What is your full name, title, and business name?
Nate DeMars, Owner, Pursuit
Give us a summary of your business in 200 words or less.
Pursuit is a modern suit store with old fashioned customer service. We offer great style with approachable advice to make suits accessible to all. We sell our suits from our shops in Columbus’ Short North Arts District and Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati along with our website and from our unique store-on-wheels, the Suitmobile. We offer Pursuit in-stock suit separates from $299, premium Pursuit Custom suits starting at $799, and shirts, ties, and accessories from brands we love.
How did the idea for your business come about?
Pursuit was originally an idea in an Ohio State entrepreneurship class while I was in the MBA program there.
What was the turning point for your business? Was there a moment you knew you had something special?
In 2015, after operating a campus store, we decided to relocate to the Short North and business has grown dramatically from there.
What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur and business owner?
It’s powerful to take an idea and to bring it to life. It’s even more powerful to have a team of people who share your vision and are willing to work alongside you. Having those people believing they can play a big part in building something that does not exist yet is incredible.
What does the city of Columbus mean to your business?
We have national ambitions, but we have really been a local Columbus business up until we opened in Cincinnati during our 7th year. When we started, the concept was rough, resources were super limited, and I had no experience in the industry or expertise with the product. The desire of Columbus shoppers to support a local business trying something different is the reason we had the opportunity to get off the ground. The network of Ohio State, particularly The Fisher College of Business, played a key role in that as well.
Are you from Columbus? If not, please explain what brought you to here and ultimately what made you stay.
I’m from Ashland in the far north of Wisconsin on Lake Superior and I went to college in Duluth, Minnesota. I moved to Columbus once I was out of college in 2005 on assignment for a corporate sales job. I had no input in the decision and I did not know anyone in the city. What was supposed to be a one year assignment has turned into home. I look back at the people who are dear to me, and at the unbelievable support we’ve received, and I can’t help but feel I owe so much of it to the culture of Columbus.
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to start a business?
Put together a plan, bounce it off of people you trust, and then get started. Don’t wait around for the perfect time or the perfect plan; your idea will develop the most when you put it out in the world and let customers tell you what they think with their wallets. Break it down into a small test you can run and see how it goes.
What do you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before starting your business?
I wish I knew how long it takes to really know what you’re doing because even I am still not completely there. It’s easy to make a plan where you start slow, put in a few years of hard work, and then it takes off. However, in my experience, it’s not that easy and it’s not a straight line. I probably knew this, but did not actually feel it until I was living through it.
What’s the most challenging part of your business (i.e, what keeps you up at night)?
Delivering awesome service and quality at a price that is attainable to the mass market. The world doesn’t need any more luxury suit companies, but we believe having a great product with a great experience at an attainable price is missing in the market and we’re trying to build that model to scale.
Every business owner has a flaw. What’s yours?
To name a few:
I like to be liked. Disappointed or upset customers ruin my day.
I’m long winded.
I’m terrible at keeping up with emails.
I’m prone to working alone, I was an only child until my brother was born when I was 14, so I need to force myself to be more collaborative.
Why do you think most business owners fail? What has made you different?
I think most business owners fail because they think about what they want to do but not what the market wants or needs. I started Pursuit not because I was a suit guy, but because I saw an opportunity I thought I’d enjoy working on. Too many people see others doing something, say “I could do that,” and launch a business without a thought about if the world wants that or if they have some sort of competitive advantage.
What was your biggest mistake and what did it cost you?
Waiting too long to switch from a campus focus to a young professional focus.
What tool has helped you the most for your business (invoicing, accounting, shipping, plugin for website, etc.)?
Everything is so cloud-based and easy these days that we use a ton of different tools. I’d say Shopify is the thing we lean on the most to run the business.
When did you know it was time to expand your business, make your first hire, etc.?
As we saw our success in the Short North in 2018, particularly the growth of our wedding business, it became obvious that the model was working and it was time to think about opening a second store.
What is something that you did that was a game changer for your business?
Partnerships. Deep, meaningful partnerships that tell great stories and put suits on people who you may not naturally associate with suits (Columbus Crew, US Men’s Curling Team, In Pursuit Concert Series). A lot of people in the suit world give suits to famous people in exchange for their audience and publicity, but we bring partners into the family, make great content, and have a bond that is way deeper than transactional.
What was an idea that you spent a lot of time on or thought would make a big difference in your business that didn’t pan out.
When we built our Suitmobile in 2014 I thought it’d be like a second store, but it really was more of a great mobile marketing tool.
What is something that your business spends a lot of money on that’s worth it?
