this is where the wheels really started turning because when I graduated from West Point in 93, over 50% of the apparel in the US was made in the US. And today, it’s less than three.

Eric: That’s insane.

Dean: I mean, the head is all that’s made here. And this is where I started thinking, what if. What if, instead of being a government contractor, what if we built a brand? And I started thinking back to the days working with Crest, and Tide and M&Ms. And I thought, what if unlike what 97% of brands do, they produce overseas, they produce in China because it’s cheap. What if we made the intentional choice to produce right here in the US? Think of the jobs we could create? Think of the difference we could make. And ultimately, if we’re successful, think of the incredible legacy we could leave. And in 2017, my partner and I parted ways. And he wanted to focus on the government contracts, and I wanted to build this brand. I wanted to build this iconic American brand that’s truly American made, because we’re passionate about creating American jobs.

Eric: I absolutely love that. I think that that’s amazing. And then from there, so that was the seed that all you needed. And then it was just run with it. And then so how do you go about — I mean, obviously, you’re not in the same industry when you’re at Crest, and doing all those other things. But there’s a certain level of learning curve to jump into apparel, right? Like, it’s obviously, a little different. So, where’s your first move as your partner leaves? What’s your first move in, is it researching on Google? Is it you’re just talking to whoever you possibly can? Did you know someone that was like an easy way to get these things made? These things are made in the US, so how did you go about just doing all of that? Like, all the stuff that it takes to get up and actually be operating at that point. So, now you have the idea now we’re operating, and we’re selling clothes. So, get us to that part.

Dean: Yeah. Well, Eric, this is where I was so thankful for those five years. Because five years we were in the apparel industry, just on the government contract side with military uniforms. But those five years was really an opportunity for me to learn the industry. And I had this vision to build this brand. But what I realized is we were a government contractor, we were a manufacturer, and that’s different from being a brand. And part of the research then, one of the first things I did in our business plan was say, we’re American made, and we’ve got to have amazing product. I mean people really don’t care where it’s made. I mean, first and foremost we have to deliver an amazing product experience. So, that was task number one is wearing am I going to produce this.

And over the last three years what we’ve established, Eric, is a contract manufacturing network across 12 US states. So, I’ll show you one of our T-shirts later that everybody loves. We have amazing American made T-shirts that we produce in Texas. So, actually, I’ve got socks here in front of me. So, these socks are a fun patriotic design, stars and [inaudible 00:13:54]. The last time I was on Fox and Friends, those were the number one seller. And they’re Carolina cotton, knit in Carolina. So, the Polo and quarter zip I’m wearing, they’re incredible fabric, they’re amazing product; those are made in California. So, 12 states across the US, Eric, is where we produce.

Eric: That’s amazing. Now I’m from someone — I had a small clothing line back in the day. And again, I’m not trying to be relatable and then bring it back to me, just speaking from a consumer standpoint. So, what I did and please, no judgment on this end. I went to a website called Alibaba and everything I got was manufactured in China or Japan and I ended up getting $1,500 worth of shirts. And the process was grueling. I mean, I had to communicate with people via WhatsApp, there’s obviously a language barrier. It didn’t seem professional because it was all via text. It seemed like the processes weren’t that great and set up. The clothing was good. So, I guess I’m just curious to see what your process is. The only thing and reason why I went there and I searched for everywhere in the US that I possibly could. And I wasn’t just going off a price. I was going off of, can you customize the shirt fully? Like, what things that the people offered, and they just happen to meet my price and that.

So, I was just curious to see, do you guys do a full actual design? And if you don’t, it’s not a big deal either. Like, these are kind of, they could almost be two different things. But I mean, dimensions of the shirt to make it fit a certain way. Is it fitted and designed from the head up? Or if I want one two inches longer, and I want the collar like this, is that something you guys do? Or explain that process for anyone that’s like me, that’d be a consumer looking to do that, and maybe put my logo on something to be able to then resell it to the public?

Dean: We do, Eric. And I will tell you first and foremost what, last year in the global pandemic reinforced for me was my belief in the American worker. And so there was a point where I thought we’re going to have to shut down because we’re a consumer product, and we need to be able to produce product. And when there’s threats of shutting down, I mean, are we even going to be able to survive? And a lot of our factories were at reduced capacity. But again, the American worker stepped up in an amazing way, and produced some incredible product for us. And when I was at Procter & Gamble, for example, and worked on Crest, we were vertically integrated. Meaning, we own the marketing and branding for Crest. But what we also own were the machinery, the equipment, the plant, all the assets, so everything. And as I was doing my due diligence, building my business plan, putting everything together, there’s a lot of different models out there.

