Longtime Wisconsin Badger basketball fan Ethan Van Grunsven was disappointed when his team lost in a first round of this year’s March Madness. Still, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire sophomore couldn’t help but smile when he saw an Instagram post of the Badgers’ star player wearing a very familiar shirt during the tournament.
In the social post, Badger Johnny Davis – the Big 10 Player of the Year – wore a shirt designed and sold by professional marketing sales major Blugold.
“Seeing him wear it at the March Madness tournament and posting it on Instagram is one of the many exciting things that has happened with Sconnyco over the past few months,” Van Grunsven said of his year-long business, Sconny Co.
See an opportunity
Growing up as a sports fan at Eau Claire, Van Grunsven always had a closet full of Packers and Badgers gear, which he wore proudly to show his loyalty to his home country. At some point, he realized that some of his friends were just as passionate about Wisconsin, but not necessarily fans of the state’s professional and college sports teams.
“People often show their pride in their country of origin by supporting a sports team,” says Van Grunsven. “But after watching friends love Wisconsin while supporting college or another state’s pro team, I realized there were no stylish clothes to wear that just represented their home. I am proud to be from Wisconsin, so I started Sconny Co., a clothing brand/company so people have a way to represent their Wisconsin roots in a stylish way.
Long interested in business and fashion, Van Grunsven decided to “follow his dream” and start his own business, starting the Sconny Co. – sconny meaning someone from Wisconsin – when he was still only 19 years old. freshman at UW-Eau Claire.
Through Sconnyco, he sells high-quality embroidered clothing, all sourced and produced in Eau Claire. Most of the goods he sells are cut and sewn by hand, he says.
Find challenges, succeed
Starting his own business was a “long and confusing journey,” but also an experience that taught him patience and perseverance, says Van Grunsven.
“After sharing my idea for Sconnyco with my friends and family, I received mixed reviews, some positive but mostly negative,” says Van Grunsven. “There were a lot of doubts about its potential and its launch. Yet, after careful planning, I decided to follow through with my idea and take the risk of launching it.
With sales booming, Van Grunsven is happy to have followed his dream despite the initial uncertainty.
Understanding the legal and other requirements for setting up a new business was difficult and more than a little confusing, especially because he was still in his freshman year of college, Van Grunsven says. But once that was done, he went into selling and didn’t look back, he says.
“My sales approach was simple; market Wisconsin pride with stylish clothing,” says Van Grunsven. “To my surprise, it exploded.”
He has now sold more than 400 items, a number he says will grow rapidly as the business becomes better known across the state. Among its marketing strategies is to get top Wisconsin athletes to wear Sconnyco apparel. He has already had contact with players from the Green Bay Packers as well as the Wisconsin Badgers.
While there have already been many special moments as a small business owner, his favorite memory remains his very first sale, says Van Grunsven.
“I was at a social event and approached a man wearing a Packers hat,” Van Grunsven said. “I struck up a conversation with him about the Packers and the drama behind Aaron Rodgers in the offseason because I knew if I could connect with Wisconsin, I would be able to sell him Sconnyco apparel. After about five minutes I told him about this brand I started a week ago and how it’s made for people like him who are proud to be a Wisconsinite He didn’t hesitate, he bought the three colours.
Van Grunsven says he “really realized Sconnyco could be something special” when he was at a big event in La Crosse and saw someone wearing a Sconnyco t-shirt. He asked the man where he got the shirt, and he said it was from a friend in Eau Claire, then suggested that Van Grunsven consider buying one.
“I told him that I would definitely buy one, without telling him that I was the one who created it,” says Van Grunsven. “That moment was when I knew I had something special, and if I played my cards right, I could really do something big with it.
“For me, the most rewarding and exciting thing about Sconnyco is getting text messages from friends in other cities in Wisconsin saying they see random people wearing Sconnyco. It’s satisfying to know that people spend their hard-earned money on our products.
Although launching a new business during the pandemic has been difficult, it has also created unexpected opportunities, says Van Grunsven. For example, with so many activities canceled, he had more time to focus on building, launching and growing the business, he says.
“And when I started to grow the business, COVID really gave me the opportunity to grow virtually and reach new customers in a way that I otherwise couldn’t,” says Van. Grünsven.
Van Grunsven says he loved growing up in Eau Claire, a college town that has a lot to offer community members as well as students.
He knew UW-Eau Claire had strong business programs, so becoming a Blugold was an easy decision when considering colleges, he says. And given his passion for business, it was “no brainer” to become a marketer, says Van Grunsven. “When I found out that they were focusing on professional sales, that was really the icing on the cake for me.”
A high school football player, Blugold’s football team was another draw, Van Grunsven says, adding that his football teammates supported his business, buying lots of Sconnyco apparel.
One of his teammates, Mike Shoultz, became his mentor as he started and built his business, says Van Grunsven. An entrepreneur, Shoultz had previously established his own successful business, EC Vintage, a vintage clothing and accessories store, while a student at UW-Eau Claire. His advice and encouragement were therefore invaluable, he says.
Shoultz was impressed with Van Grunsven’s energy, creativity and passion, noting that he constantly asked her about his own business. “Even during practice, Ethan wanted to talk business,” says Shoultz, who will graduate in May with a major in marketing and an advanced certificate in business communications.
When Van Grunsven shared his idea for Sconny Co., Shoultz thought it had potential and encouraged his friend to pursue it.
“I thought it was a great idea, and I knew he would be the perfect person to start something like this because of his passion for business,” says Shoultz, a native of Delano, Minnesota. “For the next six months, we were still talking business. We were talking about marketing strategies, finances, advertising, sales, events and promotions. I always supported him, and he supported me, so we really help each other. We’re not typical college students, since our lives revolve around our businesses, and we bonded over that. So seeing Ethan’s success has been gratifying for both of us.
Now that her business is thriving, Van Grunsven is already planning to find new ways to expand and grow her small business.
“My vision for the future is to make it more than just a fad; I’m working to make Sconnyco a business where I can sell more than just clothes,” says Van Grunsven. “I know it will be a long and stressful journey to get here, but I look forward to the challenge and the life lessons I will learn along the way.”
Shoultz is confident that his friend will succeed in taking his business to the next level.
“Ethan will succeed with his business because he’s incredibly driven,” says Shoultz. “Sconnyco is already a well-known brand to its target audience in our region. But the plans he has for the future to expand the business across the state of Wisconsin are detailed and determined. I think he will be very successful in the future.
Van Grunsven’s true love for Wisconsin — and UW-Eau Claire — shines through in his business, which is a strength, says Shoultz.
“I don’t know anyone who loves Eau Claire and UWEC more than Ethan,” says Shoultz. “He supports everything Wisconsin and everything Blugolds. He is an incredible representative of this university.
Written by Judy Berthiaum
Link to original story: https://www.uwec.edu/news/news/blugold-creates-apparel-business-that-promotes-wisconsin-pride-5092/