People. We primarily hire full-time employees, put them on salary, and hire people looking for a career, not just a job. That is far more expensive, but it makes for a much more talented and engaged team that can grow with the company.
What is something you’re working on now that you’re very excited about?
A new video project that shows hundreds of faces of people who make Pursuit what it is. We have been working on it for several weeks and we’re excited to release it this spring. It’s a love letter to our team, to Columbus, to Cincinnati, and we think there’ll be a lot of faces people in those cities know and love too. It shows the amazing diversity of the people who make Pursuit what it is.
What form of marketing is the most valuable for you?
Word-of-mouth is the most impactful, but not something we control directly. Video is our primary tool for creating our own marketing content and we’ve had some huge hits with video content over the years.
Who is your best Columbus resource (accountant, lawyer, marketer, etc.)?
Too many to name but a few we work with regularly, however I am sure I’ll forget some:
The Wonder Jam (Creative and Marketing)
Jamison & Associates (Accounting and Tax)
LTSK (Financial Modeling and Advising)
Soller Insurance (Insurance and Benefits)
TENFOLD (Environmental Branding and Culture)
NR Media (Software Implementation and Data)
Stansbury Weaver (Legal, and also my wife helps in this department)
Who do you vent to when you have a business problem?
My wife is a peer at home who is my primary adviser and my parents have always stayed up on everything we do and they always want to listen and help. Then, I have a business owner peer group I work with monthly and a group of friends who own businesses I can call.
Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
A suit company with a national presence that’s the favorite suit shop in the cities we have stores.
What is your revenue range?
$1mm – $5mm
What was the single worst decision you made regarding your business and how’d you recover?
In 2015, we attempted to launch our Pursuit Suit line with the wrong manufacturing partner. It set us back many months and caused us to tie up lots of cash and left us needing to unload that merchandise at a steep discount. We were able to identify it quickly and restart the search and it led us to great partners who have delivered great product. It was just a painful period of “toughing it out”.
When you’re stressed or overwhelmed, what do you do to overcome this feeling?
Yoga forces me to breathe and not think about work. Walking the dog in German Village with my wife is a great reset.
What’s one component of entrepreneurship that’s much different than what most people think?
The breadth vs the depth. People think of the big/heavy/glamorous topics, but the success is in the millions of small details spread across all functions of the business. People may see a high-profile partnership that brings us much attention, but they don’t see the cash flow model that keeps the business healthy, the systems that allows us to deliver with customers, or the communication it takes to keep a team pulling the same direction.
What’s your end goal with the business? Is this something you want to pass down to your kids or would you like to eventually sell?
I believe Pursuit will be a career for me. If we’re successful in growing the business in the way we’re planning I believe there will be great opportunities to exit and sell the business. As long as it’s a challenge I love and it has meaning, it’s what I want to be doing.
How would your business fare if the economy hit a nasty downturn like it did in 2008? Have you prepared for this?
We’d have to tighten our costs and examine our growth plans. It’d likely hurt our top line revenue, but we also know that more people on the job market often means people needing suits so that offsets a small amount of the risk. Running the company tightly would be key.
What other entrepreneur do you look up to most?
This is tough as so many of them are friends and mentors and I don’t want to leave people out but inevitably will.
Jeni Britton Bauer is a trailblazer many of us in Columbus are watching closely. Joe DeLoss of Hot Chicken Takeover is someone with big ambitions and a soul in his business. Rachel Friedman of TENFOLD has built an amazing team and has such a great vision she executes so well. Stuart Hunter of roll: is an innovative retail mind with a business that has so many parallels to Pursuit. Ryan Vesler at HOMAGE is a creative force who has opened a bunch of doors for me. Les Wexner is an inspiration for the way he has stayed two steps ahead for 50 years and used his success to do so much for the city. Andy Dunn, formerly of Bonobos, is a national figure who I admire for thought leadership, and using his platform for social change. Maren Roth at Rowe, Niki & Josh Quinn at Tigertree, The Malhamme’s of Northstar and so many others have all done so much to pave the way for Pursuit to succeed in the Short North. Mark & Sandy Wood have been incredible visionaries and stewards in the shaping of the Short North. What’s the character limit here, I could go on for days.
If you had to tell a visitor one thing to do/see/eat in Columbus, what would it be?
I’m biased, but it’s still the Short North. There’s no other place with such a high concentration of the best and most interesting local businesses. It’s become common to complain about the change but if you look at the numbers the vast majority, 88%, of the businesses in the district are still local companies; and most are unique to Columbus.