On this episode of The Mobile Alabama Business Podcast, we sit down with Tony Davis of Secret Scientist. Tony has recently closed all of his retail stores, but this episode is a discussion about Mobile, the city we love.
Tony: I'm Tony Davis, the owner of Secret Scientist Clothing.
Marcus: Dude, really seriously, I always enjoy talking to you.
Tony: Yeah, for sure.
Marcus: So I'm really glad to have you back on. I'm just going to give full disclosure, if you're listening or watching this, I'm going to ask some questions, but the reason why I asked you here is because I think you and I needed to sit down and have a discussion, and it doesn't have anything to do necessarily with our businesses.
Tony: Yeah, for sure.
Marcus: Just in case somebody didn't watch, just tell us a little bit about who you are.
Tony: Owner of Secret Scientist Clothing. Been doing this for 14 years. This year will be our 15th year.
Marcus: You've actually had some good changes recently too.
Tony: Recently just left the mall. We went from 11 physical stores to now none.
Tony: I am so happy.
Marcus: That blows my mind.
Tony: It's been a great, great transition. We actually left the mall recently. I can't say why. We'll talk about that off camera. I'm not allowed to speak on it, seriously, seriously.
Tony: I'm just happy. We work from the warehouse. We're building a showroom inside of the warehouse. Haven't finished it yet. So right now, everything's online. It does.
Marcus: I was going to say everything is online.
Tony: Everything's online.
Marcus: You're not having any issues. Revenue's still coming in, people are still supporting you.
Tony: We've actually gotten bigger and made more money since we left them mall.
Marcus: That's unbelievable, dude.
Tony: So there's a lot of things that happened in Bel Air Mall that people don't know about. Again, that's not my fight. I was able to leave and not get sued. That's not my fight, and that's it. Well,
Marcus: So that is my lead in to the conversation. So you and I have had this, we've danced around this in that we both love this city.
Marcus: There are a lot of things that, and I even mentioned it in an earlier podcast, as a creative, I can look at Mobile and I can say, "Man, this is what Mobile could be." Just like I can as a business owner, I cast a vision for my business and I'm setting goals to get my business to that point. I think my comment to you was that there are ways that we as people that care about the city can influence the direction of the city without having to run for mayor.
Marcus: Because neither one of our significant others will allow that.
Tony: In real life at one point, I did want to be the mayor.
Marcus: Everybody like-
Tony: I knew I could make a change, but I'm also, I know I'm an emotional person, not that I'm going to make an emotional decision, but I know when I have 99 yeses and I have the one person that doesn't like it-
Marcus: You'll want to know, "Why the fuck don't you like that?" It just throw you off.
Tony: Yeah, but then I had to realize why do I need to care about this one person when I've got 99 yeses. So we have changed our mindset. I've met with my two guys, Kel and Dillon. You know Kel and Dillon. So we do everything in life on the 80/20 rule.
Marcus: I know, but-
Tony: 80% of our business is going to come from 20% of our customers, 20% of our business is going to come from the other 80%. I only focus on the things that are actually going to be lucrative and make me money, and I'm not wasting a piece here, wasting a piece there. I do that in my life too. So as long as I'm in that 80/20 mode, I'm okay. So like I said, the mayor's cool, but I can-
Marcus: There are other ways to-
Tony: I can be more of myself anyway. I don't have to go in this room and meet with this person. I don't have to go and have a meeting with this person. Every decision that I make is going to be for Tony and what Tony wants to do, and it doesn't matter if you like it or you don't like it.
Marcus: Ultimately, you have control-
Tony: Full control.
Marcus: You don't have to answer to anybody, but I asked you, what do you see in Mobile right now and what is it that if there were one or two things that you're just like, "Man, I just wish that we could do something about X," are there things that are burning issues with you that-
Tony: I thoroughly enjoy the city of Mobile, but I do think once you reach a certain level in business, you've maxed out of your resources in Mobile. Mobile is not going to give back into Tony's business and see the big picture where it's like, "Okay," not Tony in general, but just in overall successful business owner, "let's give this person some money or let's put some money behind this person. He's going to create jobs. They're probably going to continue to do the things that he does because they know what he represents, he or she. So why don't we find somebody that can change the stigma of Mobile?"
We gave back in the last two or three years $150,000 worth of clothes to the public school system. We've given $50,000 worth of clothes to the homeless. This past Christmas, we did the toy drive with the city of Mobile. We had 5,000 people show up.
Marcus: It was just unbelievable.
Tony: We planned for 2,000. So what do we do? We drove back to the warehouse, and nobody knows this. This is the first time. We drove back to the warehouse and my guy Kel got a thousand hats and a thousand beanies that we sell at $30 a piece, $60,000 worth of merchandise, and we had people online complaining about they can't believe they didn't get any toys. 4,000 more people showed up than what I thought, and I bring to my warehouse during the holiday season and just gave away-
Marcus: Bring more stuff.
Tony: ... just to make sure that people got something. It was our first time. Nobody thought that we were going to have ... They made me turn the elevators off at 6:00. They made me lock the doors. I had to go on the news and on live news and say, "If you have not shown up yet, please don't show up."
Marcus: "Don't come." I I remember seeing that post.
