In this episode of The Mobile Alabama Business Podcast, we sit down with Tony Davis with Secret Scientist. Listen in as we discuss how he got started in making his own clothing line, and what his next move will be (hint: It's downtown)!
Produced by Blue Fish
Tony Davis: My name is Tony Davis and I'm the owner of Secret Scientist Clothing.
Marcus Neto: Man, I love it. Tony, so glad to have you on the podcast, man.
Tony Davis: Thank you.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. The way that we normally start, because not everybody's going to be familiar with you is just by getting some backstory. Where are you from? Where'd you grow up? Did you go to high school here locally? Did you go to college? Are you married? Those kinds of things.
Tony Davis: Yeah, I graduated from Baker. Then I went to Spring Hill for two and a half years, played baseball, decided not to play baseball. Then I transferred over to South. It's a lot cheaper than Spring Hill. A lot cheaper than Spring Hill. Then I graduated from South and didn't really apply for any jobs. I'm not exactly sure what I was thinking at the time, because I definitely wasn't thinking about the future, but I was always in the clothes, loved clothes.
I guess as a graduation gift, my parents became my investor in my first boutique called Fly Times.
Marcus Neto: Very cool.
Tony Davis: Right out of college, I opened up a boutique on Government in Bailey Shopping Center, highway 90, Government area. Had Fly Times for three years and carried other brands. First person in the city with street wear. We were the leader in the state with the street wear, like Billionaires Boy Club, Diamond Supply, 10.Deep, the Snapbacks. We were the first in the state to do all of that, but mobile at the time was super slow, no social media.
Marcus Neto: Was?
Tony Davis: Yeah, it was slower, but it was pre-social media. Of course, it was a lot harder to get the word out there.
Marcus Neto: It wasn't like we had Amazon or anything like that.
Tony Davis: Yeah, or anything like that. Now, it's just a quick click, but back then it was literally word of mouth. I did that for three years. For me, I broke even. I'm sure my parents didn't break even, but then I bounced around retail jobs. I worked at a place called Von Maur. They have one in Birmingham, I had to wear suit and tie every day. Anybody that knows me know I don't wear a suit and tie.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, you're not a suit and tie.
Tony Davis: I had to wear a suit and tie every day there, got promoted. They moved me to Alpharetta, ended up not working out there, came down to Mobile and became the store manager at Zumiez, did fantastic at Zumiez. Store went from $600,000 to $1 million in one year, but then it just got to a point where I had to decide, am I going to do my brand or am I going to do Zumiez? Laid the bed one day and asked my wife, did she want me to open up a store or do you want me to keep working for Zumiez and get this promotion? Because I was about to get a promotion and she's like, "No, let's just open up a store." There was no thought into the store. Then, we just opened up.
Marcus Neto: I think it's interesting now that you're next door to Zumiez.
Tony Davis: That was definitely planned.
Marcus Neto: I was going to say, it's like, look at me now.
Tony Davis: No, no. It is not like that. I wasn't mad about the way I left, but-
Marcus Neto: I was just playing, but yeah.
Tony Davis: No, no. Honestly I wasn't mad at all. They wanted to keep me, they begged me, offered all kinds of perks, packages, but they didn't make the right business move within the district. They didn't get what I was trying to say I guess, or they were loyal to the wrong person, because now the whole thing has completely crumbled and I wasn't trying to shut shit down. I was literally just trying to tell them what was going on. I was the voice of the district.
I just left. I'm still in communication with all the top [inaudible 00:03:23], the district manager, regional manager, all those guys, the big wigs. They definitely still respect what I do. Zumiez carries my brand.
Marcus Neto: They do?
Tony Davis: Yeah, so I'll never ever say anything bad about Zumiez.
Marcus Neto: That is so cool.
Tony Davis: Full circle. They definitely carry the brand, but it worked out. It was a blessing in disguise, where I have direct contact to the buyers that other people don't have, because I worked at Zumiez. I knew all of the emails, I knew they wanted to do. Now Zumiez carries a brand as well. After Zumiez, we opened up a mobile in the middle of COVID and had a line of what maybe 300, 400 people, I think grand opening day.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, it was pretty impressive.
Tony Davis: 60,000 in the first three days off of some clothes in the middle of COVID, where people were wearing masks and stuff like that. Then here we are nine stores later.
Marcus Neto: That's just absolute ... you started during COVID?
Tony Davis: The stores? Yes.
Marcus Neto: I would admit, I thought that you had started prior to. This is all during COVID.
Tony Davis: First physical store was in July, of 2020.
Marcus Neto: Wow. That's a whole different ball of wax. For you to push forward, knowing what was going on. Was that calculated or just confidence or just dumb luck or?
Tony Davis: I don't really know. I don't know. I can say Dylan, Dylan's sitting here. I'm probably seeming very, very calculated to Dylan, but honestly once I just have an idea-
Marcus Neto: Some of it's just God.
Tony Davis: ... I just want to go for it. I tell people all the time, I don't know, I pray a lot. I've been doing this since 2009, I've made it here. Me and God have a better relationship than him just taking all this from me. I treat people good, I'm a good boss. I definitely follow, I treat people how I want to be treated. I just feel like I was just destined just to do clothes. It's worked out so far. Now, I use old experiences of stuff that I didn't think I was going to get out of, that I did get out of that I probably shouldn't have got out of.
I just use it as it's going to be okay, stay calm. Regardless, if you talk to any business owner, there's always going to be trials. Everybody only puts the good stuff online people. I don't know. That's why I don't understand why people focus so much on social media. It's only the good, nobody goes on there and talks realistic about the bad.
Marcus Neto: I know. If you do, then you're some unicorn or something like that.
Tony Davis: Yeah. That just became our story. We had 11 stores, we had two in New Orleans. We closed one of the New Orleans locations and then we had Dothan, but Dothan was super slow. We closed Dothan, so now we have nine stores.
