By Rieva Lesonsky
It’s not everyday you hear from successful entrepreneurs that their secret to success is, “A big vat of guacamole.” But that’s what the founders of Citizen Frederick, a men’s clothing store and barbershop in Frederick, Maryland attribute theirs too.
Of course there are other factors at play for Antonio Rico and Nolan Kulbiski, the married co-owners of Citizen Frederick, who opened their store in the spring of 2014 and just won $20,000 in the Microsoft Small Business video contest. Like so many entrepreneurs the proverbial entrepreneurial light bulb came on after moving to Frederick from Washington, D.C. and realizing, says Kulbiski, that there “was no place [in town] for guys to get clothes.”
So they decided to create that place. But they were cautious. As Rico explains, “We didn’t have big expectations. We looked for the smallest space with the cheapest rent.” Before they opened a friend recommended they use Instagram to build anticipation. It worked, Rico says, and by the time they opened “everyone knew about us and Skip, our dog.” And on day one, Rico recalls, “Boom! The rent was paid. We knew we were onto something here.”
Citizen Frederick not only sells clothing and men’s accessories, but Rico and Kulbiski are now venturing out and creating their own branded merchandise, including t-shirts, hoodies and a very popular beard balm.
Social media continues to be a big part of their marketing efforts, with presences on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. The pair is working on their website and want to “recreate the same vibe virtually as the store has.”
At the moment the Citizen Frederick barbershop is in a different space, four blocks from the retail store. But business is so good, they’ve just signed a lease for bigger space so they can expand their clothing offerings and move the barbershop all into one building.
Rico says they opened the barbershop for the same reason they initially opened the store—“personal need.” On their travels Rico and Kulbiski had great barbershop experiences worldwide, and thought, “Why not make it happen in Frederick?” The barbershop has a “clubhouse” atmosphere and has already “made some sort of connection” with the men in town. The shop is booked within the first hour of every day.
Kulbiski and Rico say the barbershop serves as the gateway to the Citizen Frederick brand, since some consumers who might be intimidated by the prices in the clothing store, come to get a $20 haircut.
In their winning video the pair mentioned they have no downtime. But Kulbiski created a rule—no phones and no shoptalk after 9 pm.
They’re also very community-minded and try to “connect their brand and the town” encouraging shoppers to “come back to Frederick.” They use their social media accounts to share images from the historic town. They call attention to other businesses and business owners, hold fundraisers, and organize The Blue Ridge Market, a twice-yearly “celebration of makers, craftspeople and misfits.”
Their best advice for startups? “Don’t quit your day job.” They’re following their own advice: Rico’s been working full time on Citizen Frederick for about six months, while Kulbiski is still working his day job.
As for their “secret sauce” they say you can open a lot of doors when you show up with that vat of guacamole.
Follow Citizen Frederick at @CitizenFrederic.