Tony: So again, like we talked about earlier, no, I don't want to be the mayor because y'all are mad at me, and I just gave maybe the biggest giveaway out in the city of Mobile's history and it still wasn't enough.
Marcus: It wasn't enough.
Tony: So that's where it's like the city should get behind me and say, "Okay, even if we create five more Tony's-"
Marcus: It still doesn't touch the problem.
Tony: "... it doesn't touch the problem, but we're working in the right direction. Five people can do better than one if we're all on the same page." To me, the biggest problem in Mobile is just jobs. The job market's terrible. They can't retain people because there's no jobs. Not to say Huntsville and Birmingham is better, but they definitely have better jobs. So I think there's just ... I don't know think Mobile knows what Mobile wants to be. I've been in a room and said, "Do y'all want Dolphin Street to be Bourbon Street?" "Nah." "Do I want this to be ..." I think Mobile needs to figure out-
Marcus: It's trying to be all things to all people.
Tony: You can't be everything.
Marcus: You can't be everything. You can't be family friendly in Bourbon Street.
Tony: You can't.
Tony: There's nothing wrong with not being all the way Bourbon Street, but I don't think Mobile even knows sometimes what they want to be. We've got Topgolf, we've got Surge, we've got Dave & Buster's on the way.
Marcus: Dave & Buster's is coming in.
Tony: There's no way that the city of Mobile thinks that the 200,000 citizens in this city can keep those things afloat with the pay that we have here. It's not possible.
Marcus: One of them is going to go out of business.
Tony: One of them, and it's not like, and then-
Marcus: I have a feeling I know which one.
Tony: Then all the posts are going to be like, "We told you so."
Marcus: "What's wrong with Mobile too? Why don't you have potential?"
Tony: You know what I'm saying? So to me, I think it just starts as like we have to get better jobs.
Marcus: Well, okay, so there's a book, and I have it on my bookshelf. Brad Feld was the writer, and I can't remember the name of it. It's something to do with startup communities or something along those lines. I remember reading the book and having a discussion with then president of the Chamber, Bill Sisson, and saying, "I wanted to start Bluefish as a place where people could come and work, that they would have meaningful work that was creative, that they felt fulfilled, and that there was some enjoyment."
I was trying to create the work environment that I always dreamed of as the tech company that, "Hey, we got skateboards, we got all that stuff," but the reality is there's no corporate headquarters here in Mobile. So as an ad agency, it becomes very difficult because an ad agency depends on that kind of work as a basis to ... Then the other thing too is just like, and I'm a little bitching a little, but it's like-
Tony: Yeah, for sure. I do all the time.
Marcus: ... there's no appreciation for things that outside of this area are just commonplace. So it makes it a little bit difficult to grow a business, at least this type of business in some respects. You've had wild success in a very short period of time and have grown and now are pulling back and being smarter about how you operate. That's partly because my issue is also people. It's not just work, it's also people.
Even over through the pandemic, I ended up keeping some people on that I didn't really even need because I was worried that if I let them go, that I would never find the person with that skillset again. So it's just like it is, it's a different set of problems that I don't know that I would have if I was in a Tampa or a Jacksonville or an Atlanta. I know I wouldn't have it in DC, and I certainly wouldn't have it in any of the other major markets. I would be a $20 million company in doing way different things than what-
Tony: I laugh all the time. I read these stories about these business owners or brand owners and they're like, "Man, I had to do it. I came from a small town like Chicago. I came from a small town like New Orleans," and I'm like, "What?" I got 200,000 people that I'm trying to deal with. I was watching something on Memphis yesterday and it was like, "Memphis has 600,000 people," and I was like, "Okay, cool. Maybe a little bit more now." I was like, "Damn, I wish I had 600,000 people just to ..." Again, like you said, the more people, you're going to have better applicants, you're going to have more help and outsourcing is fine, but I'm a face-to-face person.
Marcus: I really didn't want to do that. I was very intentional on I wanted to hire and employee people in Mobile. At this point in time, full disclosure, I'm having to think about those, even if it's just the in-between filling in the gaps like, "Hey, I don't necessarily need somebody full-time, but I need somebody," and so part-time help because the skillset, even talking to somebody earlier, they were saying that they had a marketing degree and I was like, "It's interesting. I sit with people that have marketing degrees all the time, no applicable skills."
The schools here are good. I'm not beating up on the schools. I just think that, especially the universities when it comes to certain things, they're not preparing people for the type of job that we have where I need somebody to know either how to code to build websites or how to design logos or how to do SEO or even social media, it's like when you interview somebody for a social media position and they don't know how to write.
Tony: They think it's just make a post.
Marcus: It's like, "I know how to click, submit." I don't need that.
Tony: I don't need somebody to do what I can do.
Marcus: I need somebody that's going to be able to come up with an idea and actually put words that can compel somebody to go from point A to point B. I'm selling hats. How do I sell that hat? I don't know how to get around. I don't know how to get around that. I'm still wildly ... We're having this discussion only because we love Mobile, and I'm wildly optimistic about the city.
