The Haberdasher and the Devoted Dad with Kirk Chugg

USO 035 | Devoted Dad

A gentleman does hard things without complaining. Kirk Chugg felt that he was becoming the default dad that this generation has created. As president of custom clothing boutique for men, Haberdasher, Kirk decided to become a devoted dad and started The Gentleman Project to put out the design of what fathers should be. Learn how to have the courage to start a new business, enjoy working hard for it and always give undivided attention to your children.

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The Haberdasher and the Devoted Dad with Kirk Chugg


You’re going to love our guest. It’s going to be somebody that’s doing something that most of you have never even thought about before. You’re going to enjoy it. My guest is a dear friend of mine, Kirk Chugg from Ogden, Utah. Kirk is a successful businessman working with a high-end clientele, super interesting guy, salt-to-the-Earth kind of man. His business is called the Haberdasher. He is the President of the Haberdasher and the Founder of Devoted Dad. Kirk, welcome to the Unshackled Owner.

Thanks for having me, Aaron.

It’s so good to be with you always. Let’s start off really quickly and explain to people, what is a Haberdasher? My guess is that’s a word most people don’t really know in this day and age.

No, they don’t. As I was starting the company, I thought, “What is an interesting word?” That was one of the words that I had heard that just really piqued my interest and I wanted to know immediately what it was and what that type of a person did. That became the name of the company, Haberdasher Custom Clothing.

Explain Haberdasher.

USO 035 | Devoted Dad

Devoted Dad: Haberdasher Custom Tailored Clothing

We are a high-end boutique custom-clothing outfit that works exclusively with men who like to dress in the best the world has to offer. We make everything custom and most of it is assembled and sewn by hand. We fit hard to fit gentlemen. We fit people that spend a lot of time on stage, spend a lot of time in the boardroom or just like to feel great in the clothes that they’re wearing.

Who was the haberdasher?

The haberdasher was actually the man who sold the tiny trinkets to the tailors. He would sell thimbles and needles and threads to the tailors and then it evolved into traditionally known in the UK and other places as the shopkeep of the suit store.

They were the ones that made the custom clothing, the custom hats. Hats were always a big part of haberdashery. If you think about Savile Row or something like that in London or some of these places, those are a bunch of haberdashers. When I heard the name the very first time, I was immediately enthralled because I bought one of my very first nice pieces I ever bought from a place in Portland called John Helmer Haberdashery. You’re only the second person that I’ve ever met that used that word haberdasher and I just fell in love with that. We always like to go back in time and learn a little bit about our guest. We can do a big commercial for what your business is but that’s not the goal. The goal is to figure out how the heck did you get here? First of all, Kirk, tell me where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised in the town that I live in, Ogden, Utah. I’ve been here now for 37 years.

You were born and raised right there in the shadow of the Wasatch Front right in Ogden. Your folks and grandparents, were they long-term residents too?

Yeah. The Chugg family goes back in Ogden and the surrounding areas all the way to the pioneer times when it was first settled.

Tell me about growing up. How many kids in your family? Where did you fall in the hierarchy of the children?

I’m the youngest of two kids and the only boy.

What were your mom and dad doing? What was their life?

My dad spent his entire career in the automotive industry. He worked for Chevrolet. My mom was a stay-at-home mother that did an amazing job until I left the house at the age of nineteen. Now, she is a very successful sales person and she is just one of those people that is naturally born to talk and to care about people. She could sell anything to anybody but she won’t sell it to you if you don’t need it and that’s what people love about her. Any salesmanship skills that I have, I attribute to having my mother’s genes.

Your dad at Chevrolet was not doing sales?

Everybody is in sales, Aaron.

What was your dad’s position with Chevrolet?

My dad was the service writer. He had a very loyal clientele that he took great care of for seventeen years. When he left, there were a lot of people that didn’t know what to do with their cars because they didn’t know who to trust anymore. He was one of those guys you say, “I’ve got a guy you need to go talk to.” He did a fantastic job of taking care of those people but transitioned out of that. He is retired now.

