This week is we have another guest that sees Mobile’s potential and is doing some great work to keep up that momentum. You’ve probably seen some of the MOBTown Merch being worn around, including the great “Defend the Delta” shirt featuring the majestic BB-60 USS Alabama battleship. Our guest this week started MOBTown Merch with his siblings around 1 year ago to help promote the pride he saw in our town, in the same way they had all seen in other large towns. Let’s dive into our conversation with Louis Maisel.
Louis: Okay. My name is Louis Maisel. I work for our family business, Gulf Distributing Company. And about a year ago, my siblings and I started MOBTown Merch.
Marcus: Very cool. Well, Louis, it is absolutely awesome to have you on the podcast, man. Welcome to the show.
Louis: Thank you.
Marcus: Yeah. Tell us a little bit about yourself. I'm assuming that you're from Mobile, but maybe that assumption is wrong. And then give us some other information like where you went to high school, college. Are you married? Give us some of the backstory.
Louis: So I was born and raised in Mobile, I attended UMS, and when I graduated from UMS I went on to Tulane in New Orleans.
Marcus: Not a slouch of the school.
Louis: Right, right. Well, New Orleans was the draw there. About six months after I graduated from Tulane, I moved to Austin, Texas.
Louis: And that's kind of where I started my professional career, which was in the beer business. And the beer business is my family business. We are a beer and beverage wholesaler.
Louis: So I was in Austin about five and a half years working for a distributor out there, a wholesaler. And about a year ago, after I got married, my wife and I moved back to Mobile in August. And right about that time, we started MOBTown Merch.
Marcus: Go back to the college. Did you study business?
Louis: I was a marketing major. I've always kind of had a ... I've leaned towards that side, creative side of things.
Marcus: Sure, yeah. And then ... I mean, I would imagine that it was strategic that you would go and work for another distributor. Was that so that you can kind of learn how other people are doing things [crosstalk 00:02:00].
Louis: Right, exactly.
Marcus: Those ideas.
Louis: Yeah, that's kind of the idea. I was ... All right, I don't want to go directly back and start working for my dad and my family. I want to get some outside experience, be able to come back and be able to contribute immediately to the company as opposed to having ...
Marcus: That's cool.
Louis: Go through most of the basic training.
Marcus: So what were ... I mean, that had to be a really cool time, though. 'Cause you've, I mean ... Tangentially, just because it's your family, you're kind of even in the business before you realize that you're in the business, right?
Louis: Right. Well, yeah. I mean, having said that, all that I've been through ... Growing up, as soon as I was able to work, I was working at the business.
Marcus: Sweeping floors and moving boxes.
Louis: Exactly. I was in the warehouse, I was riding trucks every summer.
Louis: Every holiday. Any time I was home not doing anything, it was, "Go to work."
Marcus: What were some of the lessons that you learned out of that time. Was there anything that you took away from that five years that you spent at the other distributor that you brought that were like ... That was key?
Louis: Well, yeah. They ran their operation very efficiently. They were not a family-run business, though. So there wasn't that ... It's just a different culture. So I got to experience a little bit of that, see how they ran their operations, and ... But we're ... Our company here is so big, we run from Birmingham down to Mobile and the entire Florida panhandle.
Marcus: Wow, I didn't realize that you covered that much area.
Louis: Yeah. So we've got close to a thousand employees. The impact ... The ideas I brought, most of ... Can help, but it's hard to make a change immediately because we're such a big company.
Louis: So we're slowly implementing a few different ideas here and there and I'm contributing my thoughts on things that we're changing as we grow.
Marcus: Yeah. It's interesting because you have a dichotomy here, right? You have a thousand person business, as you just described, and then you have MOBTown Merch. How did that come to be?
Louis: Yeah, I mean it's kind of a funny story. I mean, so I work with my siblings, but they both work at the company, as well. My older sister and my older brother. Whether or not we're at work or not, we're usually talking about business. And most of the time, it has to do with Gulf Distributing. But a lot of times it's, "Hey, we're all back working for the company. How can we contribute to the communities that we have a business in?" And we're sitting around drinking beers and we're talking about the different places that we've lived. So I've been in New Orleans, my sister's been in New Orleans. I've been in Austin, my wife has been in Atlanta, my sister has been in New York and DC.