Tony: I'm optimistic, I am, but I guess as the older you get, I don't necessarily if I'm getting tired or discouraged, and it could be discouraged, but at a certain point, I'm just going to say, "Okay, cool. I'm a dad and a husband. I'm successful. I've got two kids and I'm just going to live and somebody else can fight." So it's almost to that point, but I've got people around me as yourself and other people in my corner who's like, "Tony, we can do something. Just stay persistent." I always have to go back to Secret Scientist's motto, "Little step plus little step plus little step equals big step." I don't have to take-
Marcus: That's cool.
Tony: ... three foot in front of each other. It's the same thing as one big step. We got to the end. In a city like Mobile, you're probably not going to be able to take the big step because it's just not there. You look downtown, beautiful places, businesses are closing left and right. Somebody has to figure that out. There's got to be some type of study done of like, "Do we want our downtown structure to die? Do we want the mall to die?" because if I'm a big corporation and I go downtown and restaurants say, "Closed," and your city can't even keep the infrastructure of a mall, why would I be here?
Marcus: One mall.
Tony: One mall. What is this? Your citizens aren't even spending money here, so why should I? So I guess I always look at it because I'm retail, born and raised all retail. That's all I've ever done.
Marcus: That's all your experience.
Tony: So to flourish when people come from out of town, the first thing they're going to do is Google downtown.
Marcus: It's interesting. So before the pandemic, it seemed like downtown was really on an upward trajectory, and the pandemic seemed to have cut that out. You're right, I am seeing a lot of corsettings closing up. Obviously, everybody knows about Spot of Tea right now, which, come on, that guy brought it on him. So there are a couple of others too, but it's just like, I'd like to think that that's the end of it and that there's going to be a rebirth that happens out of that, and that maybe that those were just the casualties of shutting everything down for a couple of years, and I hate it because we know those people. We love those restaurants and all that stuff. At the same time, it's like when you have landowners that are sitting on property that are going destitute and have rats and mice and have not been used, there are properties downtown that probably haven't had people use them in decades.
Marcus: The only reason why they're not is because some landowner figures it's easier to pay the couple hundred dollars of tax, tax payments-
Tony: Property tax?
Marcus: Yeah, on this property. I'll just sit on it because the property value's going up, it's paid for, it's been in the family for years. I remember distinctly before we bought this building, there was a property on Washington Avenue, two-story building right down from Moo's, if you know where that is. It's a catty-corner from a church. I wanted that building so bad. I was like, "Man, I can envision it. We're downtown." I knew what my office was going to look like. We were going to ask about moving the electrical power cords that they had in front of the building so that we could redo the balcony and all this other stuff. I walked in and I had to search for the owner of this building. It's been boarded up. It was boarded up in 20 ... It didn't start as boarded upstate. That's just when I noticed it was boarded up in 2016. We're recording this in 2023, and if you walk by right now, it's still boarded up. That's the problem.
Tony: It's 2024.
Marcus: '24, sorry. I'm missing a year.
Tony: Don't shortchange the way-
Marcus: You know what I'm saying? In Hoffman Furniture, the fire that happened, that building has been empty for years. They were stacking lawnmowers in the back of it last time I checked.
Tony: I was 30 minutes away from opening up a store downtown. I had the lease in hand on Dolphin Street, great price. When I left the mall, my next spot was going to be downtown, But then I was like, "is it going to drive more traffic than if I just go online and have curbside pickup at my warehouse?" and I was like, "There's no point in me creating a bill." Downtown is not ... They want retail down here. They do.
Marcus: Yeah, absolutely.
Tony: Again, that's another city thing, and not to me, "Hey, Tony, we've got this grant. We're going to pay your rent for six months. We want retail downtown." If you want something-
Marcus: Make it happen.
Tony: ... show me.
Marcus: There are ways to make that happen. I know there have been some ... Look, every city does it. So if you complain about tax breaks for large corporations-
Tony: It is what it is.
Marcus: It is what it is. They're all going to get it, and it's just a way for them to bring people in and also to offset costs because the infrastructure, like streets that go into buildings, they have to get some help there, but this is a small business owner. Why can't small business owners get some of that same assistance? I don't know.
When I think about downtown, especially Dolphin Street, the thing that I go back to is King Street and Alexandria. Have you ever been to Old Town Alexandria in DC?
Marcus: Actually, I should post a picture of this at some point in time, but Old Town Alexandria starts at 95 and it's miles long. Dolphin Street is probably, what, maybe a quarter mile long at best.
Tony: Yeah, maybe.
Marcus: As far as the entertainment side of it goes, but King Street was very long, retail, restaurants, offices, living. On a Friday and Saturday night, it was the guy with the table with all the glasses playing, and it was couples walking around and having romantic dinners and stuff like that. It's a really amazing bustling place. It's the center of what's going on. So I see that at Dolphin Street. I wish that we had access, and it seems like we might be getting that with the new plaza that they just announced, access to the water, although it's not quite the same, but I just don't know. It just seems like it's start, stop, start, stop. I hate to say that because I'm the one that's like no city, it's not the city of perpetual potential. We are living our potential right now. As with any economic situation right now with the way things are, there's going to be down turns, and we hope that as things turn around, that those business owners that see value in that, that they'll come back and that it'll flourish again.