I love listening to how you talk about your mom and dad because it’s with a lot of respect and almost little reverence. You clearly really admire your folks.

I’m very close to both of them and I respect both of them a ton for what they’ve taught me. Mostly the values that they’ve taught me. There was no doubt in my mind when I was kid that by the time I was a man, I’d know how to work hard.

As a kid, when you say you had to learn hard work, what did you have to do?

A couple of different things. My mom always grew a little garden out back and I’d have to wake up when I was just a kid and weed the strawberries and take care of the yard. Then I had a great opportunity that most people don’t have, to have a very active grandfather in their life. Grandpa owned about a hundred acres about an hour away from home. We would go up to the ranch in the summertime and we would dig postholes and fix fence, run cattle, tinker, and make things better at the cabin. That’s really a place I look back on with a lot of fondness. I would tell my friends when I was a kid, “My grandpa would rather go work at the ranch than go to Disneyland.” He seriously thinks that work is fun. Although I said it in jest to my friends, I really respected him that he had the attitude that you could go and work and enjoy it and actually have fun working. I believe most kids nowadays view work in a negative light. My grandpa was the first person that I ever really met that had genuine enjoyment in working hard, sweating, missing a meal because you are busy, not coming in until after dark. He just reveled in it. Grandpa is still around and we’re still working together.

I love what you just said about reveling. I bet your grandpa didn’t send you out to dig postholes alone all day?

No, he did not. He came with me.

You worked side-by-side?

USO 035 | Devoted Dad

Devoted Dad: He’d let me have some responsibility and some ownership in the job.

There was a balance too because grandpa would go out and we would fence, but he’d also give me some autonomy to say, “That 200 yards of fence right there, you know what you’re doing, you take care of that. I’m going to go over to this. If you need any help, you give me a holler.” He’d let me have some responsibility and some ownership in the job but then at the end of it, he’d always stand back with me and say, “Look at how straight that fence is. You can be proud of that job. That’s a good job,” and just an awesome opportunity.

If I can share a little memory that I had, grandpa carved off a 20-acre piece. He had a lot just right next to him and my wife and I were able to buy that for our family about three years ago. We’ve spent three summers up there creating our own campground and our own place we go up. We have a standing appointment as a family every Friday night, we go up to the ranch during the summertime. He’s in his 80s now. We helped grandpa with the fence because we still run cattle up there for the beef. We were standing on the fence line that I stood on with him when I was a kid and he was teaching the boys how to stretch a fence with a pair of pliers and a hammer that his grandfather had taught him how to do. I remember standing in the same place on the same fence line with my grandpa having him teach me the same way that he was teaching his great grandkids. My boys, they look up to their great grandpa like I did when I was a kid.

It was a just a really surreal moment that something as simple as, “I don’t have my fence stretcher but I’ve got a hammer and pair of fencing pliers. How do I do this job and do it right?” was being passed down through five generations. It was culminating in that moment and I just stood back. I took a picture of it because I thought, “I won’t forget this but I want to remember this.” It’s probably one of the coolest pictures I’ve ever taken of grandpa.

The takeaway from that that I get at least is that you don’t need to have all the latest technology. You don’t need to have, in this case, a big tractor and a fence stretcher. You can start now with what you have from where you are to start to build something you can be proud of. You don’t have to have everything that ideally you would have in order to do a great job and to make real progress. As Kirk says, do a job that you can be proud of. Kirk, you learned hard work as a kid from your dad and your grandpa and you did that. When did you start to notice that there were certain things you were really drawn to? What were those things that were your natural gifts as a young man or as a boy? Things that you noticed that you’re still using today.