Louis: And we've ... We have a cousin that lives in Denver. So we've all been in these big cities, and we've kind of ... We're drawing from the experiences there and what we see. And at some point in our conversation, we're like, "Hey, there's a gap here." Mobile is growing and one thing that we see in these other cities is a lot of city pride. And there's t-shirt companies and ways for locals-
Marcus: It's the "I love New York" kind of thing.
Louis: Right, yeah.
Louis: I mean, New Orleans you've got the Dirty Coast t-shirts who is ... They make a lot of great local styled t-shirts. Anyway, so we drew from that experience and said, "Hey, there's a gap in Mobile." We want to ... We have ideas, we want to start a t-shirt company that gives locals a way to represent their city, show some pride.
Marcus: Voice that ... Yeah, voice that passion. Yeah.
Marcus: No, it's cool. Because I think there is kind of a growing undercurrent of people that feel positive about mobile, right? And I don't know how old you are exactly, but you're younger. And people will see that in the picture. And it tends to be the younger group of folks that feel that passion, they see the changes that are taking place, they bought in to what the mayor has cast as far as vision goes for changing the city and bringing more life into Mobile.
Marcus: And so ... But I think it's interesting that you felt ... 'Cause I know Gulf Distributing does a tremendous amount for the city anyway between sponsoring various events and stuff like that.
Marcus: Hats off to you guys for doing that, that you would feel even more compelled that you wanted to have some other mechanism by which you're giving back, if you will, to the city.
Louis: Yeah, of course. It's great. Gulf Distributing is a great vehicle to give back, and we do and in every city we have a business in. And Mobile is special, of course, 'cause we're headquartered here and we grew up here. And so, when we talked about it, we're like, "Okay, we all have ideas. This could be really fun." None of us really know what we're doing when it comes to creating a t-shirt company.
Louis: But the beer business is all about building a brand, so we can build a brand and we can give the locals and the people in Mobile a way to represent their city and something to be passionate about.
Marcus: Yeah. One of the things I was also very curious to talk to you about is you all are located in the ... Is it the Downtown Mobile Alliance Emporium? I forget what-
Louis: Urban Emporium.
Marcus: Urban Emporium.
Marcus: And so ... I know that ... 'Cause we had Carol on, and she talked about the vision behind the Emporium was to give small retailers a chance to get experience in retail. So it gives them a place where they don't have to rent out a thousand or 1,500 square feet of space and have all the overhead.
Marcus: They don't have to really have all the point of sale systems and inventory systems and stuff like that. But how has that experience been for you as a small t-shirt company, if you will?
Louis: It's been amazing. They pretty much approached us on our first week in a business. We launched at 1065 last year, and the manager there, Katie, came up to me and said, "Hey, we want to have these in our store." So I called her, she kind of explained what they were. It's an incubator for small businesses. And it's huge for us and we're super thankful for what they're doing because otherwise we'd just be selling online, and we may be struggling. But it gives us an opportunity, like you said, to have a storefront and to get our brand out there. And I think without them, we wouldn't be doing nearly as well as we are.
Marcus: Very cool, yeah. You guys sell online as well as that ... We'll get ...
Louis: We do, yeah.
Marcus: What are you using as a platform? Are you using Shopify or any of the ...
Louis: Yeah, we use Shopify, Quickbooks, as well.
Marcus: Okay, very cool.
Louis: But yeah. Shopify is very user friendly. It was easy to figure out ... We all kind of said, "All right. How do we do this?"
Louis: And we got online and chose which platform we'd use.
Marcus: We are ... Full disclosure, this podcast, in case you hadn't noticed, is put on by an advertising agency that does a lot of digital work including building out websites. It's a major portion of our business. But quite honestly, when people come to us for an e-commerce platform, we are usually putting them on Shopify.
Marcus: Because it is an amazing platform. And unless there is some absolute need to changing the workflow of how somebody usually interacts with a commerce system, then it's the platform to go to.
Louis: Yeah, absolutely.
Marcus: So if you're listening to this and you have an idea and you just need an online platform, go to Shopify. Or if you want, email me an I'll send you our affiliate link so that we get some sort of credit for it. But in all seriousness, it's a phenomenal platform.
Louis: I'd agree. I'd recommend that as well.
Marcus: Do you remember the first t-shirt idea that you had that made you think that there might be something to this? I mean, you have Defend the Delta [crosstalk 00:11:06].
Louis: So this t-shirt was sort of ... There's t-shirts in Austin, it's called Defend ... A certain neighborhood.