Marcus Neto: Very good. That's still incredible that you were able to not only open a business, but expand during this time, because most people are feeling the crunch. Go back for me to your very first job when you were in middle or high school and tell me what the job was. Were there any lessons that you still remember that from that job?
Tony Davis: My mom is the director at Mount Heyburn, the church. She runs the school, the daycare and the summer camp. I think at 15, I had a summer camp job. Then, actually I did that for probably every summer, for 10 years. It's definitely made me a better parent. I was dealing with a 100, 150 kids, patience, patience, patience, just through the roof. My wife reads all the books on parenting. I'm like, "Trust me, I had real life situations going on." Then I worked at Arrow. That was my first job job. I had a friend of mine that I played baseball with that we were just 16. We only wanted to work together and stuff like that, but honestly what I took out of that is that people just ... it's sad to say there's a lot of bad people out there. People are entitled and it was just weird seeing the theft in Bel Air Mall and the way people try to return things after wearing it.
Marcus Neto: Who does that?
Tony Davis: It just doesn't make any sense to me, but it opened your eyes because growing up, I didn't steal. My parents were with me. I didn't want to steal. I was raised to not do bad. You don't know anybody's circumstances or what they're going through. Of course, it's never right to steal, but it just opened my eyes to the type of customer base that cities have and Mobile has to ... you got to protect your product and everybody's always mad at the big boss. They don't understand what goes into the back half of it.
Well, this person's probably got a bad attitude or aggressive, because they just have to catch somebody from shoplifting a second of go and their job depends on inventory and sales. You're taking out of their pocket. Every time you take that product, you're taken out of my pocket as a manager.
Marcus Neto: Or your product as a-
Tony Davis: Or my product as a whole, yeah. That was just my biggest thing. I always knew I wanted to become my own boss for lack of words. I took that more seriously when I had a job. All of the different folding, I knew I wasn't going to fold any shirts.
Marcus Neto: I lasted three days at The Gap.
I'm proud of that too. Actually, I don't even think I made it three days. I think I went in for work one day and all of the folding just got to me. Mind you, I fold laundry at home. It's no big deal, but there was just something about over and over. Then people coming in and just looking at something and throwing it down. Next thing you know, the whole store is disheveled and you just spent an hour clean.
I was just like, this isn't for me. But I've always loved clothes, which is why it was such a neat thing to be able to get you on the podcast. You are correct. One of the things that I've talked about here just recently is I just wish people would do what they say they're going to do. It used to be the words that come out of your mouth meant something. Really, if you just do what it is that you tell people that you do, then you stand out because there's so many people that don't.
Tony Davis: Exactly.
Marcus Neto: They just talk a bunch of mess and then next thing you know, they're screwing things up.
Tony Davis: It's definitely hard to trust people. It's a scary time in the world right now. Just people don't think long term, they don't care about tomorrow. It's the wildest thing to me, I'm always thinking about the future and some people are just living. I think this is a whole as a whole, just the climate and economy and things like that have changed-
Marcus Neto: Yeah, but is it just that? Because it's been like that for a while.
Tony Davis: I don't know. People always say things are worse now, but I'm just like, "Nah, things can get recorded now."
Marcus Neto: True, it's documented.
Tony Davis: Yeah, everything's documented now. I don't know.
Marcus Neto: There is also documented and they're proud of it. That's where it gets me, is just I'm much like you. I was raised just to do the right thing. Was it character is what you do when no one else is looking?
Tony Davis: Yeah.
Marcus Neto: Right, yeah. I was taught that's just not what you do. Now, you talked a little bit about starting the business, but where did all the ideas come for logo and stuff like that? Is that?
Tony Davis: My parents were actually the reason that I have my own brand. They were like, "Aren't you tired of selling other people's stuff and making other people rich when you can just sell your own brand?"
Marcus Neto: Smart parents.
Tony Davis: I was always like, "No, nobody wants to do that. I want the best street wear boutique in the world."
They were like, "Well, just sell your brand."
Back at that 2009, Wiz Khalifa curren$y, the whole smoke in the air, real street wear was big. Wrote a guy in Canada, I carried his brand in my store. He was a graphic designer and I was like, "I need this nerdy cool kid. That's really all I got for you." This was first take and he did it. I never changed it.
Marcus Neto: That's awesome.
Tony Davis: Literally one take, he just did it.
Marcus Neto: I tell people the story of blue fish, my oldest son was really into Nemo and he had one of those magnet doodles. Do you know what I'm talking about? Almost like an Etch A Sketch, but you can draw on it. He would draw fish all day long. One day he just drew a fish and I was like, "I'm going to use that."
Tony Davis: Another was thought out. My ex ex ex-girlfriend was in pre-med school and she was literally studying for the MCAT. I called her a secret scientist in conversation. And I was like, "I'm going to name a brand that."
Marcus Neto: That's cool.
Tony Davis: That's literally it.
Marcus Neto: It's funny that you say that, because that's the way business goes sometimes, isn't it? You're just in conversation with somebody and it just flows. We regularly have conversations, Chrissy and I, my fiance. Also, with our friends and we're always spit balling ideas and stuff like that. Occasionally, something just comes out and you're like, okay, well maybe we need to invest some time in this, because you never know what's going to take off. Now, if you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would tell them.
Tony Davis: Be patient. There's so much instant gratification nowadays that people just don't have the time to wait it out and wait to see what's going to happen long term. Just be patient, because it doesn't always work out. The way you think it's going to work, doesn't always go as planned. A lot of times people are like, well you opened up all these stores, but I didn't just start the brand. I had been doing the brand for 10 years before we opened all these stores. We talk about all the time, 10, 11 years to be an overnight success. That's just a cliche thing, but people don't understand all the work that we've put in.
