I come from a long line of “watermen” who’ve fished the Chesapeake Bay for crabs, rockfish and oysters. So about a decade ago, I started a Facebook group called Brackish Life simply to celebrate the culture and lifestyle of our region.
I was working full-time in water treatment and HVAC systems sales at the time. Little did I realize the business opportunity that my social media community could help reel in for me.
In 2016, a local store owner who’d seen the Facebook group asked if I had a logo because she wanted to sell “Brackish Life” shirts in her shop. I didn’t—but I created one that night. In the first weekend, we sold 20 of our sun-protection shirts in her shop.
Hooking an opportunity
It wasn’t until the winter of 2017, though, that I really saw the opportunity for what it was. I loaded up my pickup truck with Brackish Life shirts and hats and sold them at two weekend trade shows in Maryland that cater to recreational fishermen and charter boat captains. I sold 150 shirts the first weekend and 200 the next.
I was blown away. I wouldn’t have plunged into business ownership had those first trade shows not gone so well. The customers at the shows recognized it as a brand that would resonate with the people of our region, and I realized I had something that could one day be my legacy.
However, while selling hats and t-shirts was a nice source of side income, I needed to build it into a viable business before I could quit my day job. My wife Meagan and I had three young sons, so I wasn’t in a position to focus solely on my new venture. It meant working long hours to focus on both growing our sales and figuring out our business strategy.
I started by selling at fishing shows and festivals, but people kept asking me where else they could buy my gear. That question led to a wholesale opportunity that I hadn’t foreseen, and today we sell Brackish Life in 30 stores across the region.
Taking the dive
In mid-2019, with my wife’s encouragement, I finally quit my job to concentrate fully on Brackish Life. I took out small business loans—first $50,000 and then another $20,000—through the PayPal LoanBuilder program to purchase printers and a hat press so that I could create my own products. I moved into a 400-square-foot space in a small industrial park with a tiny retail shop.
My mother began working with me—managing the books, handling some of the graphic design and basically keeping me organized.
After the pandemic lockdowns lifted in mid-2020, we saw particularly high growth as tourists flocked to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Both the summers of 2020 and 2021 were huge for us. I had an outdoor pop-up store at a marina and bayfront bar a half-mile from my house. On the weekends, about 150 boats would usually dock at the marina each day—bringing in customers who sometimes bought from me six or eight times over the course of the season.
That success gave me the courage to open a store in late 2021, and in 2022, I hired a woman to manage it. At this point, my wife continues to do most of our family’s bill paying—as I don’t take a regular salary yet. I’m funneling the revenue we generate back into the business.
The next catch
Our revenues have grown significantly over the past few years. While we brought in $80,000 in 2019, that jumped to $300,000 in 2022. Heading into 2023, 50% of our sales are now wholesale, 30% in-person retail and 20% online. I trademarked our name and logo in 2019 and hope this year to expand the operation geographically through licensing fees.
Our brand awareness continues to grow, mostly through posts on Facebook and Instagram. We’ve also teamed up with two local baseball players at Salisbury University who have lived the brackish lifestyle and now serve as brand ambassadors for us.
I see Brackish Life as more than just a t-shirt company—and I’m focused on expanding it into a full lifestyle brand that honors the Bay and all the people who work and play on it. I’m so thankful that the community I love and grew up in has given me this opportunity to make a living off a business that celebrates it.Print this article