When Laura Treganowan, a spin instructor and marketing maven, met Maggie Kyle, a talented metalsmith, in her 7:00 AM cycling class, their combined personalities and energy levels were magnetic.
The friendship quickly blossomed into an “ALL CAPS” email exchange when the duo had the idea to join forces on a line of sweatproof jewelry. They named their brand OXB studio, which stands for Our Exercise Brand.
When you’re late for class, you don’t always have time to remove jewelry before your workout. Anyone working out wearing jewelry knows that sweat and the wrong material make for rashes and even hives. It’s not just an inconvenience but a painful one. OXB decided to flip the script on wearable art.
Maggie knew that she could tinker with materials to make a sweatproof necklace, one without any nasty physical side effects. Plus, Maggie has serious style, so this wouldn’t be just any necklace. It would have a unique aesthetic while also being durable.
Laura was heavily entwined with the fitness world and knew that gym-goers would love to express their personalities while training. She spent years opening up cycling studios on a national and international level, and her connections ran deep. She also had a background in public relations and marketing. It was a no-brainer: Maggie would make the pieces, and Laura would promote them.
In her metal shop, Maggie welded the first sweatproof necklace prototype. Maggie knows metal: She apprenticed with a master welder in Denver, Colorado for two years. She’s also a fitness enthusiast and had created a yoga-inspired jewelry line that sold locally in yoga studios and nationally at CorePower Yoga. In other words, she knows how to meld wearable art into pieces that won’t interfere with exercise routines.
The partners didn’t have any savings so bought all of the necessary equipment using credit cards. They felt confident taking the risk because they believed in their product. Laura also admits that in the early stages they often acted first and questioned later.
Laura wore the necklace in the fitness studio, and people noticed. She was soon selling the jewelry to her connections in the fitness world. It helps that Laura is very likable and makes friends easily, which is great for sales. It was only a matter of time before Laura approached boutique fitness studios to carry the jewelry.
What makes OXB different is the metals: the founders use 14-karat gold and sterling silver which are hypoallergenic. Cheaper jewelry brands tend to use gold plating, which according to Laura is “the process of bonding the very thinnest layer of gold on a base metal.” The problem is that when the plating rubs off, necks can turn green. As Laura explains, “the plating is rubbing off and you’re exposed to the base metal that can irritate your skin.”
Using higher quality metals is pricier, but OXB believes it’s worth the investment. They subscribe to the “Patagonia model – which is to buy less, but buy quality.” Laura tried to help Maggie produce the necklaces initially, but she was admittedly “terrible at it.”
The sales model was always in-person with a minuscule digital footprint. The partners believed customers had to experience their merchandise in person, so they chose not to invest in online marketing. Initially, the gamble paid off. Through Laura’s connections, OXB collaborated with big fitness brands, selling their products directly to studios hungry for merchandise. The duo attended fitness expos in Las Vegas and secured wholesale clients left and right.
90 Percent Drop in Sales
But then the pandemic hit and shut down OXB. When fitness studios across the country closed one by one, OXB lost almost its entire sales funnel overnight. They had no backup plan and revenue dropped 90 percent. Something fortuitous happened, though. The duo was in Mexico at the start of the pandemic revamping their entire website. At the start of 2020, without knowing what March would bring, Laura and Maggie decided to get serious about e-commerce. They switched to Shopify and booked a trip to Mexico to work on web design, unaware of how pivotal this would be.
Laura is very matter-of-fact about the beginning days of the pandemic. She says, “The world shut down. We lost all of our business. No one’s buying sweatproof jewelry for their studio that is now closed. We felt bad for ourselves for about 35 seconds.”
There was some luck in all of this. For one, the partners had just rebuilt their website. Secondly, right before the fateful trip to Mexico, Laura and Maggie moved out of a shared art space with 150 other creators and vendors. That working environment would have made social distancing impossible. The partners leased a thousand square foot art space right before they got on the plane to Mexico. When they returned, the space allowed them to get right back to work safely.
The partners kept “pushing forward.” They started connecting with all of their existing contacts online and forged new relationships in the fitness space. They didn’t wallow, not after the initial 35 seconds. Every trainer and every studio that they knew was going virtual. Laura was still teaching at the time, and she was navigating this online space along with her clients.
Support Your Studio
OXB came up with a campaign called “Support Your Studio.” If someone bought a class pack for a fitness studio, they could send OXB their receipt and receive a gift card in exchange. They did this through their existing Instagram account and it helped them “build online revenue and presence throughout Instagram.” They also began to build an ambassador campaign. They didn’t have a budget for that initiative, but as Laura explains, “Our currency is jewelry.” When OXB provides jewelry for athletes to wear in branded posts, everyone wins.
Although the beginning of 2020 was a firestorm, the partners found their online groove quickly. “Support Your Studio” morphed into “Support Your Trainer”, and it cemented OXB’s place in the fitness world. Their hard work paid off in sales that went from non-existent in early March to $30,000 MRR that quickly turned into $40,000 and $50,000 MRR soon after.
Work, Work, Work
In April 2020, OXB hired its first employee. The founders were renting an old house in the arts district of Denver and even though “the ceiling fell in a few times,” they hit their stride. They turned the home into an unofficial coworking space and invited their friends to join them. The house became a hub of creativity. Laura and Maggie poured everything into their business, and 18-hour workdays were common. Both still worked their day jobs but quickly realized it was unsustainable.
The founders hired a business coach who taught them that they can’t do everything themselves. To be successful, they needed to “farm out” some of the demands of running a business. Laura learned about Facebook advertising and different techniques for paid online marketing. The results were astonishing. OXB reached $700,000 in sales at the end of 2020. It will finish 2021 with $1.5 million in sales.
OXB is quickly becoming a household name in the world of athletic fashion. Its ambassador program is knee-deep in female professional athletes, health and wellness influencers, activists of all stripes, and more. OXB constantly aligns with athletes of all genders across a wide spectrum of fitness endeavors and has cemented itself as a lifestyle brand for people who like to get their sweat on.
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