Just be patient. In Mobile, the big thing is just, everybody's not your competition. You just need to do whatever you need to do to worry about your brand and your product. It's going to be fine. Going online, bashing another business is not going to give you more money. It's going to make you look like a bad business owner. Just focus on yourself. I tell people all the time, "Mind the business that pays you."
Marcus Neto: There's so much money to be made. I think so many times people, the analogy of the pie, is there a infinite amount of pie or is there just one pie, right? Because if there's just one pie, we're all competing for pieces of that, but I think that. I think there's plenty.
Tony Davis: We're in the United States of America. One thing they're always going to make is money.
Marcus Neto: For sure, yeah. That is for sure.
Tony Davis: It doesn't matter.
Marcus Neto: If it's good or bad.
Tony Davis: Yeah, good or bad. There're plenty ways to get money in America. They're going to print it. There's more billionaires now before than it was ever, based on everything that's happened. The money's never going to run out. You just got to find your way to get to the money.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, it's like a spigot. You got to find where to put that spigot and turn that faucet on.
What are you currently working on? Anything you can share with us?
Tony Davis: Yeah, so we just announced last week. I have a partner who already owns a CBD shop. I think he said he knows you or was reached out to you, Sidell Corley. He owns High Elevations. We're actually about to open up a bistro downtown. After I leave here, I'm actually going to sign the lease, where we're taking the old firehouse wine building. A red door. We'll be opening up a place called Coma. We're doing Coma, because you can get into food coma and we're also going to be serving CBD TAC treats and different things like that, since he already has a THC in his CBD shop. We're calling it Coma. You can get into a weed coma or a food coma, whatever.
Marcus Neto: Pizza place, bistro or?
Tony Davis: Pizza and wine, liquor, beer. That's it. We're going to probably focus on pizza, garlic knots, things like that, but definitely mostly simple pizza.
Marcus Neto: Nah, that's cool, because I don't think there's a pizza place.
Tony Davis: There's no pizza downtown.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, that's insane.
Tony Davis: Yeah. Super, super crazy.
Marcus Neto: There's only 10 pizza places down here.
Tony Davis: That's my next move. The clothes, I don't want to get away from the clothes, but I do eventually want to downsize. I've got a little boy, he's one. I don't want to miss anything. My parents didn't miss one baseball game from five to honestly college.
Marcus Neto: Do you think that you'll keep it going and just bring other people in to provide a layer of protection to you? Or do you think you will actually downsize it?
Tony Davis: We're definitely going to downsize. In the next five years, I'm really only trying to have one store, clothing store, but then also of course I'll be doing the bistro still. We've got another two or three other concepts we're going to work on, but I need everything close to home. Not that we have bad employees, when you can't just pop up and go, anything can happen.
We've got stores in Jacksonville and Huntsville, where I have to tell him I'm on the way. If something happens, I can't fix it. I don't like that stress anymore. We do have people in place. I don't go to the store at all. I don't run the day to day operations. I have a director, Kel, he handles all of the stores, talks to all the store managers, so we could keep it going, but ...
Marcus Neto: More headache than ...
Tony Davis: It's more headache, yeah. I'm not greedy, I've had my fun. I've done it. I'm cool sitting back, just watching my little boy grow up.
Marcus Neto: Time to spend that money on other ventures, that-
Tony Davis: Yeah, other things. If probably in four years, if I had four or five businesses just in Mobile, I'd be perfectly happy.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, I get that. I've oftentimes said that Blue Fish is the engine that allows me to do some of the other things that I want to do. I've made plenty of statements about wanting to get into real estate and do some commercial stuff down here. I also have some other business ideas. After a while and being an entrepreneur, this is interesting to us, but the startup is what's interesting. It's all the ideas, the creativity, the flow that happens when you grab onto something that's exciting, but then after a while that loses its flavor and I got to figure out what that next thing is.
Tony Davis: I was telling my wife the same thing. I was like, "Two years will be 15 years with clothes, but I feel I have so much energy for this bistro," and it's because it's new. I love the grind, the beginning. I love turning nothing into something, but the clothes itself, I can't be mad, I've been blessed. I've been in rooms I would've never been in if it wasn't for these clothes. Nice car, nice house, beautiful family.
The clothes have done what it needs to do, but like I said, I think as an entrepreneur, you always want that spark. When you stop feeling that spark, it's time to see [inaudible 00:17:22] what else I can do, find something else. Not to leave the other one behind, but I don't want to be stagnant either.
Marcus Neto: What did you study in USA?
Tony Davis: Marketing.
Marcus Neto: I was going to say you didn't say earlier I don't think.
Tony Davis: No, no, no. I've got a marketing degree.
Marcus Neto: But it absolutely makes sense, because your mind I think works very similarly to mine in that respect. I've done away with this question, because I don't think many people understood it, but I think you will. Who is the one person from the business world that you look to and you're motivated by them or what they have going on?
Tony Davis: There's this brand out of Chicago. This guy called Joe Fresh Goods.
Marcus Neto: Never heard of that, yeah.
Tony Davis: Honestly, probably in the south and not a lot of people have, but he is to me, the king of street wear. He worked at this boutique called Leaders in Chicago and it was the pinnacle of street wear. Started his own brand, created his own store. Now, he's just major, he did a collab with Nike for the Bears football Jersey. He does the New Balance collab, sells 1000s of pairs, sells out instantly. He just did a collab with Vans, he did a collab with McDonald's.
Marcus Neto: That's no joke.
Tony Davis: Nobody really still knows who he is, but he's fashion week hanging out with Kawhi Leonard and stuff in Paris and things like that. He's just himself. If we pulled up his page, he dresses like a wow man, puts on whatever he wants, but his name holds weight, he helps run ComplexCon.
For me, he gives me a lot of inspiration when it comes to doing collabs and things like that, just to go outside of the box. He's in Chicago and he's always talking about Chicago, such a small town. I'm always like, "Nah, nah. Joe, I do got you on that. You want to see a small town?"
