College Students Start Country Merchandise Business

Recently married college students in Central Texas, Matt and Tiffany Watson were trying to find a way to pay back their student loans.

One day, Tiffany had an inspiration after noticing someone selling purses online and advertising on Facebook. It was risky, but she ordered some camouflage purses from wholesalers with the little money they had and began trying to sell the merchandise to customers looking for unique, country-style items.

At first, she didn’t expect the business to be much more than a side hobby. But soon, things started taking off.”

At first, she didn’t expect the business to be much more than a side hobby. “I wanted an extra $20 a month to just go to Subway or McAllister’s once a month,” she said.

But soon, things started taking off. The Facebook page for their new venture, All Things Country Apparel and Accessories, grew steadily to 100,000 likes over the first year, then suddenly picked up speed. In just five months, the page’s likes doubled, reaching 235,000 this summer. The orders kept coming in.

“It’s turned into a full-blown, online, full-time job business,” said Matt. They can now live off the money they make from All Things Country.

As interest has grown, the couple has continued to add new products to keep customers interested. “I don’t want just a few things, I want a variety of things,” said Tiffany. “Not everyone likes the same things.”

Matt showed me some of the bullet jewelry they had recently been designing. “We use a dremel to cut the tops of them off, we sand them down to make them real fine, and we put backings on them to turn them into earrings.” The couple has also been experimenting with custom-designed Mason jars and iPhone cases.

Matt and Tiffany manage the entire business out of a small but exquisitely decorated back room in their house. Though packed full of boxes and merchandise, the room seems to welcome you in. It’s important to have this atmosphere in the “office” because of the incredible amount of time they spend processing each day’s orders.

It’s not easy for these new small business owners, especially while enrolled in college classes and taking care of their newborn son. Tiffany spends most of the day checking orders, packaging the merchandise, and shipping out packages to keep up with the ever-increasing demand. Matt helps out part-time; he is trying to focus on business classes that will come in handy down the road.

The government has also made it more difficult for them to do what they love doing. The couple realized they needed to register for an Employer Identification Number and a Sales Tax Identification Number in order to sell merchandise. These extensive processes required filling out many forms, registering with the state, and sometimes even hiring an attorney.

“It’s time and it’s also money,” said Matt. “Getting all this stuff done, it’s not cheap – and it’s not easy.” There is no guide for small businesses besides using Google, he said.

Facebook has also made it harder to reach customers by changing the way a page’s posts reach users that already liked the page. To reach all 235,000 people who liked their page, Matt and Tiffany would have to pay an extra $5,000 per post – which is just not plausible.

So what’s next? “I would love to have our own Western store,” said Tiffany, glancing over at Matt. Their eyes light up as they describe what it would look like to have their own building, but there are still many challenges to overcome.

For now, they’ll keep doing something that most college students only dream of doing – running a business. They are living proof that it is never too early to become an entrepreneur.

Daniel Huizinga is a columnist for Opportunity Lives covering business and politics. Follow him on Twitter @HuizingaDaniel.