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Student Entrepreneurs Mean Business

December 5, 2013

They say what happens in the Mac lab, stays in the Mac lab, or, does it? When Cody Schmitt and Kyle Howatt met in the Mac lab in a Web Design course in the spring of 2012, neither of them knew that they would be future business partners.

Schmitt and Howatt, both seniors with entrepreneurial spirits, had a light bulb go off while taking an Advanced Web Design course a year later with Professor Jeremy Sarachan.

Always finding themselves dressed up for internships, they grew frustrated that the campus bookstore didn’t sell neckties. And it dawned on them – how can a student or professional represent their college on the job?

“The bookstore sells a lot of great stuff, but no ties, so we saw a market for them,” said Howatt.

Schmitt is a triple major studying Communication/Journalism, Digital Cultures and Technologies, and Computer Science, with a minor in Marketing. Howatt is a double major studying Statistics and Digital Cultures and Technologies, with a concentration in Social Media Analytics. With their combined knowledge of numbers, social media, and communication, they decided to give their business idea a go.

And so Classy Cravats – which is French for neckwear - was born. The pair received seed funding from Schmitt’s parents and an aunt who saw potential in the business idea.

“They felt this experience was similar to a summer internship, as the cost for summer credits was comparable to that of our startup costs,” said Schmitt.

They conducted focus groups to finalize the tie designs and narrow down color options, and looked into local manufacturers before deciding to work with Vineyard Vines out of Martha’s Vineyard. Luckily, they had a contact at the company, so they were able to get a foot in the door.

The business venture turned into a seven-month process, beginning in March 2013, with their first official sales taking place in October. The company offers four St. John Fisher College-themed neckties, with designs featuring “SJFC” and the Cardinal itself. They credit Kyle Reinson, Assistant Professor of Media and Communication, for guiding them on the steps they needed to take in order to go about it the right way with logo usage approvals and other details. And they credit Dr. Hemant Sashittal, Professor and Chair of the Department of Management/Marketing, for helping them look ahead and brainstorm what could happen and how far they could take the business.

For now, the target audience for Classy Cravats is alumni, faculty, and staff. But, Schmitt said they have sold a total of six ties to current students. Their business plan includes potential Fisher scarf sales in the future, targeted to women. And like smart business people, they are taking their time.

“Since we have just started this company, we don't want to introduce new products too fast and get in over our heads. Tackling the tie market first will allow us to gain the confidence we need in developing and producing a new product line,” said Howatt.

Most of the Classy Cravat sales are online, and Schmitt and Howatt plan to keep the momentum moving following their graduation next May. Schmitt, a resident of Fairport, plans to stay in the area to pursue career options. Howatt, a resident of Clifton Springs, isn’t sure what his post-commencement plans are yet, but said he would like to travel.

Schmitt is a self-professed “do-er,” and said he likes to stay busy and work on projects he is interested in outside of school, so he also plans to pursue additional entrepreneurial projects in the future.

“Classy Cravats was a great way for me to apply everything that I have learned at St. John Fisher College. It is rewarding because I get to pursue what I am passionate about, while gaining an understanding of marketing that can only be experienced in the real world. I am happy to start this project with Fisher because I feel more comfortable within its forgiving atmosphere, and I can foster my ideas while being surrounded by a productive and generous community of advisors and mentors,” said Schmitt.

Both also say they are focused on spreading the word about their business, and letting time run its course so they can adjust their business plan as they go. But they are confident that they will continue to see sales climb. Howatt said he looks forward to seeing how successful their Mac lab idea can become.

“Strong-focused minds, many sacrifices, supportive friends and family, and the strongest belief in what you are doing are the keys to starting and building any company, and Cody and I have all of these right by our side here,” said Howatt. “There is no doubt in my mind that we will learn and experience a lot in the building and progression of Classy Cravats, but I firmly believe that we have what it takes to make it infinitely successful.”