Even at age 19, University of Wisconsin-Madison students Ben Fiechtner and Troy Vosseller knew they had the entrepreneurial spirit. When an online student dating service and gasoline delivery company failed to come to fruition, an apparel line donning the affectionate Wisconsin nickname "Sconnie" quickly developed into the business they'd dreamed of starting.
Sconnie Nation began in 2004 as a $600 investment yielding 100 T-shirts. When the shirts sold out in a week, Fiechtner and Vosseller knew they were on to something.
Incorporating into a LLC, they trademarked the word "Sconnie" and launched their own slice of state pride.
"Sconnie Nation is really an identity," says Vosseller. "It's a way of seeing yourself as a member of a group that encompasses everything you love about Wisconsin. Wisconsin really has a special place in the hearts of people that grew up here or went to school here. Wisconsin pride is something that sticks with people and that's what we're all about."
Continually reinvesting their profits back into the company has allowed them to grow to encompass not only new T-shirt designs, but also expand the line to include knit hats, baseball caps, hoodies, pants, sweat bands and pint glasses.
"It's meant to just be a fun way of associating with the Wisconsin lifestyle -- eating a brat, drinking a PBR, cheering for the Packers, all while being at a bowling alley," says Vosseller. "Those are all things that make Wisconsin culture great and we wanted to create a brand that exemplified that feeling."
Now in its third year, Sconnie Nation has grossed over $200,000 and has a working staff of nine, including four marketing brand manager interns and three custom sales representatives. A State Street storefront in Madison is the next foreseeable goal, but for now, the bulk of their merchandise is sold online, with some designs available at the UW-Madison Bookstore and Milwaukee's Brew City Gear.
"As much as we expand over the next few years we want to keep a student hand in the business," explains Fiechtner. "We plan on continuing to have UW students as a major part of our operations. The business was started during our college careers and it was so critical to not only our individual growth but also the business's growth, and we recognize that it will be important to have this student input for as long as Sconnie is around."
Although, for all their touting of Wisconsin, Fiechtner and Vosseller say they are not in business for cheeseheads exclusively.
"One of the best attributes of a Sconnie is their Midwestern attitude and openness to people," says Vosseller. "Anyone who embraces the Sconnie lifestyle, regardless of where they're from, is part of Sconnie Nation."
"Everyday we get orders from alumni of the UW and those that have once lived in Wisconsin," adds Fiechtner. "We have sent orders across the United States -- it is a testament to the love for Wisconsin all across the country."
Vosseller graduated in May '06 and is now in law school at UW-Madison. Fiechtner is completing his senior year now and will be working for GE Healthcare in the fall.
Says Vosseller, "We both agree that starting Sconnie Nation was the defining college experience for us."
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”