Marcus Neto: See a small town, come to Mobile.
Tony Davis: Come to mobile.
Marcus Neto: Occasionally, it's a direct flight, but most of the time you're going to have to go through some place.
Tony Davis: Come to mobile, but that's just one business owner that I follow to see what they do, because I know he steps outside of the box, but of course in Chicago, it's probably a little bit more receptive to Mobile on certain things. There are some things that we want to do that we just can't do down here because it just doesn't have the market, but we definitely follow his mold. Honestly, no business owner for real. My dad's always been my go-to guy. My dad used to always tell me, "I know you play sports, but are you going pro? No? Well then you need to figure out how to own the team."
My dad's always line was like, "Do you want to play for the team or own the team?"
Marcus Neto: What does your dad do?
Tony Davis: He's an engineer.
Marcus Neto: Your dad is a smart ... your parents really pushed you in the right direction.
Tony Davis: Yeah. My dad was always, "How bad do you want it? Do you want to play or own?"
Marcus Neto: Did he always want to own his own business? [inaudible 00:20:08]
Tony Davis: My dad's just an engineer. He doesn't even have his own business.
Marcus Neto: No, I get that, but did he want to always own his own business?
Tony Davis: No, I don't know. Maybe he saw something to me that I didn't see, but he was always like, "You need to own the team. Don't play for the team. You think that a $100 million dollar contract is cool? The man who gave him $100 millions got to have some billions."
Marcus Neto: How do you argue with that, seriously? At some level, most parents would've pushed you to be the pro, but wise of him to be honest with you and say like, "No, I mean enjoy it, but use it for what it is a free ticket to school and figure out what the hell you're going to do after this."
Tony Davis: Yeah, own the team. He always instilled to me to be the owner. I'm sure parents are always say, "You're not listening to me," but I really was listening. [inaudible 00:20:52] That's always been my thing. I want to be the owner of the team.
Marcus Neto: You've mentioned Chicago a couple of times. Do you see that as the epicenter of street wear right now or is New York still?
Tony Davis: No, street wear's just weird right now. It's a lot different than what it was 10 years ago, 15 years ago, when we started. With social media, nothing's exclusive anymore. People can act like, "Oh, this pair of shoes ..." it's exclusive, but you still made 20,000 pairs. Back when we were doing street wears, we only made 100. You got to get it, but there's certainly great stores like Sneaker Politics. They've got to a location in New Orleans, I think Baton Rouge and Dallas maybe.
They're one of the old school street wear stores that have stayed alive and definitely changed up with the flow and the times and things like that, but they've done good. Nah, nothing's really exclusive anymore. The major players are there and then now you just got to figure out how ... it's a tell people with shoes. They're always like, "I want a shoe line." I'm like, "When did the last time a new brand in shoes got popular?"
Marcus Neto: I can't think of one.
Tony Davis: It's been the same brands.
Marcus Neto: I can't think of one.
Tony Davis: It's literally the same brand since forever.
I'm not trying to make you feel bad or don't go for your dream, but let's be realistic.
Marcus Neto: It's just not going to happen.
Tony Davis: It's not going to happen.
Marcus Neto: The amount of money that it would take to start a shoe brand is hundreds of millions of dollars.
Tony Davis: If Kanye complained about the doors and the things he had to go through, me, Tony definitely.
Marcus Neto: You're going to feel it.
Tony Davis: We need to feel it too. I tell them all the time, "You just need to be methodical about what you want to do. Do you want this to be a major player? You better get ready to just go with the flow and see what happens," because everything's branded now. Nobody is going to take Gucci's place. Nobody's going to take Versace's place. You know what I'm saying? Nobody's going to take the brand Bake. Nobody's going to take their place.
Marcus Neto: MCM, Louis.
Tony Davis: Yeah. MCM, Louis. They're not ... Nike's not going anywhere. What are you going to do? You're definitely going to have to get a piece of their pie, because they got the pie, the cake, the burrito, the taco, whatever food you want to call it. They got it all.
Marcus Neto: Or somehow get their attention, so you can work with them.
Tony Davis: Yeah, somehow get their attention. Yeah.
Marcus Neto: Humor me with this, because I've been to Sneaker Politic, an excellent store, New Orleans, but short of that, it seems like on the Gulf coast, if you want Bape or some older Air Jordan's or something like that, it's like, man, there is just nowhere.
Tony Davis: Nowhere.
Well, I think the crowd that grew up with the Bape and the 10.Deep and the Crooks, they've gotten older, but the generation behind them didn't really keep it going, because they don't care. I know kids that go by a fake Louis belt, and wear it because they still feel cool wearing this fake item compared to our $50 T-shirt.
Oh no, I don't want that. I'd rather just buy the fake to look cool. Now, if you don't have that brand recognition, it's going to be pretty tough, but honestly I have to order my Bape online. I just love Bape, Bape is ...
Marcus Neto: It's one of those brands that was ...
Tony Davis: I'm old school Bape, had to pay in yen.
Marcus Neto: Oh, damn. That's really old school.
Tony Davis: Yeah. When we used to order Bape, we just had to pay in yen. It was before they even switched over to USD. Yeah. I just fell in love with Bape.
Marcus Neto: I'll tell this story briefly because you've never heard it, but I wanted a pair of black and red Air Jordan's for the longest time since I was in middle school. I told Tony before he showed up today that I struggled with what I was going to wear, because obviously I wanted to show up a little bit, but then I got this interview with Bradley Burns in a little bit and I didn't want to come in with the camo pants and all black and some black and reds or something like that. Then have him show up and be like, "Who is this freak that's interviewing me?" Because it's the first time that I'm meeting him too, but at the same time, we won the Bishop state contract a couple of years ago. I had told myself that if we won that contract, that I was going to buy those shoes.
