Billy Thompson knows what it’s like to sweat. A lot.
A lifelong sufferer of excessive sweating, a condition otherwise known as hyperhidrosis, Thompson, who sweated profusely from his underarms, struggled from puberty on to find answers. No clothing product or antiperspirant could stem the flow of what would evolve into a persistent and embarrassing problem.
Thompson was hardly alone, as millions of Americans suffer from hyperhidrosis. About half of those exhibit the worst symptoms in their underarms, and Thompson was very familiar with their symptoms, which in the worst cases can cause a sweat ring to form from the armpit down to the waste.
He also knew there was a thirst for a product that would solve the problem, as the market was filled with costly anti-sweat sticks that did little to alleviate the condition.
For years, Thompson explored the idea of an undershirt that would prevent sweat from passing through the garment, until he met Randy Choi, whose wife was good friends with Thompson’s, and who was also afflicted with hyperhidrosis. Choi happened to be an experienced textile industry veteran, and the two set out to find the perfect material to make their shirts.
They ultimately discovered an ultra-thin textile that blocks moisture but allows vapors to pass through, and Thompson Tee was born.
Sharing Their Customers’ Woes
But as the pair started to build the business, Thompson discovered an important (and familiar) characteristic about hyperhidrosis sufferers that could create marketing challenges: They desperately want a solution, but they do not want to talk about their issue.
That led to an epiphany.
“How could I expect my customers to get past this if I wasn’t championing this thing?” he asked. “I had to get past the embarrassment.”
Once Thompson and Choi came clean and made their personal experiences a part of the company’s story, everything fell into place. (Choi used to sweat profusely from his head, but he had an invasive procedure that he now regrets due to numerous side effects.) The company launched its website in early 2012, and that year, the fledgling company sold $90,000 worth of undershirts. In the process, it also broke the $20-a-month ecommerce solution it was using.
The pair then opted to look into other distribution channels — direct, brick-and-mortar retailers, infomercials — but none proved the right match for the product. So the company committed to a direct-to-consumer model, selling exclusively through its own website and Amazon.
To support the strategy, Thompson and Choi adopted Magento for ecommerce, but that turned out to be too burdensome for a small operation selling one product. They tried adding Brightpearl’s retail management software to the equation, but it didn’t provide sufficient visibility, and data redundancy became an issue. With the business growing, and the company selling millions worth of shirts each year, it needed a tighter platform that would support future growth.
Clearing Data Logjam With NetSuite
Both Thompson and Choi knew what software they wanted: NetSuite. In early 2019, they finally made the leap, deploying NetSuite in 100 days using the SuiteSuccess methodology.
The change was swift and powerful. Thompson said the software’s saved searches component has been especially powerful. Most importantly, he and Choi had a much clearer moment-to-moment picture of the business.
“All the information that we’re able to pull from NetSuite, and that we had problems pulling from our old systems, allows us to make better decisions,” said Thompson.
The company started selling internationally via Amazon, and was able to tap its suddenly complete data flow to make incisive decisions about which regions and channels to attack.
But Thompson and Choi really learned what they had in NetSuite when the COVID-19 pandemic hit early this year. Demand for their shirts started falling off almost immediately, and they knew they needed to do something if the business was to survive an extended economic shutdown.
Adapting to the Moment
Fortunately, they were positioned to adapt quickly, and they did. With a team of suddenly idle sewers, and a substantial inventory of unused fabric, the company decided to start making facemasks..
What’s more, Thompson Tee was able to make the transition even though most of the staff was now working from home. (The company has also reimagined its warehouse space, with the few employees on site working with 25-foot buffers.)
Almost overnight, Thompson Tee began producing masks that sell for $5.99 each, and demand has been overwhelming, with the company challenged to keep up.
Throughout the COVID-19 experience, the impact of NetSuite has proven to be revelatory for Thompson in that he realized that amid all the stress he experienced while fretting that the business might fail, the answer was right there all along. He just had to relax enough to see it.
“No one was prepared for this. It’s a handful of jagged pills to swallow,” he said. “Being in the most calm and rational state of mind will ultimately help us make the best decisions for the business.”
Moving Into an Unexpected Future
Now, with the business stabilized, Thompson is embracing a different future than he’d envisioned — one in which facemasks are a permanent product. Even better, the facemask initiative has introduced the company to thousands of customers who never would have know about the company otherwise. Couple that with the anticipation that millions of out-of-work Americans will flood into the job market, and it’s not difficult to imagine a major surge in undershirt demand once the economy begins to recover.
Thompson is confident that NetSuite will be there every step of the way, helping Thompson Tee to navigate whatever comes its way.
“It’s one less thing to worry about and one more advantage we have,” he said.
Of course, lest he leaves the impression that things have gone exactly as he’d hoped, he offered a clear declaration to the contrary.