Louis: And then Defend [nola 00:11:19]. And we've seen different Defend. So that kind of ... For me, that was, "Oh, Defend the Delta. That would be really cool." And immediately I was like, "We could put the battleship up there. That would be so cool." And then it kind of grew from there. All right, what do we want our brand to be? What do we want our flagship to be? But another thing that's really cool about this particular design is that we use it to give back to the community and we actually are trying to Defend the Delta. We donate a portion of the proceeds from this shirt to Mobile Bay Keeper.
Louis: So it's kind of ... Defend the Delta, a cool slogan, but we are.
Marcus: But practical, as well, in how it's being used.
Marcus: No, that's cool. 'Cause I know there's a lot of work that could be done there. And Mobile Bay Keeper certainly could use the funds.
Louis: There is, absolutely.
Marcus: Now, if you were talking to someone that was just starting to go down the path of running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?
Louis: Well, there's a lot of things I could give advice on and a lot of things that I couldn't 'cause we're still in a startup phase.
Louis: But I think the hardest thing is actually just ... You have all these ideas and you're thinking, "All right, I know this is going to be good. How do I start?" You really just got to sit down one day and make a list and just check it off. It's all about-
Marcus: Just start chewing through it.
Louis: Yeah, it's all about just grinding through, checking off ... For me, it was a to do list. It was like, "Alright, what do we have to do to start? To get our first sale? From here to that first sale, what do I have to do?" All the stuff you want to get out of the way and then you can worry about running your business. It's how do I start an LLC? How do I get an online platform? How do I find a manufacturer? For me, it was a printer. So you go through all those steps and don't be afraid to use your resources, 'cause you really can't do it alone.
Marcus: Yeah. Just going back to what you were saying, those are definitely lessons that everybody kind of learns. What you also find out is that most of the things that you think are huge are not.
Louis: Right, right.
Marcus: I mean, you talk about forming an LLC.
Marcus: It's literally a sheet of paper and what? A hundred bucks or something like that at the local courthouse?
Louis: Yeah, exactly. You think of it and you're like, "Oh, I don't know how to do anything legally.
Marcus: I got to get an accountant and do I need a lawyer to draw up ...
Marcus: No, just go down to the courthouse and they'll give you one sheet of paper.
Marcus: And you pay your little bill and that's it.
Louis: Yeah, and I mean, accounting and lawyers ... There's plenty in this town that can help you. If you need a recommendation, you call me.
Marcus: Just drive down Dauphin Street, right?
Marcus: Are there any books, podcasts that you've listened to, people that you've been mentored by, or organizations that you are a member of that have been helpful?
Louis: As far as business related books, I love reading Malcolm Gladwell. It's sort of inspiring and super interesting. I've read ... I think he has six books. I've read all of them.
Marcus: Very cool.
Louis: As far as any experience I've had and resources I draw on, I obviously have a huge resource in Gulf Distributing. And my dad who really grew that company, so I'm extremely fortunate in that regard. But ...
Marcus: Definitely has some business acumen that you've picked up some things from, right?
Louis: Yeah. It's very easy to draw back on him and that experience I've had.
Marcus: There's hope, then, 'cause I have three boys. And I know they don't listen to this podcast, so I can say things and they won't know about it. But often times, as their parent, I wonder. Because both my wife and I own businesses, she's a realtor, and a very good one at that. And of course, Blue Fish. So you kind of wonder, are they picking up on the sales calls that we make and how we talk to people? Are they picking up with how we even treat the waiter or waitress that is helping us at a restaurant? 'Cause it's really ... Your interaction with people is the ... That's the biggest thing when going into business, right?
Marcus: 'Cause people are the most difficult part of business.
Louis: Yeah, it's ... That's a very true statement. I mean, when it comes down to it, relationships are everything. If you have a connection and you build a relationship, that can take you so many different ways that you would have never expected.
Marcus: Yeah. What is the one most important thing ... And not just MOBTown Merch, but just in general in your business experience. What is the one most important thing that you've learned about being in business? And it could even be a lesson that you've learned from your father.
Louis: Right. Again, that's another hard one. I think I'm in ... It kind of melds into one, but like we were just talking about people, relationships. When you build a relationship, it goes a long way. My dad always taught me to write a handwritten letter. Every time somebody takes you on a trip, every time somebody important or somebody you want to build a relationship with does something for you, write them a letter. Whether it's for something small ... But that's something ... When you get a handwritten letter, I feel like that's something you always remember. And you just kind of build your character in that person's eyes.