They were $450 or something like that at the time. Not cheap, but not terribly expensive either. We won the contract and months later I still had not bought those shoes. My fiance was like, "Listen, you need to go and buy those shoes." I was listening to a podcast and I can't remember which one it was, but the guy was basically saying, "If you dangle a carrot in front of your face and you don't reward yourself with that carrot when you actually achieve the goal, then you will ultimately burn out, because you will not trust yourself." There's no benefit to you for good and doing all the things that you're doing because you're lying to yourself.
So, I bought the shoes. Well, that was 12 pairs later. You know what I mean? It's like a dam that opens up, but I do. I love some of the older stuff, the Superstars, the Adidas, because I grew up Run DMC and all that stuff. My affinities usually go towards Vans, Adidas, Air Jordans, that kind of thing, but I have a great appreciation because Bape has been around for a long time. I've got some MCM stuff. I've got some Louis stuff, but I like the experience. I like knowing that that's real. I think that most people that buy that stuff, they like that as well, because there's something about achieving that goal of, Hey, I just bought myself a pair of Louis sunglasses or something like that, because they're not cheap.
Tony Davis: The quality's actually really good. People are always like, "I can't believe you spend that much money on." I'm like, "The quality's actually fantastic." Well, I do. I wear a lot of designer, but there's not a lot.
Marcus Neto: It's the attention to the detail that most people don't recognize, you're going to recognize, because [inaudible 00:26:24].
Tony Davis: I know it's rubbed off on the people around me because now Dylan, who's sitting here, if I wear a shirt, let me touch it. He wants to know how it feels. Dylan loves Kith. We love Kith to death, but we love Kith as a brand more than their clothing. Dylan went to the store and of course, like you said, the experience, fell in love even more because of the experience inside of the store. My wife loves Gucci, because "Hey Ms. Davis," when she walks in. [inaudible 00:26:51].
Yeah, because it's Gucci, but the service that you get inside of the store is impeccable.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. If you've never experienced that, you walk in and it's amazing.
Tony Davis: She loves "Oh hey, Ms. Davis, here's my receipt. Here's your telephone number, call me if you need me." The personal shopper may call her and say, "Do you want this?" I think it's out of control that they're calling her, but of course let her do whatever she wants to do, but it is the service. A lot of things that the higher end brands do we mimic. We're going to put the letter inside of all your packages and things like that. Anything to give us that competitive edge, we're going to do.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. You beat me to the question. I was going to say, if you love those brands, how do you as a business owner bring that experience to what is not ... it's not necessarily a luxury brand.
Tony Davis: No, no, that's fine.
Marcus Neto: $50 for T-shirt is not inexpensive as well, but it's not $400 for a T-shirt.
Tony Davis: No, I tell people all the time, you have to ... I was talking to somebody today I think. I was like, "Look man, you're in Mobile. I understand what you want to do, but you still need to understand the market. Can I go into Bel Air Mall and do a whole rack of $500 T-shirts? Absolutely not," because there's no place in Mobile that this person can wear this for somebody to know or care about this $500 T-shirt.
Marcus Neto: It's interesting that you've look at it from that perspective. Okay, that makes a whole lot more sense than the way I've heard it explained before.
Tony Davis: Well, I don't have a choice because even if I go to the club and I've still got on this $400 T-shirt, how many people in this club in Mobile can afford a $400 T-shirt regularly?
They need [inaudible 00:28:21]-
Marcus Neto: They're not going to wear the same thing.
Tony Davis: They're not going to wear the same thing anyway. Once I wear this $500 shirt that's says Burberry, I can't wear it too many more times, because they're going to be like, "Damn, do you have another Burberry shirt?"
Marcus Neto: Yeah, somethings getting [inaudible 00:28:34], man.
Tony Davis: Yeah, exactly. The high end brands, you're not going to wear it too many times anyway, outside of the shoes that you may not still wear, not even that many times. If my flagship would say Atlanta, I could try some things, but I'm very, very confident in making a good amount of money in Mobile and I can sell a $35, $40 T-shirts and still make people feel like they have the luxury brand within the market.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. No, it's really cool. Amazing that you've seen that space and that you're cognizant of that.
Are there any books, podcasts, people or organizations that have been helpful in moving you forward along this journey?
Tony Davis: It's been tough only because again, I'm in Mobile. I can read somebody's story in New York-
Marcus Neto: But it doesn't [inaudible 00:29:26].
Tony Davis: I can't relate to it, because the things that you have access to, you have a manufacturer probably in New York. You have the screen printer that's printing for a bunch of brands in New York. When I first started, Rick's Sporting Good's printed all my stuff. That was only because park ball. I knew Mr. Rick, because he made all our park ball jersey. I've known him from five.
Marcus Neto: That's great, man.
Tony Davis: So, I didn't have anybody here. We're the forefront, Secret Scientist is that leader, the brand. We started all these brands, all the people that have brands now, you just shop in our stores and still shop in our stores. Before us in Mobile, even in Alabama, there was no lesson plan, no guidance whatsoever. It's cool to read a good story, but even when I say Joe Fresh Goods, I can email Vans as many times as I want, but once I say Alabama, they're like, "Ah ..." We have to be more of a shower than a teller down here.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. It's interesting, because Bel Air has had issues, restaurants coming in and then ultimately having to leave. Now, some of that obviously was due to COVID, but Mobile is an interesting market. For outsiders to come in here is extremely difficult, but have you learned any nuggets of wisdom for doing business in Mobile?
Tony Davis: I just love that Mobile's localized. They're never going to let another brand come to this city and take over. They're going to buy more Secret Scientist to make this other person know this isn't happening here, we're very localized. I was about to get this bigger building on Airport for a restaurant and they kept saying, "Well, this big chain wants it. This big chain wants it." I was like, "I don't think y'all understand what I'm saying." I can make $1 million dollars a year inside of a store in Bel Air Mall when the only other people making $1 million dollars a year is Bath and Body Works, Belk, Dillards, Pandora.