Tony: I don't know. A, we need more people to be a different type of city. Again, that's not going to happen, like we said, until you get the better jobs or at least retain the people that are here. Downtown does have a lot of stuff, but again, I just don't know if there's enough people that are acts that do want to go down there and be downtown. The city itself is super, is spread out. I live way West Mobile past the airport.
Marcus: Mississippi is what some people would call it.
Tony: Literally. It's a 35-minute, 40-minute drive.
Marcus: Oh, gosh.
Tony: So I'm not going to come down here and have some drinks and then go home. It doesn't make any sense. So I think a real plan needs to be put into place like, "Okay, this is what we want. This is how many people we want to move here. This is what it's going to take to have this many people move here, and we want to add a business here, a business here, a business here," or if not, it's going to be a revolving door left and right all day long.
Marcus: So going back to that book that I'm in, and do you read?
Marcus: I may actually just get you this book because, actually, I think I need to reread it as well. If I remember correctly, because it's been over a decade, the premise of the book is that it's not government's problem.
Marcus: That it's our problem. I recognize that government plays a role in it, but I guess when you look around when I'm sitting at the table, I see the government, I see business, I see leaders of our community. They're getting together at times and they're having discussions, but I don't know that anybody sees the asset that we have in a downtown. You keep talking about the population here, the brain drain is real. I've seen even my own kids have moved away.
Part of the reason why I created Blue Fish was so that they literally would have a cool place. I wanted that to be a cool place because I wanted them to come and work here so they wouldn't leave. So it's like, how do you stop that? I know jobs is, but if the workforce isn't here, the jobs won't come. So it's a cyclical thing.
Tony: Yeah, for sure.
Marcus: How do we stop that cycle and get ahead of it?
Tony: I think that you have to sit down with ... Everybody needs to be in one room and say, "This is the plan." Without a plan, you can't do anything. I think Mobile has too many plans. One person wants a plan here, one person wants a plan here. It's like a job. If I ask you, "I need you to make the designs, I need you to manufacture the shirts, I need you to print the shirts, I need you to bag the shirts. I need you to ship the shirts."
Marcus: Accounting, advertising, set up the website, do all those other things.
Tony: You're never going to be able to do all of them. Great, even me, and I feel like I can run my company by myself. I can't. I'm still going to have to outsource it at some point. I can't take the picture and run around and be the model, set it on the timer. I mean I could, but why would I do that? I'm going to waste time. I'm going to waste money. So I think there needs to be one plan and figure out really what this One Mobile means and address why we have kids committing suicide, why we have kids killing people.
Marcus: I can answer that.
Tony: Why do we have kids-
Marcus: Think there's a lack of hope.
Tony: There's a lack of hope.
Marcus: So what do we do-
Tony: So what do we do? The thing about it with me is we're not the first city that had a lack of hope. So there was a blueprint somewhere, so now it's like, "Okay, cool. Who's going to find the blueprint and who's going to implement this plan into this city? Let's see what happens because right now it ain't working." It don't matter if you bring a country concert or a rap concert downtown, somebody still got killed. The rap music didn't make that person do it. The country music didn't make that person do it.
Marcus: I was so upset when I heard people saying that. I was like, "That's such a bullshit."
Tony: As if the year before wasn't a massacre. So that's my thing. Nobody in 2024 in this entire world is reinventing the wheel. There's a blueprint somewhere, "Okay, cool. We don't want to be New Orleans. Okay. Do we want to be like Savannah, Georgia?"
Marcus: I literally just mentioned them in the previous podcast.
Tony: What do they do? The other day, and I know, again, it's not always the city's fault, the guy that went viral on Facebook for helping out all the homeless people when it was going to be cold. We don't have any plan. We're just going to let these people die on the street. Is it the city responsibility? Maybe. Is it the people's responsibility? Maybe, but if I had the bank-
Marcus: We can't just do this.
Tony: If I had the bank on who had the best access to make something happen, the government.
Marcus: The government.
Tony: Again, all those abandoned buildings downtown, there's people here that want to help.
Marcus: Well, there's people here that want to occupy those buildings.
Tony: Yeah, exactly. So what are we doing here? I just don't think there's a real plan. We're going to bring Topgolf. We're going to bring Dave & Buster's and they will come. The first thing I look on A&E is the First 48. It's going to be in Tulsa or Mobile. Mobile's in there every week.
Tony: Now, they just announced that they're getting rid of First 48 from Mobile, which is fine, but I can still Google the crime rate.
Marcus: Every week?
Tony: It's Mobile or Tulsa.
Tony: To me, it's just a show, and so I'm never like Mobile's one of those crime ridden cities because I'm not one of those people. People are always like, "Oh, you left them all because they were shooting." Bro, they have a shooting once every two years. They have more shootings at Mardi Gras. You still go to the parade.
Marcus: I grew up in Washington, DC when Southeast DC was the murder capital of the country. I went clubbing at Tracks, which was a club in the middle of Southeast. Don't talk to me about Mobile being ... Mobile, now granted, don't be stupid because anywhere you go, don't be stupid. That's just an excuse for people not to go. They don't want to be at Mardi Gras because they're an introvert and they just want to be at home with their family, okay, but don't call Mobile because here's the thing. Words matter.
