Sunglass Warehouse is a brand for people who live life to the fullest. Our customers are just normal people, but they know how to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, and turn everyday experiences into great adventures. SW: Profiles is an interview blog series that shares these unique stories about our customers. From a tattoo shop owner directing horror films, to a young tech professional searching for his Jewish roots, these seemingly different people share a common thread that we’ll uncover together.
If you ever get the chance to meet Connor Hitchcock you will discover two things right away: 1) his love for the Hoosier state, Indiana, runs deep, and 2) he is what you would call a “serial entrepreneur.” At 10 years old Connor was hesitant about his family’s move to the great state of Indiana, as he was aware of some negative stereotypes surrounding the state. After living in Indiana for several years, the Hoosier state began to grow on him and he realized that Indiana has a lot more to offer than people realize. Flash forward to Connor’s college career, and he is attending Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business while simultaneously starting his own apparel business, Hoosier Proud.
From a young, 4th-grade philanthropist, donating his lemonade stand earnings to to an organization that helps children who have lost parents to AIDS, to starting his own apparel business during college, this Hoosier is a great example of what can happen when you look past stereotypes and just get out there.
Tell us a little about yourself!
I grew up just north of Indianapolis in Carmel, and that proximity allowed me to make quick trips to Indy all the time, especially Broad Ripple to grab Yats and check out the record stores. I decided to stay in the Hoosier state for college, and went to Indiana University to study marketing and eat a bunch of Smokin’ Jack’s.
As for fun facts? I grew up the oldest of five kids, all blonde and all of our names starting with the letter ‘C’. I just got married, and the woman I married has blonde hair, and her first name starts with the letter ‘C’. Go figure.
How has being a Hoosier impacted your business?
It’s essential to my business. If I wasn’t a Hoosier, yet sold Indiana apparel, I think there would be a real lack of authenticity to the brand. Being a Hoosier gives me better insight to other Hoosiers and the state in general, and I think it’s allowed me to better serve the people of Indiana.
Have you always wanted to start your own business?
This is an incredibly cliche story, but back in the 4th grade I ran a lemonade stand for 3 summers, and we donated the proceeds to an organization that helped children whose parents had died due to AIDS. I think the “bug” was caught then, and now relates to what we do with Hoosier Proud, donating 10% of revenue from each t-shirt to a different cause in Indiana.
What was your inspiration for starting Hoosier Proud?
My inspiration for starting Hoosier Proud was part personal journey, part realizing Indiana had a branding problem. I moved to Indiana when I was 10, and even at 10 years old I knew of some negative stereotypes that many have for the state (one word: corn). I, for years, bought into this stereotype. However, the longer I lived in Indiana, the more I realized how awesome the state was. We’re the true mecca for the world’s best sports, fun state parks, great universities, and Indianapolis is a really cool city (the New York Times even named it one of the 52 places in the world to visit in 2014).
I wanted others to experience the same journey I had: to look past stereotypes and realize that Indiana is actually an incredible place. I wanted others to fall in love with the state, to bloom where they’re planted, and to be Hoosier Proud.
What did your process look like for starting your business?
I was a sophomore at IU’s Kelley School of Business at the time, and I took a very business school approach to forming the business. I set up an LLC, built a website, opened a free checking account, prepared skeleton balance sheets, and really complex (probably too complex for what I needed, thanks K-201) Excel documents all before I made a single sale or ordered any inventory. Looking back, I realize I probably didn’t need to do all of that stuff, but it was really helpful in the long run.
With all the legal financial set up out of the way, I ordered 200 Indiana stickers of three designs I had made. I literally went door to door to Bloomington retailers, having no idea as to what I was doing, and some graciously bought my stickers. Within a month, they re-ordered, and then I started to sell more especially in Indianapolis. Eventually I rolled up stickers into t-shirts, and three years later we’ve sold our tees and stickers in 35 different retailers across the state.
Going from business school to owning your own business can be an eye opening experience. What have you found to be the most challenging part of owning your own business?
Balance, especially in my situation, where I started the company while I was still in school, and now I also work full-time while running my company. As a business owner you want to do everything you can to make your dream come true, which makes it really hard to turn your brain off and relax.
How do you find inspiration for your apparel designs?
A lot of my inspiration comes from living in the city that I love, from experiences I’ve had here. A great example is our Welcome to Indiana T-Shirt. I’ve always loved the feeling of home when I cross the state line and see the “Welcome to Indiana” signs, and that tee was a very organic idea.
What’s one thing you try to do every day?
I think reading is really important for understanding the world around you, and essential to continuous learning. As an entrepreneur, if you’re not in the know of the forces at work in business, economics, politics, and even sports, you could be blindsided and your business could be hurt. Likewise, if you’re not continually learning or adapting, one day you’ll look up and realize you’ve been left in the dust by other businesses.
The daily grind of being an entrepreneur is no joke. How do you stay motivated?
By having a very clear purpose that I believe in with my whole heart. If I didn’t love Indiana the way I do, I wouldn’t be printing t-shirts until midnight. If I truly didn’t believe in the mission, I would not have the motivation to put in the hours I do.
What do you wake up looking forward to?
As it pertains to Hoosier Proud, I love the physical process of fulfilling orders. There’s something so cool about printing the t-shirt, slipping it in a mailer, and seeing where in the country it’s going. It can be a mundane task at times when I wake up and there’s 30 orders to ship, but it helps better connect me to the mission and the people of Indiana. I love imagining all the different purposes that caused people to buy, whether it’s helping them represent home in California or stuffing it in a stocking for a loved one.
What advice would you give to other young aspiring entrepreneurs?
Unless you’re passionate about your core product, don’t do it. You’re going to end up pouring your heart and soul into this company, which may or may not fail, and if you don’t love it you’re going to end up feeling like you wasted your time. On other other hand, if you love what you do then you’re most likely going to be good at it, and receive energy from the work you do.
For those who have never been to Indiana, what’s your favorite part about the Hoosier state?
Like many Hoosiers, I’m obsessed with basketball. I’m also obsessed with how obsessed Indiana is with basketball. Did you know 15 of the 16 biggest high school basketball gyms are in Indiana? There are literally small Indiana towns that have high school basketball gyms that hold more people than their entire population. Or did you know that Indiana has the most NBA players per capita? Or that 7 of the 30 current head coaches in the NBA were either born or grew up in Indiana?