They're selling high price items. This Pandora bracelet could be $100. I'm selling a $29 T-shirt and I can make $1 million dollars this year. They support local, stop worrying about the big chains. The PF chains lasted ... what? A year maybe? [inaudible 00:31:32] to Brazil, not even a year. I think sometimes they want to bring these major players in, but in these small markets, they love the home. They love hometown success.
Marcus Neto: Well, then you said the following question. One of the things that we've always tried to do as an ad agency, and one of the reasons why this podcast exists, besides just telling people stories and sharing some good news is that we want to pave the way for other business owners. My next question is what's the most important thing you've learned about running a business? I guess anything that you might say about getting started in Mobile. Well, is there that you would say to somebody that was starting a business in Mobile that would be different than somebody starting a business anywhere else? Does that make sense?
Tony Davis: Ask for help, because the people that can help you are an easier reach and the people that be able to reach you ... than you able to reach in a bigger city. The top dog in New York doesn't care about the little guy starting his brand, but say somebody wanted to start a brand and Secret Scientist is the biggest brand in Mobile? You can find me easy.
Use your resources, ask the questions that you need to ask. Again, like I said, don't make it a competition and don't get emotional. You'll need to say, "Oh, Tony sold 1000 T-shirts," but Tony's been doing this for 12 years. You sell your 50, they get to 75, they get to 100 and you're going to see a profit. I know you'll see a profit, because that's where I started as well. Trust me, you don't want the bills and the headaches that I have. I spend $25,000 every Friday on payroll.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, I feel you, because I'm there with you.
Tony Davis: Just ask the right questions, you're in. If this is not where you want to be, then just move away and go somewhere else, but complaining about how small Mobile is and saying favoritism and things like that, it's just not going to help you.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. You got to be a little bit more creative and figure out how to make it work.
Tony Davis: Yeah, how to make it work, because if you're here, it's no point in complaining about ... you not moving, so you might as well figure it out here. You can't go anywhere and people are always like, "Well, my brand did so much better in Houston." Maybe Houston also has 5 million more people than Mobile. Of course, you should be doing better than somewhere that has 250,000 people. I think a lot of times people are just unrealistic and don't understand the market.
Marcus Neto: Well, that and I also think that people are really quick to tear down the people that came before them, instead of applauding them and saying, "Thank you for paving the way," and asking them for help, because you're not the competition, like you keep saying. My competition isn't the other ad agencies in town. My competition is me.
Tony Davis: Is you.
Marcus Neto: Am I doing everything that I can to be the best? Because if I'm the best, then there's really no other way that they would choose to work with anyone.
Tony Davis: Then I try to tell myself, how do you characterize the best? What's going to make you feel like you're the best? When more people are buying your clothes than mine or more people are tweeting about your stuff than mine?
Marcus Neto: That's a no win situation.
Tony Davis: Well, a lot of people you ask them, they're like, "Oh, well I don't know." Then you're trying to be something you don't even know what the end game is or what you want to be. You might as well just be the best to you, because you can't be me. I can't be Dylan, I can't be you, I can only be me. Once I start trying to be somebody else, the problems are going to happen. I've run into those things. Again, I see certain brands in bigger cities and my stuff's better than theirs. Then I have to step back and realize-
Marcus Neto: That's not what it's.
Tony Davis: This is not what it's about. I think ... I don't want to say jealousy is a human trait that people just have, but it is. You see something and you want it and you automatically assume I can do this, but first let me tear them down to get there. It just doesn't have to work like that. Like we said earlier, their pie is a lot bigger than people think. It's going to take a lot for the pie to run out.
Marcus Neto: If people take one thing out of this podcast, it would be just be that. Don't feel like you have to tear other people down in order to be, make yourself successful. Because that is actually a very fast way to end up at the bottom of the heap. We've done this podcast. You weren't charged anything to be here. It's an hour of your time, which I know is not cheap, but at the same time, we're giving exposure and all that other stuff, but we do that because we just want to celebrate the business community.
We just want get this good news out there. I don't need to tear anybody down in order to ... I want to applaud people and put them up on this pedestal and say, "Hey, this is a really hard business that we all go into being an entrepreneur and hears somebody who's made it. By the way, you can too."
Tony Davis: Yeah, we did the same thing with that. We came up with this SS For Everyone campaign. We did ... what? 25 maybe, something like that. 25 businesses in Mobile, shot a trailer with them, went to their location. We'll do season two, we'll do it here, Dylan.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. That's awesome.
Tony Davis: We literally, we didn't get anything out of it. Didn't charge anybody. We highlighted 25 business owners, their brand, their store, their craft, whatever they wanted to do. Then in March? Was it March we did the event? February or March, we did an event at Fort Conde. I paid for everything, I took a $10,000 loss. I brought all these people together and connections were built. Some people have gotten investments from this, this person invested into this brand and things like that.
For me, I don't care. I just felt like Mobile needed something to bring a lot of business owners together, because a lot of times ... and it's not to knock the magazines and books and things that are here. A lot of people just aren't privy to everybody and the different demographics and things like that.
Marcus Neto: For sure. They help bring us out of the bubbles that we normally live in.
Tony Davis: We used everybody, white, Black, Asian, every single different type of demographic. We really ran with the SS For Everyone campaign and it worked out well with us, because there's just not a lot of rooms in Mobile where everybody comes together as a whole. There's a clique here, a clique here, a clique here.
Marcus Neto: That's really powerful, dude. For what it's worth, I'm not from here, but everything that I do is about trying to bring people together. For you to also done that, that's impressive.
Tony Davis: We had I think 150, 200 people, all business owners just networking. It was fully catered at Fort Conde. The hood street, where brand's doing something at Fort Conde, people probably don't even know you can rent out Fort Conde.