I have a hard time not thinking of new business ideas. When I was a kid, I wanted the go-kart in the back of Boys’ Life magazine and it was $800. My mom, she went to work as a lunch lady part-time. She went to work a couple of hours a day while we were in school. She said, “If you’ll earn half, I’ll earn half.” I started a business taking care of people’s pets and plants while they were on vacation, and I made fliers and delivered fliers and talked to people at their doorsteps and I had $400 earned before she did. We went partners on this go-kart. I’ve always really been drawn to a service industry. I like the personal interaction with people. That took me from the age of 21 until I was almost 38, I spent that time in the financial services industry. It wasn’t so much that I enjoyed finance and numbers and Math, it was the face-to-face time that I got to spend with people solving problems. I realized in those nine years that I had a skill set to be able to connect with people and parlayed that into where I am now.

When you were in high school or going into college, did you have any sense of a direction you wanted to go? Did you think you wanted to go into finance? Is that how you ended up there?

Absolutely not. I was actually thinking that I was going to be a teacher. I thought that I was going to take the place of the German teacher in the high school that I went to that had been there for 45 years. When he retired, I was going to take his spot.

You had it all setup, that was in high school or in college?

That was in high school and probably partway through college.

You and I both share a heritage of the LDS Church, the Mormon Church, so when you said German, I thought, “I wondered if Kirk went on a mission to Germany?” If it was in high school, why were you thinking you were going to replace the German teacher?

I took six years of German in junior high and high school. I just really liked it and I excelled at it. I placed in the top three, I believe, three years in a row on the National German Exam. It was just something that I liked. I actually did end up going on an LDS mission to Vienna, Austria.

You spoke German there?

I did.

Here you are, you’re going through high school, you go off on a mission, and you come back. Did you graduate from college or not?

I did. I started college two days after I got home from my mission.

What did you graduate in?

I graduated in Weber State’s Technical Sales Program. It’s a four-year bachelor’s degree that teaches sales techniques and customer service. It’s a very unique program, one of a kind in the country.

By then, you were no longer thinking about being a German teacher? You’re learning sales.

No. I was learning sales and it wasn’t until my senior year that I started to drift towards finance because I was putting myself through college working at a credit union answering phones. I did that for two years and I realized people make a lot of stupid mistakes with their money, I bet I could help them not make so many stupid mistakes. As serendipity would have it, I met a girl who later became my wife whose father was in the financial services industry. We ended up getting married and I went to work for him for seven years.

That was your career path. You realized that you loved people, you loved hard work. You knew how to do hard work. You really didn’t want to be dirty all the time so financial services at least was clean.

I’d probably have no problem being dirty.

I sold my first company, my recycling business, because when I met the girl that would become my wife, I thought, “She is not going to want to be married to a garbage man.” Those were my exact thoughts of myself back at 21 or 22 years old. You do that and you’re in this job working for your father-in-law in financial services. What led you to break off from that? That seems like it might have been a little bit of a sticky situation.

USO 035 | Devoted Dad

Devoted Dad: He was always very supportive of any decision that I make career-wise.

Not at all with my father-in-law. He was always very supportive of any decision that I make career-wise. Never felt any pressure to stay or go whatsoever from him. He was getting close to retirement. We had some changes with the broker dealer coming up and it did happen. It was something that I had considered because I had a lot of desk time and the things that I loved about the job were the sales part, being with the people that I was helping. That’s the hardest part of any business is getting in front of the right people. There wasn’t enough of that that had kept me interested. I went through the crash of 2008, 2009 and made the transition at the end of 2010. It wasn’t a great time to be in financial services to be honest with you. I knew that I wanted to do something entrepreneurial. There was never anybody in my family that had had a 9 to 5, this-is-your-salary-type job. That didn’t ever scare me because I had had irregular income for seven years. You have great months and you have months where nothing happens. In Ogden, there was a gentrification of the main street and I just started walking down and talking to the shop owners. I walked into a suit store and I started talking to this guy. He was opening up this little suit store down on the main strip and we ended up talking about suits for four hours that night.