Marcus: The way that we speak about our city, other people listen. Our kids listen. We were talking in the podcast before this about growing up as the kids of the eat everything on your plate because the kids in Africa are dying generation. Well, what do we think as when we say things, we know that our kids are affected as parents. When we as citizens of the city talk ill of what's going on, people listen. Do our kids want to live here if we are talking about how Mobile is full of murders and shootings and stuff like that? No. They want nothing more than to get out. They want to go anywhere than here.
Tony: Get out of here. The wildest when you see somebody announce, "Such and such is coming to Mobile," won't last long. Can't wait to see that place fail.
Tony: It's like, "What? What are we doing here?"
Marcus: It's immediately.
Tony: To me, this is the wildest city because I feel like I'm watching some type of hammer that just goes back and forth because "Oh, I want something. We're bringing it. It's going to fail. Oh, I want something. We're bringing it. Oh, it's going to fail." So what do we do to bake? We've got so much pride. Every Mardi Gras, Mobile is going to fight with New Orleans. We started Mardi Gras. Where's that attitude for everything else?
Marcus: Where's the support?
Tony: Where's the support? No, you don't have to support everything, but bring your friends in. New Orleans is not New Orleans because of locals. New Orleans is New Orleans because of tourism.
Marcus: 100%. They almost killed the city, actually. The pandemic did such bad things to the city.
Tony: Because people weren't traveling there. So what are we doing to bring people in here? Because I don't know about what the good things that Mobile has, I'm never going to visit here. We need somebody to be here. We need somebody to come visit. We need our locals to welcome them and say, "Yeah, come see what we've done. We've got platinum selling artists here. Superstars are coming out of Mobile in all genres of music."
Marcus: Nobody knows.
Tony: Nobody knows/
Marcus: Inventions are made here, movies are shot here, all kind of food like other place on the planet is here.
Tony: People always talk about how good Mobile food is, but what are we doing to ... and I don't know who the PR team is, and this is a broad statement, but Mobile does a really bad job of celebrating the good-
Marcus: A really good job of-
Tony: ... and really good job of highlighting the bad.
Marcus: So is that just a lack of voices like ours shouting about what's good and overcoming the news? Because the news is always going to cover the bad.
Tony: It is what it is. The news is the news.
Marcus: Lead with the blood. It's what sells.
Tony: I was surprised that we were the first story for Christmas when we did our giveaway.
Tony: We were the first person on the news, both channels 10 and 15.
Marcus: Wow, considering because usually they'd cover something that was bad before that.
Tony: That's like one of those things, "Okay, cool. We made a step in the right direction." Even with the mall, I tell them all the time, Secret Scientist was there for three, four years. Highlight this brand. Okay, cool. Go to the next store, highlight this store because there's stores inside of that mall. That Bath and Body Works in that mall is one of the top in the region. That Pandora is one of the top in the region. That Secret Scientist store in terrible Bel Air Mall, physical sales three years in a row did seven figures. People walking into that mall.
Tony: I don't ever tell anybody our numbers.
Marcus: No, that's no joke.
Tony: So why not ... Let's work together. How can you bring another Secret Scientist in here?
Marcus: In all honesty, not to ... They need somebody like us and it wouldn't have to be us.
Tony: I know when you get an owner just out of management's hands for lack of words, but that's when it comes into the city. I know they can't really dictate who gets here. Okay, cool, but let's step in and say there's certain amount of things in this city that are important. You got to have a mall, got to have good hospitals, got to have good entertainment. So those are the things that we should have our hands on to make sure ... A police officer is $35 an hour. Why don't we create a position where there's always a police officer at the mall?
Marcus: Or more.
Tony: Or more. We got $300 million to spend downtown. We can't put-
Marcus: Is that what Mardi Gras-
Tony: No, that's just the budget for downtown. They're putting $300 million into downtown. We can't use a million towards safety? It's all computer money anyway.
Marcus: Just moving it around.
Tony: When I use money, I use real money out of my bank account. Y'all are just using computer money.
Marcus: Yes and no. City governments are limited.
Tony: You know what I'm saying?
Marcus: I know what you're saying. They could move it around a lot.
Tony: They can move it around.
Marcus: I just don't want people to get the wrong impression. It's not like the federal government where they just spend and spend and spend.
Tony: No, no, no, no, for sure, but you know what I'm saying.
Marcus: They can't really spend what they have.
Tony: Yeah, exactly. So it's just one of those things where I think we need to change the thinking of Mobile. I do think we have some great city officials. They're not terrible at all, but I think there also needs to be a conversation where it's like, "Okay, let's look around. Let's put somebody on our team that says this person's doing great for the community. This person's doing great for the community. This person runs their business correctly. They're all here in Mobile. One's in this corner, one's in this corner, one's in this corner. What if we bring them together to talk to us about how they feel and let's actually listen and see what happens?" because none of us up here have a business. Without the businesses, we can't thrive anyway. It's not even the fact where it's like you have to give them some money, but let's listen to what's going on in the community to know what's going on in the community.
I don't know. Again, I'm not a government official, so maybe small Tony, small Marcus, that's not my fight. I've got to fight this. I've got to fight this. Well, show me what you're fighting so we don't have to have these conversations. I think right now nobody knows what the city is doing, but making announcements on the news. How many jobs is that building going to bring? How many people from Mobile do we want to go? How many restaurants? How many clothing stores? So at least people can brainstorm. When they announced the airport, the first thing I did was I want to open up a store in the airport.
