Bill Butterfield and Logan McHale are not the type of guys who just sit around waiting for opportunities to fall into their laps—and when the two of them get together, there’s no stopping their ideas and momentum.
The two powerhouse personalities became friends during their sophomore year through the Orientation Leaders program. Both were studying marketing management and opted to stay at Penn State Altoona to complete their degrees. They each wanted to make the most of their time on the campus and leave behind a legacy. The pair took on leadership roles within the Sheetz Fellows program, in which they were already involved, but they were soon looking for other challenges outside of academics.
They decided to create a new fraternity on campus, something that aligned with their own values and philanthropic goals. Alpha Phi Delta, a national Italian heritage fraternity, was formed in 2016. The chapter is still running with eight current members who sponsor events throughout the year to raise money for families affected by ALS, a disease which causes the death of neurons controlling voluntary muscles.
While setting up Alpha Phi Delta, Butterfield and McHale tossed around some other project ideas. Something that interested and appealed to both of them was launching a clothing line, similar in look and feel to Vineyard Vines, recognizable by its pink whale logo.
For the next year or so, the idea was put on the back burner while the pair focused on classes and the fraternity, but they didn’t forget about it completely.
Over the semester break between 2017 and 2018, Butterfield and McHale got serious about their business venture. “We decided we only had one more semester together, and it was time to stop talking and start doing something with it,” says McHale. “We thought we’d better start it while we're close together and build it to the point where we can then be separated for our full-time jobs but still run the business.”
So they forged ahead, and with nothing but their own debit cards, created POCK Clothing, currently offering sweatshirts, t-shirts, long-sleeves, and V-necks. “We developed a style with an animal logo on the left chest and something bigger on the back, since that is so popular right now,” explains Butterfield. “We chose a lion to signify pride, loyalty, and community, plus it connects to our roots here at Penn State Altoona and to the Nittany Lion.” To further tie things together, the Simply Lion collection that is now available features a lion logo over an outline of Africa, home to the species. A percentage of each sale is donated to the African Wildlife Foundation.
The pair set up the business accounts and website. They create their own designs, but use a company called Shopify and a service called DropShipping, to produce, handle, and ship their products. Butterfield and McHale do pay a larger premium price with this route, but they say the convenience and ease works for now. The business went live January 15 and two shirts sold the first day. Now they are up to 15 shirts sold.
“We are all set up and launched, but now we're losing money, as you often will with the start of a business. So how do we create products and value for what customers want?” asks McHale. “We have to come up with content, build our brand, and give that to consumers in a nice package. You can sell anything, but the hardest part is convincing people to buy it.” Adds Butterfield, “It’s a lot of motivation for us to figure these things out, because this is our own money invested. If I don't advertise or Logan doesn't work on the website or products, we are losing not an inheritance or our parents’ money, but our own money.”
The pair currently advertises for POCK through their website, Facebook, Instagram, and word of mouth. “I think it's cool because we created a reputation on this campus,” states McHale. “I don't look at us as going out and selling 10,000 shirts like Vineyard Vines can. I’m happy to start local with what we've built at Penn State Altoona. I think we used our reputation from the past four years as the backbone of POCK Clothing.” McHale goes on to say he doesn’t yet know if POCK will be able to compete against Vineyard Vines and other similar companies. “What makes us different is the unique story that Bill and I have together as friends and fellow students. Vineyard Vines is two brothers, Ian and Shep, who started their company. Our story and reputation on campus are our backgrounds. When and if we grow bigger, we will identify who we are on a larger scale.”
Butterfield and McHale are coming up with ideas for future products including ties, socks, accessories, and items that cater to the professional. They say their classes at Penn State Altoona have been helpful. Marketing and management courses have guided them as they begin to navigate the business world while their entrepreneurship classes have been invaluable for skills such a business plans. In their product development course, they were challenged to come up with a prototype, run a focus group, and get feedback. Butterfield and McHale were able to create a product for their already-established business and get a real-life experience.
Both McHale and Butterfield will graduate in May 2018. McHale has already accepted a district manager training position with Frito Lay near Denver, while Butterfield will head to Firestone in Pittsburgh. Neither are deterred by the distance that will be between them. “Everything we do is through our laptops and we're a phone call away,” says McHale. “Bill is in charge of social media and our customers and I handle things like the website and products. It's like he's the CMO and I'm the COO. We're both comfortable with our positions and how it has worked out.”
Butterfield and McHale want to leave behind a legacy at Penn State Altoona with Alpha Phi Delta, but they also would love for POCK Clothing to be associated with the college, as well. “I think of SnapChat,” says Butterfield. “It started with two kids from Stanford doing a class project. Everyone loved it, and now it’s a really successful social media outlet. It'd be awesome if down the road people were saying, ‘oh, POCK started at a “branch campus” of Penn State’. Hopefully, we're the next successful college story.”
No matter what ends up happening with the business, McHale is already more than pleased with what he’s accomplished alongside Butterfield. “It’s been really cool to see our product sell. And, even if we end up not being able to sustain it forever, I have already gained so much experience. I have learned so much that I can take with me to a new job or a new business venture in the future. The fact is, we’ve done something not everyone has been able to do just by starting POCK. We did that, and maybe it won’t work out, but our adventure will always build off of this.”