It was evident that he probably needed somebody like me that was a people person to be there and build a clientele. It wasn’t something he was planning on doing himself. We had a couple other meetings and I said, “This is what I need to come and work for you.” He called me back a few days later and he said, “Let’s do this.” We built a little suit store into a pretty prominent place in the community for people to come in. We specialized in sending missionaries of the LDS faith out into various missions all over the world. We’d sell them their suits and their luggage and their shirts and their ties and shoes and socks and anything else that you need to take with you and I really enjoyed the people part of that business. That was an amazing opportunity to work with families that were going through and getting ready to have the experience of a lifetime. I learned how to source suits at a certain price point. We were making our own suits. I would go to Vegas and I would meet with the suppliers and I’d learn how you made a suit. It wasn’t very long, my fourth child was born when I worked there. I felt like I missed quite a lot of things that I enjoyed being there. I have four kids. The first three kids, in financial services, I saw all their firsts. I saw their first solid foods and their first steps and I was there for everything. In working retail, you just don’t get to do that.

How long ago was all of this?

This was in 2010 and 2011.

You left the financial service industry in ’10, you’ve got a couple of years, you’re working in this little suit shop, you’re figuring out the business, then what did you do? Did you buy him out? Did you leave? What happened next?

I left.

They’re still there or not?

They are and they’re doing really well. I left and I did an analysis on what I thought the market here in Utah needed. I had a lot of people come into the store. We were right across the parking lot from a Merrill Lynch Investment Bank. Those guys would come in just to see what kind of a suit shop is this. They were looking for a nice suit that they can wear at their appointments and we didn’t really have any of those nice suits. We had suits you worked in and that you rode your bike on.

You thought, “We’re missing that market right there and maybe Men’s Wearhouse isn’t quite meeting it.”

They liked the convenience. My idea was, “I’ll give them the convenience of having a selection and not really having to go in and have the whole experience of working with a Nordstrom’s employee or a Men’s Wearhouse employee.” I would let them choose what pre-made suits they wanted to order and I’d bring it in and we’d tailor it and I deliver it to their office. It took me about two months to figure out that that was not a sustainable business model and I needed to pivot really quickly. I just started listening to my customers in what they were asking for and was able to refine the business model to really what I’m doing now, which is offering something that people don’t expect to be available in the state.

Listen to your customers. Ask them questions and listen to your customers and they will tell you what they want to buy from you. That’s a great way to become successful is find out what people want, go out and get it and give it to them. When did you start the Haberdasher?

May of 2012.

You’ve been going for five and a half years. What was that like when you first started and what have you learned along the path of doing a startup?

It was terrifying. I don’t know how many times I broke down and literally cried from the stress. I had four kids, a mortgage, a minivan, and a load of debt from irregular income from the last eight and a half years. The stress was intense. I needed to make a mortgage payment two weeks after I left the store and I had no income. It was like burning the boats. I had a gun to my head and I had to get it done. Those lessons from when I was a kid that, “You don’t stop until the job is done and you provide for your family and you do whatever it takes,” was really a help to me. The stress was crippling at times but I needed to figure it out and I didn’t have the luxury to sit around and do nothing or go into analysis paralysis. I just had to get out there and hit the streets. I think a lot of people, they don’t want to go out and do the work that it takes to build something because they don’t have the right business card yet. They don’t have a brochure to leave at the front desk. Their website doesn’t look perfect so they don’t want to send people the wrong message that they don’t have an online presence and they never get started.

They are the ones who are waiting for the tractor and the fence stretcher instead of using the pliers and hammer.

That was a lesson that I learned was, “Shut up and do something.” Keep going and then seek out mentors. The first time I went to Las Vegas as a clothier, this is almost embarrassing to admit, I didn’t even know that what I was planning on doing was a thing. I didn’t even know it had a name. You’re called a direct seller in this business when you take things directly to your customer and you don’t really have a storefront, and you cater to their needs wherever they are. I explained what I was trying to do to five or six different vendors and they said, “You’re a direct seller.” I’m like, “Yeah. That’s what I am.” I thought I had invented this new career and I was the only one in the world trying to do this on their own. I knew that there were places like Tom James and those that had been around for a really long time, but I didn’t know that you could do this on your own. Down there, I met some people that really saved me a lot of time, a lot of trial and error and a ton of headache and probably saved me from going out of business by steering me towards people that I should and should not do business with. I owe a lot to those men who said, “Who is this lost guy walking around market who doesn’t know what he was doing or who he’s here to talk to?” They took me around and really provided a good mentorship for me. Many, many hours spent with those men on the phone and in person learning about the business that I was inviting myself into.