Marcus: Oh, cool. Well, yeah, now you probably don't want to, but-
Tony: No, but you know what I'm saying? They announced that building downtown. I want to have a business in that building, but everybody doesn't think like that because everybody doesn't know that they can. So I think that's another thing we say with hope. We've got to start showing people it's possible.
Marcus: Well, so I think you would agree with me in that. So I've had a business downtown since 2016, maybe 2015. Things have changed drastically.
Tony: For sure.
Marcus: In a good way.
Tony: In a very good way.
Marcus: So I think you and I are both saying the same thing in that we think people have been moving it generally in the right direction, but that there has been such a vast difference in where we would think that it would be versus where we've gotten. The difference between that is it's concerning.
Tony: I love the amount of entrepreneurs that Mobile has right now.
Marcus: There's no other city that I've been to that has the mentality of an entrepreneur like this one.
Tony: Local chains don't really have a chance here. Maybe that goes back to what we're saying. They may not be supporting it openly, but entrepreneurs are definitely popping up. Now if we say how long have they lasted, now we've got to figure out, "Okay, cool. We do a study on who did three years, who did five years, who did 10 years and why."
Marcus: Well, capital, I think capital is an issue.
Tony: I think we've got to go from A to B. We got a bunch of people at A starting. How do we retain them? Of course, it's not going to always be everybody, but you have to figure out, "Okay, cool." Again, back to Savannah, what percentage of their businesses stay for 10 years, 20 years? Let's just set some goals and see what happens. Again, that may not be a government issue, that may be somebody else's fight or you may not ever be able to put a person in charge of that division. I don't know. You really don't know the answers.
Marcus: There are some things that we can talk about off camera that I want to pull you into that may answer some of the questions that you're having and may give you a voice to some people that are beneficial, but the reason why one of this is this is the start.
Tony: Yeah, for sure.
Marcus: You and I are having this conversation and what's going to happen is somebody's going to watch this and we're going to have conversations with other people. This is just-
Tony: Somebody's going to say, "I hate Mobile and I don't."
Marcus: Believe me, we're going to post this video and 1,000 ... Listen, if you're that guy that's getting ready to say, "Mobile ..." just stop. Just don't even have a comment.
Tony: It's not going to work anyway.
Marcus: It doesn't work. Listen-
Tony: Again, actions speak louder than words. You know that I care.
Marcus: Yeah, because your actions show. You've been busting-
Tony: You've shown that I ... You can see every video, you can see what we've done in the community. So it's not like I'm saying this because I'm bad or I hate Mobile. It's because, again, we want more. I don't know how to fix it. I'm not-
Marcus: In today's day and age when cities are moving at the speed of which they are, now, granted, we do have some like the port is the fastest is growing port.
Tony: The port's good.
Marcus: There are some good things that are going and maybe we're just around the corner from all the things that we're looking for.
Marcus: I think it's that the thing that separates entrepreneurs from just the regular folks is not being satisfied, but not being satisfied and still being able to stay somewhat positive about it. So I'm not satisfied with my business, but things are going good, but I want to make some changes. I want to improve it. Mobile's the same. Things are going okay with Mobile. I like the direction in general that we're heading, but at the same time, there are so many problems that are deep-seated here that have to be addressed. I think the biggest one is the one of hope. I think if you could instill a level of hope in the people that are here, then the desire to leave to go to Nashville or Atlanta or wherever they end up would be less. I'm not saying that we wouldn't lose, but maybe the bleeding stops a little bit.
Tony: You're going to always lose somebody.
Marcus: Yeah, but for us to have some of the ... Man, names are really hard for me, but I actually literally had somebody, an intern working for me and I wish that I could remember his name.
Tony: I'm terrible at names.
Marcus: He's graduated by now because when he worked for me, I swear he came to one of my marketing events at the old location at 412, and I thought he was an adult. He was part of Carl Cunningham's-
Tony: Capital league.
Marcus: Capital league. Oh, my God, that guy was smart, a high schooler.
Tony: Carl's very organized. He's very methodical. He's really trying to teach young boys how to be men.
Marcus: He is an amazing human being. He should be applauded from here to wherever he wants to be applauded from for the work that he does because nobody's telling him to do that. He doesn't have any skin in the game, but somebody invested in him and he's doing the same. Mobile is full of people like that, but where I was going with that is that kid, and he's not a kid anymore, he's a grown ass man, he's gone. He left. He went to Atlanta. What's the historically, the HSBC in Atlanta?
Tony: HBCU Morehouse?
Marcus: Morehouse. He went to Morehouse. In the first year, Google, Netflix, all these people were after him because he was a brilliant young kid. He's never coming back to Mobile.
Tony: Never. Maybe for Mardi Gras.
Marcus: If we could keep people like that, if we could show them like, "Hey, listen, for one, do you have an idea? We'll support you. We've got an innovation portal down here."
Tony: I love the innovation.
Marcus: Let's figure out some way to get kids like that. I think also some of it is there's a lag. Mobile hasn't had things like that for the longest time, and now that we do, it's a matter of educating people on, "Hey, there are some avenues that you can go." They're still not where we need them to be, but Todd is doing a great job over there.