But what a very common one is, is to use a contract manufacturing network. So, whether it’s a brand like Nike or Polo or Under Armour, all these brands, what they primarily do is contract their manufacturing out. So, they produce in China, they produce in Bangladesh, Vietnam, all around the world. And the thought that I had, Eric, is I needed to focus on what I do well, what I’ve got the most experience in, and that is more on the marketing and branding side. And since I knew the lay of the land in the apparel industry, my strategy was if we’re going to have an amazing T-shirt, I want to find the best darn T-shirt maker in the country, provide them our specs, to your point, on what we want produced. And then we focus on telling the brand story and building our brand. Same thing I showed, socks. So, these T-shirts we make in Texas, these socks in North Carolina. I wanted to find the best darn sock maker in the country to provide them our specs and have them produced for that.

And it’s interesting, Eric, because this is another lesson where you’ll really understand and know what you’re good at. Because when I visit these factories, and I have an opportunity to shake hands and meet everybody, I’m just blown away because my mind is not wired that way and my head hurts seeing all the moving pieces. And then when I’ll sit down with the plant manager, the owner’s like, “Dean, are you crazy? Why would you ever want to build a brand?” And I’m having the same thing like, “Are you crazy? Why would you ever want to do that?” But that’s the idea where you surround yourself with the right people. Whether it’s our contract manufacturing network or the right financial advisors or the right, you know, you name it. Just surrounding yourself with the right people is so critically important.

Eric: Absolutely, absolutely. I agree 100% So, how does it work? Everyone kind of has their own processes and things like that. Again, I’m on your site. If you guys want to go hop on his site, you can check it out, AuthenticallyAmerican.us. He has a ton of stuff in collections and everything on here looks amazing. Tees, polos, button-ups. I’m going to absolutely grab some of these. I love these. So, I’m really happy we met. I’m big into clothes. So, this is like really fun for me.

Dean: Let me do this because I know another common bond that you and I have is around fitness.

Eric: Yes.

Dean: I mean, God, family — I mean, faith, God family, faith, all of that piece there. You know, another one for me is all around fitness. And I will tie this back to product because to give everyone a little bit of context about our business. You know, there’s three segments for our business. So, one is our consumer brand. So, I’m wearing one of our quarter zips. You can see our vintage US flag there. And that’s our equivalent to the Nike Swoosh. And it’s an idea that everyone is American made, and they can provide their own products. So, that is one. Then we also have a client side, Eric, where we work with businesses. We work with charities, we work with organizations, because when people realize and think about every business they’ve ever worked for, whether it’s a T-shirt Polo, they’re always buying things with their company logo. And before, you could go to Land’s End, or you could buy Nike, but you never had an American made choice. So, that’s another option we provide.

And the third one that I’ll highlight, and this was going to be one of our fastest growing one is around our collegiate licensed business. So, I went to West Point, so we had the license for West Point. We have all the service academies. We have local Nashville schools like Vanderbilt. But the one that we recently most recently added, Eric, so this is Alabama. So, this is the number one collegiate license in the US. And Eric, I love that we can visually see each other, but what you miss out, since you’re a clothes guy, if you could feel this, you’d be like Dean, that’s incredibly soft. And that’s by design. And if you think of most of the T-shirts in your closet, it has that heavy plastisol ink. And we only use a water-based soft tan because we want our shirts to be incredibly soft. And here’s where the fitness ties in because we have this new innovation, this new sweat activated innovation. So, what do most fanatical Alabama fans yell out? Roll Tide. Yeah. So, here’s what happens when you sweat, Eric.

Eric: Oh my God. That is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

Dean: Roll Tide magically appears. And on the back, there’s our vintage US flag and another one of their slogans, you know, is where legends are made.

Eric: Oh, my God.

Dean: And Eric, here’s where I highlight this because people say, Dean, I don’t care where it’s made. This shirt is just incredibly soft. I mean the technology, eow, I’ve never seen anything like that, like you said. But here’s what happens, Eric, they go ahead and look at the tag, they’re like it’s American made. I mean, there’s nothing in my closet that’s American made. And then they go to our website, AuthenticallyAmerican.us, they find out about our brand story, they learn the ethos behind our brand. And that’s where we have an opportunity to really grab their heart, but it starts with product. But if we don’t deliver an amazing product experience like this, we’ll never have them.

Eric: I am obsessed with that shirt. Like, the back is amazing. Like, now I’m just picturing my lion on the front of the chest and like sweating, yeah. So, something like that would be absolutely phenomenal. I can’t believe — I’ve never seen anything like that. So, I’m excited to share this with other people and I absolutely want them to come check out your site. It is three o’clock. I want to hop off. But everyone, again, this Dean Wegner CEO and founder of Authentically America. And you can go to his website at authentically american.us. You absolutely have to check this out. That was phenomenal what I just witnessed, that shirt. You do not see those anywhere. Dean, thank you so much for your time. And I really appreciate you taking the time out to speak to my audience, and educate us on just business in general. I really appreciate that.

Dean: Well, Eric, I was honored to be a guest and we’ve done hundreds and hundreds of custom designs for other schools and sports and fitness and CrossFit, all kinds of stuff. So, that’s just one thing. People will also see we have amazing socks and quarter zips polos just across the board. So, I was honored to be a guest, Eric. Thank you very much.

Eric: I appreciate it. Thank you.

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