USO 035 | Devoted Dad

Devoted Dad: That was a lesson that I learned was, “Shut up and do something.”

Mentorship is critical and we see it in all kinds of industries, certainly in medicine, in law, in art, in all kinds of places. Somehow, a lot of entrepreneurs resist mentorship thinking that they can figure it all out themselves. Getting the right mentor can dramatically shortcut your learning curve and as you said, maybe save your ability to stay in business or to not make huge mistakes. You found some good people and you started doing it. What’s been the result? What’s happened?

The business has grown to a point that I only work with people that I like. I don’t work with general public. I take referrals from my best customers only. I work very flexible hours. I can be gone really early in the morning or need to stay out late one night. It doesn’t happen very often because most of my clients know I’m a family man. I have a lifestyle now that I can really be an involve dad with my kids because I’m here when they get home from school most days. I have a goal to take my kids to school every day of the school year that I possibly can. I’ll try to schedule my first appointments until I can at least drop the kids off at school because I want them to know that their dad took them to school in the morning. I want that to be a memory of my kids. I’ve been able to really live a life that I can enjoy what I do for a living because it gives me really what my ‘why’ is, is to be around for my kids. I get to dress really successful people. I have an amazing network of clients that none of them are sitting around watching Maury Povich in the middle of the day. They are all doing something cool or doing five things that are cool. My network of friends has grown dramatically. I get to see my work on some of the biggest stages in the world and that’s satisfying to me. I know that customer feels really good in what he is wearing and I find that really satisfying.

True admissions here, is I’m a customer and the work that Kirk does is phenomenal. If you’ve ever thought, “I wonder if I could afford a custom-made shirt or a custom-made suit or a blazer” or whatever, once you have those and you put them on, it’s difficult to go back. Treat yourself at some point whether it’s through Kirk Chugg’s Haberdasher or through some place in your town. Part of being unshackled is figuring out ways to do things that set you a little bit aside or apart from the crowd in a way that tickles you. For me, because I’m up on stage a lot, I want to have things that fit a certain way, that look a certain way, that have an understated elegance or understated panache to them. If you ever noticed me, I’m always in jeans and almost always a blue blazer and a simple shirt, but if you get up close and start looking, people go, “Where did you get that?” Or, “That thing fits you so well.” There’s something about it that for me, makes a lot of sense.

Whatever it is for you that gives you that level, that extra little nudge of confidence, that extra little feeling of, “I feel great right now,” whatever it is. If it’s the right suit or clothes, if it’s shoes, if it’s a pin, if it’s a haircut, whatever it is, don’t hold back on yourself. Treat yourself. You’ll be surprised at the edge that it gives you. There’s something about acting in the role that you’ve taken on for yourself. When you step into that persona, you’ll be amazed at how it’s going to expand your world. It doesn’t mean you have to have a $2,000 suit. What it does mean is that you want to do things that make you feel like you are the leader, you are the thought leader, you the speaker, you are the expert. One of the things that’s really been great for me is having clothes that fit my little tree stump of a body. I’m short and stocky and so having things that make me feel great is wonderful. Most of us cannot get that by going to the big-box retailer. Not that I didn’t buy a lot of stuff at Men’s Wearhouse over the years, but once you do this, you’ll never want to go back. I want people to step up into their greatness and part of that is by putting on your suit of armor, whatever it is. There are little things that I do. The shoes that I wear, the pocket knife that I carry, the brands that I love, and then my custom-made stuff from you, help me be the guy that is the best version of myself and I love that. It’s not about being superficial. It’s about embodying your personal brand.

I tell people all the time, “I don’t sell the suit, I sell the way you feel when you’re in it.”