Marcus: It's amazing to me how far that goes in today's day and age, 'cause it's so easy to just send a text or send an email.
Louis: Send an email, yeah.
Marcus: But the idea that you would ... Especially ... We have note cards that are branded. And so, when we send them, it's on a note card that's branded us. It means that we have stamps that we've either purchased ... There's a lot of thought that goes into that. And then what do you say to the person? It's much more ... I guess it's the time that it takes to do those things. It's the thoughtfulness that goes behind it. It's just such an abnormal thing, and people still really appreciate that person touch.
Louis: Yeah, I agree. That's pretty key.
Marcus: What do you like to do in your free time?
Louis: In my free time? I like to go play basketball at the A Club, Athelstan Club. I play golf a lot. I'm not good.
Marcus: Thankfully that's not a prerequisite.
Louis: Right, yeah, yeah.
Louis: And I love to go see music. And luckily, Mobile is booming with music. And so I've had a lot ... I thought I was going to miss it. New Orleans, Austin. I mean, I had everything every night to choose from.
Marcus: Especially Austin.
Louis: Yeah, oh man.
Marcus: Was it Sixth Street or Six Avenue or whatever it is? I've been there a couple of times for South by Southwest.
Louis: Yeah, Sixth Street. They call it Dirty Six.
Marcus: It's just insane.
Louis: Yeah, so when I was moving back to Mobile, it's like, oh I'm going to ... It's like breaking up with my girlfriend.
Louis: I'm going to miss all this music. And then I get here and it's like, "Whoa." There's actually a big music scene here. It's much different. 'Cause I loved here ... The last time I was full-time in Mobile was 10 years ago.
Marcus: Okay, so it has changed quite a bit.
Louis: And it's a lot different, and there's people my age and younger moving back, and you can feel that vibe. And so, that's really exciting for me and my wife to be able to go to a show on Thursday night. That's something that we like.
Marcus: Yeah, I'm thankful that folks like yourself, as well as the [PD 00:20:05] Foundation and some of the others that are instrumental in ... Pun intended. That are instrumental in bringing the music scene back here because I actually ... I'm a musician, as well. I don't play much anymore, but studied music in college, and still it's very much a part of who I am. And so, while Mobile isn't necessarily some place that the larger stars are going to stop ... So there's not really the big shows coming through, but it's nice that ... You talk about the Hang Out Fest. Or you talk about 1065, or any number of ... South Sounds.
Marcus: Any number of shows that just happen on any given night at the [inaudible 00:20:55] or just on the street. Being downtown, it's really cool. We'll walk to lunch and it's like, "Hey, what's that stage for?" There's some show going on and we didn't even hear about it. I mean, it's just really cool to see all the stuff that's going on in the area. So tell us where people can find you.
Louis: Well, we talked about Urban Emporium. We have a space in there and that's a big spot for us. Obviously, we want traffic on our website, so mobtownmerch.com is where you can go to find all of our products. And then we've got several other local retailers. We are in G. Harvell, Red Beard's Outfitters. We're in the gift shop at Fort Conde, the gift shop at Five Rivers. And there's more to come as we continue to grow.
Marcus: And Facebook?
Louis: Facebook, yeah. Facebook, it's just MOBTown Merch. And we do have a Facebook shop. You can link directly and buy our products.
Marcus: Think Shopify.
Marcus: You mentioned Red Beard? I'm not familiar-
Louis: Red Beard's Outfitters. So they are in Springhill right by the Rousses, and that Region's Bank up there on top of the hill.
Marcus: Yeah, I've not heard of that place.
Louis: So McGregor and Old Shell.
Marcus: Yeah, I'll have to go by there and check it out 'cause I've not-
Louis: They've got a lot of cool stuff.
Marcus: If they're carrying your stuff, they must be a place that I need to know about.
Louis: Yeah, it's an outdoors ... A lot of outdoor gear. Camping and whatnot.
Marcus: Very cool. Well, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. Wrap up any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?
Louis: Well, thank you for having us. I know this is valuable time for you and we're going to benefit from this. I really appreciate all the things you're doing for Mobile and it's very interesting to hear the other entrepreneurs and people that you've brought on.
Marcus: I appreciate you saying that. I mean, we're trying. We like that we're part of the positive communication that's taking place. And you all are certainly part of that. Well, Louis, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur. It's been great talking with you, man.
Louis: Yeah, thank you.
Marcus: Yeah, awesome.