Tony: Oh, Todd is easily one of the top people in Mobile that I really genuinely like. He's so great to me. He cares. He wants more, but again, like you said before, a couple of years ago, I probably didn't even know it existed until I knew I needed to step out here and step out here. I started doing my research.
Marcus: Imagine if we keep kids like that in Mobile and they have an idea. For one, if they do get VC funding, that runway is way longer in Mobile than it is in LA or Atlanta or wherever because the cost of living here is lesser, the salaries are lesser and all that stuff. Now, granted, the salaries are pretty low here. They need to be higher. I don't know what's keeping that depressed, but that's probably for smarter people to figure out, but all that to say is it just seems like there's just a few little pieces. If we could just figure this out, then it changes things for the better for everybody.
We did the marketing for Bishop State for the longest time. I remember distinctly having a conversation with a professor that was over the semi-truck driving school. I was so impressed. It was an eight-week course, didn't cost a whole lot of money, and they almost guaranteed that if you graduated, you would have a job making $50,000 a year in trucking just locally, and that if you wanted to make the haul up to Birmingham, your pay would probably jump up to $80,000 a year or so, and if you did long travel, it was over $100,000 a year, but most people don't know about those kinds of things, but that's a life-changing, and it is just a short period of time that you go. Eight weeks? You can't go two months to learn how to drive a truck to make money that's going to change your life and your family's life forever, but it's just like, I don't know. There's-
Tony: There's a lot of unknown here, and I don't know why, especially with the power of social media. I think sometimes people just choose to be blind, but there's just a lot of unknown. I'm like you, I'm never satisfied. The only thing that makes me happy is progression. It's not even about-
Marcus: It's more about-
Tony: 11 to zero stores is progression to me.
Marcus: I love it. I so understand what you're saying.
Tony: I was telling my wife, it's so crazy when you talk to an entrepreneur and tell them sometimes you're like, "I got out of that building. I made it through my lease," and you're like, "Congrats on closing."
Marcus: It's like you got out on good time or something.
Tony: "Congrats on closing. Let's throw a party. You don't ever have to go there again." Because being an entrepreneur, it takes a toll on you, especially when you become a public figure.
Marcus: We're not tooting our own horns. I think both of us have gotten to that point.
Tony: Yeah, for sure. People know you.
Marcus: Me because I've forced it, and you because people just love your product.
Tony: So it's stressful and people don't take that stuff into consideration. I think that's why a lot of business owners and people from Mobile stay away from the spotlight because they know what comes with it. There's going to be some negativity and a lot of negativity, depends on what you're talking about. So I think they're just like, "I'm not dealing with this. That's not my fight." I get it, but I got way too much skin in the game now. I told Kristen my prayer all the time is, "God, just please don't harden my heart," because there's so many times where I've wanted to be like-
Marcus: Just fuck it.
Tony: "Oh, I'm going to give you all the blues today," but at the end of the day, it doesn't matter. I had an old employee text me today. Not to say we had the best relationship, but it wasn't great. Could I have said some stuff? No. Yeah, I could have, but what's the point? Me getting in a fight with you and aggravating and nitpicking, I still got to go to the warehouse and make some money today, I still got to pay my bills. So I'm just to the point now where I don't really overthink the situation. I'm Tony. I'm trying to be one of those business owners in Mobile that is here for a change and I'm going to continue to do my part.
I've been in a lot of rooms like you've been in a lot of rooms, met with a lot of people. Mobile's downfall to me is we get in these rooms, we have meetings, but then what do we do after? Again, we're starting at A, but how do we get to B? I have a lady that mentors me, and so we want to do a deal with Nike.
Marcus: Keep that thought. I'll go one step further. It's not that nothing happens, it's that roadblocks are set up in front of the people that are trying to enact that change because people like the way that it is.
Tony: They do.
Marcus: There is a sect of people in this area, and I'm going to generalize, they've been here for a long time, usually a little bit older and-
Tony: Most of the decision makers.
Marcus: ... money, this is the way it is and we just like it this way and it's fine. Those of us that travel and see things in other areas and want better lives for our kids and see the opportunities that they're missing because they live here versus going to someplace else, we don't want that anymore. We want it to be in a place where it's thriving and people are excited to be here and it's bustling and there's all kinds of opportunity and stuff like that. It's slowly coming. Manufacturing and stuff like that is bringing some of that here, but at the same time, it's like-
Tony: Got to get the B.
Marcus: ... there's so more opportunity there, but-
Tony: I want to sign a deal with Nike, they're going to say, "All right. Hey, I just gave away $50,000 worth of clothes during the holidays." "Congratulations, Tony. What impact did you make? What? Do you just want us to give away some toys?" So we had to reshape my nonprofit or we have different initiatives where we have result-driven things that we want to do with the community and the kids and the public school system. So that's how we reworked it because, again, you got to have results.
We want to say we created this program and this kid did this because of our program, and it's just like anything else. If you don't have results, what are we doing here? It's why you teach a person who's going to teach your kid how to swim. You're not going to go pick the person that's killed 10 kids. You know what I'm saying. For lack of words, I-
Marcus: That'd be good.