Kirk, you’ve built this business, you’ve created this great lifestyle and you’re a guy who is very, very committed to your children. I just want to talk about what you’re doing with what started out as The Gentlemen Project, and now it’s morphed into another name that I’m seeing more called Devoted Dad. Do you want to just give us a little bit of information on that? The reason I wanted Kirk to talk about this is because we have things that we do for money and then we have things that we do because they’re near and dear to our heart. The way you’ve heard Kirk Chugg talk about his grandfather, about his parents, about his children and I can put words in his mouth and say that he feels that same level of love and pride and joy in his marriage, the pride in his wife and the things that she’s accomplished and she’s an awesome woman. You wanted to be that kind of dad that maybe your dad and your grandpa were to you. Tell us a little bit about the genesis of The Gentleman Project and then what Devoted Dad is doing.

When I first started, we talked about the overwhelming amount of stress of starting Haberdasher. I was working a lot of early mornings and a lot of late nights and I didn’t have a whole lot of time with my kids. I realized very quickly that I was dropping the ball as a dad. I was a default dad. I was there, I love their mom, they had a house, they had clothes and they had food, and they had a dad that hadn’t left. I had just resigned to the fact that that was going to have to be good enough for now. A few things happened, a few little conversations I had with my son specifically led me to up my game as a dad and use the time I had with my kids more effectively and more efficiently and talking about things that, when I first started, were things to help my boys become gentlemen someday.

Tell us that quick story about you’re sitting at the dinner table or somewhere and talking about you had a gentleman that you were working with today.

USO 035 | Devoted Dad

Devoted Dad: The Gentleman Project

I just used the language that I work with gentlemen and one of my 5-year-old twin boy said, “Dad, what’s a gentleman?” I didn’t really know how to answer his question because to me and the way I was brought up that was something that you just strive to be. That was the epitome of a good man, was being called a gentleman. I didn’t want to do an injustice by shortening the answer to, “It’s just a good guy that treats people with respect and has good manners,” or whatever. I don’t really remember what I told my son that night but I remember it bothered me that he had asked me the question and I didn’t have a good answer. We started The Gentleman Project, which was about ten minutes every night. I’d walk in and I would talk to them about something that we had identified that a gentleman does and we would have these great little conversations. The first one that we did was, “A gentleman treats women and their mother with respect.” They were taken from a context of, “You’re talking back to you mother, let’s learn about what a gentleman does.” One of them was, “A gentleman does hard things without complaining,” which is something I’ve learned my whole life.

What happened where the kids were like, “Let’s prove this out?”

They just latched on to the idea. Every single night it was, “Dad, let’s do The Gentleman Project.” We would write these little lessons in these little books and we kept track of the activities that we did together that had to do with the lesson. They would come up with their own ideas of, “Dad, this is the next lesson I want you to teach me about being a gentleman.” My daughters looked at The Gentleman Project and went, “We want to be a part of this because you’re getting time with dad too.” Now, we call it Devoted Dad.

A gentleman does hard things without complaining. You live not maybe at the base but in the foothills of a very significant mountain range. Your home was actually at that time in the shadow of a particularly prominent peak, is that true?

Yes. It’s called Ben Lomond Peak. It’s around 10,000 feet.

What did your kids say they wanted to do? What was the challenge that was going to be taken on to do hard things without complaining?

We decided that we were going to hike to the top of that.

With a couple of five-year olds?

Yes. At this time, they were right around almost six years old. It’s the biggest thing in the world to them.

That changes everything, five to six, when you’re climbing a 10,000-foot mountain. What happened?

We did it. We got to the top and it was hard. The boys carried their own water and their own snacks and they walked the whole way. I had taken them to the top on my back before but they’d never walked up there by themselves. It was the moment that they were like, “I can do hard things.” Every lesson that we learned, we did some type of an activity. If a gentleman takes care of other people, we would go to the food bank for Thanksgiving or for a special distribution around Christmas time. Then we’d have the conversation of, “These people need help. They’ve ran into some hard times and we have the resources and the time to be able to go and serve these people.” Those just turned into the best memories with my kids.