Marcus Neto: It's too funny.
Tony Davis: I'm trying to make the brand as big as possible, just because we wanted to Access magazine party. Access magazine feels like they can come to me and feel okay. Tony's a street wear brand owner, we don't usually do this, but he's in Mobile. He's got to be one of the 50 under 50.
I have to be right. It's not to toot my own horn, but in Mobile, Alabama, I have to be one of the most notable faces in Mobile. Even if you don't know me, you definitely know my brand. We're just trying to put it in people's face as much as we can, so everybody can see it's okay to talk to this person. It's okay to talk to this type of person.
I've sat at the restaurant and had beer with the mayor before. He's came to shop in our store. Nobody thinks ... he wouldn't let us try see what he tried on. He wouldn't come out of the dressing room, but even the mayor came to our store and things like that. In Mobile, there's not a lot of people that can transcend across the board. I think with us as a brand, our goal is we want not everybody in the city to wear our brand, that's just unrealistic. Some things you just don't like, but to give other people the confidence I can approach this person and not be nervous or scared that they're going to say, "No," just because of the way I look, because there's so much of that going on right now.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. Street wear and skin color is obvious, but street wear doesn't necessarily connotate ... I'm sure back in the '80s with the Crypts and all that stuff. Yeah, that street wear had a connotation to it, but anymore, it's just a celebration of music and culture and artistry and stuff like that, and comfort.
Tony Davis: Yeah, comfort.
Marcus Neto: Because most of the time, it's a hell of a lot more comfortable. This is the hardest question I'm going to ask you all day. How do you like to unwind?
Tony Davis: At 7 o'clock, I take my first edible. Max is my wife, is the perfect parent. My son hasn't slept in the room with us since he was six months. He sleeps seven to seven. She's got him on the shoes routine. I know at 6:30, it's bath time. I know the first edibles going in at 6:30, 7 o'clock. Then at about 8:00, I'm going to take me another gummy from Sidell, from High Elevations, a nice little CBD. Then, that's literally it.
I don't even take the edible and the gummies just because I want to be high. I have to, to sleep. If I don't take it, my minds just on go always. I can't sleep. I'm super, super anxious.
Marcus Neto: Same.
Tony Davis: Really, I spend a lot of family time. Like I told you, and Dylan can tell you that, when you saw me other night, that's probably my first time going out in four or five months. I just stay home. I really like spending time with my son and my wife. That's my peace. I guess throughout the day, I don't really get a lot of peace, because you have 60 employees. There's always something that's going to happen.
Marcus Neto: You don't get a lot of peace, because of what's going on in your brain, [inaudible 00:41:22].
Tony Davis: In your brain.
Marcus Neto: You can't turn it off.
Tony Davis: You never can turn it off.
Marcus Neto: People just don't understand that. But if you're not a business owner, you're always worried about cash flow and insurance and projects and clients. Oh, they've got ... you know what? I'm literally having conversations with people because we have a client that's giving us a lot of business. If you're a service-based industry or a provider and somebody gets too big, well, if they decide to leave, what happens?
All that money goes with them. Then you're either letting people go or whatever. It's always this constant balancing act of now I've got to bring in a lot of other business to balance out this other client that wants to give ... Even people would look at that and think, oh, that's a blessing. Nah, man. It's a stressor.
Tony Davis: Oh, I was telling somebody, I think today I was like, trust me. You do not want these problems I have right now. But no, I wind down. I sit at the house and watch First 48. They can tell you ... I watch First 48 and there's got this new show about women getting abducted, called Text Me When You Get Home.
Marcus Neto: I haven't seen that one.
Tony Davis: A&E and I can't even allow Lifetime shows.
Marcus Neto: The stuff there, man.
Tony Davis: I stay to myself. Me and my wife, we bought this new home within the last two months. We wanted a house with a pool and all that type of things. That's what I got. I really-
Marcus Neto: You're never leaving now.
Tony Davis: No, I never leave the house. I don't even go to the warehouse. My team is so good that two, three times a week ... last week, I don't think I went to the warehouse one time. The business still ran, because I've got my people that's been with me for such a long time. We've got a routine now.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. That's awesome. Well, tell people where they can find you.
Tony Davis: You can follow Secret Scientist clothing on Instagram, Secret Scientists on Facebook. Twitter I think is SS clothing. My Instagram is Life of Tony.D. I don't post too much, I'm trying to post more. We're trying to build more content. Everybody says, I got to build more content because now-
Marcus Neto: Hence Dylan.
Tony Davis: Yeah, Dylan. Now, that what people say that your brain follows you as a person now. People want to know who's behind the brand. I always use the story of Alani. I don't know if you've heard of Alani Nutrients. Alani, it's an energy drink there and they have their own vitamins and gems and things like that. They've got their own seltzers now. They're creating their own CBD. They've created their own mushrooms, but the couple's a young couple, but my wife was big on Alani before they blew up for lack of words. She loves Alani, because of the couple. She calls them by their first name and she just never met them in their life.
She'll say something like, "Who are you talking about?" "The Alani people," but there's plenty of people online that people follow and they see them grow up. Now, my wife posts Max, my son, so much that people write her and is like, "Oh, I love seeing Max grow up. Please don't stop posting Max."
That's what we're focusing on now. My content, I guess, as a business owner to make it be more relatable. If somebody in Mobile can say, "Well, there's a guy Mobile ... he's done something nobody's ever done before, but he's still in Mobile. He didn't have to leave to become who he is."
That's what we're trying to illustrate to people. Enjoy where you are. At the end of the day, tomorrow, you don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. I could get up and move right now if I wanted to, I could go to Houston. I could go to Atlanta. I could go to Miami, but-
Marcus Neto: Your business would blow up.
Tony Davis: For what?
I'm the big fish here. I don't need to go anywhere and be the small fish in a pond. I can get in any room I need to in Mobile and I can pick a place in the world to go travel when I want to. All of that fast life and big city life, you're going to spend a lot more money if you just travel there.
