The Ground Floor: Hawkeye tests retail market online

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Owner: Mark Ironside

Company: Iowa 24/7/365

Address: 240 Prospect Place SW in Cedar Rapids

Phone: 319-866-0000


Plenty of retail business owners have launched websites after opening their brick-and-mortar stores, but – in this increasingly technology-savvy market – Mark Ironside decided to test the industry waters by taking the opposite route.

With his custom apparel and promotions business, Ironside Apparel and Promotions, thriving after its launch out of his home in 2007, Ironside decided in 2008 to debut an online retail store for a niche population to which he feels especially connected.

“There is not a ton of stuff out there on Iowa wrestling,” said Ironside, who wrestled for the University of Iowa from 1995 to 1998 -- winning two NCAA titles -- and has been inducted into the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Interest in the online business was overwhelming, Ironside said. Customers even started asking to visit the warehouse, which seemed to be shrinking as orders for his custom apparel business also grew.

“I couldn’t believe how well it was doing,” Ironside said. “And that was just online.”

So when it became necessary for Ironside to find a larger warehouse space, he figured, let’s do a storefront too. He said the Iowa City market might be saturated with Hawkeye apparel shops, but Cedar Rapids is different.

“There is nothing in this area for Hawkeye stuff,” he said. “It’s all down in Iowa City and Coralville.”

Ironside in December opened his first retail store, Iowa 24/7/365, at 240 Prospect Place SW in Cedar Rapids, and he said business got off to a fast start.

“We opened at Christmas, and we were really really busy,” he said. “Business was really good through January, February and March. But this time of year is slow for retail things.”

Revenue for Iowa 24/7/365, including both online and retail sales, has increased 27 percent this year over last year. That is a comparison of December 2010 through June 2011, when the stand-alone store was not open, with December 2011 through June, since the store has been open.

And Ironside, in an effort to boost business even more, has expanded retail offerings in the stand-alone store from primarily wrestling items to general Hawkeye gear and clothing promoting Iowa football and basketball.

But only time will tell whether the move to expand his online business was a good one, he said.

“Was it a smart thing to do? I guess we’ll find out,” he said.  “But fall is by far the busiest season.”

And, although Ironside said he’s taking his entrepreneurial ventures one day at a time, he has high hopes of expanding his custom, online and storefront businesses even further.

“This is right where I was hoping to get, but you never know, the (warehouse) is already too small,” he said. “We’ll take it one step at a time and make sure the retail storefront goes over well, but I can see in a few years I might branch out and go even bigger.”

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