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Episode 38: DSM T-shirts, Drinkwear + More at The Greatest Store in the Universe

Episode 38: RAYGUN

November 22, 2019

RAYGUN’s owner, Mike Draper, spoke with the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Executive Director of Entrepreneurial Initiatives Mike Colwell about his company’s growth and what led to unionization.

RAYGUN’s Evolution

From 2005-2007, RAYGUN was solely Mike. The flagship store opened in the Historic East Village as Smash, in Downtown Des Moines (DSM). The second store opened in Iowa City in 2010, followed by Kansas City in 2014, a renovated DSM space in 2015, Cedar Rapids in 2016 and most recently, in 2019, the store in Chicago.

In the spring of 2006, he’d had the store for six months and had been selling t-shirts for two years and felt he had nothing to show for it. Around that same time, the store had less than $3,000 in the bank. That spring, the owner of The Village Bean asked Mike to do sweatshirts and t-shirts for the Valley High School tennis team. Then Jason Walsmith of The Nadas asked Mike to do their merchandise. While those orders would be considered no big deal today, at the time they were huge requests.

Social Media

RAYGUN is an insanely young company. At the time of its opening, the store only had a Myspace page. It has essentially grown up with social media. Mike says they describe the store as what the internet would look like if it came to life. RAYGUN is what you’d get if you walk into a space and it’s as fast and ever-changing as the internet.

Retail + Online Sales

Mike said that the marketplace is as old as time and it isn’t going away, and neither is retail. How you buy is changing and the speed of expectation has transformed. Online business has grown steadily. The website is just behind the DSM store in terms of size of department. With retail there’s a lag, but the website has been on an incline.

Anticipating Potential Sales

Mike also explains how he can’t just build a system that delivers product and ideas, he has to do it fast. In order to do so, there are a few key steps he follows:

  • Controlling his own distribution through stores and web
  • Creating all of their own designs
  • Performing all of their own production

RAYGUN Employees Unionize

Mike explains that it was important for him that his employees to start a union. The staff unionized with national partner, United Electrical. UE is one of the oldest and most progressive unions. They were first to allow women and minorities in leadership, while also being independent (not affiliated with the AFL-CIO). When the idea was first brought to the staff, there were a lot of questions. Many of the twenty-something staff members didn’t even know what a union was. Mike says employees need to start thinking about big expenses as a group, such as healthcare and staffing. From an HR standpoint, he explains it is also easier for employee issues to go to a union rep and then for that representative to come to Mike.

Listen to the entire podcast: https://www.buzzsprout.com/162832/1929176-mike-draper-raygun

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Startup Stories DSM

Startup Stories DSM is a podcast featuring conversations with entrepreneurs who share both their victories and failures on their paths to success. It is produced by the Greater Des Moines Partnership.