Marcus Neto: I'm 100% agree.
Tony Davis: Just travel there. At one point, me and my wife were thinking about moving to Houston. I went one time and I was like, "I had way too much fun. I can't live here."
I can't, there's no way. I couldn't even afford to have this type of fun. Now, I've already set the tone of the fun I want to have.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, it's going to be bigger.
Tony Davis: No, we're going to go back to Mobile and come back here every other month if we want to and have a blast whenever we want to. Yeah, that's where I'm at.
Marcus Neto: It's a smart man.
Tony Davis: Yeah. The account looks a lot better when you wake up and see your account before you left and then after you left. You're like, "Ah, I should have probably rethunk that a little bit."
Marcus Neto: Anytime you leave this area to go someplace else, that's usually the result.
Tony Davis: Yeah. The cost of living so much cheaper here. You get a bang for your buck. I don't know, Mobile just has a weird stigma now where people, they don't support Mobile. They want Mobile to do these things, but then when they bring these things, we don't show up.
Marcus Neto: Support local, man.
Tony Davis: Support the locals. Everybody's always complaining about, "Well, Bel Air doesn't have this, we need a Sax. We need a Macy's," but y'all ain't spending the money in Bel, so why would you make them bring a Sax?
Marcus Neto: Yeah. It's so disappointing.
Tony Davis: Mobile's got that thing, surge coming.
Marcus Neto: I haven't heard about that.
Tony Davis: [inaudible 00:46:22], he bought the old belt. It's like a Dave and Busters. He actually owns the belt part of the mall now. We'll see if that happens. I saw the post yesterday where they said they may bring Top Golf.
Marcus Neto: I saw that too.
Tony Davis: Where Hollywood Theater is, but I don't even know why they did that because you don't even know if that's going to happen. Now you've got all these people commenting on this post. "Can't wait, can't wait, can't wait." Top Golf hasn't announced that they're coming to Mobile, Alabama.
Marcus Neto: If it does come, will it be PF Chang's, where it's here for half an hour and leaves?
Tony Davis: Or will it be all virtual? We don't even know if the land over there is big enough for them to have the big ass Top Gold location. I think Mobile just needs to really start supporting Mobile.
What I saw the other night at the Access magazine party was fantastic. Maybe, probably because I am a homebody a little bit, but just all those different walks of life and all those different people, business owners that I had never even come across were just in one room having a good time. I don't think that gets highlighted enough in Mobile. Y'all are looking for something to do where the tickets $20, bucks you could have went and had a blast.
Marcus Neto: It wasn't ... Yeah. [inaudible 00:47:27]
Tony Davis: If you walk in, they give you a seltzer. Two of those, I got my money's worth already. I think people just aren't privy to also going against the grain and stepping in a room they're not used to being in. A lot of people don't like being uncomfortable, but in business you got to be uncomfortable for success.
Marcus Neto: It is the only absolute in businesses, being uncomfortable.
Tony Davis: Being uncomfortable. There was a point in my life where I felt like, okay, cool. I'm comfortable. I was like, nah, I want some more. That number in your account that you want change is once you hit the number in your account.
Marcus Neto: 100%, that's a sliding goal, because the more you make, the more realize that wasn't the right number. You said something, I just want to highlight that and then we'll wrap up, but this idea of supporting local. If you're from here, making something that we can all be proud of and stuff like that. I just think that resonates. I think people are going to grab onto that and really take that to heart, but I just wanted to say, I thank you again for coming on the podcast to wrap up any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share.
Tony Davis: We always tell people to bet on themselves. It doesn't necessarily mean be the entrepreneur, wherever you're at, bet on yourself and do the best job you can be, because then you can walk into a room and make demands. I tell people all the time, I was the store manager at Zumiez, but we went from last in the district to first in inventory. We went from $600,000 to $1 million. We had the lowest turnover, I promoted people to manager. When I walk in and say, "I want a raise," I've got the paperwork and numbers to show you that I deserve raise.
Marcus Neto: There was no other answer than, "Yes."
Tony Davis: That doesn't mean that because I'm not entrepreneur I can't bet on myself, but I still wanted to be the best store manager at the time, because I didn't know what was going to happen three years later.
Marcus Neto: There's a guy that's created a term for that entrepreneur. Instead of an entrepreneur, an entrepreneur, so somebody that is on staff at a company, but still has the mindset of entrepreneur and wants to do everything that they can to support the business.
Tony Davis: I don't know. My parents just told me when they raised me, no matter what you're doing, you need to be good at it.
Marcus Neto: Be the best.
Tony Davis: You want to be the best at it. Why would you just want to be mediocre, when everybody has the ability to be the best?
Marcus Neto: To be amazing.
Tony Davis: Too many people complain when it's just, they don't see things for face value. You have again, unrealistic expectations for your work ethic and the job and things like that. They don't ask questions. If you want more, ask your boss. Hey, what do I need to do to get to this position? Now you have a scale where, Hey, I did this, this, this, this, this. Like you said, the word means something, because if you don't do what you said you were going to do, I can't even trust you anymore, because I did everything you asked me to do.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, for sure.
Tony Davis: A lot of people don't want the measurables, because again, once they get the measurables, then they can get critiqued as well.
Marcus Neto: Well, they have to perform as well.
Tony Davis: They have to perform. For me, I was never scared of performance. I'm always like, let's do it. Give me this number or give me this goal. Let's hit it, because I'm always the person that keeps stuff in my back pocket where I can say, "Okay, I did it. So, let's go, what's up?"
Marcus Neto: Yeah. I was always the same way as well. I always say my father told me that be the best garbage man you could be. If that was what you ended up being. Well, Tony, 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.
Tony Davis: Oh, yeah. Same, thank you.
Marcus Neto: Yeah.