From scalping football tickets in college, experimenting with an interchangeable watch brand deal with Groupon and, finally, to creating a one-man business that earns over $3 million in yearly revenue, Cory Stout is clearly no stranger to entrepreneurship.
Woodies sunglasses have become one of the fastest growing products, earning their founder and creator a monthly salary of $250,000. Sold on their branded website as well as Amazon, you can grab a pair of these popular wood framed rims for around 25 bucks.
But Stout’s journey to business success started way before Woodies were even a thought in his young mind.
In his youth, Stout studied as an economics major at the University of Florida, a place where he would learn the analytical skills used to understand how households, firms and governments make economic decisions, comparing costs and benefits in an effort to maximize their impact.
However, Stout admits that his real business experience was created outside of school – on the streets, selling game tickets (scalping).
Scalping is the process of selling a ticket for a price higher than the original. According the statistics, some brokers resell tickets at prices over 1000% of the face value.
As a young businessman, Stout would pre-purchase tickets for Florida football games and then resell them on game day when they were in high demand.
But selling tickets was not without its faults.
“I had people steal my tickets, I had people try to muscle me off popular corners.”
But Stout says these negative experiences are what really taught and shaped him into the businessman he is today. “The best thing about this experience was all the times I was told no.”
Through his ticket-selling, Stout learned a valuable lesson that he carries with him to this day: Persistence is key.
He advises that no matter how many times you are turned down, you will eventually find your customer. And his profit would come to reflect this mindset.
Stout recalls that some days he would return to his dorm room with as much as $5,000 in his pocket, having started that day with only $500.
This success was not without its trial and error with rainy days limiting customers and competing ticket-sellers taking his potential profit. But, in general, Stout was well on his way to a nice chunk of change that would help run his next major project.
The Trip to China
Perhaps the biggest turning point in Stout’s career was his insightful trip to China.
Stout recalls making a lot of friends over the course of his ticket-selling career, including his future best-friend and the reason he ended up in Asia in the first place.
“He went to China to study International Business and I went out to visit him a year later,” Stout says.
During his time in China, Stout gained first-hand experience with Chinese entrepreneurship, with an insider’s view on the process of making and selling a profitable product.
After a mere six weeks spent in one of the largest markets in the world, his idea of TIKKR was born.
The Interchangeable Watch Band
Having the opportunity to watch how the most popular products in the world were made gave Stout the inspiration he needed to begin his next big product: TIKKR.
TIKKR, an interchangeable watch band, was created with the money Stout had earned selling those game tickets month after month back in college.
Upon bringing a batch of these watches back to America, Stout decided to test the waters. As an experiment, they passed out the watches to every bartender at a bar in Austin, Texas – for free. Stout recalls, “It wasn’t 15 minutes until we had a line of people offering to buy watches from us.”
The watches gained popularity fast and suddenly Groupon was in the picture, selling the young entrepreneurs $3 product for $32.
The watches were doing well – in fact, he had sold two thousand over the course of one business day – but a batch of late shipments and upset customers set his business, and career, back to the drawing board and, in turn, back to China.
But that small failure was a blessing in disguise.
“We always had the first look at products coming out of China because we were always watching the markets in Guangzhou.”
And with the rise in popularity of wooden sunglasses, Stout saw his opportunity.
Woodies – The Process
In order to bring Woodies to life, Stout needed a manufacturer. He visited a variety of suppliers in China and settled on one he felt comfortable with after viewing their equipment and talking with the manager – who spoke English nonetheless, a major plus for business conversation.
Stouts next goal was to craft a Kickstarter campaign, having seen the success the website had brought to various other businesses.
But how was he going to set himself apart from other entrepreneurs? By hiring Kendall Jenner of course.
After a long phone call with her agent, Stout managed to book Jenner for the Kickstarter for $25,000, “just about all the money I had in the world,” he says.
But it soon became evident that the money he was willing to spend would be worth it – a hundred times over.
The Kickstarter did well enough for Stout to end up selling Woodies on Amazon. With this business change came a new supplier and, eventually, a new product.
Originally made from real wood, Woodies were now being manufactured with plastic frames with a wooden design. While the real wood was original, there were outstanding warranty issues as the material wasn’t durable enough. In addition, plastic frames are much less expensive to produce.
The Plan and Moving Forward
Stout says that Amazon has been a major asset in the success of Woodies, giving him around 100 new customers daily. And the company only continues to grow. Stout accounts that Woodies earned nearly $4 million in sales in 2018 alone.
And while this doesn’t necessarily result in major profit – in fact, Stout says he only counts about 10% of those earnings as ‘real profit’ – it’s still hard evidence of the stability of Woodies and it’s continued potential on Amazon.
Even with offers from Ebay, Walmart and other major retailers, and his own SEO and marketing experience, Stout has stuck with Amazon and says he will continue to do so.
In regards to acquisition, selling on Amazon equates to very little cost. “If I tried that on my own, it would take a TON of work and it wouldn’t be effective,” he says.
Stout even went so far as to write a strategy guide for Amazon, beneficial for anyone attempting to sell on this popular marketplace.
It’s evident that trial and error, experimentation and a pure love for business can take a ticket-selling college student and then him into a multi-million dollar businessman.
His biggest advice for hopeful businessmen and women? “Pick something that you’re going to enjoy selling/talking about nonstop.”