Andrew Curtis, Luxley & Bernard

Students at the University of Cincinnati are bound to encounter bow tie-clad representatives of Luxley & Bernard walking around campus, promoting the relatively new preppy clothing brand. Andrew Curtis, who founded the company, has customers who operate more like a fanbase, making specific requests and having a direct influence over the direction of the next season's designs. Primarily conducting most of their business online, Luxley & Bernard's items are starting to appear in more brick-and-mortar businesses.

How does your business distinguish itself from competitors?
Luxley & Bernard is a company built by its fans and followers. We use various forms of social media and customer interaction to research and find out what our customers really want. The lifestyle brand business is very popular in the South and we are really the first brand to be based in the Midwest. We are influenced by the culture of the Midwest, and we apply that to every aspect of our business. We strive to provide exceptionally high-quality, American-made products at an affordable price.

What were you doing prior to Luxley & Bernard?
One day in high school, my football coach told me something that I will never forget: “You are never going to make the money you want to make working for someone else.” Starting right there, I knew I wanted my own business—I didn’t know what type, but I knew I wanted my own. So, after high school, I went to college—the best years of my life. So many road trips, parties and meeting tons of different people. That is when the beginnings of wanting a lifestyle brand began churning in my head. Obviously, starting a brand from scratch takes money. I didn’t have any money, and no one was willing to give me startup capital. So, I got a job. During the day, I design vehicle wraps and out of home advertisements, like you see on city buses or trains. I work with some great people, but while I am sitting at my desk, all I can think about is heading to my office at Luxley & Bernard to perfect next season’s look.

If "Bernard" is a reference to Ed Helms' character, Andrew Bernard, from the popular TV show "The Office," then where did "Luxley" come from? Is that also a fictitious name?
Our company name stemmed from various sources. In our line of business, the market is saturated with “Southern” and “Coastal” companies. We wanted a name that reflected the Midwest and also differentiated us from our competitors. At the time, “The Office” was a very popular show, and Andy Bernard was one of my favorite characters. His attitude and sense of fashion played a very influential role in the initial brainstorming sessions. And, Luxley is a play off of “luxury.” My business partner and I wanted something that gave a sense of being luxurious but not directly saying it. Too many companies use copywriters to puke a bunch of superlatives on paper and call it a day. We feel the name is very different, memorable and a perfect fit for the type of company we are.

How's business? What have you noticed about your customers?
Business is great. We are just starting to pick up speed. It's becoming more apparent that, in our business, preppy lifestyle brands are starting up all the time, saturating the market. We have found that our customers trust us and have been loyal to us from the beginning. We have been around for over two years and have had the opportunity and time to develop a positive reputation and a brand that our customers feel stands for something good. We interact with customers all the time via social media and stop by schools when we are in the area to say hi. Our customers love our story, we have heard nothing but positive feedback, and we will continue we keep our heads down and work to make Luxley & Bernard the best the company can be.

If you had a second chance to start Luxley & Bernard, would you do anything differently?
I never took entrepreneurial classes in college, so when I went to launch the business, I had a learning curve. I have always been a big-picture person. In most cases, when you are an entrepreneur trying to make your dream reality, it's typically a one-man show. My background is marketing and graphic design, so those aspects came easy. The tedious details of business (bookkeeping, taxes, etc.) were more of a struggle for me. If I had a second chance, I would slow down and breathe. Every aspect of your business needs to have a well-thought plan. In our business, image is everything. Spending the extra money on quality imagery/website/design/packaging/etc. goes a long way in our customers’ impression of our brand. Before launching the website and social media platforms, I would have spent a great deal of time researching ideal manufacturers and sourcing materials. We started the company in January and launched in March; I would recommend giving yourself at least six months of preparation before launching your company to the world.

What's next for your business?
The first couple of years were mainly spent getting our name out there. Using only social media and word of mouth, we have grown our facebook account to over 6,000 likes and our Twitter and Instagram accounts to over 2,000 followers each. We have never spent money on traditional advertising. Our main focus was driving people to the website to place online orders. I then realized if social media went away, it would be very difficult to keep the business at the level it is now. We are now starting to move our business focus into retail partnerships with specialty boutiques and shops across the country. We want our brand to be present in the stores our customers frequent. Locally, we have our bow ties in Romualdo on Miami Avenue in Cincinnati, and in Lexington, Ky., at the Keeneland Shop and Logans of Lexington. We are also present in retailer shops in six other states across the South and Midwest.

We also launched a national campus representative program for college students. They will be the eyes and ears for us on their campuses. We feel this will play a big role in our growth and brand awareness. The future is looking bright. and we are excited to see what this roller coaster ride will bring next.

Interview by Sean M. Peters