Bored of Your CPA Career? Launch a T-shirt Company in Your Basement!

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Photo: (Scorch Agency)

Business: Rizzo Tees
Headquarters: Saint Louis, Missouri
Key Figure: Chris Reimer, Founder & Chief Shirtologist
Success Story: Social Media

Chris Reimer, Chief Shirtologist of Rizzo Tees, did exactly that.  After a 15 year career as a Certified Public Accountant, Reimer decided to launch a funny t-shirt company in the basement of his home, sarcastically referred to as Rizzo Tees World Headquarters.  With tees such as I’m the Mayor of Your Mom on Foursquare and Barack That @$$ Up, the exaggerated nickname for Reimer’s basement captures the humor-driven personality of Rizzo Tees to a tee (pun-intended).

After graduating with an accounting degree from Marquette University, Reimer earned his CPA designation in 1995 and managed the accounting departments for several organizations throughout the Saint Louis area.  After a two-year stint as the CFO of Zipatoni, a marketing and sales promotion company, Reimer spent four years as the CFO of the Nurses for Newborns Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to fight child abuse and neglect.  It was during his time at NFNF that Reimer began to plan his path towards entrepreneurship.

The Turning Point- “Do Cities in China Have Americatowns?”

The turning point came during October of 2007 when Reimer ordered a couple of funny t-shirts as his own birthday present from his wife.  Upon receiving the tees in the mail, he had the realization that he too could create his own funny t-shirt business based on the random thoughts (Do cities in China have Americatowns?) that popped up in his thought-process each day.

The Launch of Rizzo Tees

Reimer spent the next year planning the impending launch of Rizzo Tees, finally going live in October of 2008. He faced a couple of obstacles, the first of which being his full time job.  Not being in a financial position where he could afford to give up his full-time job as a CFO, Reimer put in grueling hours working until 2 or 3 in the morning as well as in the early mornings before work.   All of this time was spent creating 32 initial t-shirt designs, building his website and automating as much of the business as possible in order to process an order quickly.  The year-long planning, creation and impending launch of Rizzo Tees led to an even bigger obstacle.  By the time all of the t-shirts were screenprinted, Reimer was out of money and couldn’t afford advertising to drive customers to the site.  Out of choices, he turned to social media.

Marketing Rizzo Tees through Social Media

Reimer sold plenty of shirts to friends and family, but it wasn’t until he joined Twitter that he began to sell shirts to complete strangers.  He quickly crafted a unique voice for Rizzo Tees and the t-shirts began to fly off of the shelves.  Reimer’s prolific posting style, 50,000 tweets and 47,000 Twitter followers helped name him as the #1 most influential Twitter user in Saint Louis.

Instead of mirroring the thousands of posts on Twitter, Reimer took a decidedly more muted approach to Facebook.  The Rizzo Tees Facebook page is a mix of brand-related news, personal updates from Reimer, blog posts and special edition t-shirts.  Rizzo Tees has attracted such a cult following on Facebook that the founder of the “I can’t go a day without dropping the F-Bomb” Facebook fan page asked Reimer to create an F-Bomb t-shirt in support of the page’s 9,000 fans.

In addition to his presence on Facebook and Twitter, Reimer takes a well-rounded and serious approach to building his personal brand.  He launched a quirky blog on Rizzo Tees, created “The Pain of It All” video series interviewing 100 Americans who lost their jobs and joined the board of the Social Media Club of St. Louis.  States Reimer, “A few years ago, I would not have been able to tell you what a personal brand was.  Reading Gary Vaynerchuk’s book “Crush It” was a big help to me, as it was very inspirational.  Everything that’s happening to me now is due to the personal brand I’ve built.”

Measuring Success and Leveraging New Opportunities

While metrics aren’t a complete afterthought, Rizzo Tees falls in line with the trend of small businesses being slow to adopt advanced analytics and performance benchmarks in their social media efforts.  Reimer mentions that although he tracks a few metrics including website visits, sales and number of Twitter followers, he is more focused on creating compelling content that drives opportunities for interaction with his online audience.

Though Rizzo Tees is gaining sales traction, Reimer still primarily works on his business at night.  After a stint as the Chief Marketing Officer at the Scorch Agency, he recently transitioned to Falk Harrison as the Vice President of Social Media.  While many entrepreneurs struggle with operating a growing business outside of their normal career, Reimer found a solution through transparency, “At Falk Harrison, I’m allowed to work on Rizzo Tees when I have to.  Everyone there roots me on!”

-To contact the writer on this story: Philip Nowak in Chicago at

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About The Author

Philip Nowak is the founder of Firmology, technology focused news and insight for small businesses and online startups. He honed his entrepreneurial chops while working for his family’s Chicago-based window manufacturing business. Philip graduated from Indiana University with a BA in Economics.