Attention, long-haired ladies of Milwaukee and beyond: Brad Hicks wants to free your ponytail.
The FOX 6 newscaster's career has had many incarnations, but his latest foray is into entrepreneurship. He started PonyBug, a company that sells fleece winter caps with a slit in the back for ponytails, in April 2012.
The orders have been coming in and the reviews are positive, but for Hicks, PonyBug is about much more than just business. It has a deeply personal aspect, as well.
It all started a little over a year ago, when Hicks’ sister Kirsten, who lives in the state of Oregon, began making fleece ponytail caps for her group of running friends. Like every long-haired girl in the winter, Kirsten was tired of flattening her ponytail beneath a knit cap just to go for a jog.
"I saw the hat she was making, and I was like, these are really cute," Hicks recalls. For a while prior to that, he says he had "had this entrepreneurial bug chomping" at him, and the attractive, functional pieces piqued his interest.
"I had her send me a couple (hats) and last February 2012 I went down to the Lakefront with them and just showed them to women and they liked them," he said. "The response was overwhelmingly positive. So I told my sister, I think I’d like to start a company and sell this."
Kirsten didn’t have much of an interest of being involved on an administrative level in the company, but it was important to Hicks to use his sister’s design – especially the ladybug logo she had been stitching onto each hat. Kirsten’s daughter Zoe had loved ladybugs; she died from cancer in 2006 at the age of 15.
"My sister has always kept little ladybug things in her life as a memory of her daughter, so she was sewing those onto the hats," Hicks said. The ladybug theme was also incorporated into the company’s name – "PonyBug" – as well as the logo.
Hicks dove into market research with a hands-on attitude. He asked women’s opinion on the various fabric and color swatches during the development stage. "I spent quite a bit of time last spring and summer doing the awkward thing of asking women if I could measure their head," he laughed. "I had a tailor’s tape measure and I just, you know, ‘I have a really weird request, can I measure your head?’ I was trying to get basically a range of where most women’s heads are."
The the cap is made of breathable, anti-pill fleece and will easily fit a wide range of head sizes. The PonyBug is ideal for working out, with a 3-inch reinforced slit that will accommodate a high or medium ponytail. But the bright colors and vibrant patterns, which range from fuchsia plum plaid to leopard print, make it an ornamental piece as well. The caps sell at a price of $18.95-$19.95 (currently on end-of-season sale for $13.50-$14.50), but the price point is flexible and Hicks plans to reevaluate it next season.
PonyBug ships to the U.S. and Canada for a low cost – $2.75 for domestic orders and free for orders of two or more.
The caps are produced and distributed by Reliable of Milwaukee, a fourth-generation family-owned business with a warehouse in Campbellsport. that also produces Muk Luks and Molehill Mountain Equipment. Hicks retains the ability to sell to whomever he likes. "But it’s not like I’m filling orders in my living room," he joked.
It’s in the early stages as of right now, but Hicks says the feedback has been great.
"This is a really cool product, and my goal with PonyBug isn’t just to market this line of ponytail caps," he said. "There are other ponytail caps out there – you may get a catalog that has one and that’s usually how it is, there’s just one and it’s probably black ... and there really is no brand of ponytail caps. That’s what I want to do with this, really expand this out so that if you’re shopping for ponytail caps, whether it’s fleece or woven, PonyBug will be the brand that people know as a ponytail cap line."
As far as expanding into other products, Hicks says "the wheels are always turning."
"People have started falling in love with the little ladybug logo. It’s just really cute," he said. "I was thinking it might be nice to come up – because it (the ponytail cap) is a very seasonable product to some extent – with some summerwear-type products that will also have that branding on them."
And Zoe would be "very happy" to see her mom and uncle’s business bloom from her love of ladybugs. "Zoe, she was just a girl who lived happy," Hicks said, noting her ability to stay positive through her illness and hospitalization.
Ultimately, no matter what direction the company heads in the next few years, Hicks is confident about one thing: charitable giving will always be an important part of the business model.
"We will continue to donate 10 percent of whatever it is (we sell) to the MACC Fund, because that’s our corporate vision."
View PonyBug’s online store at its website.
Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.