“I wanted to put my own stamp in the world and I didn’t really know what that meant back then but I knew I had my purpose right, which was I wanted to get people active and I wanted to connect people together. So, as a 21-22-year-old, I finally got into university and started sport science and thought ‘this is the path for me’,” says Mick Spencer, founder of ONTHEGO, a custom apparel and accessories designer service for the sports and corporate sector.
While it seemed a career in sports science was on the cards for Spencer, fate had other ideas. A chance conversation with friends who played in a local soccer team revealed to Spencer a gap in the market and he stepped in, all guns blazing. At the time the team members were struggling to find a printer to provide shirts for an upcoming match. With less than a week to complete the order, Spencer managed to wrap his head around screen printing and completed the delivery in a timely fashion.
The budding entrepreneur had found his calling. Blending his passion for sports with business he quit uni and decided to launch ONTHEGO from his parents’ garage. A couple of months into operation, someone from the soccer team called him about a job that was to change his life forever.
“They were involved with a large council,” Spencer recalls. “And that council was not too far from Sydney and they’d pre-sold 500 cycling jerseys for a real big charity event. And what had happened was the Procurement Manager left the organisation without ordering them. They needed them in three and a half weeks and no-one in the world could manufacture custom cycle kits in less than 12 weeks because there was a lot of components to production. There was fashion design, graphic design, manufacture, cut, sew, ship, import and all of these facets to selling this product.”
Back then Spencer was still living at home and he recalls his mother’s dubious response when he told her of the potential order.
“She said ‘Mick, you can’t even tie the buttons on your polo shirt, how are you gonna manufacture these items?’. But when there’s a will there’s a way,” says Mick.
“I told the customer I’d get back to them in the next day after I chatted to production. And I spent the night not sleeping, finding manufacturers overseas. Out of 10 factories. they told me I was an idiot and there was no chance, and two said it was possible. One of them wasn’t ready to commit but the other one said they were, as long as I would digitise all of the artwork files on my side. I kind of acted like I knew what they meant, but really I had no idea,” he laughs.
“So I went to the customer the next day and said ‘We can make your order. We’d love to do business with you, but we’ll need a deposit, if that’s okay?’.So I raised an invoice in excel and sent it to them and they called me back and said ‘Look, Mick, we haven’t got your ABN number right. It’s not showing up correctly’. And I said ‘oh, okay well I better check with accounts and I’ll get back to you’. And I had to Google ABN number…
“So I registered the ABN number and went back to them with it the next day and they essentially said to me ‘look, here’s your remittance notice. We’ve paid the whole amount.’. And that was probably the easiest 60 grand I’ve ever made. I’d never seen that much money in my bank account and then I thought ‘wow, now the hard work begins’.
Spencer says the whole experience made him realise he was passionate about solving customers’ problems.
“I spent the next three and a half weeks with a very high heart rate and a lot of nerves and stress. But I learnt the whole apparel industry really in three and a half weeks. I learnt that there was a lot of wasted middlemen in manufacturing clothing, particularly custom clothing for uniforms and sports apparel for teams. And long and short of it is I ended up importing that shipment myself, having to learn what an import licence meant, import broking, paying duty taxes, paying an overseas factory that I’d never met, which was really a massive risk.
“I put a lot of faith in what could be. The day before the event goods finally got cleared. I drove from Canberra, my home town, to Mascot. Picked up these goods in a hired truck from a friend of mine and delivered the order to the customer 30 minutes before the event started. That was where On The Go was truly born.”
Find out more about Mick Spencer and the ONTHEGO journey when Mick appears on this week’s episode of Bricks & Clicks. Bricks & Clicks airs on Channel 7 on Sundays at 1pm AEST.