One of Buffalo’s most well-known clothing operations, Store716, has turned city pride into t-shirts that have become a wardrobe staple at sporting events, bars, and backyard barbecues throughout the Western New York area.
From their “Just Give Me One” garb, to their “Mt. Buffalo” shirts (honoring the best-ever Buffalo Bills players in a mock Mt. Rushmore), it is hard to ignore the effect that the company has had on the city’s style over the past several years.
In this Q&A, we speak with David Gram, a co-founder of the business, about the store’s beginnings and his journey through the entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Buffalo.
Q: To start off, can you give a brief history of the company, how the idea of Store716 was created and the people that were responsible for its inception?
A: We started Store716 in February of 2011, around the time Terry Pegula arrived on the Buffalo sports scene. We felt so much excitement around the city and fans when he purchased the Sabres, and we created the business to be a part of it. The business began as a "pet project" born out of the communication consulting agency Say What Communications (saywhatgroup.com), of which I am a partner along with Tony Hoffman.
Q: Was it a difficult process to get the company off the ground, to make it a recognizable part of the community? Were there any local organizations that aided in the growth of the company?
A: Store716 was a grassroots startup in nature, and while we didn't formally engage any resource groups at the time, we did constantly gather feedback and insight from other entrepreneurs in the area through groups like Buffalo OpenCoffee Club and Cowork Buffalo. Adam Wilson, who owns and operates Shirt Outfitters (a local custom apparel and merchandising business) has been a great partner on the production end for us from day one.
Q: Can you give a few examples of methods used to get the company to become a known commodity in the community (marketing, social media, etc.)?
A: The Store716 brand is built almost entirely through social media. While the medium is extremely powerful, it can also be challenging to continue to stay relevant as the platforms and audiences evolve.
Being able to leverage the creative capabilities and occasional excess capacity of our parent consulting agency was also key to our early success. Building a Buffalo business, with Buffalo products, for Buffalo people, made the process of building our brand very effective through social media.
Q: Which specific social media tools do you feel have been most successful? Is it easy to tell which methods are/aren't working?
A: Facebook is king for us. We spend about 99 percent of our marketing and advertising dollars there. The real beauty of digital marketing for a company like ours is that you can instantly see what people are, and aren’t, responding to. We can make adjustments in real time. We've been approached to do billboard advertising in the past, but always joke about how excruciating it would be for us to commit to the same advertising message and method for an entire 30 days.
Q: When the company eventually became well-known throughout Western New York, did you have to adapt or change to continue growth of the company?
A: Perhaps our greatest strength as a business is our paranoid aversion to being content with success. As soon as we feel something is successful, we start pivoting to the next thing, because we're sure a competitor will soon try to imitate that product or service. We're constantly reinventing our businesses.
Q: Can you talk about any of those products or services that you have created recently. Do you work with other local companies to create or sell these products?
A: “The development of our "You Gotta Know Buffalo - Sports Trivia Game" was a significant undertaking for us and has been a tremendous success. We've sold more than 10,000 copies of this game both online and through a handful of local retail partners. We've since expanded to create versions of this game for 11 additional cities (seen at appsetgogames.com) with many more to come. We'll also have a new Buffalo version, "My Hometown Edition", available this Christmas , which will focus on general Buffalo trivia like people, places, events and the history of our city.”
Q: What other products, shirts, have been big sellers on your site? Have you noticed a specific type of shirt or accessory is usually a popular seller?
A: Our “#716Throwback” line has been more popular than we first anticipated. We've brought back some of the most iconic brands and names from Buffalo's past and we've found people really respond to them.
Q: Do you have any advice for people that are interested in launching their own startup in the Buffalo area?
A: Be flexible. We started a company seven years ago with the initial vision of developing a geo-location based scavenger hunt app, and it morphed into a t-shirt business with an app, and now into a national portfolio of printed trivia games.
Be humble. Start with a mindset that most of the people you'll interact with don't really care at all about you or your business. Accept that your customers and partners lead very busy, contentious and stressful lives. Be it a product, a service, a meeting or an opportunity; always come in with a solution.
Q: Do you, or have you, helped other companies in their quest to become a successful brand in the Buffalo community?
A: We've recently been collaborating more with other vendors and makers in Buffalo with good success. Both the "716Artisans" section on our website and the special events we've held at Buffalo Riverworks have enabled a group of smaller local businesses to take advantage of our significant reach and customer base.
Q: Do you feel the community and local resource organizations can help entrepreneurs grow and become successful in WNY, as your company has?
A: There's definitely a great camaraderie among entrepreneurs and business owners in Buffalo. We root for each other to succeed. If your concept is sound, there is no reason why your business shouldn't find success here.
Q: What does it mean to you to be successful in the Buffalo area? Seeing people wearing your shirts/clothing in the community and at sporting events must be satisfying, right?
A: It genuinely surprises me each time someone tells me they know of Store716 or have purchased from us. After starting my career in traditional corporate roles for 10 years, I never would have imagined I’d be part of something like what we've created. It's been a fun ride.