Tony: You know what I'm saying? I'm not going to go get them. If I'm going to get a baseball coach, I'm going to see what your record was. Alabama has got a new coach.
Marcus: If I'm going to go and get a mentor, I'm going to look at what their revenue numbers were.
Tony: Exactly. So everything has to be based on results, and I don't think anybody is looking at results. We're just looking at a bunch of numbers and it's like that meme where there's like the equal signs and plus and minus and two squared and all that type of stuff's on there.
Marcus: Well, just to wrap up because I want to be respectful of your time and I know we've been going for about an hour now.
Tony: We probably didn't touch any of the questions.
Marcus: I don't really care.
Tony: We'll do a part two. We'll do a part two one day.
Marcus: No, no, no. Here's where we go. We've got this new thing that we do. It's 12 rapid fire questions. You ready?
Marcus: Rapid fire. Favorite type of music?
Marcus: What's your favorite type of food?
Tony: Depends. I feed like a pregnant lady. Pizza's probably number one.
Marcus: There you go. Favorite restaurant in Lower Alabama. You're going to make some enemies.
Tony: That's a tough one. I'm going to say this. It's only because, again, I live way-
Marcus: West Mobile.
Tony: ... West Mobile, it's probably Poor Baby.
Marcus: Oh, I love ... Right now, have I not ever seen them?
Tony: Again, that's only because this is probably the furthest I've been out in four months.
Marcus: To come and see me? Oh, my gosh, dude.
Tony: Poor Baby is like, me and my wife are going to go on a date. We'll get back to your questions. I was like, "You want to go on a date Friday?" and she was like, "Yeah." I was like, "But I don't really want to get a babysitter because they're probably only going to be gone for an hour and 15."
Marcus: Yeah, and then quickly back home.
Tony: Yeah, and then quickly back home.
Marcus: Favorite city outside of Mobile?
Marcus: City you want to travel to but have yet to visit?
Marcus: What comes to mind when I say guilty pleasure?
Marcus: Dogs, cats or none of the above?
Tony: In real life, none of the above, but I got to go dogs. It's my wife.
Marcus: Summer or winter?
Marcus: Favorite movie or TV show?
Tony: The Office.
Marcus: Favorite holiday?
Marcus: Favorite color?
Marcus: Favorite cereal.
Tony: Frosted Flakes.
Marcus: So that's the end of the rapid fire, but I do have one more question for you. What are you most thankful for?
Tony: Being able to get up every day and do what I love. Even if you're not always rich, poor, whatever, but just having the freedom of being able to do what I do. I'm probably one of, maybe in Alabama where I have a clothing brand and I don't have to go to work anywhere else. That's rare in Alabama. All over the world, there's plenty of people that have a brand and that's their job, but so many brands, I'd say 99% of the brands in Alabama, you got another job. I don't have to do that. So I'm thankful for it every single day. I can make my own decisions.
Marcus: The freedom to sit and have this conversation would not be the case if we were not business owners, entrepreneurs and gone through some of the things that we've experienced.
Tony: Sometimes I'm like, "Damn, I should have stayed at Zoomies." I can't lie, but it's never-
Marcus: You know what? If you ever have that feeling, just text me and I'll remind you-
Tony: It's never a real thought, but I was kicking at Zoomies and I could have stayed and they wanted me to stay and they offered me a lot to stay, but there was one situation that they didn't handle correctly. I knew if they didn't handle the decision correctly, I couldn't stay because I knew it was going to cause me problems. I was eventually going to get fired anyway. So they just handled this situation completely wrong.
Marcus: You were just like, "That's it."
Tony: I was like, in the bed, "Kristen, do you want me to stay or you want me to leave?" "Let's go. Leave." Put my two weeks in that next day.
Marcus: Damn. If anything, you make decisions, that's for sure.
Tony: My wife doesn't really step in too much. She lets me, "Tony, you want go?" "Hey, babe, I want to go to space. Let's build a spaceship," but when she says no-
Marcus: Isn't that powerful?
Tony: Yeah. When she says, but when she says no to something, I know when to listen because she doesn't say no a lot.
Marcus: Golly, man, you got yourself a keeper there. I found myself one like that and I will never let her go because that is a rare thing to find, as a man to find a woman that believes in you and will allow you to go and do the things, especially as people that are built like us. Fortunately, Chrissy, she's the same. She's a business owner too, and so she gets it, but it was really just a weird feeling that first time when I was expecting her to say no to something, and she's like, "Well, if you think that that's ... I think that's a good idea." "You think that?" "Yeah, let's go." It was like she knew that there were risks. She knew that we may fail. She didn't care, "Let's go."
Tony: Well, she trusts me. She's like, "Our relationship is based on trust." She would assume that I'm not going to do anything that's going to be detrimental to our family relationship, "So why should I stop you? Because if you're doing something that's risking it all, we probably shouldn't be doing this anyway." Every decision I make is based on my family now.
Marcus: No, I get it. Listen, man, people can find you at secretscientists.com and all kinds of other places. Just search his name, he's around.
Tony: Just search it.
Marcus: I really, I do, I appreciate you taking the time.
Tony: No, I'll be back.
Marcus: Hell yeah, you will. All right, man. Thank you.
Tony: All right. Thank you.