I seem to remember one about a gentleman is honest and you guys went golfing. I heard that story at one of your meetings. What they wanted to do is about, “Are you going to be honest with your strokes, honest with where the ball fell? Are we going to take shortcuts or are we going to be honest?” This has all turned into a movement called Devoted Dad.

We’re trying our hardest to help dads realize what I did back then in the early days of Haberdasher. Your kids don’t need you all day long. They need you undivided and 110% for ten to fifteen minutes a day if that’s all you’ve got. Whatever you’ve got, you’ve got to be really purposeful during that time and teach and lead. You’ll be amazed at the change that happens in you, the relationship with your children, the relationship with your spouse, and the way you feel about you doing your job well as a father.

I had the perfect focus group for this because I was dealing with my customer who they’re executives, they ran successful companies, and they’re the epitome of busy. I was using the face time I had with these men to say, “What are you doing as a dad to connect with your kids? I was wondering if this was like a fluke at my house because it was like a magic pill.” I get one or two reactions. The guy would say, “I don’t know what I’m doing,” or he’d say, “This is what I do but I’ve never really talked about it with anybody. I guess you could try this.” We would try each other’s ideas and we would call those little ideas a gentleman project. For the sake of simplicity and branding, really it starts with the dad, it’s for the kids, and when we checked in as dads and we do things more on purpose instead of by default, we designed a way that we’d like to be fathers and what we want to teach our kids. I’m pretty sure that me standing there at that fence line with grandpa learning how to fence and be proud of the job was planned, that was not something that just happened. He did that on purpose and I’m grateful for it because I remember it now and my boys are going to learn the same things.

What statistics exist, Kirk, that a dad can be purposeful for five or ten minutes a day?

USO 035 | Devoted Dad

Devoted Dad: Your physical presence means everything but when you’re not emotionally checked in, your kids can see it and they know it.

There are good statistics and bad statistics. Right now, if you look at any of the major problems that our kids are dealing with from teen suicide, teen drug use, teen homelessness, teen pregnancy, high school dropouts, the statistics in each one of those categories shows that almost three quarters of those kids have no active dad in their life. If that common denominator was in any other part of our life, we would look at that and say, “This is an epidemic. If we can fix this one thing, we can save kids’ lives. We can keep them off the streets. We can keep them off of drugs. We can give them a better chance at being successful the rest of their lives.” There are very few people talking about the problem of dads not being around. I am living proof that a dad can still be around and not be around. Your physical presence means everything but when you’re not emotionally checked in, your kids can see it and they know it. If you’re buried in a smart phone or if you’re just too tired, and I totally get it. I was wasted at the end of those days and I wanted nothing more than just to come home and crash and not think. My sweet little kids looking at me saying, ”Dad, can we do The Gentleman Project?” I’m so glad that that was something that we were able to do and it’s really changed the dynamic of our family.

Kirk, thank you for all the wisdom you’ve already shared with sharing your story with us. Let me ask you a couple of just quick questions. Is there a book that really has made a difference in your life that you could recommend to the people that are listening who are trying to figure out how to get out of that 9 to 5 or how to pivot from where they are? Is there a book you would say, “Read this book, it will help?”

Blue Ocean Strategy by Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. It’s a fantastic book that I read and I really created the business model of Haberdasher from because I had seen what I liked about the suit business at the suit store. I really took everything traditional about a suit store and I flipped it on its head and said, “Do I want to work with everybody? No. Do I want to sit in a store all day? No. Do I want to sell department store quality goods? No. Do I want high inventories? No. Do I want employees? No.” Everything traditional about selling a suit, I did a complete 180 and that’s really my business strategy with Haberdasher. Blue Ocean Strategy, if you’re familiar with anything, if you’re working in a specific industry, think of everything about that industry that is typical and stereotypical of that industry. What could that industry not be without? Then just say, “What if it was?” That’s really the thinking behind where I come up with Haberdasher. Blue Ocean Strategy is probably one of the most influential books that I have ever read.

