Posted on 19 March 2014.
BY MEREDITH SHELDON
Cycling up the mountains of Durango, pedaling down the snowy streets of Forest Avenue and riding through the corridors of the Fort Lewis College campus in Colorado, Cypress Bay alumnus Max Thilen is on the move, not only with his cycling, but also with his own business.
Since November 2013, Thilen has been running his own company, The Max Factory, where he creates, produces and sells his own T-shirts that are marketed to cyclers. After successfully owning an auto detailing company while he attended the Bay, Thilen said his passion for business and designing now meshes with his love for cycling.
“I started the Max Factory to help support my cycling career,” said Thilen, who graduated from the Bay in 2013. “I needed money to be able to travel but no one here in Durango would hire me because of how frequently I travel. In hindsight, no one wanting to hire me was a good thing because it motivated me to start something on my own.”
After five years of traveling around the world for competitive cycling, Thilen is now a member of the Airgas Development Cycling team, which is a semi-professional team. He is also a member of the second best Division1 collegiate cycling team at Fort Lewis.
“My experience with bikes has been in a more competitive setting, but I love the way bicycles offer a sense of freedom to kids. More than anything, that’s what I would love to promote,” he said.
Since his company is still growing, Thilen said for the moment he is only producing T-shirts. However, he plans to branch out to produce hats, beanies and other accessories.
“When I first started, I was focusing solely on cycling related designs, but now I’m trying to branch out past that niche,” he said. “I want to build my brand as a street wear clothing company and hopefully become known for my playful designs.”
Thilen’s cycling team director Chris Johnson of Airgas Pro Cycling said he works closely with Thilen and helps him expand his business. Johnson said Thilen’s ambition and creativity has allowed the business to expand at a rapid rate.
“Starting your own business is a great learning experience and I could see that Max was already putting the pieces together and realizing that it was feasible,” Johnson said. “I’m continually impressed with the designs and the materials he produces to promote his company.”
Thilen said the shirts he creates are all produced in the United States, sweatshop free. He said his main focus is ensuring high quality in his products.
“I’ve spent a lot of time and money focusing on little details like hand-stitched hem tags and screen-printed size labels,” he said. “There are plenty of things that I could have done to widen my profit margins and decrease my overhead, but I wanted to create a product that I believe in. Attention to detail is incredibly important to me. I think that this is really evident when you see my shirts.”
In addition to making sure his company produces the highest quality shirts, Thilen said he also tries to appeal to his customers by shipping a special surprise gift with every purchase.
“I’ve worked to create an experience for my customers,” he said. “To create this experience, all shirts come gift wrapped in a custom box. Since everyone loves surprises, every order comes with a special gift. The gift always changes. It might be a button, candy or a Lego figure.”
Johnson said Thilen truly cares about his work, and that shines through his business.
“I think that the energy Max brings to The Max Factory is one of the obvious traits that has helped propel his business forward,” he said. “He doesn’t take shortcuts and from his products to his packaging you can tell that he cares about what he is doing and that means a lot.”
Thilen advertises his company through social media.
“Almost all of my marketing is through social media and word of mouth. I think that in this day and age, if you want to start a business you don’t really need to pay for advertising,” he said.
Even though the majority of the publicity his company gets is online, he said his preferred form of advertising is talking directly with a customer in person.
“I always carry promo cards and buttons with me to hand out whenever I meet new people,” he said. “I want to create a personal feel with my brand which is what led me to use my face as a logo. I think that when people know the story behind my brand and that they’re buying something from a college kid rather than some big box online retailer, they’re more willing to spend money on a shirt.”
Not only does Johnson serve as Thilen’s mentor for cycling, but also for running the business.
“I try and help Max by being someone he can shoot ideas off and I try to listen a lot and then also give ideas and encourage him,” he said. “Starting your our business is a roller coaster and I have just tried to be there for Max as a mentor. Max has asked me about a number of issues ranging for specific designs to more general business decisions.”
Thilen said he receives tremendous support for his business from his family.
“Currently, I get most of my web traffic through social media referrals,” he said. “Whenever I’m getting ready to release a new shirt, my friends and family help a lot by offering their opinions on the new designs.”
Although he is not currently working with any charities or organizations, Thilen said he plans on contributing to a children’s foundation with the profits he receives from his company.
“I’ve been trying to find the right foundation but I’d like to work with a charity that donates bikes to underprivileged kids,” he said. “Because of the impact bicycles have had on my life, I’d love to be able to help make bicycles a part of more children’s lives. Hopefully, I can make shirts for charity and really make an impact is a huge goal of mine.”
Even though he is currently training on the developmental team for Airgas Cycling, Thilen said he has hopes to eventually move up the ranks and become a member of the professional team.
“If I do well this season, I’m on a team where I could jump right up to the professional team,” he said. “I’d like to move up in the future, but I am struggling with a knee injury right now. Moving up would happen hopefully this following season.”
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