It is a great book and I echo everything you said. It’s all about creating a place where there is no competition because it’s so unique what you’re doing. I love that and great tip. Is there a quote or a lyric or anything that’s something you live by or believe in as your mantra?

We have something hanging on our wall in our house, and I think a lot of this came through just life experiences. We started the business, we started a non-profit, we put my wife through nursing school, we had twins, we did a lot of hard things. This saying that hangs on our wall is, “We do hard things.” It goes back to one of those first lessons that I taught my boys in The Gentleman Project was, “You do hard things and you don’t have to complain about it. Everybody does hard things and nobody likes to hear somebody complain.” I really think that’s my mantra, “If it’s hard, don’t shy away from it.” Anything worth doing is going to be hard. I was worried that my kids were going to grow up in this age of everything is right there, right now, and you expect the world to be at your fingertips and living in entitled lifestyle and always wanting things that are easy. I always purposefully tried to not make my children’s lives super easy or I purposely try to teach them that, “If it’s hard, that doesn’t mean you don’t do it.”

It makes perfect sense. That’s the same reason we moved out into the country because we didn’t want them to just have the extent of their work was, “Clean your room and load the dishwasher.” This is a cautionary thing, we wanted to help people to avoid mistakes. Is there anything that as you look back, you wish, “I wish I would have done this differently or not done it at all” A do-over that you could pass along so people can maybe avoid that in their own life.

I’ll give you two things really quickly. One, is I wish I wouldn’t have stayed in a job so long that I knew I didn’t want to be doing for the next 30 years. The nine years that I spent in financial services, I learned a lot but I stuck around because I like the lifestyle of that job. I didn’t realize that I could create that lifestyle doing something I love. I thought I was stuck there. Two, when I first started Haberdasher, I thought, “I’ve got to have a respectable office space.” I signed a lease on a little place. It wasn’t a lot of money but it was money I didn’t have at that time and so I would say, run as lean as possible. Be lean and limber is my mantra if you’re starting something. You don’t have to go all out on everything and have it perfect before you start. Just shut up and do something.

This isn’t going to be for all of you but the ones who want to treat themselves, you cannot go wrong with learning about this from Kirk. He doesn’t serve everybody all over the world. It’s not like he’s got people that can come to your house. If there’s a way for you to have this experience of custom-tailored clothing, it will change your perspective on a lot of things. Kirk, how can people get in touch with you and learn about the things you’re working on both in business and in your non-profit? Then if you’ve got any parting words of wisdom, I’d love to hear those.

For Haberdasher, the best place to check it out and see some education is For Devoted Dad, If you would like to email me, you can always email me at I just wanted to thank you for the opportunity to tell the story. I speak at a lot of high schools on things now that they asked me to come and be an entrepreneurial example of somebody who is an alumni or something like that and I get a lot of enjoyment out of seeing the light go on. If you’ve got a dream and you can work hard, you can do anything that you want. It might not be perfect the first time and you might have to pivot but if you listen to your customers, they’ll tell you what to do and remember what’s important but hit the streets hard and don’t stop until you’ve got it.

When somebody says, “There’s 200 yards of fence I want you to put up, twelve-year-old,” that can look a little intimidating but when you do, when you stand back and you look at what you are able to do, it gives you a level of confidence that you could have never received by just reading a book or trying to give yourself a mantra. There is something about working hard and seeing the fruit of your labor. It has its own reward, but it will teach you things and it will pass on a legacy like you’re grandfather has done for you, your dad, your children. Good for you, Kirk. Thank so much for being here.

The Unshackled Owner Podcast is all about giving you the tips and the ideas and the motivation and the inspiration to live a bigger life than maybe you’re living right now. Living the life you want to live, figuring out a way how you can build a business where you’re not a slave to that business but you can build something that will actually work harder for you then you have to work for it. If you like the podcast, if you love these interviews, comment and like and subscribe and share with your friends. If you want to get a hold of me, you can write to me at Let’s work together. Let’s give you all the resources you need so that you can become an unshackled owner. I look forward to you again next week.

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